Kathleen Miller Thornton said the spirit of volunteering she learned while growing up in Western Pennsylvania helped her to earn the distinction of being named the 2014 Military Spouse of the Year for Fort Meade in Maryland.
“I volunteer because that's how I was raised,” said Thornton, a 1979 graduate of Greensburg Salem High School. “That's the way Westmoreland County is. We take care of others.”
More than 100 people nominated Thornton, 53, for the honor through Military Spouse magazine.
She was among more than 150 spouses from bases and National Guard and Coast Guard districts across the country receiving individual honors for their respective bases. They next will compete for military branch honors, then possibly for the overall spouse winner, to be named in May.
“I am over the moon,” Thornton said. “I am completely and totally honored that 137 of my friends and peers nominated me.”
She moved to Greensburg from Saltsburg when she was 10. Growing up, she lived across the street from Greensburg fire Chief J. Edward Hutchinson. Her late father, Bill Miller, volunteered with Greensburg Hose No. 3 and on the department's bloodhound team.
Thornton served in Army military intelligence, then in the reserves. She now is an Army wife to her husband of 29 years, Command Sgt. Maj. Mark Thornton. They have moved more than a dozen times while serving their country.
Several nominations for Thornton are posted on the magazine's website.
“Kathleen Thornton is exactly what the military spouse of the year should be,” one says. “She is a leader in our community. She dedicates herself to community service. She is a friend and role model to spouses.”
“This woman is the very essence of what a military spouse should be,” another posting reports.
The magazine, with a circulation of about 75,000, started the military spouse award in 2008, said Babette Maxwell, founder and executive editor.
“It's a way to recognize military spouses for accomplishing extraordinary things,” she said.
Thornton used social media and word of mouth to help mobilize others to aid four families whose homes were destroyed or damaged by a lightning-strike fire in 2013 at Fort Meade.
“Within the hour, people were volunteering and donating,” she said. “It was like everybody dropped everything they were doing and helped these four families.”
Furniture, mattresses, food and children's bikes and toys were among the donations. “It was incredible. It was absolutely incredible,” Thornton said.
One of her fans wrote in a nomination: “A little girl lost her toys and Kathie made sure to replace some of her favorites the very next day — they were both heard squealing in delight as the girl opened her new presents.”
In between moves, Thornton worked as a florist, loan officer, learning resource center manager and other jobs while volunteering and raising her son, Paul, who is now a sergeant with the Air Force.
When asked to share a random fact about herself with the magazine, she wrote: “I was in the Three Rivers Stadium — 13 rows behind the team bench — for the Steelers Immaculate Reception. Ongoing project is growing my hair out for Locks of Love (wigs for cancer victims).”
About a decade ago, she helped Air Defense Artillery soldiers — many coming from Western Pennsylvania — to acclimate to a training center at Fort Bliss in Texas.
She helped organize a program to get food and coffee to soldiers manning guard posts in the hours immediately after the 9/11 attacks. She lost 16 friends in the terrorist attack on the Pentagon.
“We went out and collected goods and urged people to volunteer to make food and coffee,” she said.
And she has volunteered many other times.
“It's not only volunteering; it's doing the right thing,” she explained.
In nominating Thornton, her husband wrote that “because of her steadfast support to our family, I was able to focus on my soldiers, their families and our mission. She has always placed the needs of my unit and my soldiers before her needs, and continues to assist other spouses in need without hesitation... .”