Chrichelle Fernandez

Branch: Air-Force

Duty Station: Tinker-AFB

Number of Deployments: 3

Number of PCS's: 1

About the nominee: I was born in the Philippines and moved to North Carolina when I was almost 3 years old. My dad served in the U.S. Army for 20 years, so I had the privilege of growing up a military brat. Part of that time, we lived in Germany for almost eight years and it was such a wonderful experience as a child traveling throughout Europe. My dad retired in Colorado Springs after his last assignment at Ft. Carson, but he continued to work overseas as a contractor for several more years. My mom is a nurse and I have two younger brothers who graduated college with special honors for degrees in architecture and computer science. I was always the more artistic type, so after high school I moved to Arizona for college and received my Bachelor’s Degree in Visual Communication. My last few years in Arizona, I was a senior graphic designer at the Arizona State University Foundation. It was great to be on campus working on projects that helped support university fundraising initiatives and various research projects. ASU has also been named one of the top schools for veterans, active military members, and their families. My husband, TSgt Kamanu or "KJ" as everyone calls him, and I met while he was stationed at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale, AZ and worked as an aircraft electrician. He later cross trained to become a flight engineer. After we got married in 2008, we received orders to Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, OK and have been here ever since. We have two beautiful boys - Daniel age 12, and Tyler age 6. Since moving to Oklahoma, I've worked in the marketing department at American Fidelity - a large family-owned company that specializes in supplemental insurance products and employer benefit solutions. Currently, I'm a certified usability analyst. I work on branding development, marketing materials, various web projects, and mobile apps to help improve usability and the overall customer experience. In 2015, after battling several symptoms, I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Some days are more difficult than others, but thankfully, I've only had a couple major flare-ups since then. I have been under stable treatment and have amazing doctors, family and friends who have helped me through it all. Since being diagnosed, I've learned how to manage my health, stay consistent with exercising, and have learned that it's okay to slow down sometimes to enjoy moments as they're happening. I’ve been involved with the spouses groups at Tinker since 2009 and have been a Key Spouse for our past two squadrons since 2011. It’s been great getting to know spouses over the years and being involved with squadron events and fundraisers. KJ and I actively serve at our local church and we have also volunteered with the American Heart Association, Solo Parent Foundation, Blue Star Moms, military welcome center, and Love OKC. Love OKC is a citywide outreach event that provides groceries, health services, community service connections, lunch, haircuts, family portraits, and activities for children - all for free. Our entire family loves sports, traveling, attending church, local events and concerts. Daniel loves playing soccer and Tyler enjoys playing football. We're loyal Denver Broncos and Oklahoma City Thunder fans! We've also been dubbed true foodies by our friends. KJ loves to cook, I like to bake, and we're always on the hunt to find new and unique restaurants to try. He's very passionate about cooking, so I'd love to see him on the Food Network someday!

Hobbies: I love hula dancing! I started dancing in middle school while we were stationed in Germany. My cheerleading coach was Hawaiian and she held hula lessons on base. When we moved to Colorado, I joined a youth group with the Filipino American Association. Throughout high school, we performed traditional Filipino and Hawaiian dances at various events. After that, I didn't dance again until our wedding day when I surprised KJ with a performance to the Hawaiian Wedding Song. He was born and raised in Hawaii, so we have a huge luau at our house in the summertime. A few years ago, we hired a local dance group to perform at our luau and I’ve been dancing with them ever since! I love my hula sisters and how close knit we’ve become. Ohana definitely has strong meaning for us. We perform at private, local, out of state events, and also at an annual Hawaiian picnic on base for past and current service members. I also love creating fun design projects like custom shirts, mugs, signs and party decorations to keep my design skills fresh.

Interesting Facts: I'm pretty shy and reserved, which is surprising to some. But I do love meeting new people and learning about them. I’m intrigued by people’s stories, cultures, and their passions. I’ve met so many unique and interesting individuals over the years locally and from different countries; several of them are still really great friends. With so many people in the world, we will all cross paths with someone new we can learn from who have special talents, or is extremely knowledgeable in something we’re not. It helps to broaden my knowledge on different cultures and skill sets.

What is something you’ve learned from being a military spouse? Being a military spouse has definitely made me appreciate my mom so much more. I’ve always respected her for keeping things together and for taking such great care of me and my brothers while my dad was deployed or on a TDY. I see things differently now as a military spouse than when I grew up as a military child. Change is constant and can sometimes be frustrating, so I've learned to plan for things one week at a time. And since I'm quite the planner, this has taken some major discipline on my part. Sure, I can add events and reminders to a monthly calendar, but when my KJ is on a busy flying schedule, or an unexpected TDY pops up, I've had to take a deep breath and make the most of the situation without him. If there's an important school event or sports game that happens while he's gone, I've invited friends and neighbors who have always come to support us. And, if possible, I'll have KJ on FaceTime during the event so he can be a part of it. So, thanks to technology for that!

In your opinion, what is one of the most important issues facing military families? I'm thankful to say I grew up in a family who was very close. My brothers and I had loving, supportive parents and were surrounded by other military families that shared the same values and experiences. Now that I'm a military spouse, I’ve learned the hard way, and from other friend's experiences, that our families are often stereotyped as being “unstable” for various reasons. Several years ago, my previous husband and I went through a long custody journey that turned upside down when I moved to Oklahoma. I’m sad to say that my older son, Daniel, lives in Arizona with his dad during the school year. I was labeled as “less stable” in the court documents, although I was not the active duty member. Other comments were that we would be moving every 2-3 years because KJ was only five years into his career at the time. This happened in 2009, and while KJ has advanced in his career, we have managed to stay in Oklahoma this entire time. Daniel and I talk every day, and I try my best to keep in contact with his teachers to stay connected in his daily life. I’m thankful that he’s home with us in Oklahoma during breaks and the entire summer, but not having his physical presence during the school year is still difficult for me. Daniel is doing great in school and has parents who love him unconditionally, so I’m just comforted knowing that he’s doing okay. However, I've learned that "stability" is not absent just because military families move, or the service member is deployed often. Those experiences can create a stronger bond within the family, and homecomings are just that much sweeter. Children have the opportunity to explore different parts of the world and meet new people. Military families are exposed to diverse cultures, so I feel they tend to be open-minded and more accepting of people with different worldviews. Being a military family has also made us all very resilient and we’ve become stronger because of it. I also think being a military family can sometimes hurt job opportunities for spouses who are looking. So I appreciate when I learn of employers who are supportive of military families and offer positions that are understanding of our ever changing lifestyle. I'm blessed to work for a company and have managers that fully supports my family. Obviously there can be stressful times, but it all depends on how you choose to handle situations. Whether it's a dual- or single-parent unit, it’s just another aspect of focusing on our children more to build a solid foundation, and making sure they are taken care of emotionally, physically and mentally as best we can.

What is one of the best aspects of being in a military family? One of the best aspects of being in a military family is the amazing support system from military and non-military friends. We do not have any family in Oklahoma, but several of our neighbors, coworkers and other military families have definitely filled that void for us. Military life can be one big giant family and everyone steps up when others are in need - especially my closest girlfriends who are military spouses with kids. We love to get together every chance we can for holidays, dinners and sometimes just fun at the park. Having friends who can empathize with me during TDY's or deployments definitely helps the time go by much faster. And they also know when I just need a shoulder to cry on because the internet is down at KJ's base overseas and we can't FaceTime for a while!

What is one thing you want to accomplish with the Military Spouse of the Year title? Last year, KJ and I helped build a program to support families left behind while their spouses were deployed. This program is something I'd like to share among the different military branches to help build morale, keep families safe and build on the idea of "stability" and constant support. My idea began several years ago during one of KJ's deployments. Our youngest son, Tyler, was only three months old and we had just moved into a brand new neighborhood a few months before KJ left. We were the only house in our area at the time and didn't know any of our neighbors. I had an issue with our garage door and was quoted a few hundred dollars in repair charges by a different contractors. Frustrated, I contacted one of KJ’s friends, who wasn't deployed at the time, and he came over to take a look at the issue. It ended up being a quick 5-minute fix and a bolt that just needed to be replaced. After that, I wondered how many other military families had to deal with an unexpected home or auto repair that they paid hundreds of dollars for when it may not have been needed. In 2015 KJ deployed again, but thankfully this time, we were surrounded by neighbors and close friends who helped look after us while he was gone. After he returned, the wheels in my head started turning again on what we could do to better support families during deployments. KJ and I took my idea and we helped create a program that was designed to help families of deployed members in the event of an emergency such as home or auto repairs, and severe weather. The program was called “Task Force 960th," since he was assigned to the 960th AACS squadron at the time. Volunteers, made up of squadron members who did not deploy, were assigned to different parts of the Oklahoma City metro area. We had several key spouses at the time that did weekly check-in's for family members. These family members were able to contact their key spouse at any time in case assistance was needed. The Task Force developed teams based on skills sets and expertise such as electrical, plumbing, carpentry, home/auto repair, children's toys and bikes, natural gas and emergency yard work/clean up. The squadron's deployment in 2016 was during Oklahoma's peak storm season, so the Task Force also offered a family displacement program. If a family was displaced from their home after a natural disaster, volunteers were identified ahead of time who could offer their homes to help those families while they worked with insurance companies until a more permanent living arrangement could be provided. Along with support from our commander and fellow squadron members, the program was a success and totaled over 1,500 volunteer hours, and also saved families over $10,000 worth of repairs and assistance. Recently, I was honored to be awarded the Joan Orr Spouse of the Year award and the Key Spouse of the Year Award at Tinker for my efforts! I could not have done this without my husband’s support by turning my vision into life.

Reasons for nominating:

I have known Chrichelle for many years, first as colleagues and now as friends. I see how supportive she is of her husband, her family, country and fellow military spouses. She has played a key role in the support and programs offered for family at Tinker, specifically family support for those left behind during deployment. Chrichelle is one of the kindest, most genuine and caring individuals I have had the pleasure to know and she is so deserving of this prestigious award. -- Cheryl Shumate, Friend

She is an outstanding mother, wife and friend, She is also devoted to helping to work with squadrons support family members. That is just the tip of the ice berg, her family and devotion to her faith are what she stands on. We love Chrichelle like a daughter and she even calls us mom and dad affectionately. We hope and pray Chrichelle gets the MilitarySpouse of the year. Thank you. -- Julio Santiago, Friend

She is such an amazing women, mother, wife and friend. -- Alisha Berkebile, Friend