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Spouse of the Year strives to tell military families’ stories

Monday, April 29, 2019

The true stories of military life are important to Maria Reed, the 2019 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year for the Army.

As the creator, producer and host of her own home improvement show, “Moving With the Military,” Reed believes telling those stories makes a difference in both the military and civilian worlds.

The seeds for “Moving With the Military” were planted a few years ago, when Reed was watching home improvement shows. From her perspective as professional filmmaker and military spouse, she didn’t believe the shows featuring military families accurately portrayed the life she knew.

“There was nothing positive,” Reed said. “I knew they had the wrong impression of our lives, and I wondered if we could do it in a different way. I wanted to create a makeover-type show that focused on the positive impact military life can have on a family.”

In late 2016, she told her husband she had an idea to create her own home improvement show tailored to the lives of military families, one that would also appeal to a civilian audience.

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Maria Reed is the 2019 Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year for the Army.

“I stayed up 72 hours straight and wrote the business plan, built the website, put together a strategic marketing plan,” Reed said. “I showed it to my husband, and he agreed with my idea. He said, ‘That’s great, I love it, and I’m deploying in 30 days.’ ”

Even deployment couldn’t dampen Reed’s enthusiasm, however. She gathered a team of military spouses and veterans who shared her vision, and together they moved forward. Because, as Reed says, “That’s just what you do.”

Now in its third year, “Moving With the Military” is available on various streaming and social media platforms. Viewers of the program get to know military families by watching Maria and her team help those families in their mobile lifestyle.

The episodes are usually surprise makeovers of specific living spaces, according to the need of a particular family—perhaps a dining room, a homeschool classroom, or even a front porch. Other episodes include craft projects and recipes.

For Reed, the important thing is to celebrate military life.

“Home improvement is about so much more than decorating,” she said. “It’s a connecting point. Sometimes it’s just being there, being a friend. Our show is about home improvement, but it’s also about problem-solving, cooking, crafting and community-building.”

Reed also reaches out to those in need.

After Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston area in 2017, she and her team collected supplies and delivered them to people affected by the storm.

Additionally, Reed has developed a relocation app called My Ultimate PCS and is working on a cookbook she calls The Military Melting Pot, with stories and recipes from military spouses.

“All the things that have happened to me have led me here,” said Reed of her mission to share stories about adaptable military families.

Learning to adapt

Reed began learning how to adapt almost as soon as she could walk. Her family immigrated to Florida from Cuba when Maria was 18 months old, and her parents were her first and best examples.

“When my parents came here, they were in their 40s,” Reed said. “I think about what that change was like for them, starting all over only speaking Spanish. I learned English from playing with kids in the neighborhood and watching kids’ shows on PBS.”

As she grew up, Reed was eager to participate fully in her adopted homeland.

“The biggest thing I wanted to do when I turned 18 was to become a citizen,” she said. “I wanted to vote. This is my country, and I feel very passionate about it and about our history.”

Adapting to a new country, culture and language was excellent preparation for life as a military spouse, Reed said. She has been married to her soldier, Patrick, for 16 years, and they have two teenagers, Parker and Patrick.

Reed lived in one home growing up but says she moved more often for her career in film than she has moved in her 11 years as a military spouse.

Making television shows might seem like a natural career choice for someone who grew up in a place called Hollywood—Hollywood, Florida, that is—but show business was not Reed’s first plan.

“When I started college, I was going to be an attorney,” Reed said. However, when a friend was filming a commercial in Spanish and needed a translator, Reed took time off from her job at a law firm to help. “On the first day, I fell in love with everything about the film industry, and I never looked back,” she said. “I gave my notice at work and told my parents I wasn’t going to law school.”

As an undergrad, Reed majored in business and finance to learn what she needed to fulfill her dream of having her own production company. She spent 20 years in the film industry and realized that dream.

Her company produced mainly commercials, working for large companies like Proctor & Gamble, Toyota and HBO. Reed found opportunities for women producers—particularly Hispanic women—were limited, but she didn’t let that discourage her.

“I’ve heard ‘no’ a lot in my life, but it’s never stopped me. It’s been my fuel,” she said. “No isn’t forever. It might be ‘no’ just for right now.”

She became a wife and later a mother of two children. Eventually, Reed decided to leave the demanding schedule of her career in filmmaking.

“We realized somebody had to be home to raise the kids, and I wanted to be mom and stay at home,” she said. “That lasted about six months, then I became the uber-volunteer mom at school, PTA, yearbook, anything. I was always there.”

Making a difference

That volunteerism led her to become a high school teacher for nine years, until she returned to her passion, the film business, and “Moving With the Military” was born.

Reed said she’d like to have the budget to take her show and her makeover crew wherever military families are in the world. For now, most of her projects are in Texas and neighboring states.

“Our goal would be to go to a network for a bigger audience. We want more people to hear the stories of military families,” Reed said. “We have a large civilian following, because they’re fascinated by what we do. We can bridge the military-civilian divide with these stories. It’s not asking anyone to feel sorry for us. It’s showing how we work together in this life we love.”

Reed aims to be authentic on the air and off, translating her own military experience into the program.

“I’m not just talking about military families,” she said. “I’m living this life right now. I hope people see me and know this is what a military spouse looks like. We are from everywhere, all shapes, sizes, and colors, and cultures.”

As for her new title as the Army MSOY, Reed hopes it will give her opportunities to improve the quality of life for military families.

“It’s not about me. I can accomplish more by taking other spouses with me. It does help open doors and start conversations. For anyone, for me for each other—opening doors for each other, that to me is a bigger win.”

Terri Barnes is a writer and editor whose husband retired after 30 years in the Air Force.