Meet the 2020 AFI MSOY Top 18!

kristen thoennes

Branch:
Air Force

Duty Station:
Shaw Air Force Base

Number of Deployments:
0

Number of PCS's:
3

Share your military spouse story:
When I met my husband in college, I did not know that I would one day be a military spouse. At the time he had no plans to join the military, but it was always in the back of his mind as both his father & grandfathers served in the military. After we were married, my husband worked at my Dad's company in TX. But unfortunately, due to the recession, my dad had to lay him off (that's anther fun story). We moved back to SC & lived off unemployment for about a year before my husband decided to pursue becoming a member of the USAF. He almost took a job in the private sector, but I knew joining the AF was the right choice for him and me. Our first base was Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, OH. We loved living there, but I felt so isolated. I had a hard time finding people with common interests. Our squadron did not have a Key Spouse program at the time and I didn't know the first thing about a spouse club. I had a fantastic work family, though! I worked for base housing and loved meeting all the other military families and helping them to find a home for their time at Wright-Patt. Then my husband applied & was accepted for Officer Training School. After training, we PCSed to Beale AFB in California. I vowed not to repeat the same lonely experience & jumped right into activities. I joined a Book Club that I eventually led. I became very involved with our squadron spouse group. I joined the Beale Officers' Spouses' Club. I became a Key Spouse. It was a much improved experience! Our time at Beale came to an end & we PCSed to Shaw AFB. I was so excited to be back in our home state! I immediately joined the Shaw Officers' Spouses' Club & served on the board during and after the transition to a combined club. I have served as Public Relations chair and President during our time here and it has helped me meet so many amazing military spouses and community members!

Describe your involvement in the military community:
As a military spouse, I have learned to be involved! Towards the very end of our time at Wright-Patterson AFB I joined the spouses' club, but we PCSed shortly afterward. Upon arriving to Beale AFB, I joined a book club for spouses of the base & eventually became the leader where I facilitated our monthly meetings. I was heavily involved with our squadron spouse group & helped plan spouse socials. I also became a Key Spouse. I was a member of the Beale Officers' Spouses' Club where I served as Publicity Chair our last year. At Shaw AFB, I have been a member of the Shaw Spouses' Club. I served a PR Chair & then was elected President for the 2018-19 year. For the 2019-2020 year, I started at PR chair & have since filled a vacancy in the President position when the previous President was faced with an unexpected PCS. For both PR & President, I served on many committees within the club including our scholarship committee. Lastly, I am leader for the Shaw Book Lovers group.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
Serving as President of the Shaw Spouses' Club for our 2018-19 year was a big leadership role for me! I have served as President of other organizations (non-military) in the past, but this was a totally different experience! It was a challenging experience for me because we had a number of board members that stepped down half-way through the year. The biggest hurdle was when our Treasurer stepped down. Things had been left in a bit of a mess, so I brought together our board to go through all our finances to make sure everything was correct & accounted for. Our team spent many nights pouring over the budgets, receipts and bank accounts to make sure everything was squared away. But it was important to do that to ensure our Club was doing what was right! Afterward we were confident about giving away $8500 in scholarship money and able to do countless other things to serve our community.

Describe how you support your community:
As a military spouse, I know how lonely it can be when you first PCS to a new duty station. I work to support the military community by serving on the spouses' club. Spouses' clubs do a lot of fantastic work for the military community and offer resources for spouses. I love planning our Special Activity Group events! For example, I am planning a Birthday Bunco night where our members can come play bunco, eat cake and have a fun night away from the kids! This might seem like a small act, but I know it can make a huge difference. Having a group of people that you can turn to and that understand your struggles can make the difference in whether or not you enjoy your current duty station.

What platform do you advocate for? Why?
I heard a statistic today that said one in five millennials have zero friends. It broke my heart, but I can really understand how that would be possible. While serving as PR chair for the Shaw Spouses' Club I spent a lot of time on social media promoting the club's events and programs. Time and time again I saw spouses reach out on the base-wide Facebook groups saying they don't know anyone here and are lonely. I never want anyone to feel the isolation I felt as a new military spouse, so I try to offer them all their options to get involved! Each base has numerous options for spouses--squadron/unit spouse groups, church groups and spouses' clubs are just a few. But as a new spouse, you may not know about them.

How have you spread the message of your platform?
Through my participation with the Shaw Spouses' Club I have enjoyed some amazing opportunities to share my platform. I personally invite spouses to Shaw Spouses' Club events and I have an excuse to reach out to the many spouses I see that are lonely and looking to make friends. I have also had the privilege of being interviewed for a few articles. One was for a magazine called South Carolina Living and it was about how non-military in the community can welcome military families. It was such a fun thing to be interviewed about! Sumter, SC is very military friendly, but they may not always know what military families need to feel welcomed. Recently I was interviewed by the Sumter Item, our local newspaper, to share about what the Shaw Spouses' Club has accomplished in the past year and what we are looking forward to this year. I emphasized that joining groups like the spouses' club is a fantastic way for military spouses to build relationships and learn about the local community!

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
First, it would be an amazing accomplishment that I would truly value and appreciate! I would love to win to communicate to new military spouses what opportunities there are for them! I've had numerous opportunities as a milspouse that I wouldn't have had otherwise. I encourage military spouses to get involved in their squadrons, spouse clubs or local community organizations and serve! Doing so can make the biggest difference in how you feel about your current duty station. Sometimes we are stationed at bases that we don't love or do not have all the amenities we would like, but having a community of friends can make up for that in a big way!

Nominations

Kristen selflessly devotes tremendous amounts of time and energy towards continuously improving the morale of military family members at every duty station her family is assigned. She is currently serving her second term as President of the Shaw Spouses’ Club where she directs programs to boost the welfare of over 6,000 families. In 2019 alone, through her work with the spouses' club, over $14,000 was raised for education scholarships for Shaw AFB dependents. Additionally, Kristen and her husband established and manage an endowed scholarship at their alma mater, Winthrop University, that is awarded annually to a military veteran undergraduate.
- by charles thoennes