Got any Alaska, Oklahoma or Washington state quarters jingling in your pocket? Pull them out and take a good look at the handiwork of a military spouse.

Susan Gamble, an Air Force wife and Master Designer for the U.S. Mint, created the reverse (tails) of those spendable, collectible coins. In fact, her artwork appears on many coins, including an upcoming 2009 penny commemorating Abraham Lincoln’s presidency.

Susan described the significance of one design, a 2007 Martha Washington coin, part of a gold commemorative series honoring presidential spouses.

"It’s the only coin I’ve done that is my tribute to all of my military wife sisters," she said from her home in San Antonio.

Her design emphasizes Mrs. Washington’s role as a military wife, depicting her sewing a button on a soldier’s uniform. An inscription reads "First Lady of the Continental Army."

"She traveled with George Washington," Susan said, "and travel wasn’t getting on a plane. It was very arduous. She went to Valley Forge."

"That’s what military spouses do," she said. "On those cold, depressing days at Valley Forge, she treated the wounded. She organized other ladies in the area. She would have been doing needlework, sewing uniforms, socks and mending."

Each coin design is chosen by competition between at least five of the mint’s nine designers, Susan explained. The process can take up to a year.

Proposals pass through three or four levels of review, including the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. The Secretary of the Treasury approves the final design.

"The judging panels (for the Washington coin) had no idea they were picking one done by a military wife," Susan said. "Maybe it was meant to be."

In addition to her mint position, Susan has her own graphic design business, and her portfolio encompasses a variety of commercial and fine art.

Persistence and flexibility have bolstered her artistic success during 30 years as an Air Force wife, she said. "A lot of it is just pure one word: Tenacity. You really to have to start out from scratch every time you move."

Hundreds of professional artists applied for the U.S. Mint’s Artistic Infusion Program, desiring to become coin designers, according to the mint’s Web site. Susan attributed her selection five years ago, in part, to the resume she had built up over many military moves.

"I think a strong factor was my widely varied back ground," Susan said.

"It doesn’t make the actual moves any easier, but if you can look at it as forcing you to get a wider range of experience, the result is actually beneficial," she said. "Your résumé looks much better than others … who haven’t had as many jobs or different types of jobs."

Susan said she hopes young spouses are encouraged by her story.

"If I can do it with something as hard to find jobs in as art … anybody with a career field that’s more common, they can do it," she said.

At another intersection of Susan’s artistic and military paths, she designed the Air Force Combat Action Medal, initiated in 2007. She was invited to see the award presented to the first recipients by then Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Michael Moseley.

"My eyes teared up when the first troops were presented their medals," Susan said. "As much as my coin work means to me, this is my military family. This is much more important emotionally to me.

"These will pass down to my children as part of a life story."

For more about Susan, her artwork, career and links to her designs, see the Spouse Calls blog.

Terri Barnes is a military wife and mother of three. She lives in Germany and writes Spouse Calls weekly for Stars and Stripes Contact her at and see the Spouse Calls blog at

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