Key Spouse program addresses needs of Air Force families

by Kelly Deichert
Air University Public Affairs

6/17/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE Ala. -- Though it's a command program, the Key Spouse network focuses on the families, not the force.

When a work issue arises, a military member may turn to someone in uniform. When spouses face challenges, they want to turn to other spouses, people they can relate to. This is the basis of the Key Spouse program.

"I recognize you all have choices, and thank you for recognizing the needs of our families," said Lt. Gen. Allen Peck, commander of Air University, during a Key Spouse training session Tuesday.

The Key Spouse program is comprised of spouses from all ranks whose goal is to educate families on base resources and empower them to be informed members of the Air Force family.

The need for a spouse network rose as the number and length of deployments increased.

"What you're doing is important," General Peck said. The Air Force recruits the service member, but the key spouses are instrumental in retaining the families, he noted.

"Families and diversity are what make us a better Air Force," said Col. Brian Killough, 42nd Air Base Wing commander. "Thank you for what you've volunteered to do."

The Key Spouse program as it exists today developed from the Caring for People Forum in 2009.

The network was "created out of concern for families," said Andrew Tveit, personal and family readiness consultant for the Airman and Family Readiness Center. Suzie Schwartz, wife of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, was instrumental in kicking off the program by standardizing the network for the Air Force, he said.

She visited Maxwell in October 2009, encouraging spouses to develop a support network.

"(Her visit) was a nice launch to our program here at Maxwell," Mr. Tveit said. Almost two years later, the Key Spouse program is thriving. He offers initial and refresher training to update spouses on the latest Air Force issues, including suicide awareness and the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."

"We want different helping agencies to come in and teach the key spouses to help the families," Mr. Tveit said.

Mr. Tveit is not the key spouses' only a link to the base - first sergeants, known as "first shirts," help as well.

"We work together to make sure our spouses are taken care of," said Senior Master Sgt. Mauree Powell, first sergeant at the Jeanne M. Holm Center for Officer Accessions and Citizen Development.

The first shirts care for people and support the total force, including families. They maintain rosters of phone numbers and email addresses and keep track of deployments, ensuring the key spouses have up-to-date unit information.

"We rely heavily on you to be the liaison for the family," she said during the training session. "We can't assist (families) if we're not aware of what's going on." The key spouse position is voluntary. If the job is too overwhelming or personal situations arise, the key spouse can pass the torch to another spouse.

"The key spouses, they're someone who's been there," Mr. Tveit said. Usually, spouses are more comfortable contacting another spouse for assistance rather than someone in uniform.

"The Key Spouse program has brought it to the grassroots level, where spouses may feel more comfortable talking to a key spouse than the commander's spouse," he said.

They are peers and mentors, answering questions, providing support and unifying spouses.

Training is vital this summer, as the program experiences a high turnover due to permanent changes of station and graduations, Mr. Tveit said.

He will offer initial training at 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. July 20 through the Airman and Family Readiness Center. Refresher training will be available in August. Contact him at 953-2353 for information.