“That’s the sound of freedom,” Tonya Murphy shouted, looking to the sky as a fixed-wing Naval aircraft flew overhead.
A Navy wife of 20 years and counting, Murphy has embraced military life — “the ups, the downs and the upside downs,” Murphy said with a laugh.
Murphy was selected as the 2023 Navy Spouse of the Year by the Armed Forces Insurance program. Her husband, Cmdr. Scotty Murphy, serves as Submarine Squadron 6’s Deputy for Readiness at Naval Station Norfolk.
“I love getting to represent the base. But representing the entire Navy — there are so many phenomenal spouses out there that are doing absolutely amazing things. There are moments when I am like, ‘What am I doing that is any more ahhhhh than what they are doing’,” Murphy said, mimicking an angelic chorus.
Murphy has supported her husband through 11 permanent changes of duty stations and three sea tours, which took their family of five twice to Norfolk and Connecticut, as well as to Guam and Naples, Italy.
“The foundation for being a Navy spouse is being flexible —things are written in sand and jello. You have to be able to deal with plans A and B and Y and Z,” Murphy said.
Murphy was nominated by an Army spouse she met in Guam.
“Tonya is a natural leader and connector of people, effortlessly advocating for causes and staying true to herself while growing professionally, managing her family, and bettering every room she enters. Her heart, personality, and spirit are one-of-a-kind. I have known Tonya for nearly two decades and wish that every military spouse could have a Tonya in their life,” said Bana Miller in her nomination letter.
Murphy has served as a family readiness group officer, on a command support team, as a COMPASS mentor, Navy Marine Corps Relief Society volunteer, and been an advocate within the Military Child Education Coalition. Professionally, Murphy has worked at Blue Star Families as a member of their inaugural DEPLOY Fellowship class and is now working at Travis Manion Foundation, a veteran-focused nonprofit.
As the Navy Spouse of the Year, Tonya will attend town halls and speaking engagements across the country. Murphy’s goal while in this role, she said, is to advocate for equity across all areas of military life.
“There are not a lot of Black officer spouses in the submarine force. It was not until my husband’s executive officer tour — so 15 or 16 years in — that I was in a wardroom with another Black spouse. And it was so exciting,” Murphy said.
“When we look at our military forces, it is such a diverse group of people. And as such, we should make sure that the resources we’re offering, the answers we’re giving, and the connections we’re making, speaks to that diversity. Otherwise we are serving just a small portion of our community and kind of ignoring the rest, which then just leads to more of those feelings of being unseen,” Murphy said.
Murphy is striving to raise awareness of how diverse military families are — from race, to culture, to socioeconomic status.
“We all know the Facebook post from someone moving someplace new. They say, ‘Hey, what is a good school,’ But I always ask what they mean by ‘good’ because what you see as a good school may not be what I see as a good school,” Murphy said.
In Murphy’s experience, most people respond that they are looking for schools in an affluent community, with little racial and socioeconomic diversity.
“But for me, a good school is one where my kids are not the ‘only’ in a class. I want them around kids with varied life experiences. I want to know they can see themselves reflected in the faculty,” said Murphy, who shares three sons with her husband.
In advocating for equity, Murphy said it is important for spouses to maintain their authentic self throughout their partner’s military career.
“In military life, it can feel like we are an afterthought. The service member is who the focus is, and the spouse and the children just the dependents,” Murphy said with an eye roll. “That can get hard, and I think that’s where a lot of us spouses lose ourselves.”
Step one in not losing yourself is having truthful conversations about your experiences, respecting the experiences of others, and rejecting “toxic positivity,” Murphy said.
“As military spouses, we have this tendency to just paste a smile on and keep going. But you know what? Sometimes it sucks and that’s okay. Sometimes you are going to cry and get angry and sometimes — because we are married to sailors, afterall — you are going to cuss it all out. But you have to acknowledge the hard to see the fullness of everyone’s experiences and hopefully fix the issues we struggle with,” Murphy said.
Those issues, she said, are as diverse as military families, and vary according to the needs of each family. Murphy is working to expand her network to better connect military families with the resources they need.
“Nobody creates growth and change alone. That is why it is so important to me that I use this not just as a platform for my passion, but as a microphone for others, so that everyone has the chance to share their stories,” Murphy said.
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