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NEWS | July 14, 2010

Key Spouses play important role within squadrons

By Trisha Gallaway Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Even though you might not know it, they are there when you need them; waiting in the wings to provide assistance in the event the need arises.

Who are these people?

They are the key spouses who can be found in any of the organizations across the base.

So what exactly is a key spouse you might ask?

"A key spouse plays a support role for the squadron, specifically for the spouses," said Shannon Heiling, a key spouse with the 17th Airlift Squadron.

"[Key spouses] act as a liaison between squadron leadership to support the squadron mission and take care of families," said Jodi Rauls, the lead key spouse for the 15th Airlift Squadron. "Typically, I welcome new families and babies, prepare families for deployments, forward information regarding family readiness resources, upcoming wing and squadron events and offer assistance to support families during crises or as needed."

According to Master Sgt. Ricky Smith, Airman and Family Readiness Center, "the Key Spouse program was developed as a Quality of Life Initiative out of concern for the Air Force families."

After seeing the success for the Navy Ombudsman Program, the Air Force Key Spouse Program was born.

The Naval Weapons Station Charleston website says the Ombudsmen are the communication link between the commanding officer and command families as well as acting as a key resource for family members.

Between 1996 and 1998, the Air Force tested similar programs at five different bases, said Sergeant Smith.

"Voluntary implementation was encouraged Air Force-wide as part of the Air Force Family Support Outreach Program [in 1999]," he said. For many years, the program has been base or command specific. [In March 2009] the Air Force standardized and deployed the Key Spouse Program."

Theresa Braga, who is a Key Spouse for the 628th Civil Engineer Squadron remembers a time when the Air Force didn't have the Key Spouse Program and that's what drove her to become involved.

"I know how it felt when my husband deployed and the Key Spouse Program wasn't in play," she said. "Now that [the program is in effect], I felt I could relate to deployments and could try and help out since I have [21 years] of experience."

Mrs. Braga has enjoyed being a key spouse so much that she has continued her role in the squadron even after her husband retired last year.

"My husband retired and I still wanted to continue on as a key spouse, because I know how hard it is when they are gone," she said. "Also, I enjoy helping others when you kind of know exactly what they are going through. It has been a great experience being a key spouse and I will continue to enjoy it as long as I am able to."

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, resources available, 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.

In preparation for the 15 AS's recent deployment, the squadron's eight Key Spouses got to work on updating their recall rosters and scheduling a pre-deployment briefing for those spouses who are left behind, said Mrs. Rauls.

During deployments the Key Spouses also play a large role in keeping the squadron spouses connected while their loved ones are away.

"Key Spouses will make contact with their [designated] spouses on a monthly basis to check on them and offer assistance if necessary," said Mrs. Rauls. "We will also continue to host spouse socials, family get-together's and other activities to keep families busy and build our spouse network."

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.