Mrs. Ellyn Dunford

Hero of Military Medicine Civilian Honoree

Her volunteer efforts with various military spouse clubs, family service organizations and Family Readiness programs have been lauded throughout her 34 years as a military spouse, but Ellyn Dunford, the 2019 Hero of Military Medicine civilian honoree, doesn’t think of what she’s done as extraordinary.  

Instead, she feels she is only doing what others before her have done, what others beside her are doing, and what others coming behind her will do in the future. 

As the wife of General Joseph Dunford Jr., Dunford has travelled the world visiting military members and families from all services. She grew up in the Boston area, graduated from Simmons College with a Bachelor of Science in physical therapy and moved to Northern Virginia, where she met her husband, Joe Dunford.  

She practiced physical therapy for almost 30 years, first in acute and trauma care, then in pediatrics working with children with developmental challenges. “The trauma care has helped me understand the challenges faced by wounded warriors and their families,” she said. 

Her volunteer work has been a source of enjoyment and brought her great pride in the many talents of military spouses. She considers it a privilege to have watched Family Readiness programs evolve from spouse- and volunteer-run programs into a professional organization with extensive training and management. 

“When I married into the Marine Corps there was not an organized Family Readiness program with training and resources. It was exclusively voluntary,” she recalled. Shortly after they married, her husband became a company commander. “The commander’s spouse was tasked with keeping the unit informed (via newsletters and phone calls).” 

By the time her husband became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Dunford says there were more organizations than one could imagine, an increase in part brought about by combat deployments and the greater need for communication. She decided that since had become well versed in many organizations’ work over the years, she would try to be a link between groups. 

“My hope has been that organizations stick with their charter and what they're good at but hold hands with other non-governmental organizations which can also serve their population,” she said, noting the importance of a culture of warm handoffs between groups so the service member or family has a network of support. “Many others have been working to create this same culture and we’ve all helped each other move things in a better direction.” 

She says civilians who want to help support families of deployed service members should ask themselves a few questions. 

“Are they looking to donate money, time, prayers, physical support or professional support? Does their employer do something as a company they can support (like USO packing parties or service projects for disabled veterans)? Or do they know any families in their community who might appreciate their driveway shoveled when the service member is deployed? If you have a child in a sport with a child from a military family, can you help with rides?” 

While she says she couldn’t have imagined as a new military spouse the kind of technology military families can now leverage, that hasn’t kept her from using it to its greatest effect.  

“There’s a Facebook page, From the Home of the Chairman, which allows me to reach a broad audience of military and non-military people. I try to share resources and give encouragement to military families. It's also a way to highlight the work and experiences of military families around the globe for others to see.” 

Growing up in the Boston area, Mrs. Dunford graduated from Simmons College with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy, and moved to northern Virginia, where she met her husband, Joe Dunford. They have been married for 34 years, through 19 homes, six states, three children and numerous deployments during both peacetime and war.

For nearly 30 years she was a practicing physical therapist, initially in trauma and acute care, followed by the majority of her time in pediatric care. The practice gave Mrs. Dunford much insight into issues facing EFMP families, children with special educational needs, and Wounded Warriors. Her current role as spouse of the 19th CJCS has broadened her exposure to, and work with non-profit and government agencies working on behalf of military Service members and their families.

Mrs. Dunford enjoys running and exercise, reading and volunteering. Her volunteer efforts with various spouse clubs, military family service organizations and Family Readiness Programs have been a source of enjoyment and brought her great pride in the many talents of military spouses. Mrs. Dunford considers it a privilege to have watched Family Readiness Programs grow from non-existent, to spouse/volunteer-run programs, eventually into a professional organization with extensive training and management. Along with raising her family, she considers connecting with and caring for military families as one of the most important roles in her life.