Spouses' play important supporting role
Kathleen Fadok, right, accompanies Maj. Gen. David Fadok, center, commander and president of the Air University, as he receives a briefing from Maj. John Redfield, director of Air University Public Affairs in this August 2011 photo. (Air Force photo/Jessica Casserly)
by Kelly Deichert
Air University Public Affairs
3/16/2012 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Whether they are newlyweds or have been married for 20 years, military spouses can learn about customs and etiquette, which enrich their relationship with the Air Force.
"I love what the Air Force offers, the traditions," said Shawn Lee, whose husband Lt. Col. Douglas Lee is an Air War College student. "I'm the biggest Air Force cheerleader."
Protocol and etiquette are a rich part of the military's past, and involvement is often a way to honor spouses' contributions.
"They are now part of the team," said Tom Hanna, manager of the personnel services department. "These are things that make us who we are and differentiate us from the civilian population," Hanna said.
He discusses protocol and traditions at the Heart Link orientations at the Maxwell Airman and Family Readiness Center, which makes a big impact on spouses.
Regardless of rank, spouses can always learn something new about the Air Force and its customs. "I think every spouse should go to the Heart Link program," said Julie Foltz, whose husband Lt. Col. Andrew Foltz is an AWC student.
Spouses will be invited to a variety of ceremonies, including retirements, re-enlistments and changes of command. "I feel privileged to be a part of this, to be able to share in their moment," Foltz said.
Hanna encourages spouses to discuss with their military spouse their responsibilities and dress before the event. "Part of this is to understand your role at this function," he said.
Hanna encourages spouses to learn about the ceremony, especially when their spouse is being honored. "It is an important part of their career, and you had a hand in that," he said.
Events may vary depending on the commander or service member. "My son re-enlisted in the air in a C-130," Hanna said. "He was flying over the base while reading the oath."
No matter if the event is formal or informal, people will be aware of spouses' actions. Commanders will judge the service members by their spouses' actions, and other spouses will look to each other to set the example.
"Leaders pay attention to that, to the Air Force team," Hanna said.
The written word
Even though technology may change how the message is delivered, customs and protocol remain the same.
For example, many invitations are delivered by email. But just because an email appears less formal than an engraved invitation, it must be handled with the same level of respect, such as sending an RSVP.
The Air University Protocol Handbook for the Air Force Spouse suggests sending a written or telephoned response within 24 to 48 hours.
Lee said she believes in the significance of a handwritten note. "The written word is a lost art," she said.
Since email can easily be overlooked or mass-produced, a handwritten note is a personal expression. "When the squadron was deployed, I wrote to spouses every two weeks," she said. "I wanted them to know I was thinking of them."
This is why thank-you cards and welcome notes are important. "It's nice to go the extra mile when it benefits others," Lee said.
Spouses should follow protocol for observance of the nation's flag and anthem. "It's important to pay respect to the flag," Hanna said.
Air Force installations play "Reveille" at the beginning of the day, 6:30 a.m. at Maxwell AFB, and during retreat at 5 p.m. the national anthem is played. If spouses are outside during the national anthem, they should turn toward the music and put their right hands over their hearts.
Lee said she is proud of her children when she sees them standing with their hands over their hearts each evening. She said the neighborhood children are patriotic, and they all stop playing to show proper respect.
"It's our way of life," she said.
When spouses are in a car, they should stop and stay parked for the anthem. They should turn off the radio, remain seated and be respectful.
Indoors, spouses should stand when the flag is presented. During the national anthem, they should stand and place their right hand over their hearts.
Part of the team
The goal of etiquette and protocol is to make spouses familiar with procedures so they feel like a part of the military family.
"It's written down in regulations to make sure we don't make mistakes or embarrass ourselves and others," Hanna said.
Eventually, these customs become second nature. "If you do it each and every time, it's going to be a natural thing," Hanna said.
Lee agrees. "If you're involved in what is going on, it becomes second nature."
Spouses wishing to learn more about protocol can view the protocol handbook online at: http://www.au.af.mil/au/images/AU_Protocol_Handbook_for_the_AF_Spouse.pdf