Squadron key spouse program -- direct link to mission success

  • Published
  • By Maj. Timothy Howard
  • 28th Munitions Squadron commander
Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder", which is a phrase our military families are all too familiar with. She also said, "You have to accept whatever comes and the only important thing is that you meet it with courage and with the best that you have to give." Both of these wise statements can be part of a foundation for the key spouse program.

In my opinion, no one can argue the importance of a key spouse program or its vital link to mission success and bombs on target.

Today, our key spouses enable our success in home station and deployed missions. Every commander has a key spouse program of some fashion, and I'm no different. I'm a firm believer in looking toward the future, and to do that you need to know where you've been.

In 1997, the United States Air Force implemented the Air Force Key Spouse Program at five bases with very busy operations tempos. Although the program was not initially adopted Air Force wide, many lessons were learned in the area of assisting military family members specifically as it related to deployment and periods of family separation. The key spouse program is now designed to be a tool for organizational leadership to tailor for the needs of individual units.

The program
The key spouse program is drastically different from a traditional spouse's group or other official programs in that organizational leadership empowers a volunteer to assist with quality of life programs and services directed at family members. Appointed individual or individuals work closely with organizational leadership and may become the focal point for information and support to families in their unit. In this way, key spouse should be a tool for unit leadership and provide a framework for stability and support. Key spouses are there in times of need for their peers. They also represent unit level involvement to issues impacting family members. An effective key spouse program will enhance mission readiness and enhance the flow of information between leadership, base support activities and squadron spouses. Key spouses are there to inform, support and refer family members to the appropriate base agency often starting with the unit first sergeant. The key spouse program is therefore a partnership between the key spouse, organizational leadership, and the Ellsworth Airman and Family Readiness Center.

Today as a squadron commander, my leadership team is not complete without the support and sacrifice of our key spouses. Key spouse programs throughout the Air Force and here at Ellsworth enable commanders to continue focus on today's fight by easing the minds of the deployed war fighter and reassuring them that their families are safe back at home. It has been my experience that an effective key spouse program 

· Provided an open, efficient communication link between the commander and families in the unit
· Promotes family readiness
· Improves the quality of life for unit families
· Assists families in finding and using available base and community resources
· Welcomes new families and familiarizes them with available services
· Increases sense of "unit caring"
· Provides the commander with a "heads up" on potential problems

As a commander, I think the greatest challenge for key spouses is getting the unit spouses to open up. From a commander's desk, this can be almost impossible; however, I think spouses are more likely to open up and ask a favor from a friend rather than someone from the office.

Another challenge is unit spouses feeling disassociated. As much as we think we are in touch with our Airmen, we have to realize that rank can intimidate unit spouses. In the 28th Munitions Squadron we started with shop specific key spouses, which we knew could find a kinship with the other shop spouses and would open up to start that vital communication flow.

The final challenge is the most important and that is communication. Inaccurate information and gossip can degrade a key spouse program to ineffectiveness.

New technological advances improve our weapons, tools, techniques and policies, but it does not change the need for the day-to-day care and nurturing our Airmen and their families. As leaders we should not ignore the importance or the need for a viable key spouse program.

The 28th Bomb Wing mission
As the deployed personnel slide was displayed at wing stand up today, I thought of families who must sacrifice again without a husband, wife, son, daughter, father or mother for several months. I then scanned the room and witnessed just how many diverse specialties it takes to keep the mighty B-1 flying, fighting and winning. Col. Jeffrey Taliaferro, 28th Bomb Wing commander, has mentioned in many briefings that he can track all Ellsworth personnel back to B-1sortie production. The B-1 is lethal, and carries a wide range of devastating weapons making this platform one of the best options available to the Combined Forces Air Component Commander. So, thank the silent service of your key spouse for their work in the shadows keeping us strong on the home front so our Airmen can take care of the mission and today's fight. In my opinion, key spouses are the direct link to mission success.