Key spouses are Wingmen too

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas - Leisa Willis browses through a list of names as some of the key spouses pack Valentine’s Day goodie bags to give to spouses of deployed servicemembers. She is the wife of Col. JohnDavid Willis, 17th Training Group Commander. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Anne Gathua)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas - Leisa Willis, 17th Training Group key spouse, browses through a list of names as some of the key spouses pack Valentine’s Day goodie bags Feb. 14 to give to spouses of deployed servicemembers. (U.S. Air Force/Airman 1st Class Anne Gathua)

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- They are your focal point for information and support. Whether you're a new military spouse or waiting for your loved one to come home, they are there to listen and lend a hand. Do you know who your key spouse is?

The Key Spouse Program is a collaborative effort between squadrons, volunteer spouses, and the Airman and Family Readiness Center. Team Goodfellow currently has 16 key spouses: 13 here and three at the Presidio of Monterey, Calif. They know what it's like to be a new military spouse, they've survived deployments and temporary duty separations, and they want to help others through it.

"Key spouses are important because they provide families with a point of contact within the unit who can assist with any number of issues," said Christy Sankey, 17th Communications Squadron key spouse. "They can also lend an ear when separated families have questions or concerns."

During last year's Year of the Air Force Family initiative, Air Force leadership revised and standardized the program to address military spouses' concerns and needs. Key spouses are peers who provide families with unit-level involvement. Each key spouse has the military lifestyle experience, knows what resources are available in the community and is there to listen. They also attend commander's calls and speak directly with squadron commanders and first sergeants to relay information from the unit to the spouse, and from the spouse to unit leadership.

No matter how self-sufficient a spouse may be, Christine Criswell, 17th Training Wing wing staff key spouse, said it's important that all spouses connect with their key spouse and stay in contact with them.

"The key spouse program is a spouse's survival tool; it's their own Wingman support network," she said. "Being a military spouse in itself is challenging. Quite often your family is miles away and the people at your duty station are your brothers and sisters-in-military."

She encourages all spouses to use the program because having that connection takes the stress out of asking for help, especially in times of emergencies or if an accident happens.

"I know what it's like when you're home taking care of everything and your spouse is deployed," she said. "I am pretty self-sufficient, but there were a few times when things went wrong on the home front or when I just needed a hand."

She said having another spouse to talk to really helps because they already know the trials military spouses go through.

By knowing their spouses are being cared for, it also helps the military members, especially during deployments.

"When you get to talk or video chat with your spouse, they know in your voice or in your eyes when things aren't going well. Then they want to 'fix it' or feel guilty because they can't from where they are," Mrs. Criswell said. "Their ability to do their job is important while down range and if they can't give 100 percent to their mission, it may put them or their unit in danger."

Knowing that spouses and family are an important part of the Defense Department family, Kathleen Garrett, Airman and Family Readiness Center Community Readiness Specialist, said was one of the reasons Air Force leadership started the program.

"Informed, involved and happy spouses equals improved retention and increased readiness," she said. "Air Force leaders have known that for a while and I think that's one of the reasons the Key Spouse Program was established."

Mrs. Leisa Willis, 17th Training Group key spouse, agreed and said the program is a win-win-win scenario.

"It's good for spouses and families, good for the Air Force and good for the key spouse as well," she said. "Spouses and families are cared for thereby allowing the active-duty member to concentrate on his or her responsibilities; this invariably leads to a stronger force."

By maintaining contact with spouses and families, Mrs. Willis said her goal is to provide a connection to leadership, getting families the information and support they need.

Although military members get a lot of information, it doesn't always get passed along to their spouses because they may not realize its value or importance to their spouses. Ms. Garrett said that with the help of the key spouses, she hopes to fill that gap.

Master Sgt. Brandon O'Neil, A&FRC NCO, sees first-hand how the group can fix the breakdown in communication between units and spouses.

"It's really a good communication link between the spouses, through the key spouses, to the commander," he said. "Normally most communication travels through the chain of command so the military member can transfer information to the spouse, but there's really no way for the spouse to communicate back to the commander without going through the military member."

As advocates for spouses and families, key spouses can help with that.

"I know without a doubt that leadership does care, and key spouses are necessary to provide that bridge between them and spouses and families," Mrs. Willis said.

With the program open to all Goodfellow spouses, key spouses here provide an invaluable link to spouses new to the military too.

"There are a lot of spouses here who are new to the military and may feel overwhelmed by being at a new place and not knowing anyone," Ms. Garrett said. "They may feel like they're on the outside, so it's important to reach out to them and give them a sense of belonging. We try to do that with our key spouses."

To help in this effort, the group is planning activities such as group volunteer activities both in the community and on base and events like a spouses' day out. They are also exploring options in forming spouse's groups.

To get in contact with a key spouse or for more information call the A&FRC at (325) 654-3893.
Do you know who your key spouse is?

17th Communications Squadron
Christy Sankey and Ireen Tabano

17th Force Support Squadron
Renetta Araiza

17th Medical Group
Laurie Abbott

17th Security Forces Squadron
Kelly Coggin

17th Training Group
Leisa Willis

17th Training Support Squadron
Miranda Davis

17th Training Wing, Wing Staff and 17th Comptroller Squadron
Christine Criswell and Randee Goodman

312th Training Squadron
Season Baker

315th Training Squadron
Jessica Reisner

316th Training Squadron
Ashley Carroll and Laura Hall