By Emily Williams
Vestavia Hills resident Anne Hartline may not have served in the military, but she serves military families through the Military Officers Association of America’s Surviving Spouses Advisory Council.
In her sixth year on the council, Hartline is chairwoman, advocating ways to help spouses of military officers and veterans navigate life after the loss of their loved ones.
“We want to encourage, educate and engage,” she said.
Hartline retired from her education career with Hoover City Schools in 2004 to take care of her husband, Col. James “Red” Hartline.
An officer and a gentleman, according to Hartline, he spent 36 years in the military, primarily with the Alabama Army National Guard.
Following his retirement, he maintained a lifetime membership with the Military Officers Association of America as a way to remain connected to his military community.
“My husband was on renal dialysis for the last 13 years before he died,” she said. Over the last four years before his death in 2012, the dialysis treatments began to compromise his bones. Even as his health declined, Hartline said her husband was the icon for military discipline – always following the instructions of his doctors
“He became more and more disabled,” she said. “I was fortunate to have some good help, but our MOAA chapter was so wonderful.”
Members of the organization called, visited and sent cards to offer support as the Hartlines bounced between home and hospital.
After her husband’s death in 2012, she found herself without her husband and without a job to do for the first time in many years.
“I was pretty lost,” she said. “I had been involved in a lot of things, and my world got smaller as I took care of him.”
She immediately began attending MOAA chapter meetings again, wanting to give back to the group that gave her so much support and help other women struggling with the loss of their spouses.
“I learned that my way of coping was to get out and do things, to get involved,” she said.
Council programming reaches out to military spouses and surviving spouses to help them on multiple levels.
The council educates spouses on navigating finances before and after the loss of their spouses, as well as retirement planning. Surviving spouse liaisons in each chapter of the council reach out to ensure those women and men remain connected to the military community.
In addition, surviving spouses are encouraged to serve the council in whatever capacity they are able.
During her career in education, Hartline developed the nationally recognized Safe and Drug-Free Schools prevention program. She has been able to use skills she developed training other educators with her work in MOAA.
Over the past year, she has helped develop workshops for surviving spouse chapter and state liaisons and employed those lessons at MOAA regional leadership conferences.
“People become surviving spouse liaisons and say, ‘Now what do I do?’” she said. “We want to teach them, not only about the structure, but we share information about the things that we have done, for example, hosting luncheons, checking in, going to the funerals.”
She has spoken on the subject across the country, including presentations in South Carolina, Florida, Oregon and Pennsylvania. In November, she went to Washington, D.C., for the MOAA national board meeting.
Pandemic Spells Another Change
But the pandemic has cut down on her travel time in the past few months. MOAA’s annual Storming of the Hill, in which Hartline has participated for the past five years, was canceled. At the end of March or beginning of April, MOAA usually sent a group of about 250 people to Washington.
“We cover probably 99% of the offices on the Hill,” Hartline said. “They put us out there at 6 a.m. (eastern time), and my body knows that’s 5 a.m. We have a big picture made in front of the capital and then we break off.”
Hartline then would follow the state chapter president through the halls to call on the offices of representatives from Alabama.
MOAA, a nonpartisan organization, would send its representatives in with three topics of discussion, which include recurring topics such as military personnel and families’ health care benefits.
“It’s very sad to me that we have to continually talk to these elected folks about providing necessities for our troops,” Hartline said. “We have an all-volunteer army, and who is going to volunteer if the benefits and the salary are not competitive?”
Hartline said she has been feeling the void with the rest of her 2020 trainings canceled because of the pandemic. Nevertheless, she has been able to stay in touch with her MOAA community locally and nationally.
“I have learned to use Zoom,” she said. It’s a great placeholder to connect with her fellow volunteers, but Hartline said she awaits the day she can hit the road again to continue training and giving back to the MOAA community.