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Disability Advocate Earns Military Spouse of the Year Award

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Upon receipt of the award, Hilton, who has a daughter with special needs, lauded fellow finalists from the other services, and shared what also inspired his efforts to advocate for military families impacted by illness or disability.

"Five of the six spouses of the year are significantly impacted by a disability or chronic medical condition," Hilton said, adding that about 54 million people, or one in six, in the U.S. are also impacted by a disability.

Hilton explained that any type of family is subject to facing the challenging circumstances brought on by illness, injury or genetic aberration.

"For some, this will happen in a split second, whether from an (improvised explosive device) or from the doctor telling you that something is wrong with your baby," Hilton said. "For others, it will be the shocking realization of the road you're about to travel as you deal with your (multiple sclerosis), cancer or Alzheimer's."

Suzie Schwartz, wife of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Paula Roy, wife of Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Roy, attended and introduced Hilton. Deanie Dempsey, wife of  Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, presented Hilton the award.

Founded by Military Spouse magazine in 2008, the Military Spouse of the Year serves as the flagship award for the nation's 1.1 million military spouses. The award recognizes leadership and initiative among military spouses, many of whom continued to bring about positive change on behalf of military families, according to Bianca Strzalkowski, 2011 Military Spouse of the Year.

"I accepted the Military Spouse of the Year award not for something I did in the past, but for something I would do in the future, so I took it very literally that I was representing 1.1 million people," Strzalkowski said.

In addition to Hilton, service-level finalists were:

- El Brown, spouse of Army Maj. Ricky Brown, Ft. Belvoir, Va.

- Stephanie Garaghty, spouse of Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Brian Geraghty, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

- Tricia Ross, spouse of Navy Lt. Jeffrey Ross, Camp Lejeune, N.C.

- Jennifer Bassett, spouse of Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Josh Bassett, Coast Guard Cutter Alert, Astoria, Ore.

- Christine Gilbreath, spouse of National Guard Army Staff Sgt. William Scott Gilbreath, Redmond Taylor Heliport, Grand Prairie, Texas