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NEWS | Sept. 7, 2011

Key Spouses support family readiness

By Airman 1st Class Jared Trimarchi Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Military leaders have always looked for ways to improve individual, family and unit readiness. Many programs through the years have been created to help service members and their families cope with the stress of defending our country.

One program standardized by the Air Force in 2009 has been peer-to-peer family support and it is here to stay. The Key Spouse program is a formal unit program which offers informal support to military spouses threw valuable information every family should know.

Key Spouses act as a liaison between squadron leadership and families and helps support the squadron mission.

"A typical role for Key Spouses involve welcoming new families, preparing families for deployments, forwarding information regarding family readiness resources, alerting families about upcoming squadron events and offering assistance to families in times of needs," said Master Sgt. Ricky Smith, 628th Force Support Squadron Readiness noncommissioned officer. "The Key Spouse program is an excellent way to bridge communications gaps and maintain contact with families to inform and support them."

Each Key Spouse volunteer is an official unit representative that maintains communication between unit leadership and families. Key Spouses also maintain current rosters of unit family members and provide support to those in need.

There are currently more than 100 trained Key Spouses at Joint Base Charleston who are spread throughout 16 units. Each Key Spouse plays a vital role in getting information to other families, Smith said.

"The program established continuous contact with spouses which can be extremely effective during deployments," Smith said. "It helps build a stronger Air Force community."

Though the program has many Key Spouses, there is always room for growth, Smith said. There are many benefits involved with joining the program including having an increased awareness of installation resources, being able to identify issues and concerns at a lower level, preparing and supporting families during times of separation and an increasing a sense of support in the units.

"All of the benefits from the Key Spouse program improve the quality of life among the unit families and it also enhances family resiliency," Smith said.

To become a Key Spouse, volunteers have to undergo extensive training.

"Key Spouse training consists of 11 hours of classroom training broken up into two workshops; Heart Link and Key Spouse Initial Training," said Sergeant Smith. "Spouses are trained on roles and responsibilities, personality temperaments, available resources, helping agencies both on and off base and suicide awareness training."

It's this training that prepares the Key Spouses for their most difficult task, preparing the families of Airmen for an upcoming deployment and educating them on the resources available to them.

Each spouse is given a 'Key Spouse Reference Guide' during their training.

"The guide is tailored to help them understand their role in the program as well as provide them with guidance on how to implement the Key Spouse program in their individual units," Smith said. "The guides have been altered and customized to include unique practices and procedures for Joint Base Charleston."

Having this program in place for families at home allows for deployed Airmen to know their families are taken care of and can focus solely on their mission.

If you are interested in becoming a Key Spouse or would like to find out who your key spouses are, contact your squadron's first sergeant for more information or visit the Airman and Family Readiness Center.

Trisha Gallaway contributed to this story.