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Leading with the best version of herself

Former JAG officer serves soldiers and their families

Retired Col. Kristen Brunson continues to serve soldiers, spouses and their families. Photo credit: JM Simpson

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A pat on her shoulder did wonders.

"In the fifth and sixth grades I had a teacher named Mrs. Reeder," began retired Col. Kirsten Brunson. If she praised you, you really deserved it - a pat on my shoulder had me floating for a week."

Born in Florida and raised in Maryland, Brunson was an outgoing youngster reared by a single mother who served as a public school teacher. "On the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator Test, I tested as far to the right as an extrovert as you can," she explained with a smile. "I am friendly; I like meeting people."

Graduating from high school in 1983, she attended Hofstra University on Long Island, New York. During the summer between her freshman and sophomore years, she saw the televised "Be All You Can Be" Army commercial. "It awakened something in me," she said.

That awakening became a commitment after attending an activities fair during her sophomore year. "There was an ROTC table and I said, ‘I saw your commercial,' and they said ‘Come on in.'"

After earning a Reserve Officers' Training Corps scholarship at ROTC basic camp at Fort Knox, Kentucky, Brunson transferred to the University of Maryland at College Park where she earned a BA in Criminology, and via a cross-enrollment program, her commission through Howard University's ROTC program.

Taking an educational delay to attend UCLA's School of Law, she earned her law degree in 1992. She then began her active duty career in the Judge Advocate General's Corps, where she served for the next 23 years and 10 months, retiring in 2015.

Of note, she is the first African-American female to serve as an Army trial judge, and she was inducted into the U.S. Army Women's Foundation Hall of Fame in 2022.

During her first assignment in Germany, she met then Lieutenant Xavier Brunson. "We were fixed up by two JAG officers," she explained. "They got together and put us together and it worked." Today,  Lt. Gen. Brunson is Commanding General of I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Some of the many activities she is currently involved in include honorary chairperson of the Thrift Shop, honorary chairperson of the Fort Lewis Scholarship Board, advisor to the Spouse's Club, and a volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America Troop 62 at JBLM.

But what gives her the most satisfaction is her willingness to speak to spouses and families during the weekly Newcomers' Briefing. "I tell the soldiers that I'm talking to their family members too," she continued.

Brunson's words embody one of the goals she and her husband share.

"The goal we have had since he pinned on his first star is to make sure that people know that we're just regular people," she concluded. "It seems trite, but we're all in this together - whether we wear the uniform, or are a civilian or a family member. We're here for the same reason ... lead with the best version of yourself."

Mrs. Reeder would agree.

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