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A squadron commander's perspective on the Key Spouse Program

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Timothy P. Maxwell
  • 338th Recruiting Squadron commander
As a commander of a recruiting squadron, I have the greatest job in the world. However, as with commanding any squadron, you are going to have challenges. This is why it is important to have systems in place to help deter and address these challenges.

Most of the time, the focus is on the Airman, however, the Key Spouse Program is one that focuses on the needs of the spouses. This program can be effective in maintaining morale, mission readiness and family stability. We have seen very positive outcomes as a result of utilizing and supporting this program.

According to the Key Spouse manual, the program is a formal unit program with informal peer-to-peer/Wingman support for the families. The Airman and Family Readiness Center plays a key role in training, educating and keeping these volunteer key spouses informed on the best ways to address the needs of all military families.

The Key Spouse, appointed by the commander, acts as a liaison between unit leadership, the Airman and their families. Although there is special emphasis on the deployment cycle, the Key Spouses provides support in so many other ways.

In recruiting, the challenges of the spouses are multiplied. This is primarily due to the geographical separation from the recruiting headquarters or an Air Force base, plus long working hours of the military member, a lack of military resources and/or support systems in their local area. This increases stress, which may lead to depression, loneliness, isolation, domestic issues and more, which may eventually lead to a crisis.

The families are normally located in areas that may be an hour or up to five-plus hours away from the recruiting squadron's headquarters or a military base -- basically, on their own. Many of the shared responsibilities and decisions often fall onto the spouse, like house hunting, looking for doctors, medical/dental services, schools and other needs within the new community they now call home.

Normally, while the recruiters are busy learning/doing his/her job and areas of responsibilities, the spouse is at home trying to make ends meet based on the needs of the family. The sponsor program is a good resource when they are navigating to their new area but things can get tough to handle after arrival.

Many times, the spouses may need more information, especially those with young families, or those who are new to this type of Air Force duty (recruiting), or just being new to the Air Force's ways of life. And being so far away from the military, they could feel a loss of who to turn to. The Key Spouses can be that opportunity for the spouses to link with other spouses and resources, talking to others who experienced the same ordeal, and sharing words of wisdom.

It is an avenue for communication, not a social club. It is a resource for all spouses to get questions answered, obtain resources for themselves or their families, and get linked with agencies and personnel who can address their concerns. Often times it is simply a listening ear of someone who is there just for you, or a feeling of connection to a squadron.

The Key Spouse Program has a Key Spouse Mentor, as well, who is a crucial component for success. This spouse is usually a senior leader's spouse and is appointed by the commander. The role of this spouse is to mentor appointed Key Spouses, all spouses, military and civilian plus encouraging spouse and family interaction with the squadron.

Relationship-building is very important in gaining the trust of the spouses and setting the tone of the program. In my squadron, the Key Spouse Mentor established relationships first by contacting all the spouses just to make an introduction, and shared her contact information, and next, travelled by privately owned vehicle to attend flight events (recruiting/sporting events, hails and farewells).

The spouses, in turn, became comfortable with the Key Spouse Mentor and appreciate her taking time out of her schedule to visit. Many stated they had never received a phone call before and were both surprised and appreciative of the gesture. Now that the relationships are established, the spouses use social media (Facebook), email or phone calls to ask their questions and discuss issues. This keeps them connected. I am notified along with my first sergeant when there are major issues or concerns. This gives me another perspective to assess the well-being of my Airmen and their families.

In my short time here, I have witnessed the impact of this program. For example, when West Virginia experienced a chemical spill, contaminating the water supply, the flight chief and the Military Entrance Processing Station military personnel contacted the headquarters staff. The flight chief and MEPS NCO kept the leadership updated on all issues related to water contamination.

The area's Key Spouse and mentor immediately went into action and contacted all families affected and provided assistance and information regarding water resources. Since the water in their homes was unsafe for showering, the local Key Spouse and spouses took turns providing babysitting while each spouse took showers at the local YMCA.

Because of that kind of leadership, they rallied together and were a support system for one another. The Key Spouse Mentor and spouses stayed in constant contact, monitoring and updating me on how the family members were holding up. I learned that military members and spouses, sometimes, view things completely different.

The Key Spouses are our advocates. They help support the mission by helping the spouses to understand the needs and goals of the Air Force, as well as the vision of the commander. They are trained to be positive and encouraging.

Once a spouse complained that the production superintendent was being tough on her husband who is a flight chief. The Key Spouse Mentor responded that it is his job to push them toward excellence and he was just doing his job. The spouse thought about it and agreed because they all know we are here to do a job, "balance" or take care of the family and meet the overall goals of the Air Force.

We currently have three Key Spouses and a Key Spouse Mentor. The two Key Spouses traveled many miles to receive their key spouse's training. This shows their commitment and the desire of spouses to be connected.

Establishing and supporting the Key Spouse Program has its rewards. We are able to keep all the spouses in the know -- this information flows to all spouses without hesitation, ensuring they are kept abreast of all things regarding the squadron, the base, and things of interest to them.

In addition, one of the objectives of our program is to have a platform for the spouses to use to ensure their voices are being heard. There is no gossiping, but a continuous passage of information for all members of the squadron.

Although the military lifestyle creates unique challenges for spouses from employment, resource finding to lacking support systems, recruiting comes with those same challenges multiplied, along with a few more. The challenge of trying to keep these geographically separated spouses connected at a distance requires something extra and I believe that means is the Key Spouse Program.

The Key Spouse Program is a very important tool and critical in keeping the spouses linked. For commanders, it is an invaluable link to the families, and the squadron as a whole. The Key Spouses are our WINGMEN.