The wife of a former Air Force Chief of Staff recently received an impact award for going “beyond the call of duty” in advocating for military spouses.
Suzie Schwartz, spouse of retired Air Force Gen. Norton Schwartz, was presented with the Bonnie Amos Impact Award for Lifetime Achievement at the Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Employment Summit. Brian Alvarado, Director of Workforce Development for Hiring our Heroes, initiated the official meeting to notify her that she was chosen.
“In all honesty, I really thought they were going to ask me to do something. That’s what most of my calls are,” Schwartz said with a laugh. “I was really taken aback. It was all very exciting.”
Meredith Lozar, executive director of the programs and events for Hiring Our Heroes, says the award highlights Schwartz’s work on behalf of military spouses over the years.
“Suzie’s passion to go above and beyond the call of duty to promote and protect economic opportunities for spouses is evident in the many ways she has advocated for them over the years,” Lozar told Military Families Magazine. “She is very deserving of this award which Hiring Our Heroes bestows once a year to a true changemaker in military communities.”
And despite Schwartz’s husband’s retirement in 2012, she hasn’t slowed down.
“It doesn’t stop when you retire. I think people really think it’s all over. If you want to stay engaged, you can. But you have to want to,” she explained.
Schwartz adds that the award was even more surprising because her initial introduction to military life included hardships in maintaining her own career — a key focus of Hiring Our Heroes efforts today.
“The people who knew me in the beginning would have never seen this happening,” Schwartz said.
As a new military spouse, Schwartz said she had the expectation that she would continue her career and maintain her independence. The first years of marriage were an adjustment.
After graduating with a special education degree from the University of Arkansas, Schwartz became a teacher for children with special needs. When she met and married her airman, she began to experience how difficult it was to maintain teaching. She would shift to careers in finance and hospitality, until she eventually had to stop working altogether.
“The turning point for me was not any grand thing. It was that I couldn’t work anymore. That may be a part of me you all don’t know — how much I resisted and how much I cried. But I channeled that same passion and energy that I had for work into this new path,” Schwartz said.
That new path led to present-day advocacy efforts along with several board appointments.
Schwartz sits on the board for Fisher House Foundation, Operation Homefront, and the National Military Family Association. She’s also a consultant for multiple organizations that are connected to military spouse issues, including work with then-first lady Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces Initiative. The program was recently re-launched under the Biden Administration.
“The thing is, I want your life to be better than mine when I first became a military spouse. I cried every day for the first year of our marriage. When I moved I couldn’t get a job and my husband was gone 250 days out of the year,” Schwartz explained.
She shared that another spouse befriended her and helped her through that hard season.
“I swore that I would pay it forward. And I have.”
Schwartz is also known for looking sharp, leading many to assume that order and polish are the norm for her daily life. But, they’d be wrong.
“I love to work in the dirt. It’s not about my flowers looking pretty, either. I want to plant them, I want to weed and smash the bugs,” she said.
Another surprising fact is her deep passion for sports.
“If you want to hear bad words … baseball, basketball, oh yes … I curse and carry on. I even send letters to the athletic directors,” Schwartz said laughing.
Receiving the Bonnie Amos Impact Award for a lifetime of work doesn’t mean that she’s stopping anytime soon, either. Why? She says she’s having too much fun.
“The greatest gift that I’ve been given is to be around all of you. You guys [military spouses] keep me going,” Schwartz said.
Her hope for future military spouses is that they dive into the adventure and possibilities, rather than dwell on the challenges that come with military life.
“The biggest lesson I learned is that you don’t know where this life is taking you. You have to make the best of wherever it is and the opportunities you have. It might just turn out better than you ever thought possible.”Read comments