by Monica Mendoza
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — This month the 21st Space Wing launches its new and revitalized Key Spouse Program with a series of training courses for commanders, first sergeants and commander-appointed key spouses.
The wing’s Key Spouse Program has a new focus, said Jan Kienast, 21st Space Wing family programs coordinator.
“We’ve added extra things, like personality assessment and computer-based training; we’ve added more to our suicide prevention.” Ms. Kienast said.
Key Spouses are military member spouses appointed by unit commanders to connect families and military programs. They are an integral part of the unit, Ms. Kienast said. They are trained to talk with family members about deployments and they can help family members find resources.
“They are an official part of the unit and they help with the flow of information,” Ms. Kienast said.
Across the Air Force, there has been a renewed focus on the Key Spouse Program in conjunction with the Year of the Air Force Family campaign — which highlights existing family programs and fill voids where needed.
In October, Suzie Schwartz, the wife of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, visited Maxwell Air Force Base to talk about the Key Spouse Program. She shared personal stories, words of encouragement and helpful resources.
The Key Spouse Program is an emphasis area for the Year of Air Force Family, however, the emphasis on families will not stop when the year ends, Mrs. Schwartz said.
“We don’t see this as just a year,” she said. “We see this as a first push. We’re all in this together.”
The Key Spouse Program serves an a vital liaison between families and the programs offered by the A&FRCs, said Derrick Sanders, chief of the Maxwell Family Support Branch of the Airman and Family Readiness Center.
Key Spouses also can provide insight on issues that need to be addressed throughout the Air Force. The spouses serve on a volunteer basis and work hand-in-hand with the unit leadership team and the A&FRC. A strong family is vital to mission readiness, Mr. Sanders said.
“Families are a source of strength,” Mr. Sanders said. “When a member deploys, it is a source of comfort to those deployed knowing that their families are being well taken care of.”
Mrs. Schwartz emphasized to the spouses that their role is an important one because the military spouse can more readily identify with the plight of fellow spouses.
“Spouses speak more clearly and honestly to each other,” she said.
Key spouses can be a vital means of sharing information about base-level programs that may make their lives easier, she said. She encouraged spouses to reach out to fellow spouses, even if the member hasn’t been deployed.
“You don’t want to wait until they’ve deployed,” she said. “Develop relationships before that.”
The issues faced by military families are not limited to deployment-related difficulties, Mrs. Schwartz said. Among the top issues facing military spouses across all branches of the military are spouse employment, education and housing, and all aspects of ordinary life that become much more complicated due to military families relocating.
Lynn Peck, the wife of Air University Commander Lt. Gen. Allen Peck, echoed the sentiments of Mrs. Schwartz, understanding the stress of being an Air Force wife and trying to raise a family when one’s spouse is deployed or working odd hours.
“Our spouse network was very inspiring to me,” she said.
Mrs. Schwartz suggested the Air Force has some catching up to do with regard to family programs, but the service is much more family-friendly than it was in the early eighties, when spouses were discouraged from having their own careers, both by the Air Force and the workforce at large.
“Those days, they looked to see if there was a decal on your car because they were reluctant to hire you,” she said.
Today the paradigm has shifted and there is an active network of support — like the Key Spouse Program — helping families, and that makes a huge difference.
“I support the key spouses … I appreciate what they could have done for me as a spouse,” she said.
Peterson Key Spouse Training:
· Commanders and first sergeants are invited to attend key spouse overview Nov. 16 and Nov. 30 at the 21st Space Wing Airman and Family Readiness Center, Building 350. For details and to RSVP, call 556-6141.
· Key spouse training, for commander-appointed key spouses, is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Nov. 18 at the A&FRC. For details, call 556-6141.
(Some information provided by Kimberly Wright, Air University Public Affairs.)