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Wing pauses to talk resilience: Guest speaker shares her story

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kristen Pittman
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

Gen. David L. Goldfein, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, recently ordered a service-wide “Resiliency Tactical Pause” to take place one day between Aug. 1 and Sep. 15 to focus on suicide prevention and open up conversations about wingmanship and seeking help.

The Air Force Reserve 403rd Wing heeded that order during their September Unit Training Assembly as they hosted Kristen Christy, the 2018 Air Force Spouse of the Year, during their commander’s calls here Sunday.

Kristen knows a thing or two about resiliency, reverberations that come with suicide, and the importance of community.

“Life is a cruel teacher,” Kristen said to a standing-room only crowd of Airmen. “First you get the test, then you get the lesson.”

Growing up, Kristen defined herself as an athlete and devoted her time to tennis and golf with dreams of turning pro in the former, but life and its tests had other plans for her. At age 15, she suffered a massive stroke caused by an undiagnosed malformed vein in her brain.

Just like that, any dreams Kristen had of playing pro tennis or accepting athletic scholarships were dashed.

This would be one of the first times she would fully realize the importance of community.

A military child, Kristen received overwhelming comfort and support from the base community, and, at a time when medical resources were stretched thin, the Air Force community stepped up and was able to medically evacuate her to San Antonio where she was in the care of one of the service’s top neurosurgeons.

Her prognosis went from possibly not surviving and most likely never walking again to, 18 months later, walking across a stage unassisted to receive her high school diploma with a full ride scholarship to the University of Texas in Austin, Texas ahead of her.

College is where she met Cadet Donald Christy, her first husband with whom she had two sons and moved all across the country with for the next 17 years.

Fast-forward to 2008, a few years after returning from a deployment in Baghdad during which he received a Bronze Star, Christy was withdrawn, unable to sleep, and unable to communicate whatever he was feeling with his wife.

On April 21, 2008 Kristen answered a knock on the door from the coroner, the Chaplain, and another life test. Lt. Col. Donald Christy, the father of her 12- and 14-year old boys, had taken his own life.

Eleven years later this one act is still impacting the once cohesive Christy family.

Kristen shared a voicemail with the wing members of her youngest son Ben when he was 20, sobbing almost hysterically saying he could not live without his dad and that he had been mourning for 8 years and asking why she would not pick up the phone.

Her younger son, Ryan, handled his grief in a different way. Self-medicating with drugs in his teens, getting clean for a few years, then disappearing. He has been missing for 1,448 days as of today.

Both of her sons have attempted to take their own lives.

A result of what Kristen says is the contagiousness of suicide.

Her response: smiles and kind words are also contagious.

Kristen started sharing her story a little over a year ago, and it could not have come at a more critical time for the Air Force. The number of suicides in the service are increasing which is why the Air Force Chief of Staff called for the resiliency tactical pause.

Her presentation to the members of the 403rd Wing were the 76th and 77th times she has shared her story, but it is not only her story and how suicide affects others she wants people to hear. It is how she got through those tests with the support of the people around her, and to be a catalyst for the conversation of what we can do to mitigate the number of Airmen and service members in general making that ultimate choice from increasing.

She stressed four bullet points important to being an effective community member:

  • Show up.

  • Do something.

  • Be intentional.

  • Use resources.

“There is no room on this battlefield for strangers,” said Kristen. “And there is no room on this battlefield for silence. We have got to come together and cure this epidemic. It takes a community and it takes connectedness. A kind word is so easy. There is hope, and because there is hope for tomorrow there is power in today.”