CHARLESTON AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. –
"Spouses are a major contributing factor to the Air Force mission," said Linda Lankosz, base administrator for an Air Force-wide program called Heart Link.
Heart Link is a standardized spouse orientation program designed to increase awareness of the Air Force mission, customs, traditions, protocol and available resources for all spouses of active-duty Air Force members, regardless of the number of years affiliated with the Air Force.
The staff at the Airman and Family Readiness Flight organizes a one-day program every quarter. Representatives from various base services inform the spouses about resources, agencies and programs that are available to them -- all of the things they will call upon when their spouses are deployed.
Some of the services include protocol, finance, base exchange, chapel, family advocacy, health and wellness center, legal, TRICARE and military personnel customer services. These representatives highlight issues such as military identification cards, casualty assistance and the survivor benefit plan.
"At Heart Link we want to help the spouses acclimate, and feel they are an important and integral part of the Air Force Community," said Mrs. Lankosz, also the community readiness consultant at the A&FRF.
Those who are engaged to an Air Force member are also invited to attend because it gives future spouses the opportunity to make friends, be included in a support system, learn about base agencies and understand the Air Force mission and culture, said Lankosz.
Program directors and spouses who have attended agree the Heart Link program provides valuable information along with camaraderie.
"There is a lot of participation from the spouses," said Staff Sgt. Christopher Neldner, Air Force Aid officer. "They are excited and feel like they are a part of something."
Jennifer Allen, wife of Tech. Sgt. Matthew Allen, 437th Maintenance Squadron aircraft hydraulic systems craftsman, said she loved the class.
"I learned so much and I got to meet a lot of really great people," she said. "This class is helpful regardless of how long you've been an Air Force spouse."
"It's a lot of information but it's so beneficial, not just for the spouses but for active-duty members to know what is available for their families," said Doreen Desport, facilitator of the Heart Link program and the wife of Col. Nicholas Desport, 437th Mission Support Group commander. "Every time I take part in the program I learn something new."
Heart Link, although worthwhile on its own, also comes with a few incentives, said Lankosz.
Chief Master Sgt. Melvin Willis, 437th Airlift Wing command chief master sergeant, presents a Heart Link coin and certificate to each spouse upon completion of the orientation program.
"I am definitely in favor of the program, not only for new spouses, but any Air Force spouse. It provides a network of agencies and friends that will help you should any issues arise. Through Heart Link you get to learn what that network is. It makes a huge difference," said Chief Willis. "They serve just as much as we serve, just in a different capacity. They are a part of our family and we want to make sure that they are taken care of."
A C-17 orientation flight is also offered to all spouses and their military counterparts who attend Heart Link.
Military members are encouraged to attend Heart Link with their spouses. Childcare is available for children from six months to two years. Children younger than six months may stay with their parent during the class.
The next Heart Link orientation program is scheduled for Saturday at the A&FRF. Future dates for Heart Link orientations are April 3 from 8:45 a.m. to 2 p.m., July 14 from noon to 5 p.m. and Oct. 2 from 8:45 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information regarding Heart Link, please call the A&FRF at 963-4406.