The noises, sometimes squeals of joy, sometimes sniffling, were not because of all of the great gifts Oprah Winfrey selected this year for her audience but because Whitehead was selected to be an audience member.
All 30 audience members, 29 women and one man from around the country, were finalists for the Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year Awards presented by Military Spouse magazine in 2010, 2011 and 2012.
Whitehead, stationed at Fort Huachuca for roughly a year and a half with her husband, Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Whitehead, Marine Corps Detachment, was named Marine Military Spouse of the Year in 2010. The couple have been married for more than 13 years.
“Oprah’s Favorite Things” is where Winfrey reveals her must-haves for the holiday season, and pulls off a surprise giveaway to a group of deserving military spouses. For Whitehead, the two-hour special that aired Sunday night was emotional yet joyful to watch.
Whitehead believed she was being flown to Washington D.C. to preview a new show, “Married to the Army: Alaska” which premiered immediately after “Oprah’s Favorite Things.” That is when Winfrey announced the surprise; the audience wasn’t there as a tester audience but in fact had been selected for her special.
“We settled down in our seats for the viewing and the screen went white and we thought ‘Mm somebody is in trouble.’ Then Oprah comes through the doors with jingle bells and says ‘it’s my favorite things’ and mayhem just ensued,” Whitehead said. “It was very intimate — she took time with every single person, just an amazing experience and unbelievable.
“I am still in shock. I am sure at some point it will hit me; it has not done it yet. I haven’t felt the full gravity of this experience I don’t think,” Whitehead added. “But honestly, the feeling of just being there with those 29 spouses, … we were just able to share what we are doing in the community, and it was one of the most motivating experiences of my life. It was fabulous, so before we even met Oprah we had an amazing experience.”
Whitehead went to Washington in mid October for the viewing. The show was held at the Marine Corps Barracks.
“My family is just blown away by this. I have an 11-year-old daughter and she is just amazed. She thinks mom is cool for once, which is hard when you have an 11-year-old. My husband says this stuff just doesn’t happen to us, and it’s true. [Like] so many military Families, we just don’t expect anything like this. We just do what we do, and for it to be recognized like that is just unbelievable,” she said.
A lot of the work Whitehead is currently doing for military spouses is now on a national level with most of it online. Her focus is education, empowerment and resources online and just helping wherever she is needed.
“The best part is that people are talking about military spouses. Wow, Oprah Winfrey is talking about military spouses. The military community is one percent of the population. So if you think about the 1.1 million military spouses in the country it’s not a big number, and people are reaching out to us and they want to know what our life is like — they want to understand. They want to help and this is just such a great way to get this platform out there. It’s exciting. I am more excited for what is happening after the show, than [about] the show because we now are going to have a platform,” Whitehead said.
For the first time since 2010, “Oprah’s Favorite Things” returned to television for a two-hour special event. Winfrey revealed her must-haves for this holiday season and pulled off a top-secret giveaway for the unsuspecting group of deserving Military Spouse of the Year nominees.
Erin was picked in 2010 for her work in writing and speaking about issues that affect military Families. Whitehead said her favorite gift that she received is her new Tempurpedic® mattress from Winfrey. More than 50 gifts were given to each of the spouses, including a five-night getaway, including airfare, to a resort in Fiji.
“I was nominated and won because of my volunteer work in the community and in the Marine Corps community and as well as some children’s cancer charities that I was working a lot with in North Carolina because my nephew Brendon lost his brain cancer battle at the age of five, so that has always been a passion for our family,” she said. “So we did a lot of work for that community but also for the Marine Corps community as well.”
The Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year award honors military spouses from all branches of service and all ranks. The merit-based award recognizes the contributions, sacrifices and unwavering commitment of the 1.1 million military spouses. The Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year nominees are chosen based on their contributions to community change, volunteer efforts, personal sacrifice, professional pursuits and specific efforts to support the military community.
“I am just so thankful to the program; they have really changed what it means to be a military spouse in America with this award. It is a nationally recognized award, and it is gaining more attraction every year,” Whitehead said tearfully.
Nominations for the 2013 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year® opened on Sunday in conjunction with the on-air special to celebrate Oprah’s recognition of this community and the Military Spouse of the Year award program. All Americans are invited to honor a deserving military spouse they know. Nominations can be submitted at http://msoy.militaryspouse.com.
“It open[ed] Sunday so all these people [could] say, ‘oh I know a spouse like that’ and they are going to nominate them, so we are going to have this great huge pool of all these awesome spouses. So I encourage everybody to please nominate, we need some of southern Arizona to be represented in that. What a great thing for the Fort Huachuca community if we have a bunch of nominees from here,” Whitehead said.