Spouses provide key family support

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jason Wiese
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
The initial training Airmen receive when entering the military familiarizes them with the military, its culture, rank structure and life in service to the U.S.

Airmen's families are just as much a part of the Air Force, but not all have the benefit of military indoctrination. The Key Spouse Program exists to bridge the gap between Air Force families and the military.

"The Key Spouse Program is a unit that offers formal peer-to-peer wingman family support," said Tom O'Brien, 90th Force Support Squadron community readiness consultant and Key Spouse Program facilitator for training and liaison for community resources. "Key spouses are volunteers who represent their units and work through the commanders and the first [sergeants] and act as a liaison between the members' families, especially when they're deployed.

"[Key Spouses] represent the leadership of the unit without being in uniform, so it's less intimidating for the key spouses to get information."

If a family member does not know anybody in the community, key spouses are there to provide a community outreach. It's part of the wingman concept, which applies just as much to families as Airmen. In fact, one of the 90th Missile Wing's specific goals is to develop, train and empower Airmen and families.

"As a key spouse, I am a link between leadership and the families," said Kayla Dansby, 90th FSS accounting technician and 90th Security Forces Squadron key spouse. "I also create communication with families to be their supporter for day-to-day events [and] for deployments, births and other hardships that may transpire. "

The program is important because it increases family readiness and strengthens the military community morale, Dansby said.

"I believe without this program, leadership would struggle to make a team outside of the uniform," she said.

Key spouses coordinate the activities of the program for their respective spouses' organizations, which range from volunteer coordination to community-building events.

"We try to get a mix of adult-geared activities and kid-friendly activities," said Ashleigh Street, 319th Missile Squadron key spouse.

They coordinate many activities, but their real value comes from personal interactions, Street said.

When Street was an incoming spouse, prior to her selection as a key spouse, the squadron key spouse greeted her, she said.

"That made me feel really welcomed and like someone cared," she said. "I believe the Key Spouse Program is a great benefit to the squadron. It makes you feel a little less secluded, especially when you're an incoming spouse."

There are certain requirements for someone to be selected to be a key spouse. A key spouse must be sociable, caring and involved in squadron activities.

"They have to have a positive attitude about the Air Force and want to be involved in the community," O'Brien said. "Their performance directly impacts units' families morale," O'Brien said.

When a position is vacant in an organization on base, its commander and first sergeant select a spouse they think would be up to the task and conduct an interview.

"They're required to go through initial training and [quarterly] follow-up training," O'Brien said.

Initial training covers what will be expected of them as key spouses, resiliency training, Heartlink (a program that familiarizes families with military programs) training, community program, suicide awareness training and Sexual Assault Prevention Response training.

O'Brien said he plans to offer key spouses additional training based on organizational needs.

"I became a key spouse mainly because I wanted to be more involved in my husband's career, Dansby said. "I realized if I didn't, I was missing out on an opportunity that could benefit other families and increase communication that is vital for leadership and families."

One example of the impact a key spouse can have comes from Dansby's own life. While she and her husband were stationed at RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom, she found herself in a bind when her landlord gave Dansby a 30-day notice to vacate the home in which they were living because she wanted to sell it. Dansby's husband was deployed at the time, and she did not know the process to getting into base housing.

"Thankfully, my key spouse was checking up on me due to the deployment and I told her what was going on," she said. "She guided me through the steps on getting on base housing.

This exemplifies the importance of key spouse communication to families because most families will not reach out to squadron leadership on their own, Dansby said.

Those who would like to contact a key spouse for assistance can contact their first sergeant.