Castillo visits D.C., applauds Key Spouse program

by Rebecca Burylo
Air University Public Affairs

5/17/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Al  -- Verenice Castillo's efforts to strengthen spouses at Maxwell Air Force Base shined last week as she, the Air Force Military Spouse of the Year and wife of Maj. Tony Castillo, commander of the 42nd Security Forces Squadron, competed for the title of Military Spouse magazine's Military Spouse of the Year during her visit to the White House May 6-10.

Though she did not win the overall Department of Defense title, Castillo is thrilled about her experiences and her opportunity to be the voice for Air Force spouses and the Key Spouse program.
"It was something else," Castillo said of her trip. "When I was there, I was not representing myself. I was representing Maxwell and all the rest of the Air Force spouses. It was all about who was behind me, and it was amazing."

Castillo along with Airman and Family Readiness Center and other units' spouses at Maxwell have been making strides in the Key Spouse program, which now incorporates essential counseling and resource training for spouses and Strength for Spouses, a video drama demonstrating the benefits base resources have during a deployment.

Vanessa Edwards, wife of Col. Trent Edwards, 42nd Air Base Wing commander, expressed her gratitude for spouses like Castillo who work relentlessly to provide for families' needs through such training and programs.

"It's so wonderful that there are spouses out there that really want to help and want to change things," she said. "They take their experiences from base to base and they say 'I think we can do something here or something better.' Verenice is doing that."

With the contacts Castillo made during her stay in Washington, D.C., she will be moving forward in spreading the word on the vitality of the Key Spouse program training and the necessity of having leadership cooperation.

After a star-packed week of sitting down to tea with first lady Michelle Obama, shaking hands with Britain's Prince Harry and discussing her platform at length with several high-ranking officers' spouses, Castillo said she left Washington with a big smile and an even bigger confidence to tackle her mission.

While there, she also visited with U.S. Rep. Martha Roby from Montgomery; Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby; Betty Welsh, wife of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh; Athena Cody, wife of Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody; and Gail Donley, wife of Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley.

With each opportunity, Castillo explained the progress Maxwell has made in helping the lives of military families and how such additional training for key spouses could benefit many if standardized across the Air Force.

"I learned our leadership really cares about the well-being of military families, but they need someone that will bring them exactly what is happening and the way it's happening," she said.

During the award ceremony, Castillo addressed a large audience of military leaders, spouses and families on the importance of military leadership helping families. "It was my opportunity to tell everybody that this is not just about spouses taking care of spouses," she explained.

"This is also the active duty's responsibility to take care of spouses and that the reason it is working at Maxwell is because we have the support from senior leaders."

Her plan now is to continue to spread the word to other installations of her efforts through newsletters and town hall meetings. However, now Castillo has the help and support of new friends, leaders and other Air Force installation winners.

Leaving in July with her husband for a permanent change of station to Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., Castillo will have an opportunity to further spread the benefits of her mission.

She leaves confident the programs she has helped to implement at Maxwell will remain strong. "I just want to say that I am the one who is leaving, but not the programs," Castillo said.

"The programs are here to stay and help spouses. It is something that we know is needed and that we want to continue. All key spouses and spouses have the right to be educated and be supported, so now it's my responsibility to take it everywhere else."