Key spouse of the year: Castillo helps families adjust to military life

by Rebecca Burylo
Air University Public Affairs

2/8/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. - -- Verenice Castillo, wife of Maj. Tony Castillo, 42nd Security Forces Squadron commander, was named the first 42nd Air Base Wing key spouse of the year during the annual award ceremony Jan. 25.

"We're pretty excited about this, as this is the first time we've ever had a key spouse of the year category being recognized in our annual awards program," said Chief Master Sgt. Garth Meade, wing command chief. "We believe the Key Spouse program is essential to our mission readiness. Our key spouses help bridge that communication, support gap which has traditionally been between our Airmen's families and their unit leadership."

Coming from a family where a military background was nonexistent, Castillo was unprepared when she married her husband 13 years ago. Today, she shares her experiences with young wives and husbands entering the Air Force family.

"I had no idea what this [military] was all about when I got married," said Castillo. "So I know there are a lot of spouses that are afraid, they don't know where to go, they have no one they can call and ask questions. It's my responsibility now to turn around and grab their hands and help them get through it."

The Key Spouse program is offered Air Force wide to create a network of communication between leadership and families. It provides spouses an environment to share experiences and become aware of events, programs and resources offered at their installation, as well as support during deployment, emergencies and reintegration.

"We must ensure that all spouses and families receive the necessary support that sustains them through the challenges that they may encounter as they make sacrifices alongside our service men and women," said Col. Trent Edwards, wing commander. "We must also recognize our key spouse volunteers for their assistance in getting this mission accomplished. Taking care of our families is an ongoing commitment."

Each Air Force unit has its own key spouse to connect spouses with the commander and the first sergeants. Castillo's group meets at least twice a month, but the line of communication is always open.

"We are always doing something with the unit, doing stuff for families so we are very active," she said. "We also get together for meetings at group level and wing level. So this is their opportunity to bring ideas, issues or anything they want to share with the rest of the key spouse mentors and the key spouses."

Volunteering at the hospital, preparing home-cooked meals for families, gathering donations for the Airman and Family Readiness Center's food pantry and calling families during deployments are just some of the ways Castillo and her spouses make a difference in Maxwell's community.

This past week, Castillo gathered a group of spouses, currently experiencing deployment, together for coffee. This is when miracles happen, she said.

"Sometimes people can see those things as, 'Oh it's just to drink coffee,' but with someone who is struggling with deployment, just to go out and to get a cup of coffee and have grown-up talk, it is a miracle," said Castillo. "It is a big deal that they know they are not alone."

When she took on her role as the key spouse mentor in June, Castillo said she had a hard time getting other spouses to open up with their problems. Now she will receive calls, emails and Facebook messages from spouses needing her help.

Opening up that line of communication and finding ways to help them has been one of her greatest satisfactions.

"It's seeing families, who are struggling, and you are able to do something for them," Castillo explained. "Not necessarily fixing their problems, but providing the resources available for them and guiding them and setting them on the path that will help them fix those issues. That's the best feeling!"

There are many resources available that new spouses may not be aware of, including counseling services provided at the Airman and Family Readiness Center, Give Parents a Break, Military One Source and discounted oil changes.

One program that Castillo and the wing have been able to create is Strength for Spouses, which Edwards and Meade encourage other commanders to integrate into their Key Spouse programs.

Strength for Spouses consists of two classes for pre-deployment and reintegration that teach spouses the tools of resiliency and how to adjust to life after deployment.

Another initiative Castillo hopes will gain in visibility is the new training program she began with the help of Family Advocacy and the first sergeants to prepare her key spouses for situations that may arise from other spouses seeking help. It is a five-class training course specializing in how to identify domestic violence, overcoming grief, setting up relational boundaries and taking care of one's self.

"We are not counselors or doctors, but we are the first ones to reach out to them [spouses]," said Castillo. "And if we don't know how to handle a situation, they're just going to run away. We want them close to us so we can help them and guide them."

Call Andrew Tveit, Airman and Family Readiness Center consultant, at 953-2353 to contact a key spouse in your unit.