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'We are all survivors'

Air Force Spouse of the Year Christy Lange

Christy and her husband, Tech Sgt. Sean Lange, pose for a photo with NASCAR driver Darrell “Bubba” Wallace. (Courtesy photo)

Lt. Col. Don Christy (left) died by suicide, Kristen Christy

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- April 21, 2008, is the day Lt. Col. Don Christy (right) took his life at Black Forest Regional Park in Colorado Springs, Colo. Since that day, Kristen (left) has also dealt with the disappearance of her oldest son, Ryan. Despite these challenges, Kristen has been a prominent figure in the Air Force community through her work with suicide awareness and resilience. On Feb. 23, she was named Air Force Spouse of the Year for 2018. (Courtesy photo)

Kristen Christy, Don Christy, Military Spouse of the Year

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Kristen Christy has faced numerous hardships throughout her life. Ten years ago her husband, Don Christy, died by suicide at Black Forest Regional Park in Colorado Springs, Colo. Her oldest son Ryan went missing Sept. 20, 2015, and has yet to be found. Despite these challenges, Christy has proved her resilience and was recognized as the Air Force Spouse of the Year for 2018. (U.S. Air Force photo by Dennis Hoffman)

Mrs. Kristen Christy, USAF Spouse of the Year for 2018, tells the story of her husband's suicide and how it has lasting effects on her family.

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Having faced numerous hardships throughout her life, it would have been easy for Kristen Christy to give up. Instead, she has dedicated her life to giving back.

Christy’s dad served in the Air Force for 32 years and her family moved frequently while she was young. They were living in Germany in 1983 when Kristen’s life was turned upside down. … for the first time. Just before her 16th birthday, she suffered a massive stroke that paralyzed her right side and took away her dream of some day serving in the Air Force.

Doctors told her parents she may not live and if she did, she would probably never walk again and would probably have extensive brain damage.
Demonstrating a never-give-up attitude that would come to define her life, she refused to let the stroke beat her. She learned to write with her left hand and, after a year and a half of rehabilitation, she learned to walk again.

The stroke left her with a shock of white hair across her bangs that she wears to this day. “It’s my silver lining,” she said. “It grew in after my stroke. It reminds me whenever I look in the mirror that there is a silver lining to everything. No matter how bad things might get, you have to keep telling yourself that things are going to get better.”
It’s that kind of indomitable spirit that helped Christy survive one of the toughest challenges life can bring. Ten years ago, her first husband, Reserve Lt. Col. Don Christy, died by suicide not long after he had returned home from a deployment.

Needless to say, Christy and her two sons, Ryan and Ben, who were 14 and 12 at the time, were devastated. Ryan, in particular, had an extremely difficult time dealing with his father’s death.

“We were catatonic when we got the news that Don had killed himself,” she said. “We didn’t know what we were going to do, but we had friends and family members who helped lift us out of that dark time. I think a lot of people are afraid to approach someone when they have just suffered a loss because they don’t know what to say or are afraid they’ll say the wrong thing. You don’t have to say anything, you just need to be there.”

At age 16, Ryan was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. “I think if he had those years to mature, life would be different for him,” Christy said. “He would not have turned to drugs and started self-medicating with meth and heroine.”

Christy tried desperately to help Ryan deal with his father’s death and the drug addiction that followed. She thought he was getting better. He was sober for three years before he disappeared on Sept. 20, 2015. Christy hasn’t seen or heard from him since.
Just like with the stroke, Christy refused to let the suicide or her son’s disappearance beat her.

Four years ago, she remarried. Her new husband is Tech Sgt. Sean Lange, a Reserve Citizen Airman assigned to the 53rd Network Operations Squadron (formerly the 960th NOS) at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. She is currently the corporate engagement and events manager for a local defense contracting company, the president of the Colorado Springs chapter of the Air Force Association, the incoming chairman of the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce’s Military Affairs Council and a lecturer who travels the country speaking on resilience and suicide prevention.

“No matter what I’m going through, my Air Force family has always been there for me,” Christy said. “Our Air Force is our family. My parents taught me early on to get embedded in your community. That lesson has stayed with me to this day. There are times when I need people to put their arms around me and help me and there are times when I can be the person who is able to help. By being embedded in our communities and fostering relationships, we become better people and our communities become stronger.”

For the past three years, Christy has served as the Key Spouse for the her husband’s squadron. She has been the piggyback ride when someone else needed it. She has been there to wrap her arms around someone when they need to be held. And she has quickly earned a reputation for her enthusiasm building relationships and supporting the squadron’s Reservists and family members.

“She has worked hard to give us a sense of community,” said Lt. Col. Anita Edmonds, former 960th NOS commander. “She’s always there for families, whether they are struggling with personal issues or bringing in a new baby. She even reached out to me and let me know about free resources for my children while my husband was deployed.”

Earlier this year, Christy was named the 2018 Air Force Spouse of the Year by Armed Forces Insurance and Military Spouse Magazine. She was the first spouse of an Air Force Reservist to receive the honor.

“I cried when I found out,” she said. “My Air Force family has done so much for me. It’s a privilege for me to be able to give something back.”

The Key Spouse program is an official Air Force program designed to enhance readiness and build unit cohesion outside the work place.

Promoting the Key Spouse program and developing resilient leaders throughout Air Force Reserve Command are top priorities for Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee, AFRC commander, and his wife, Janis.

“We need more people like Kristen to step up and become involved with the Key Spouse program,” Mrs. Scobee said. “She has a huge heart and is willing to use what she has learned dealing with some extremely difficult experiences to help others. Everyone can learn something about resilience from listening to Kristen’s story. I am so proud of what she has done as a Key Spouse and as a member of the Air Force Reserve family.”

Not surprisingly, suicide prevention holds a place near to Christy’s heart.

“My family has experienced the anguish of a suicide and the lasting effects that follow,” she said. “After 10 years, we are ready to share our story. Let our 20-20 hindsight be somebody else’s 20-15 foresight. Let us use our resiliency and lessons learned to help others transition from post-traumatic stress to post-traumatic growth.”

Kristen Christy is a survivor who would love to see March 4th be commemorated as National Survivor’s Day. She is currently working with Mrs. Pence’s office and her Colorado delegates to make it happen.

“We are all survivors of something – a broken heart, lost job, illness, death,” she said. “We help each other put one foot in front of the other and ‘March 4th’and conquer. I would love to see March 4th as a beacon of hope, even for just one day, for those in the throes of life’s tests to realize they are resilient and that together we can overcome any challenge.”

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