Joint Base Elmendorf – Richardson Community
JBER hosts 2018 Air Force Key Spouse of the Year
Story by A1C Crystal Jenkins on 02/20/2019
Kristen Christy, the 2018 Air Force Key Spouse of the Year, toured Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Feb. 11 to 13, 2019, speaking to numerous members of the community.
During Christy’s tour, the Military and Family Readiness Center hosted her as a guest speaker for more than 120 attendees at a military spouse town hall and luncheon with the theme “Taking Care of People.”
“It is an honor to have the opportunity to share my story with the JBER spouse community, because I know all of us come from different places and each of us has our own unique story we bring to the table,” Christy said. “The purpose in sharing mine is for you to leave here with an encouraged outlook, knowing we have each other and we can make a difference. I want to use my hindsight as someone’s foresight.”
Christy’s speech recalled a number of trials she has faced throughout her life, emphasizing the importance of community and resilience in spite of the hardships endured.
“I was born into a military family and had flourished in that community,” Christy said. “I was a competitive tennis player and golfer and had just won a high school golf tournament for Department of Defense students in Germany. Weeks later, I had a stroke, just days before my 16th birthday. Although my identity felt gone, my community was there.”
Although partially paralyzed and unable to walk, within a year and a half, she taught herself to walk again and graduated from high school on time.
“I began attending college and felt a little out of place, but my military upbringing had taught me to start looking for my community,” Christy said. “I started by hanging out where I felt most comfortable, ROTC gatherings. One night I was at an ROTC party when I met my first husband, a cadet named Don Christy. Although his first words to me were, I can never marry you because my last name is Christy,’ it was not long after we fell in love and were married.”
Despite a decorated career of military service, and being known by his peers to have outstanding leadership qualities, on April 21, 2008, Lt. Col. Don Christy took his life.
“Of course I was left feeling devastated, after 17 years of marriage and supporting each other through everything, I had lost my partner,” Christy said. “I thought that he seemed withdrawn after coming home from his latest deployment, but we knew when to give each other sacred space. I would have never thought he was suffering that badly. During the overwhelming days that followed, my community showed up. I don’t remember any of the conversations, but they were there and that’s what matters.”
After the loss of Don, Christy and her two sons, Ryan and Ben, mourned.
“Eight years following his father’s death, Ben called me from college and left a tear-filled message,” Christy said. “In the message he stated, I miss Dad so much. I can’t live without him I can’t I need him so much. I’ve been mourning eight years of my life. I’m not ok right now. I really need help.’ I can tell you as a mother that is something you never want to hear.”
Since then, Ben has gone on to graduate college but still struggles with his dad’s death. Kristen’s older son Ryan has also struggled enormously with the death of his father, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 16.
“Our family has experienced the anguish suicide and its lasting effects have,” Christy said. “The choice my husband made had rippling effects. Ryan has now been missing since Sept. 20, 2015. I will hold out hope until I see him again.”
Christy explained she wouldn’t know where she would be today without her community and the friends and family she made through her work and volunteering. In addition to her story, Christy emphasized some key acronyms she uses, and for attendees to consider using, on a daily basis.
“Be sure to show up when you know someone needs you, do something no matter how small you think it is, and be intentional and use your resources,” Christy said. “I have a few words I use as a reminder; FAIL stands for first attempt in learning’ and HOPE stands for hold on, pain eases’.
“My story has opened my eyes to the challenges others may be facing or have faced,” Christy said. “I would encourage everyone to stay vigilant, reach out and do something for your community members who you might see struggling.”
Christy has since remarried and has stepped into the role of key spouse for her husband’s unit, providing support to the Air Force community, as well as those Airmen and their families struggling with tragedy.