Christal Gavin

Branch: Army

Duty Station: Fort Benning

Number of Deployments: 4

Number of PCS's: 5

Share your military spouse story:
I am a proud Army wife and mother to 4 awesome kiddos, at least for today. The number of kids varies from time to time; More on that in a minute. I’ve been married to my high school sweetheart for a little over 18 years. Our military family journey has played out like many others, as in it’s completely different than we expected! My at the time boyfriend planned to join the Army as a Chaplain’s Assistant. The plan: Get married after basic training, he would eventually become a youth pastor and we would live out our life together in ministry. Well, at MEPS he found out he couldn’t become a Chaplain's Assistant because he didn’t yet have a driver's license (who knew!?). He was eventually sworn in as an 11b, Infantry Soldier. Our wedding was moved up 2 weeks, with about a weeks notice, because his report date changed. I was married, took my college finals (graduating with an AS degree in Early Childhood Education) and moved across the country all in a 2 week span. Thus began a life of unexpected moments and adventure. As a military spouse I’ve learned a lot over the years... I’ve learned that my spouse might not be home for dinner, and that’s why we have a microwave. I’ve learned to make family time a priority, and squeeze it in whenever we can. I’ve learned that Oxy Clean will take out red dirt. I’ve learned that I’m stronger and more resilient than I ever thought I could be. I’ve also learned that it’s okay when I’m not. It’s okay to ask for help. I’ve learned that family isn’t always blood; Sometimes it’s the girl you just met in line. She’s your new emergency contact and BFF. Currently, we have 3 biological children: a sarcastic and beautiful daughter, age 15 and our energetic twin sons, who are 11. We are also a foster family. We currently have a kind-hearted foster daughter, she is 16. In our 3 years as foster parents we’ve had a total of 11 children in our home; Each one taking a piece of our heart as they move on. Family isn’t always blood.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
I joined the Steering Team, founding MOPS on Schofield Barracks. Appointed as leader, I wholeheartedly support the mission: “MOPS International encourages and equips moms of young children to realize their potential as mothers, women, and leaders, in relationship with Jesus, and in partnership with the local church.” In 2013 I was recruited to take a leadership position with PWOC (Protestant Women of the Chapel). The aims of PWOC are: LEAD women to Christ, TEACH women God's Word, DEVELOP women's spiritual gifts and INVOLVE women in Chapel ministries. I accomplished this during my two terms in office, first as VP of Spiritual Life and then as President of PWOC Fort Polk. Simultaneously, I volunteered as the Children's Director for ChapelNext. In 2016 I began volunteering at my children's school. Parent volunteer, to board member, to VP of the PTO. I also was elected School Board representative for our post Middle School and was voted to be the VP of the Fort Benning School Board.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
As we’ve moved from post to post I found myself quickly jumping into volunteer positions in an effort to make new friends and to really immerse myself in our community. At our first duty station, I had an active role in our FRG. This was during OIF 1 & 2 (2001-2007). During these years of back-to-back deployments and as a new Army wife, I relied greatly on our FRG and support from my fellow army wives. I quickly learned the importance of surrounding yourself with an Army family. After “holding down the fort” during my husband’s 3 deployments with the 101st and a 3 year stint as the wife of an Army recruiter, (2007-2010 Lowell, MA) we headed for a coveted duty station in sunny Hawaii. Once there, my husband left almost immediately for his 4th deployment. It was then that I met some amazing, fellow military spouses. They saw leadership potential in me that I didn’t even know I had. Their mentorship helped prepare me for years of continued leadership and service to my communities.

Describe how you support your community:
I am a foster care advocate for Fort Benning and the surrounding area. Being a Military Foster Family presents challenges that other foster families might not encounter. For example, military families typically don’t have extended family near them to help with simple things like babysitting. I began to implement a model taken from Live the Promise, an organization that “equips churches to bring awareness and action to the foster care crisis.”  By blogging our foster story and utilizing social media, I began connecting willing military individuals and families, to military foster families, within the gates of Fort Benning.  Statistics show that foster families who don’t have a support system quit within one year of fostering. With nearly 500 children in foster care, in our county alone, these children can’t afford to have foster families quit on them. So, we work together. We support one another. We are the “village” that these children and these foster families need. 

What do you advocate for? Why?
I advocate for Children who are in the foster care system. Children who are placed in the system, at no fault of their own. Vulnerable children who need someone to speak on their behalf. Children who are aging out of the system with no home to call their own. Once people realize there is a need, they’re usually happy to help! My goal is to continue to raise awareness that we have a nationwide foster care crisis. You can’t help if you don’t know there is a need. Once people are aware, the next step is assisting them with finding ways to help. We are in desperate need of families willing to foster longer and stronger, throughout our nation. It’s easy to get burnt out as a foster family. When you have the support of your community, you’re able to foster longer and stronger. Support is something military families do well. My goal is to find people who will consider becoming a foster family. Or, to find people willing to support an existing foster family. Together we can #fosterstrong.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
In Nov. 2016 we went through the process to become a licensed foster family. By simply living our life, sharing our story and being an active part of our community- others have been inspired to foster as well! Last year I received a job offer to work for a local non-profit; Clement Arts. In my current position I continuously raise awareness through public speaking engagements and community events. I plan and execute training events for foster parents and fellow foster advocates. I recruit churches to create Foster Advocate Ministries (FAM’s) within thier church congregations. Furthermore, I help encourage and equip those FAMS as they support local foster families. Now, with a team of dedicated advocates we are able to use the Gospel and the Arts to raise awareness and support for foster and adoptive families. I’m privileged to go to work every day doing something that I love; I’m making a difference in our community on a larger scale than I could previously do on my own.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
My husband was a Drill Sergeant for three years. During that time I learned the Drill Sgt Motto is “This We’ll Defend.” I’d love to see that used in broad strokes. We will defend our fellow military foster families by assisting them when needed. Taking that a step further, we will defend the “fatherless.” There’s a community of people, both inside and outside the post gates, who are affected by foster care. We know what it’s like to have an extended family within our community. Why not use that to help the foster crisis that plagues our nation? Why not be an extended family for children displaced from their homes? Military families can provide stability, love and a family for kids in need. I am so humbled and grateful to have been nominated for this year’s Military Spouse of the Year Award. There are so many remarkable spouses with amazing ideas, goals and causes that are al equally important. I’m honored to be considered as one of the many.