Key spouses empathize, extend support

by Kelly Deichert
Air University Public Affairs

6/24/2011 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, AL -- As the Air Force becomes more family focused, the expression "If the military wanted you to have a spouse, it would have issued you one," becomes a thing of the past. One way the Air Force encourages support is through the Key Spouse program.

"The program is so rewarding because I get to make a positive impact [in] the lives of other families," said Laurie Hebb, a key spouse for Enterprise Information System, or EIS, at Gunter Annex.

Spouses learn many lessons during deployments, and key spouses can pass this wisdom onto other military families. They are a source of information and encouragement during rough times.

"I wanted to get involved because my husband [Master Sgt. William Hebb] had just come back from deployment as they were implementing the Key Spouse program for our unit," she said. "I wanted to be able to serve others, especially since I was able to easily empathize with them, having just been a deployed spouse."

Mrs. Hebb and Katheryn Ellison are two of four Key Spouses who offer support to the spouses of the 400 military members in the EIS.

Mrs. Ellison also was motivated to volunteer after her husband, Staff Sgt. Michael Ellison, deployed from Peterson AFB in Colorado.

"It was a really hard time for me," she said, since there wasn't a Key Spouse program developed there yet.

The Key Spouse program is evolving as the Air Force increases the frequency and length of deployments. The Air Force recognizes the impact on family members and aims to increase support.

Some spouses may be intimidated by a military member and may not reach out for help, while others may be reluctant to contact a commander's spouse. This is why the Key Spouse program is open to any spouse, regardless of the service member's rank.

"If I can be the source of encouragement for just one family member during each deployment cycle, then it really makes me feel like the program is beneficial, not just for the spouse but also for me to know that I was able to reach out and serve others," Mrs. Hebb said.

At Maxwell and Gunter, Andrew Tveit, the personal and family readiness consultant for the Airman and Family Readiness Center, provides training for key spouses and discusses resources on and off base.

The rest is on-the-job training. "Situations come up, and you learn from them and know for next time," Mrs. Ellison said.

"I try to be genuine and real with the spouses so they feel like they do have someone to reach out to if needed," Mrs. Hebb said. "Basically, it boils down to providing the support and resources that I would be thankful for during my spouse's deployment."

Mr. Tveit also is a source for free activities for families of deployed service members, including magic shows, event passes and children's programs.

Last month, the EIS families went to a Montgomery Biscuits game, and families of deployed service members received a special treat - the Airmen sent videos to their families from downrange.

Since both women are moms - Mrs. Hebb has three children, Damon, 14, Caleb, 10 and Aubrie, 8 - they know how important these activities are to families.

"It's nice that I have kids who have been through a deployment so I can relate to the spouses better," Mrs. Ellison said.

Right now, the EIS key spouses focus mainly on deployment and reintegration.
"Reunions are a hard time, so we keep contacting for a few months after they get home to make sure things are going smoothly," Mrs. Ellison said.

They also coordinate meals for families in stressful situations, such as illnesses, injuries and pregnancies.

"While the majority of our support occurs for spouses with deployed members, we are a great resource tool for all spouses anytime during their time here with our unit," Mrs. Hebb said.

When spouses are in a nurturing environment at home, service members can feel more confident in their jobs during deployments.

"The best part is when I hear that a deployed member was able to rest a bit easier or feel at ease because they knew that their spouse was being looked after and taken care of here at home," Mrs. Hebb said.

Helping other spouses as a key spouse is rewarding, said Mrs. Ellison.
"It is as much a blessing for us as it is for them," she said.

For information on the Key Spouse program, contact Mr. Tveit at 953-2353.