Auburn’s Kristina Pressley, a 12-year Air Force veteran, is a semifinalist in the Ms. Veteran America competition. Pressley volunteers her time for the betterment of veterans. COURTESY PHOTO

Auburn’s Kristina Pressley, a 12-year Air Force veteran, is a semifinalist in the Ms. Veteran America competition. Pressley volunteers her time for the betterment of veterans. COURTESY PHOTO

Her lifetime call to duty

Auburn woman, a former Air Force officer, volunteers to help veterans in the community

Kristina Pressley followed a bumpy road to civilian life after a rewarding 12-year career in the Air Force.

She was fortunate. She found the necessary connections, and now the Auburn woman is on a mission to help veterans facing similar circumstances.

“We need to take care of our veterans better, honestly,” said Pressley, who works for Auburn-based Orion Industries, a social enterprise and aerospace parts manufacturing business that offers paid training and job placement services to people with barriers to employment.

“My heart will always be finding ways to serve our veterans community,” she said. “There’s always more that we can do for them.”

Pressley takes that message to wherever she goes as an active volunteer in the local veterans community.

She brings that message to the bright stage as a semifinalist in the Ms. Veteran America competition at Las Vegas, Nev., June 22-23. The show’s program, The Woman Beyond the Uniform, sheds light on the strength, courage and sacrifice of the country’s military women, who are also mothers, daughters, sisters and wives.

The top 25 finishers from the show advance to the finals in Hollywood, Calif., on Oct. 13.

Procceds from the event benefit Final Salute, Inc., which provides housing for homeless women veterans and their children.

Semifinal contestants will be judged on their interview, talent (lip sync), military history and advocacy. The crown carries cash and other awards, along with the honor of being a national ambassador and spokeswoman for the cause.

“It’s a fun thing for me to do,” Pressley said. “I’m going to dress up, and I’m a performer at heart, anyway. I get to show off a little bit. It’s what I like to do.

“Being a veteran with a veteran’s heart, I see the value of an organization like Final Salute, specifically targeting and looking to assist homeless women veterans and their children. That’s especially important to me.”

Women veterans are the fastest-growing homeless population in America, with more than half of them being single mothers, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Pressley may have been another victim had it not been for family and friends.

In the Air Force, she was an intelligence officer, military training instructor and Spanish linguist, moving about from one base to another.

Pressley married Ryan, an Air Force officer, in 2005 and became a first-time mom while stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Okla. Facing the possibility of the couple being deployed at the same time, Pressley left the Air Force in 2007. She took a civilian job on base and started a preschool co-op.

The Pressleys welcomed a second daughter into the family in 2010. A year later Bryan left the Air Force to take a job as a contractor for Boeing, bringing the family to Auburn, a place they have embraced.

Pressley became a certified personal trainer and health educator and owned her own small fitness business. She joined Orion after working for nonprofits that supported veterans and their needs.

She became a founding member of the Community Council for Veterans of South King County, an organization focused on bringing more mental health services to veterans and their families. Pressley previously worked for two years with Hire Heroes USA, a nonprofit that provides free assistance to veterans and their spouses, including job placement and transition services. She is a member of Team Red, White & Blue, an organization that supports veterans through physical and social activities.

“I love that I could take what I had learned in my own transition out of the military to help others who were going through the same thing,” Pressley said of her volunteer work.

Pressley serves other duty. She is a board member for the Auburn Area Chamber of Commerce and is a member of the Board of Regents for the Leadership Institute of the South Puget Sound.

She enjoys running and competing in trail races. She is involved in her daughters’ schools and volunteers as a coach for girls youth sports.

Pressley welcomes the chance to serve her community and help those in need.

“I was always looking to be a helper wherever I went, and joining the Air Force was an extension of that,” said Pressley, who grew up in Minnesota and earned a college degree in mass communications in 1995 before joining the service. “I was looking to move on at 22, and (the Air Force) offered me this whole new world … and serving my country was important to me as well.”

To learn more or to donate, visit crowdrise.com or Facebook.

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Clean out your closet

• Fundraiser: Collecting clothes, linens, shoes, small household items and books. Hosted by Kristina Pressley, semifinalist, Ms. Veteran America competition.

• Donation dropoff: 10:30 a.m.- 2 p.m., Saturday, June 15, VFW Post 1741, 1525 16th St. NE, No. 107, Auburn.

• Procceds: Supports Final Salute, Inc., and its efforts to provide housing for homeless women veterans and their families.

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