SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - Four women living in South Mississippi, including one Coast native, are vying for a spot as Military Spouse of the Year.
The Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year recognizes military spouses' important contributions and unwavering commitment to the military community and our country. Spouses from all branches of the Armed Forces are eligible. The military spouses are nominated by their communities.
Of the four South Mississippi military spouses that are competing to make it in the top 18, two are stationed at Keesler Air Force Base, one is stationed at Naval Construction Battalion Center Gulfport, and one is stationed at the Combat Readiness Training Center in Gulfport.
Callie Bunter, a native of Diamondhead, has been married to Zach Bunter since 2010. He is in the U.S. Navy and is currently deployed, making the fifth deployment since they married. After putting her own career on hold while her husband was stationed around the country, she is now back at home on the Gulf Coast.
With him gone, she cares for her stepdaughter while volunteering for multiple organizations along the Gulf Coast. One of those volunteer jobs was with American Red Cross, which led to a paid job as a specialist tasked with assisting members of the Armed Forces.
Callie’s husband said his wife lives her life giving to others, taking on the mantra, “service before self." For Callie, it’s all about reaching other military spouses and making connections with people.
“Being a military spouse is sometimes a lonely life and many spouses not only get lost in transition, they isolate themselves in a bubble," she said in her biography. “I would like to let families know that they have a great variety of resources at their disposal and that they are not alone.”
To read more about Callie, her accomplishments within the military community, and why she was nominated, click HERE.
Katie Byrd has been a military spouse for 13 years. She and her husband, who is in the U.S. Air Force, have two daughters. A victim of child sexual abuse, she says her mission is to help others within the military community heal from their own traumas. It was particularly important for her to find a female counselor, she said, which was difficult to do in the military community. That motivated her to pursue a bachelor's degree in crisis counseling, which she is currently working on.
"Through my own transparency, I hope to make a path for others who are alone, scared, and ashamed in the shadows to take a courageous step into the open," Katie says in her online biography. "There is no need to hide any longer. What a person battles does not define them."
To read more about Katie and what she hopes to accomplish within the military community, click HERE.
Crystal Boggs is an Air Force wife and mother of two who is choosing to make her home on the Coast. As her family received new orders at different bases, Crystal said she struggled to find a career that she could adapt to fit their life no matter where they were stationed.
“Careers of spouses is an ongoing issue that many organizations have started to really focus on to see if they can improve the hire rate of the spouse,” she said in her biography.
While in Biloxi, Crystal did that, achieving her real estate broker's license. She is now in the process of opening a real estate franchise that focuses on assisting members of the military who are buying a home. After returning from his last deployment, Crystal's husband was stationed three hours away but she made the decision to remain in Biloxi, saying Keesler will be "where our journey ends and new chapter begins."
To read more about Crystal and her mission as a military spouse, click HERE.
Cristy Reid is the wife of a colonel and commander in the Mississippi Air National Guard. Throughout their marriage, Cristy has made it a priority to support her husband’s ambitions and to help him achieve them.
Cristy said she experienced highs and lows throughout her husband’s career, which has taken them all over the country. After isolating herself and growing depressed, Cristy went looking for resources and said she had to really search to find them. That inspired her to start a social media support group for military spouses who may be going through similar feelings.
“Our military families did not willingly join the military, but their lives are controlled daily by it, and they are entitled to the answers they seek,” said Cristy in her biography. “It’s time for us to appreciate our families and all the sacrifices they make daily. They should never have to go searching for answers with all of the programs that are available to them.”
Cristy and her have four children, including one daughter who is following in her father’s footsteps, recently beginning her own military career. To read more about Cristy and her journey to becoming a support system for others, click HERE.
The Voting Process
After being nominated, military spouses are judged by a panel based on their level of involvement with the military community, their leadership skills, their platform and advocacy on behalf of military spouses, their ability to communicate effectively with the public and media, and the compelling and inspiring stories they have to tell.
Online voting opened Feb. 8 and runs through Feb. 12. The top 18 will be decided based on the results of that popular vote and by a panel of judges from MSOY. Three candidates from each branch of the military will be selected to make up the top 18. Branch voting will be held Feb. 25-26, with the winners being selected due to a combined scored from the popular vote, the MSOY panel, and a judge advisory panel.
From that vote, six candidates will progress to the national level. The final round of voting will commence on March 7-8 and the winner with the highest combined score from the popular vote, the MSOY panel, and the judge’s panel will be selected. The national winner will be announced at an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C. on May 9.
The program has been presenting awards to military spouses since 2008.