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Spotlight on Spouses: Jennifer Lavoie

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- The Air Force has been her way of life for 26 years, and it's been an adventure the entire time.

Jennifer Lavoie, the wife of the 28th Bomb Wing Command Chief Master Sergeant Brian Lavoie, grew up in Oregon without a military installation nearby. So, when she married her husband shortly after he completed technical training and moved to their first assignment, she didn't know what to expect.

"We pulled up and I was thinking, what is the commissary and why do I have to show my ID to go into the Base Exchange," Jennifer said. "All of those things were foreign to me."

Feeling overwhelmed and isolated is a common issue for spouses new to the military. Jennifer said she believes Ellsworth does a great job of providing orientation programs such as Heart Link to educate spouses about the Air Force, and has resources available to them to ease the transition to military life.

"I think Heart Link is a great program," she said. "In fact, this is the first base to which we've ever been assigned to that has had programs like this for new spouses. I wish they had them when I came in, so I think spouses should definitely take advantage of all the programs out there."

Another resource Jennifer encourages spouses to utilize is the Ellsworth community.

"I love the community environment that we live in," she said. "For us, every time we move we look for those primary activities that are important to us, and we try to keep it within the base. Some of the first things we look for; where are the church and Boy Scout activities located. I just like the sense of community the base provides."

But, Jennifer acknowledges that it's not only new spouses who encounter challenges due to the military lifestyle.

"We've been in for a long time, and we may know the protocols and the rules about getting accustomed to new schools, new doctors and dentists. But no matter how long you're in, we find ourselves relying on our military community to help us out. My point is that we're all in the same situation" she said.

Chief Lavoie has been stationed here for three years and for most of that time Jennifer has been working full time at the Air Force Financial Services Center. Until this assignment, she had been a stay-at-home mom to her three sons, two of whom are now grown and living on their own. Now, like many other military families, balancing family, work schedules and military functions can be challenging for them.

"It's a struggle," she said. "We've been trying to balance responsibilities at home. Before I went back to work, I took care of anything that needed to be done, and it was never a concern for Brian. He could just stay focused on his stuff, where as now we're trying to balance things ... like when there's a housing appointment that I can't be home for or when our son has an orthodontist appointment."

Their struggle has become even more pronounced since Chief Lavoie moved into the Command Chief position last December.

"One of the toughest things with his new position is that we are so much busier that sometimes I feel I don't have time for my son," she said. "I have to try to pick and choose which is most important and that's hard, because I would love to be more involved in the base community. I feel like I don't do enough. But sometimes you won't find me at an event because I should spend time with my son. So the busy schedules and finding a balance is hard."

Yet, Jennifer says the benefits of her husband's new job make the scheduling challenges worth it.
"I love being able to see my husband go to work and be so happy that he's able to help and be there for the Airmen. Sitting back and watching, he truly loves what he's doing, so I think that's probably the highlight for me," she said.

Jennifer hopes that as the command chief's wife, she too will have the opportunity to help Airmen and their families and encourages spouses to talk with her if they ever have a problem that don't know how to solve.

"Don't be afraid to approach me," she said. "We've been in so long, that I'm sure if I don't have the answers, I definitely have the network to find the answer. I would just hope that they are comfortable enough to approach me with their questions."

Jennifer is still adjusting to her new role as the command chief's wife, but she says every spouse has a very important role to play. Understanding the responsibilities of military service and supporting their spouse's decision to serve has a huge impact on not only the mission, but their family life as well.

"Be supportive," she said. "My biggest thing is to make my Airman happy; to let him leave the house that day with no worries. If we allow them to do what they need to do, then they can take care of us better. If they can go to work without all those worries on them, they can perform well and then come home and have a better home life knowing they've done their job well that day."

Chief Lavoie's new position has thrust Jennifer into the spotlight, but she says it hasn't changed her.

"I'm a wife just like anybody else," she said. "It doesn't matter what his job is, I'm still a spouse in the same situation as the rest ... doing my best to support my family, my husband and everyone else here at Ellsworth."