By Scott Prater
As the young wife of a junior officer several years ago, Sarah Hoover wished she could have attended her husband’s deployment and permanent-change-of-station briefings. That way she could have learned exact details about events that were soon to occur.
Years later, thanks to Schriever’s Key Spouse program, she now knows she could have attended those informative briefings.
“It would have been nice to hear all that information first-hand because many times, as a spouse, you’re managing the PCS all by yourself while your spouse is busy at school or on a deployment,” she said. “After the fact, as you’re going through it, you want to pick up the phone and call someone, and that’s an intimidating situation.”
Thanks to Air Force’s implementation of the Key Spouse program, volunteers like Ms. Hoover can make life much easier for her fellow spouses.
The Air Force initiated the program in 1997 and tested it at a small number of bases. Modeled after the Navy’s Ombudsmen program, Key Spouses proved so successful that Air Force leaders eventually chose to offer the program service wide.
Though many bases began offering the program more than five years ago, it’s still relatively new at Schriever. Since the effort is a commander’s program, squadron commanders hold the job of appointing volunteers to Key Spouse positions.
Overcoming preconceived notions about the program is paramount according to the 4th Space Operations Squadron key spouses.
“Most people believe we’re a social group, like a wives club,“ Debbie Schiess said. “So we work to dispel that image. We want spouses to know we’re here to support them and help them find the resources they need.”
From the Air Force’s perspective, the program is designed to enhance mission readiness.
The role of the key spouse is to inform, support and refer family members to the appropriate base agencies, but this statement only conveys a general air of helpfulness. In actuality, key spouses often find themselves making a huge difference in the lives of Airmen and their families.
“I was at a social gathering a few months ago when a spouse walked up to me and thanked me for providing information we send out regularly in our Key Spouse e-mail,” Ms. Schiess said. “She said she learned about a scholarship program, applied for it, and was now going back to school as a result. She wouldn’t have heard about the scholarship program otherwise and I was gratified to be a part of it.”
Ms. Hoover explained that sometimes, “support” means watching a spouse’s children while they go to a doctor’s appointment, or meeting a spouse for coffee because they need a listening ear.
“The military structure can also be an intimidating experience, especially for people new to the Air Force,” she said. “The thought of calling a first sergeant can be unsettling, but if you can call another spouse it’s less intimidating and more comfortable.”
The job requires a caring personality and a desire to work with a multitude of people at base agencies.
Schriever Airman and Family readiness consultant, Christina Ruetz holds a unique perspective. She was a military spouse at a European base several years ago, when she dealt with many of the issues today’s spouses endure.
“I remember when my husband was deployed,” she said. “I hadn’t heard from him for weeks. I didn’t know what was going on — if he was safe or OK. Now, with the Key Spouses, there’s better communication and there’s more support. Spouses can relate because they’re going through the same things. If your husband is deployed, you have other spouses to fall back on and you feel less isolated.”
The program is operated at the squadron level as a way of increasing flexibility and direction from each commander. Ms. Schiess said key spouses are trained by Airman and Family Readiness Center staff and meet regularly to discuss goals and program initiatives.
Anyone interested in learning more about the Key Spouse program on base or in their squadron can call the A&FRC at 567-3920. Key Spouses in each unit generally contact new arrivals individually.