By 1st Lt. Stacy Glaus
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Common sense. Communication. Caring.
These are the three things Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said were the keys to success during his recent visit to the 21st and 50th Space Wing July 18 and 19.
This message resonated throughout the two-day visit, including roundtable discussions with commanders, first sergeants and key spouses of Team Peterson, Schriever and Fort Carson.
“The whole Air Force benefits from the key spouse program,” Welsh said. “If we have it right — if we get the volunteers who are willing to offer their time, their energy, their talents, and their caring to take care of the men and women of our Air Force; it’s unbelievable what you commit.”
The key spouse program is an official Air Force unit and family program designed to enhance readiness and establish a sense of community.
“It’s all about getting to know each other; that’s where the key spouse program can bring strength to our squadrons,” said Betty Welsh, his wife.
The key spouse program was implemented as an official Air Force program in 2009 and is intended to serve as a communication and support system for spouses and families. Though the program name reflects a focus on “spouses,” it is about supporting all Air Force family members.
Team Peterson has 23 key spouse mentors who assist and train an additional 45 key spouses throughout the base.
“I would’ve given my right arm to have this type of program when my husband was a squadron commander,” she said, reflecting on a career of service when creating a key spouse program wasn’t always easy.
While Mrs. Welsh was trying to get contact information for some of the spouses in the squadron, some just didn’t want to be included or thought they didn’t need help.
“I was pretty persistent,” she said when one spouse in particular declined the invitation to participate. “I insisted on having coffee with her. I told her ‘I’m not going to ask you to do anything but I just need to know where you are, what you’re doing, in case there were a message I would need to get through to you,’”
The spouse agreed to meet with Mrs. Welsh and provided the requested information, which proved to be truly valuable when a crisis occurred and the unit needed to get in touch with her immediately.
“I can’t tell you the impact and why this program is so dear to me. She said to me over and over and over again that we became her family. This would have never happened had [we] not insisted to make that connection.”
The chief also reflected on how the Air Force and the needs of Airmen have evolved over the years.
“The Air Force has changed 100 percent,” said Welsh, thinking back on his time as a squadron commander. “Now we’re in a place where, if we get it right, people walk out the door and this community closes in around them. In the background is this organization and these people who by the goodness of their hearts volunteer to help.”
The members of the 52nd Airlift Squadron recently recognized the program’s importance during the Black Forest Fire in Colorado Springs.
“We had a bunch of people deployed and [spouses] who were alone and needed to evacuate. The deployed people were out there worried whether their house was going to survive,” said Elizabeth Jones, 302nd Operations Group key spouse. “The 52nd AS set up a command center and found out where everybody was. Key spouses were calling to make sure everybody was OK.”
But the program does more than just connect families with unit leadership. It also improves the quality of life among unit families and increases awareness of installation and community resources.
“We’ve really tried to be proactive and utilize our Airman and Family Readiness Center and Family Advocacy office to set up a marriage conference for our squadron,” said Krystal Harris, key spouse for the 21st Civil Engineer Squadron. “We are trying to look at different things like that to keep [families] supported.”
The key spouse program fulfills the three keys to success: it makes sense, it enhances communication and it shows people you care.
“We’ve got this key spouse program, we have the need for that connection and the need to get to know each other,” said Welsh. “If we don’t continue to reach out to those in the squadron and those around us, we lose that connection.”
For more information on the key spouse program and how you can get involved, call Mike McGrady, Peterson’s key spouse program coordinator at 556-6141 or William Sokolis, Schriever’s key spouse program coordinator at 567-3920.