Key spouses train to be 'emotional' first responders

by Rebecca Burylo
Air University Public Affairs

5/17/2013 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Al  -- 
Any spouse within the Air Force can be equipped as a key spouse through a single four-hour class, but spouses at Maxwell have taken their job of helping others beyond the basics with four additional training modules.

Feeling inadequate to intervene in some of the struggles families were facing, spouses at Maxwell sought more in-depth training focused on domestic violence and suicide prevention, finances, healthy marriages and deployments.

They felt that with additional tools, they could provide families with more effective advice. Such an initiative, sponsored through the Family Advocacy program, was created to identify key spouses as credible resources for those who come to them with questions and concerns, according to Andrew Tveit, Airmen and Family Readiness Center consultant who is in charge
of key spouse training.

"What we have implemented through Family Advocacy is additional training to give the key spouses the tools to help with situations that may come up while they're talking with families," said Tveit.
"Things like suicide and domestic violence." Derrick Sanders, A&FRC Family Support branch chief, said equipping spouses with the knowledge of handling family situations, using different resources and offering help to those in need prepare them to respond to families' needs.

"Key spouses play a vital role in connecting with and providing support to our families," he said. "This additional training will better equip them to provide that support as often times they are the 'emotional' first responders."

Spouses of the 42nd Security Forces Squadron and their key spouse mentor, Verenice Castillo, wife of 42nd SFS Commander Maj. Tony Castillo, were strong proponents for the additional training.

Castillo, named Air Force Military Spouse of the Year by Military Spouse magazine, is a strong advocate for the Key Spouse program, according to Tveit.

"She's been a big push when it comes to the program," said Tveit. "She actually has gone out when we have different events and she'll set up a key spouse table with information to try to recruit other spouses into the program or other family members who want to know who their key spouse is."

Vanessa Edwards, wife of 42nd Air Base Wing Commander Col. Trent Edwards, and Karen Meade, wife of Chief Master Sgt. Garth Meade, the wing commander chief, find the additional modules an important asset to the role key spouses play at Maxwell.

"The Key Spouse program is much more than a program. It shows real caring and concern for spouses," said Edwards. "The training builds confidence that our key spouses can take care of spouses and families and that what they do is important."

An Air Force commander's program, the Key Spouse program creates a network of  communication between leadership and families and is coordinated through each base's Airmen and Family Readiness Center.
It provides military spouses an environment to share experiences, become aware of events and resources offered at their installation as well as support during deployment, emergencies and reintegration.

For Castillo, helping during tough times or directing spouses toward helpful resources is the greatest feeling. Since not all spouses are experts in medicine, finance or psychology, training
is beneficial.

"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."

The A&FRC is supplied with the initial materials and training packets to instruct spouses for the required Key Spouse class. Other resources are provided through the A&FRC and the FAP to instruct spouses in the four other modules, now an agreed-upon requirement by Maxwell spouses and commanders for becoming a key spouse.

Completion of all five modules is required for graduation, and will be offered every quarter.

During the summer months, they will be offered twice a month. The program is open to both male and female spouses. Each unit has its own key spouses and key spouse mentor. Mentors organize and lead their unit's key spouses and are interviewed and validated by their unit commander for the position.

Often times, the mentor is the unit commander's spouse. However, if the commander does not have a spouse or their spouse is unable to fulfill the duties, any key spouse may take on the responsibilities.

According to Tveit, Maxwell has trained 90-100 key spouses, and he attributes the program's increasing success to the involvement and commitment of base leadership and the passion and eagerness of the spouses.

To contact a key spouse or to register to become a key spouse, call Tveit at 953-2353.