When Michelle Storch, wife of Lt. Col. Steven Storch, a former officer of the 75th Operations Support Squadron here, got the Internet hooked up in June at her family's new home near Fort Bragg, N.C., one of the first e-mails she read from a friend confused her. Storch and her family had just completed a permanent change of station there from Hill Air Force Base and her friend was congratulating her on being chosen as the 2009 Joan Orr Air Force Spouse of the Year.
The former president of the Hill Officers' Spouse's Club was nominated for the award last year by her own husband. "I can't believe he came up with so many things to say about me," she said. "It shows that he recognizes and appreciates what I do."
Last week at a ceremony to kick off the Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition in Washington D.C., the award was officially presented to Storch by the Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley, the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and the Air Force Association President, Michael M. Dunn.
"I am very honored and humbled to have received this award," Storch said. She was surprised to have been chosen out of many other Air Force spouses who work just as hard as she does.
Among the items the lieutenant colonel listed in the awards package about his wife and mother of five young children were the countless hours she spent fundraising for the HOSC annual scholarship awards and her involvement in the Airman and Family Readiness Center, Base Chapel, Layton Christian Academy programs and other hospitality programs geared toward Hill AFB families. Also noted was her involvement in community programs even while helping her husband after he sustained a brain injury from a bicycle racing accident last year.
Storch said that what she does is "not exceptional in any way; I only represent what a typical Air Force spouse is." She maintains that Air Force spouses hold an important role in the Air Force, which is "to help our (military members) serve their mission."
Receiving the Air Force-level award gives Storch an opportunity to show how other spouses can get involved in their local communities.
"I tell other spouses that you make your assignment what it is. If you get out and get involved, it will be a good assignment for you."
Storch said she had many role models at Hill AFB who demonstrated "strong ethics of community and volunteerism." She noted that each organization she belonged to both on and off base established their own sense of community and support, as well.
The neighborhood where she lived in Layton also inspired her.
"Steve called our neighbors the 'dream team' of neighbors," she recalled. "It was by far like no other place we've lived."
Storch's neighborhood would organize community activities that would foster neighborly camaraderie as well as benefit Utah communities. "At Christmastime, instead of giving each other presents, our neighborhood organized a pie party, where we would bring pies to one neighbor's house as well as food to be donated to the Utah Food Bank. The neighbor who hosted the pie party that year would be responsible for taking the food down to the food bank."
Last Christmas, after a neighbor succumbed to breast cancer, the neighborhood also donated money to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure campaign.
Storch is now working with her community near Fayetteville, N.C., to incorporate similar community projects and she reports that her new neighbors seem receptive to her ideas. Yet, she knows that she could never recreate the community from Hill AFB.
"Hill was such a great assignment for us and I was thankful for the opportunity to contribute back to its community," she said.
According to her fellow HOSC member, Heather Smalling, it is the Hill community that feels obliged to give back to her. "Michelle is 'Superwoman,' and every single friend and OSC member would wholeheartedly agree. She is dedicated to her family, her church, her neighbors, social organizations, charitable organizations, the gym, and so much more. Michelle knows how to perfectly balance out everything she is involved in."
Storch said that giving back to her community is what provides her balance. "It is my outlet to give my time doing things for others."
"It's not about us, it's about something bigger than us," she added. "We have been so blessed and I just want to give some of that back."