By Ann Skarban
302nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — As the mother of five children, wife to an active duty and then Air Force Reserve Airman, and co-owner of a family business, Elizabeth Jones knows firsthand the challenges facing military spouses and their families and the positive difference support can make.
Jones, 302nd Airlift Wing Key Spouse program coordinator and wife of 302nd Operations Group commander Col. Kurt Jones, is preparing for her departure from the 302nd AW and Peterson Air Force Base to yet another new assignment in her husband’s nearly 32-year career.
With multiple moves across the country and experience in solely taking on the responsibilities of family and work during her husband’s deployments, she knows exactly how the support of fellow spouses can make an important difference in getting through tough times.
Reflecting on her experiences as a Key Spouse in Colorado Springs during the Black Forest fire in June of 2013, Jones said, “You don’t realize how important a key spouse is until a deployment or fire.”
Jones recalled the day families of the wing learned of the immediate evacuation notices for their homes in danger of the spread of the Black Forest fire while their spouse was deployed.
“It was difficult, we had spouses trying to pack up an entire household, move campers and get to safety with little or no help.” The 302nd AW Key Spouses along with support from the 52nd Airlift Squadron, the wing’s active duty associate squadron, came to the aid of those in need, recalled Jones.
“The support during the fire was not only of great help to the spouses at home, but it was good for our deployed members to know we had their families’ backs, here at home,” added Jones.
“Even if it is not a major emergency or crisis, the Key Spouse program is a great network for families. It’s nice to know they have someone to call, talk to or help,” she said.
While the Black Forest fire will be a memory of a lifetime for Jones, she also remembers the program’s special efforts which included the wing’s hosting of Team Pete’s Deployed Family Dinners, creating holiday food baskets for reservists in need, as well as distributing “Hero Packs” that were created by a local Boy Scout for children of deploying wing members. She recalls the “Hero Packs” backpack contents which included a stuffed animal and a hand-written letter from another child thanking the child of the deployed member for their parent’s service and thanking the child for being a hero too.
“My car was stuffed with 126 backpacks … the best part came at the morning of deployment seeing the children bringing their hero backpack, that was very rewarding and meaningful,” she recalls.
Another Key Spouse project that will remain a lasting memory for Jones is the holiday food collection that was held in 2011 and 2012. Boxes with food and clothing were assembled by the Key Spouses with the help of the first sergeants getting information and distributing to assist Reservists who were in need during the holiday season. Jones was especially touched by several Airmen who were extremely appreciative of the assistance and then, when the Airmen’s circumstances improved, they contributed to the next year’s project, wanting to pay it forward to help their fellow Reserve members.
“It was so gratifying to see the positive difference we could make in our Reserve members and their families’ lives,” added Jones.
With her departure from the 302nd AW, Jones is hoping other spouses will consider taking an active role in the program.
“There are so many ways to help,” she said. “Opportunities to assist the unit your family member is assigned to range from making phone calls to check in on other spouses to assisting with events.”
Along with supporting one another, key spouses also help bridge potential gaps and let commanders and first sergeants know about any concerns that could impact morale and readiness.
Key spouses are appointed by their spouse’s commander and receive training. Key Spouses work with the commander and unit’s first sergeant. A large part of the Key Spouse program is to help keep in touch with families and spouses of deployed and offer support.
Jones was emphatic in clarifying a Key Spouse is not a social coordinator, and that key spouses are not necessarily a commander’s spouse.
Jones said she will miss the families of the 302nd AW and all she has experienced at Peterson.
“It’s such a unique base. The privilege of being involved in the community of Peterson, Air Force, Navy, Army and Air Force Reserve and Canadian … it’s so geo heavy, so much diversity. It’s been an amazing base and town to live in,” Jones said.
During her time at the 302nd AW Jones served as President of the Peterson-Schriever-Cheyenne Mountain spouses club in 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. Prior to that, she served as their program director for three years.
“It’s been a great way to get to know other people on base,” said Jones.
Summing up the 302nd AW’s Key Spouse program and her experiences Jones said, “The best part has been hearing stories of other families, and knowing, you are not in it alone.”
For more information on the 302nd AW Key Spouse program contact Nona Daughtry, Peterson AFB Key Spouse program manager at the Peterson Airman and Family Readiness Center at (719) 556-6141.