Be your best self: Airman fortifies resilience in the face adversity

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Gary Hilton II
  • AFN Incirlik

When it comes to personal stories of resiliency, Staff Sgt. Kristen Domke, 39th Security Forces Squadron Turkish Pass and ID American liaison, said her whole life is a resiliency story.

“Everything I’ve gone through has made me a stronger person and has helped me be the best me I can be.”

Domke faced several hardships throughout her life, including the unimaginable experience of losing close friends and family. However, with healthy coping mechanisms, a support group, self-acceptance, and spirituality, she can continue her duties and inspire others.

Her resiliency journey began almost consecutively with her Air Force career in August 2012.

“I joined the military because I was failing out of [college],” Domke said. “I was battling a lot of things, like my sexuality and my religion. I wanted to find a purpose, as well as understand who I was.”

At the beginning of her career, she served at assignments across the globe. She was stationed at Vogelweh Military Complex, Germany, and deployed to Chabelley Air Field, Djibouti, and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
While stationed at Vogelweh in 2015, Domke experienced a suicidal ideation, prompting her to seek mental health help.

“That was a huge milestone for me,” she said.

Domke’s exploration into letting others in began here, but the hardships continued. When she came back to the U.S., Domke was assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in her home state of Ohio. Though closer to her home, this is where her continued battle with resiliency was challenged the most.

On March 23, 2018, Domke’s grandmother committed suicide. Domke expressed that in the face of this event, she did not know how to make people understand that she was struggling.

“I didn’t want people to pity me or what I was going through,” she said.

No matter how tough you are, there’s always a point where Domke said you have to let your guard down and ask for help. After her grandmother’s passing, she decided to make a change.

“When I first joined the Air Force and while I was stationed away from Ohio, I pursued self-help alone,” she said. “I sought more help while I was at Wright-Patt, and I was very fortunate to be close to home when all of this happened.”

From her remaining time at Wright-Patt and ever since, she continued her self-help practices while utilizing her refined understanding of letting others in during times of struggle.

“I’ve built a journal-writing routine, I started working out every day, eating better, and reading self-help books,” Domke said. “I even took a class on bettering yourself, but I also joined a church, which was more like a family that didn’t judge me.”

Routine, spirituality and community were the glue she needed to stay fortified, especially when she lost three more people only a couple years later.

“Between June and July of 2020, I lost three people in the span of about two months,” she said. “A very close friend of mine passed away from an overdose. My uncle died of a heart-attack not long after, and then my Grandpap died of health complications.”

Despite multiple painful events, Domke said she had the muscle memory of what to do. Her tool kit included a close-knit group of friends, as well as the obtained knowledge to lean on her mentors and ask for help, instead of relying exclusively on herself.

“It’s been a battle,” Domke said. “Even when dealing with all of this and going through a remote tour, I’m happy for the support group that I have.”

Since her arrival on Incirlik AB in November 2020, she said she’s honed her skills in resiliency, which garnered her a position as a master resilience trainer for the 39th SFS and vice president on Incirlik’s Pride Committee.

The events she coordinated included a ruck/walk for a Tactical Pause Day, the National Suicide Prevention Brunch on Sept. 8, and a 22-minute ruck/walk, representing the 22 veterans who lose their lives each day from suicide according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The event will be held later this month.

Domke went from someone who sought out help and a community to the person other people turn to for guidance. She harps back to her journey of resiliency and how a foundation with God and building a community during trying times allowed her to be her best self.

“Before helping someone else, you have to learn how to let others help you in becoming the best version of yourself.”

If you or someone you know is at risk for suicide, help is available. The 39th MDG Mental Health Clinic can be reached at DSN: 676-6452. Service members and their families can also call Military OneSource to obtain free and confidential counseling at 1-800-342-9647. A chaplain is also available at 676-644-1. For more information about suicide prevention, visit

You are not alone.