I’d like to introduce you to Michelle Norman, 2019 Armed Forces Insurance Navy Military Spouse of the Year. But first, a little background. This blog might be a little long, but it’s worth every single word so just keep reading. She deserves this! I was contacted by 2017’s overall winner Brittany Boccher who found me online and learned that I was a Military Spouse myself and asked if I would be interested in shooting for Miltary Spouse Magazine. AFI LOVES to hire other Milspouse’s if they can. She told me Michelle’s story and I was in!!! I even wanted to try to get some Hampton Roads favorites in on the job, so I contacted my favorite hair and makeup artist Jessica Barbini and after speaking with Michelle on the phone, I reached out to the Norfolk Botanical Gardens about using them as a location backdrop. Everyone was in to help out!!!! So now, let me tell you a little something about Michelle and this amazing title of Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year. They say the spouses of our service members have the hardest jobs in the military, keeping families together at home while their loved ones are in harm’s way, sometimes on the other side of the world. Michelle in my personal opinion is THAT person.
Armed Forces Insurance every year have thousands of spouses around the world nominated for this prestigious title of Military Spouse of the Year. The winners are broken down in 3 ways. Base winner, branch winner and then Overall Winner. Michelle was nominated for Naval Station Norfolk. In case you don’t know, NOB as we local’s call it is the largest Naval base in the WORLD…. And she won that. Based on a series of national votes and a panel of judges…merit-based core criteria were used such as leadership, overall military involvement, community building capacity, and their own story. Michelle was called to let her know she took the title of for the ENTIRE NAVY. Winning her 2019 Navy Military Spouse of the Year. Go ahead and let that sink in. Many of these spouses are moving MOUNTAINS in their community to be nominated. They are volunteering in their communities, advocating for things they believe in and changing peoples lives. One of Michelle’s biggest platforms is advocating for educational rights for special needs children who happen to be military kids. This hits home so much for Michelle… because her daughter Marissa is one of those children. Marissa is 15 and she was born with over 20 disabilities like cerebral palsy, partial paralysis, neurological and neurodevelopment disorders, hearing, vision, and sensory difficulties and she suffers from ADHD, anxiety, and others. But when you sat down and talked to her man is she smart, funny AND witty. When I met Marisa I asked her if she was excited about turning 16 and the thoughts of high school and she said she wasn’t. When I asked her why she told me that she felt there were too many pressures put on teenagers nowadays and those things worry her. When she said that, I thought… man, this girl already gets it and well quite honestly, I was pretty blown away by the answer. Wise beyond her years already!!!!
Michelle has said many times how moving as a military family is already stressful (I can say AMEN to that just recently moving from Hampton Roads to the Annapolis, Maryland area just a year and a half ago) but adding having a child with special needs makes that move harder and the need for consistency is even more important. Many of you might know what is being called “The Fight for Marisa”. It’s a long 4-year battle that the Norman’s have been going through with Virginia Beach City Schools and Marisa’s education. You can read about it HERE. But because of this platform and all the things that Michelle has done including speaking in front of Virginia’s General Assembly working with Congressmen and Congresswomen to help increase awareness for special need military children and being on multiple committees, boards, holding leadership roles with her husbands FRG’s (aka Family Readiness Groups) to supporting Gold Star Families. She’s pretty much a rockstar in my book and I’m pretty sure you’ll agree now!!!
I drove down from Maryland for this shoot and I left with a heart so full that it just made me even prouder to do what I do but to be in the same “group of women that Michelle is in”. A Milspouse as we call ourselves. Michelle and I had texted for a week brainstorming what we wanted to do. Her husband Cass had been traveling preparing to take on his new role as Commanding Officer of the USS Mount Whitney and they had a VERY small window that these pictures could take place. So, I moved things around in my schedule and made it happen. Armed Forces Insurance had very specific needs to what they were looking to get from this shoot for their Magazine and Michelle also shared with me that this particular date we were doing the shoot was also her and Cass’s 23rd Wedding Anniversary. So I told her to be prepared, that it was my honor to do more than what I was being asked of, and I wanted if it was ok with her to treat the formal part of this shoot as an anniversary session. Which she was completely OVER THE MOON for. She didn’t remember the last time she and Cass had formal pictures of themselves. So we started at the Norfolk Botanical Gardens where we kept it classic and formal using their Renaissance Court and my favorite Statuary Vista as our backdrops. It’s the perfect stone courtyard with a classic iron gate and then a long corridor-like garden with marble statues of notable painters and sculptors: Antonio Canova, Thomas Crawford, Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Durer, Michelangelo, Bartolome Murillo, Phidias, Raphael, Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens, and Titian. Perfect for anniversaries and engagements and weddings and bridal sessions.
We then headed over to the Norman’s home to do a lifestyle session and that’s where I met Marisa and Chace. It was so important to Michelle and I to really capture her family exactly doing things they really loved. She had a couple of things that she knew she wanted to incorporate. They LOVED playing video games together. Cass deploys and travels frequently and they find so much fun and joy in MARIO KART!!!!!! So we started a game and they raced their hearts away!!! There was so much jumping up and down and laughter that I don’t even remember who won! We next wanted to do something that brings them not only joy but really allows them to slow down a little. With young kids in the house as a mom myself that comes with all kinds of interesting days other daily challenges so doing puzzles really allows everyone to take deep breaths and connect, Michelle told me. It keeps everyone’s minds busy and challenges everyone to stop and think. It was the perfect example of how perfectly normal families work and we wanted to show that despite Marrisa’s special needs… they were exactly that. Perfectly loving and normal. We couldn’t end the shoot that afternoon without family pictures that I felt just deserved to be on the steps of their front porch. A place of safety and happy memories. In a neighborhood full of other military families in a city that is the Heart of the U.S. Navy.