TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – For Morgan Noller, change began with a single e-mail.
In her inbox was an opportunity to get involved with the Travis Officers’ Spouses Club at Travis Air Force Base, where she and her husband, Capt. Steven Noller, 21st Airlift Squadron pilot, moved in 2015.
What followed in 2017 was more than 2,000 volunteer hours, organizing 11 events and providing support for 650 attendees, as well as merging the base’s officer and enlisted spouses clubs into a single group.
In September, the Air Force recognized her hard work, awarding her the 2018 Joan Orr Spouse of the Year in Washington, D.C. The award is given annually by the Air Force Association to a nonmilitary spouse who makes an impact on the lives of service members and their families.
When she reviews the nomination submission, she was impressed by what she accomplished, but wanted to share credit with others, especially her husband and her two-year-old son, Camden.
“Even baking cookies involved more than one person, usually my son,” she said.
Morgan decided to get involved with the club after moving to Vacaville, California, near Travis. Her interior design business struggled in the Northern California economy after a more lucrative time during the couple’s first stop at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina.
“I found that the Vacaville area where I was living, interior design isn't thriving,” she said. “We have HGTV. People are changing their minds a lot on what they want to buy. Unless I was in a very affluent area, I wasn't going to do as well as I did in Charleston and that was a harsh realization when I got to Travis because my career kind of stopped.”
The stop pushed Morgan into working more with the club. The apex of her achievements was a 75th anniversary gala celebrating of the history of the 21st and 22nd Airlift Squadrons. The March 30, 2017, to April 1, 2017, event brought 300 guests, 12 distinguished visitors and a two-star general from Air Mobility Command for a slate of events including a barbecue, golf tournament, breakfast, wine tasting, aircraft simulator events, speeches and a dinner. Morgan even created a website for the event.
Steven, who met Morgan in 2011 and married in 2013, was proud of his wife’s hard work and her accomplishments, which fit with her interior design experience as well as work with charities, nonprofits and event planning.
“You can ask anyone that’s ever been to her events,” said Steven. “They know how good they are. They know how much better they are than other events they’ve been to of the same caliber. The Christmas parties in our squadron got much better. They were just better decorated. People walked in like, ‘Wow. I didn’t know an Air Force function could look like this.’”
Morgan has a gift, Steven said.
“For her, if we’re talking about how much money it would cost to decorate this tree,” he said, pointing to the decorated holiday tree in the family’s living room, “or plan a room, she could probably nail it down within a couple dollars.”
In addition to putting her skills to use, Morgan developed friendships with other members of the club. She appreciated their inclusive, collaborative attitude, one where spouses’ ranks faded. Thinking back on one instance from when she first arrived makes her laugh.
“I asked one of the fellow spouses to help me take out the trash,” she said. “I later found out that was Lynette Jackson, who was the commander of the base’s wife. Did not know that at the time. I felt really silly, really stupid not knowing who these people were.
“But I think, even that being said, it says so much about the spouses club, which is why I continue to be a part of it. No one ever made me feel like they had a higher-ranking position on base than my husband or than me, personally. I felt like we were all in the same boat. We were all part of the club.”
Those relationships are necessary for Air Force spouses during the good times as well as the bad. The hardest test for the Nollers thus far came earlier this year. Weeks before Steven was to deploy for months, Morgan had a miscarriage followed by surgery.
“That alone was extremely emotional, leading up to his deployment and then after he left, I was still recovering and in pain,” she said. “That was a true test of our marriage and how much we were able to handle. It’s raw. That is the truth.”
Part of the camaraderie she built with the club helps spouses endure such challenges, she said.
“The laughter is the most important,” she said. “I would say it just gets you through the hardest times, and it might be hard at first, but then you go to talk to your friends. These spouses that have been through so much and yet they've gone through the same thing. We're all laughing that we go through this crazy time in our lives and we come out the other side cracking up that it's funny to us now.”
In 2019, the Nollers are moving north, where Steven will fly with the Royal Canadian Air Force as an exchange pilot.
“This move to Trenton, Ontario, Canada is a big adventure,” Morgan said. “I think I’d feel unprepared for this move had I not opened myself up to any opportunity I could find at Travis AFB. The people I met and the skills I acquired will definitely help me with this next step. Now I’m looking forward to learning even more about the Air Force in Canada.”