Branch: Coast Guard
Duty Station: Coast Guard District 17
Number of Deployments: 0
Number of PCS's: 1
Share your military spouse story:
I experienced my first PCS as a milspouse when my husband received orders to the remote island town of Sitka, Alaska. I was excited despite leaving many of my comforts and pastimes behind. To add to the anticipation, an unexpected blessing was on the way, due to arrive just two months before our move! With limited to no childcare options in our new little town, I knew my teaching career would also be put on hold. Our baby girl was born on the cusp of the pandemic, and while the rest of the world bunkered down at home, we moved across the country. After settling in, I quickly realized how much I depended on my career and old pastimes to define who I was. What was I going to do? How would I make friends? What would our life look like in this new and daunting lifestyle? All of these questions were, as I was about to find out, frequent concerns among milspouses. While researching my new home, I came across the Coast Guard Spouses and Women’s Association and found an opening for a position on their board. Here was my lifeline! People who knew how to do this military move thing! But the pandemic raged on, winter hit hard, and the sunsets started creeping in at 3pm. I found sanctuary within the spouses of CGSWA. These few women helped me navigate the hurdles of new motherhood. They, like me, were new to the island life. We helped each other make this new place feel a little bit more like home. I became passionate about supporting these women and found it my mission to sustain and nourish this welcoming community. I left behind my career and pastimes, only to discover I had gained so much more by becoming a milspouse, mother, and supporter of other spouses. I would spend the next two years serving as the president of the CGSWA, a position that has enabled me to lead and befriend other Coast Guard spouses. My military spouse story is long from over, and my passion lives on as we prepare for another PCS, another adventure, and another community to strengthen and support.
Share an example of your leadership experience within the military community:
As president of CGSWA, I worked relentlessly to host pandemic-friendly events. I digitized our filing system, built a new website full of helpful resources, and focused on developing robust opportunities for all types of spouses. I researched other milspouse clubs and organizations to help avoid burnout and disbursement from happening again. My team and I created a new era of community events and goals that focused on meaningful connections. By focusing on the health of our members that first year, I was able to organize our biggest fundraiser in the spring of 2022, an artisan market supporting Sitka’s economic growth. The majority of the funds raised at this event went back to the greater community in the form of scholarships and non-profit grants to assist with COVID relief. We all walked away from that event feeling fulfilled, connected, and emotionally healthy. During my time as president, membership grew 269% with over 65% involvement in our programs by Sitka Coast Guard spouses.
Describe your involvement in the military community:
During my two years as President of CGSWA, I collaborated with the USO to bring a baby shower and murder mystery event to the island and have used my platform to share their many virtual events. I supported and worked with spouses looking to establish Coast Guard spouses' groups at their stations. I joined the National Council of Coast Guard Spouses’ Clubs in a virtual form to brainstorm ways to overcome the struggles of the isolating pandemic. I collaborated with our four Ombudsmen in Sitka to promote their resources and knowledge of military programs and resources. I supported and was a reference for spouses applying for military scholarships to extend their education. I organized small business markets outside of CGSWA that supported the larger Sitka community but also many Coast Guard spouses in their entrepreneurial endeavors. Last, but maybe most importantly, I enjoy being a gatherer, networker, and supporter of Coast Guard spouses.
Describe how you support your community:
In leading and strengthening the CGSWA, I have been able to connect members with one another, intentionally leaving spousal rank and station behind. I used the long-standing reputation of the association within the community to provide career notices of milspouse-friendly positions at local businesses, host unique events using newly formed community relationships, and assembled a community resource page for newcomers on our website. To promote health and teamwork during our challenging Alaska winters, I spearheaded a “Go the Distance Challenge” in a virtual setting. This program has grown to include past spouses of CGSWA as well as spouses from Kodiak and Juneau, Alaska. Because of CGSWA’s fundraising success, I’ve been able to work with the board to expand our mission and provide the majority of our events and supports to non-members, having 65% of the Coast Guard spouses in Sitka involved in our programs.
What do you advocate for? Why?
Being a military spouse requires flexibility and career priority which can be extremely difficult. Moving to a remote island lifestyle can be additionally demanding and isolating. I have felt these challenges but have also been fortunate to be supported during them. I want other spouses going through unique military family transitions to know they are not alone. We are all here, living some version of this rewarding but sometimes challenging experience. I believe in encouraging spouses to engage with one another to nurture their health.
How have you spread the message of your platform/advocacy?
In planning monthly meetings and other events for the CGSWA community, I have used a variety of digital media including google drive to share agendas, Canva to create quality fliers, Facebook groups and events to advertise, website creation, and newsletters to keep members and potential members informed. I have supported multiple spouses starting groups within their Coast Guard communities by sharing these new digital platforms. When advertising fundraising events, I have used multiple community outlets such as PSAs in local newspapers, paid ads, and radio interviews to broadcast CGSWA fundraisers and our mission. I’ve been involved in virtual forums with the National Council of Coast Guard Spouses’ Clubs by both bringing back new ideas to try and drawing from our successes to help assist other clubs.
What do you hope to accomplish with the AFI Military Spouse of the Year®
I’m excited about the prospect of this platform and humbled by being nominated by my fellow spouses. When starting the journey of restructuring CGSWA, I had the privilege of hearing from the 2020 SOY, Paulette Fryar, in a virtual form with the National Council of Coast Guard Spouses’ Clubs. I didn’t know much about the SOY program then, but what I do know is that she gave me the enthusiasm to continue this mission of supporting and connecting. The thought of someday doing the same for other spouses keeps me going! I would use my passion and growth to collaborate with an expanded network of military spouses to contribute to their health and well-being in a larger way.
She has spent the last 2 years of her time in Sitka being the most hardworking and supportive spouse/mother/friend to those she has surrounded herself with. In addition to raising 2 little's she stepped into the roll as president of the Sitka Coast Guard Spouses' and Womens Association (CGSWA) when it was endanger of being disassembled. Since then she has successfully coordinated the biggest fundraiser, the Rainy Day Bazaar (RDB), and many other events. She has given artists, bakers, and other members of Sitka opportunities to support themselves with the vendor fairs she has organized on top of the RDB. She runs board meetings, creates merchandise, and has supported other board members with events they wanted to put on. But one of the biggest and lasting legacies that will remain after she leaves is the community that has been created within CGSWA and the outside community of Sitka; who loves the CG and I think the relationship Kirsten has made with the community has only helped that.
- by Erin Grabast