Sisterhood of support and the traveling BDUs

  • Published
  • By David Edwards
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs
Cadet 4th Class Moranda Hern has so many sisters that she only gets to talk to all of them sporadically.

That's what happens, though, when your sisterhood is actually an organization. Cadet Hern is the co-founder of the Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs, a nonprofit that provides support to girls aged 13 to 18 who come from military families.

According to the organization's website, the sisterhood aims to unite military girls in sisterly support, inspire them by means of organized gatherings, speakers and shared experiences, and encourage them to lead in their communities.

Part of the reason the sisterhood is so important to Cadet Hern is that it springs from personal origins. Her father has served for many years in the Air National Guard, and Cadet Hern said that she was intent on an Air Force career of her own since she was 8.

Even though she was used to the lifestyle of military families, her father's deployment to Afghanistan hit her pretty hard. The loneliness and longing for his return were assuaged by her bond with Kaylei Deakin, a fellow Californian and military daughter she met at a National Guard youth symposium.

That friendship led to the creation of the Sisterhood of the Traveling BDUs, which draws its name from the title of a popular book. But the already formidable obstacles to building a nonprofit from scratch were even tougher for a pair of teenage girls balancing other responsibilities.

"It was very hard to get funding, especially as a startup," Cadet Hern said. "As long as there are a lot of great causes, it's going to be a constant battle to get funding. But it's a worthwhile organization, so we keep pushing."

The sisterhood held its first conference in California in 2010 and drew a statewide audience of 100 girls. Under Cadet Hern's direction, the organization adopted an incremental growth strategy and plans to expand to five more states in the near future.

"Anything more (than that) would be detrimental to my sanity," Cadet Hern said with a laugh.

The states identified by the group are Colorado, Georgia, New York, Texas and Virginia. Eventually, the sisterhood hopes to attain a nationwide scope. And with Ms. Deakin, now at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., training to join the Marines, responsibility for running the operation has largely fallen to Cadet Hern.

Despite her own time crunch as an Academy cadet, the sisterhood has benefited from the many resources afforded her by the Air Force Academy. For example, Cadet Hern works frequently with the Center for Character and Leadership Development, drawing on its expertise and offerings.

She actually has history with the center: In 2010, her senior year of high school, she spoke at the National Character and Leadership Symposium at the Academy. Now that she's a cadet, the center's resources are just a short walk away.

In overseeing the sisterhood, Cadet Hern focuses on both big-picture tasks and day-to-day operations. The job includes organizing future conferences, seeking speakers and dealing with the media. In addition, she said she's trying to improve the sisterhood's website and make it more interactive. The group's Facebook page has been quite successful, she said.

Also on the horizon is a service project Cadet Hern is planning for summer leave in San Diego.

As she finishes her freshman year at the Academy, she is eagerly looking forward to not just her own future, but also to the future of the grass-roots girls organization she helped found.

"The sisterhood is really important to me, so I make time," Cadet Hern said. "I may not sleep as much, but I make time. It's not something my friends were doing, so I make a lot of new friends from different places that way."