Branch: Coast Guard
Duty Station: Coast Guard District 5
Number of Deployments: 10
Number of PCS's: 5
Share your military spouse story:
I am a Coast Guard spouse of 12 years, mother of three energetic boys, and a loving friend to many. I enjoy being busy and have so many things I’m passionate about, so I have my hand in many buckets, so to speak. Currently, I am the unit Ombudsman, an advocate for food insecurity, a member of the spouses' club, PTO, the local community food pantry, ongoing church activities and more. Finding ways to serve others brings me joy and I love being active in my community. My hobbies include baking, cooking, sewing, and working out to the “pumped up” podcast. I was 21 when I first laid eyes on a tall handsome man at a friend’s birthday dinner. Little did I know two months later we would be saying “I do” and a year later would leave my family and life as I knew it to create our own. There is nothing scarier than being in a new state knowing only your coworkers and the one couple you clicked with at church while having a brand-new baby in the PNICU. I vividly remember picking up my phone ready to text my tribe after they wheeled him away but realizing none of them could come be on my side. That is when I knew I needed to push out of my comfort zone and meet new spouses. I jumped on the local spouses Facebook group, introduced myself and began with a local spouse’s lunch bunch, quickly building new friendships. We have been in isolated spaces like Kodiak, Alaska and Southwest Harbor, Maine while also living in heavy military areas such as Charleston, South Carolina and Portsmouth, Virginia. Everywhere we go I make it my mission to be involved immediately and build my circle. With 5 moves and 10 deployments, I have had the opportunity to not only spread my wings trying new things, but I’ve grown on many levels. This military life isn’t easy and is not for everyone, but I strive to be a listening ear, smiling face, and encouragement to all spouses I encounter. Having faced a lot of battles myself I always want others to know they are not alone in this lifestyle.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
We PCS’d 6 months ago I went from being emerged in volunteer opportunities to not even knowing my place in our new community, I felt empty and isolated, but that didn't last long. Our new duty station has opened my eyes to learning more about the food and financial insecurities military families are facing. As a mom and military spouse there has been more times than not where we were a one income family. Over the last 12 years I have had to master budgeting, flexible menu planning, and learning to stretch meals to go a long way. But not everyone can. This year I have been able to work with over 40 families, walking them through the process to make it work on just a few dollars. Alongside this, I have been using local community resources to help feed hundreds of military families within the Hampton Roads region. Families of all branches in our area know that if they are struggling financially or with food they can call, and I can assist or find the resources to assist them.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
Being an extrovert, I have strived from the very beginning to create that space no matter where we live or who comes and goes. I’ve always been the “spouse coordinator” of our group, hosting gatherings and creating events. I truly believe everyone needs to find their place and needs the support of others in their shoes. I volunteer where needed within the military spouse community. When you hold the title of “Ombudsman” many people think “you only do the things you do because you are obligated”. That is far from the truth. As the Ombudsman my hands are tied to many things including but not limited to offering babysitting services, hosting secluded social gatherings, giving people rides during emergencies and more. When I offer to do such things, I do them out of pure kindness and they are open to anyone inside or outside our unit. It is easy to get lost in the spouse realm, to feel unseen, scared, or lonely. I never want a spouse to feel like that where I am.
Describe how you support your community:
I believe that we are the representation for the military both when our spouses are present and absent. When we arrive at a unit and make it home, we aren’t just making the house a home but also the valued community in which we reside. I believe it’s extremely important that we represent our active-duty members and the military community with a positive and goal-oriented mindset in every community we live in. If the military presence is seen and known for the greater good; the community opens their arms even wider. It’s a win/win for everyone! With the heart for feeding families and being an advocate for food insecurity, I knew I needed to use my resources and what better place to start than feeding the local community. Twice a week before school we go and serve at a local pantry. In doing so, I not only am helping in a local cause, but have gained so much knowledge and insight on running a pantry, gathering my resources, and making connections to fuel one for military families.
What do you advocate for? Why?
As I have spent the last 9 months learning more about food insecurity and how financial stress plays a huge role in our marriages, the stress we carry, and the overall well-being of a person my advocacy looks a little different than it did a year ago or even 5 years ago. For the foreseeable future, I remain dedicated to educating our families on budgeting, menu planning, and how to take full advantage of the programs in place to support them without feeling shame or isolation. I strive for all spouses (whether they be new or well-seasoned) to feel like they have a place within this community. I want them to all know they have purpose and be comfortable. Anxiety and depression can live within us all. Some may never notice, and others can’t manage it. a main source for depression is food insecurity, not knowing how they will feed their families. Being shamed for reaching out and dealing with it is not acceptable and we as a collective community need to be part of the change.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
Primarily through social media and word of mouth here in the Hampton Roads/Tidewater region but also by working with our local pantries. One thing I have learned in this process is to not be afraid to speak up. Sharing my story and the stories of families I encounter is encouraging! It makes others more comfortable speaking out and asking for help for themselves, too. I am always trying to stay in the know on policy and the changes while always looking for ways to share resources with our families. I try to attend the “All Hands” on base, spouse events, and really any opportunity I know I will be able to share the statistics and reality of the struggle.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
Winning Military Spouse of the Year or not winning isn’t going to change my heart to serve. My hope if I am chosen to represent as a spouse of the year, is that I personally gain more knowledge and wisdom on the services available to our families to bring back to them. As Coast Guard families, we are not always truly inside the military circle or aware of all programs available to us. Many times, families are under the impression that the services are for DOD families only. As a spouse we don’t typically feel like we have access to making changes to policy or giving input on what our families at the bottom are experiencing. I want to be that voice. Nothing would make me happier than to be able to help others find their voice and feel comfortable reaching out and asking for help.
Christine has gone above and beyond for the locality of us military spouses and the area in general. Coast Guard spouses of Hampton roads. My nomination is for her because she has helped with keeping her neighborhood clean and supporting the military community here via food distribution, emotional support,meal planning support and educating fellow spouses.
- by Bailey Gustin
Christine has gone above and beyond to help service members and families in our community. I constantly see her volunteering diligently within our community, fighting for families struggling with food insecurity. She has gone above and beyond to ensure no one is forgotten and has created exceptional programs that will shape how military families fight food insecurity moving forward. No one deserves this year's title more than her, as the struggles to feed our service members' families are at an all-time high. Her kind heart is not unnoticed, and I can not fathom our community without her.
- by Eleanor Finney
She’s always the one you can count on to donate her time and her talents to others! She will babysit your kids, sew patches on a uniform or help run a food pantry! She puts others first constantly and fights for her fellow military families. She’s a great asset to any place she gets stationed!
- by Crystal Gonzalez
She just moved to the area this summer and has already immersed herself with the station and has been coordinating all kinds of events for spouses to do for fun or for charitable reasons. She’s always posting anything and everything family/military related in our Facebook page to keep us informed on so many things we may not have been aware of!
- by Kirsten Lehrschall
I have watched Christine over the last year and her advocacy work for our Coast Guard spouse is unmatched. She has completely devoted herself to serving families struggling with significant pain points of food insecurity, hardship and transition, to name a few. I know our spouses would be brimming with excitement and pride to have her represent us as our USCG SOY for 2023!
- by Jessica Manfre