Crystal Bettenhausen-Bubulka

Branch: Navy

Duty Station: Naval Base San Diego

Number of Deployments: 3

Number of PCS's: 8

Share your military spouse story:
My military spouse story has always focused on opportunities to find a place to thrive. From very early in my spouses career I have been up for adventure which included following my spouse from Jacksonville, FL, to sunny San Diego. After our tour in San Diego, we received orders overseas to Sasebo, Japan. There I met a retired Japanese Naval Captain. We spent time touring Japanese nursing homes and discussing support for aging Japanese Nationals. This culture exchange turned into a desire to further my education in gerontology. During our next tour I was accepted at USC for a graduate program while my spouse volunteered for an assignment in Afghanistan. This opportunity allowed us to both work on our individual career goals. I would go on to earn my MSW and a Masters in Gerontology. During this time our family also expanded. We moved back to San Diego and I started working towards professional licensure hours. When my spouse received orders to Bahrain, I found myself in conflict; either I would stay behind with our 3 children to focus on my career or I would leave my career and hopes for licensure. After 4 geographically separated tours within 5 years we decided that being together as a family was our priority. I left my job and embraced the idea of living in the Middle East. Bahrain became a place in which I was able to dig my heals in to the sand. I was able to collect clinical hours by advocating for women who were struggling with domestic abuse & sexual assault. When we moved to Hawaii I was still short of clinical hours. In 2020, as the world shut down to the global pandemic, I finally earned the hours I needed. We are now back in San Diego and I am now licensed. I have just opened up my own private practice. The silver linings have always been part of our story as a military family. They have developed my profession and given me the opportunity to thrive in unique situations., This success is all thanks to my spouse’s service in the US Navy.

Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
My leadership experiences have focused on my passion for supporting military spouse employment. In Bahrain I joined the executive board of In Gear Career, currently known as Hiring our Heroes Military Spouse Professional Network. As co-lead in Bahrain I was able to advocate for spouse employment. Three years after joining the organization, my spouse received orders to Hawaii. I reached out to our headquarters and expressed interest in starting a network in Oahu. We launched our network in 2019. In our first year our network received the honor of being named the “2019 Network of the Year”. I served as the co-lead for three years, growing the organization and navigating the challenges of a global pandemic. I served on the board of the Hawaii Workforce Development Council as a member of the Veterans Affairs Committee.

Describe your involvement in the military community:
I am an active participant in all aspects of the military community. My involvement in each duty station includes active participation in spouse clubs and organizations, as well as volunteer service. I volunteer at the Sand Dollar Too shop, where all proceeds go to scholarships for military families. I am an active participant in events and encourage others to do the same. I have always found a network of support from attending events and volunteering for board positions and I encourage others to do the same. I also encourage spouses to be mindful of the volunteer work they are doing in order to prevent burn out and feelings of being overwhelmed. Throughout my spouses career I have always participated in Family Readiness Groups as well as fundraisers and events.

Describe how you support your community:
The first thing that I focus on after each PCS is branching out to network and find support for our family. I thrive on finding ways to give back to my community by volunteering. I am passionate about building community support. As a Command Support Team member my current focus is on supporting our command spouses. I host monthly events and support our command ombudsman with resources for those spouses who are just finding their “sea legs”. We welcome all spouses and significant others, and form a community of inclusiveness and mutual respect. In my community I serve as an admin on a military family Facebook page. Building a welcoming environment for new incoming military families and providing support for those who may be having a harder time finding housing, employment or child care. I also serve as an admin for the SWO Spouse group on Facebook. I believe in focusing on creating positive environments and facilitating conversations in which mentorship and support can be found.

What do you advocate for? Why?
I advocate for military spouses to find a place in which they can thrive. I believe that each and every military spouse has a talent and skill set. I advocate for military spouse employment as I believe quality spousal employment allows for mission readiness and overall life satisfaction. I also believe that when spouses surround themselves with educated and experienced military spouses who are crushing it professionally, they enter a world of network support. Having a network of spouses who understand the desire to stay in the workforce creates a ripple effect of positive growth. That ripple effect leads to well-being on the home front, job satisfaction, and financial flexibility. I advocate for spouses to continue education and find opportunities for personal and professional growth in the workplace.

How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
I have served as a member on panels regarding military spouse employment as well as community outreach committees and focus groups tailored to better understanding employment concerns within the military spouse community. I have met with base leadership in both Bahrain and Hawaii to discuss improvements for employment as well as providing data on the positive impact of spouse employment. I have served on committees such as the Work Force Development Military Affairs committee. I have submitted testimonies regarding challenges with professional licensure concerns, and taken part in speaking out regarding these challenges with government leaders. I serve on professional committees such as NASW advocating for expediting military spouse applications after PCS'ing and I am an active participant in social media forums in which other spouses are looking for job advancement, returning to school for post graduate work and act as a mentor for those seeking licensure in the mental health field.

What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year® title?
The last two years have been challenging for military families. The global pandemic created countless challenges for our military community members; isolation, anxiety, depression and trauma went on inside the homes of our military families. We entered into the pandemic with underused programs and supportive organizations. I want to focus on how we move forward at building our military communities in a post pandemic world to support the modern-day military family. I would like to focus on understanding how mental health can impact military spouses, and mission readiness. We have had two years of a global pandemic, and many social organizations, supportive entities and base services are still operating in a pre-pandemic mindset, these organization are having challenges with volunteer recruitment, low membership and underutilized programs. This is an unprecedented time in history, and we need to reflect and adapt to continue to offer our military families the best support possible.


Crystal has mentored countless military spouses of all branches due to her unwavering leadership in multiple veterans and military spouse organizations. She launched the Hiring our Heroes Hawaii Military Spouse Professional Network. Due to her leadership, she grew the network from 100 plus members to over 736 members to date (and growing). She established community, corporate and military leadership partnerships. Her most significant success has been building a network-driven to push the limits on advocating for spousal employment challenges in Hawai'i, Bahrain, and San Diego. She inspires and empowers military spouses that she touches every day. My nomination is not giving Crystal much justice because I know that she provides so much more to her Navy community. She never complains about serving others and making a difference. She would be a great asset to the Military Spouse of the Year program.
- by Cynthia Giesecke