JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. –
You may have heard the term key spouse, and you may have even met one at some point, but do you really know who they are, what they do and where to find them?
Key spouses can be found in any of the Air Force units across Joint Base Charleston and they are standing by to provide support in any way they can.
First it's important to recognize exactly who a key spouse is.
"Key spouses are volunteers from within the squadron who have been appointed by the squadron commander to act as a link between unit leadership and families," said Tech. Sgt. Kathryn Wood, 628th Force Support Squadron, Airman and Family Readiness Center.
The individuals who serve as key spouses are important to the overall mission readiness of a squadron. They are some of the first people a new family to the squadron will meet and they also provide much needed support during a deployment or TDY.
"The Key Spouse Program is very valuable to our Airmen, their families and the mission," said Becky Lamontagne, the wife of Col. John Lamontange, 437th Airlift Wing commander. "It is a way for spouses and families to feel connected to a group of peers when they first arrive at a base and then having the comfort of knowing who to call when something goes wrong during a TDY or deployment."
Each individual has their own reasons for wanting to become a key spouse.
"I understand what it is like not to have support while my spouse was away," said Kelly Easterling, a 628th Civil Engineer Squadron key spouse and wife of Master Sgt. Patrick Easterling. "I wanted to help other spouses have a better experience with deployments and know that they are not alone."
For Christina Tintzman, a 15th Airlift Squadron key spouse and the wife of Capt. Cory Tintzman, the appreciation of what past key spouses had done for her motivated her to pay it forward.
"I was truly blessed to have key spouses at each base we have been to, and they helped me adjust and feel a sense of belonging," she said. "I love being able to pass on the support I received and try to help make the transitions of the military lifestyle a little smoother."
Lamontagne remembers a time when the Air Force didn't have the Key Spouse Program.
"When we first entered the Air Force there were no key spouses," she said. "Over the years, some bases created similar programs but they were different everywhere and many didn't last very long. The Key Spouse Program is an Air Force wide program, but still individualized based on the needs of a squadron and the number of key spouses in that squadron."
To become a key spouse, volunteers have to undergo extensive training.
"Key spouse training consists of 12 hours of classroom training broken up into two workshops; Heart Link and the Key Spouse Program course," said Wood. "Additionally, key spouses attend suicide awareness training and continue their education to remain current on Air Force issues and trends."
It's this training that prepares the key spouses for their most difficult task, preparing the families of Airmen for an upcoming deployment.
"Key spouses play an important role during deployments," said Katie Theriot, 17th Airlift Squadron Key Spouse Mentor and the wife of Lt. Col. Paul Theriot, 17th AS commander. "They make sure to have their assigned spouses' contact information and pass on important information about the deployment timeline."
During a deployment, unit key spouses play a large role in keeping the squadron spouses connected while their loved ones are away.
"Keeping up with 60 to 70 spouses is a daunting task," said Theriot. "Our Key Spouses make it possible to reach out to and support all of the spouses. They plan more social gatherings and playgroups to help spouses feel more connect and pass the time."
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.
"The goal is to be there for those left behind and to provide comfort to those that deploy knowing that their loved ones are being taken care of," said Beth Miller, 628th CES Key Spouse Mentor and the wife of Lt. Col. Patrick Miller, 628th CES commander. "The last thing we want is a distracted warrior down range."
One thing that Lamontagne wants spouses to know is that, "[they] are never alone, help is always a phone call away."
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.
For those looking for information on the Navy's Ombudsman Program can contact the Fleet and Family Support Center at 843-794-7480.