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The Key Spouse Program; unlocking family resiliency

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Desiree Hartman, 97th Force Support Squadron community readiness consultant, briefs new key spouses on the responsibilities of their position, Nov. 3, 2020, at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. The Key Spouse Program also has key spouse mentors who are advocates for the program and are experienced key spouses themselves. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell)

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A new key spouse looks at the cover of the Key Spouse’s Guide, Nov. 3, 2020, at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. At the 97th Air Mobility Wing, there are approximately 52 key spouses assigned to commanders across the wing. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell)

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Jerome Davis, 97th Force Support Squadron community readiness consultant, discusses the different programs the Airmen and Family Readiness Center (A&FRC) offers, Nov. 3, 2020, at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. The A&FRC has about 14 programs to assist Airmen and their families with difficulties that occur in military life. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell)

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U.S. Air Force Col. Matthew Leard, 97th Air Mobility Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Randy Kay, 97th AMW command chief, explain the importance of the Key Spouse Program to new key spouses, Nov. 3, 2020, at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. The Key Spouse Program is a base commander program designed to assist spouses and their families in navigating life's challenges. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell)

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

Deployments and temporary assignments do not only affect military members. Spouses get left behind and can often feel isolated and lost. Having to deal with the daily grind of everyday life alone can become a daunting task. That is where the 97th Air Mobility Wing’s Key Spouse Program comes in.

The role of the Key Spouse Program is to assist the spouses of military members through communicating, relaying information, and providing referrals to necessary support agencies. Currently, there are approximately 52 key spouses assigned to commanders across the wing. These key spouse teams are entirely made up of volunteers that report to their respective unit commanders for their vision of their squadron’s program.

“The key spouses are the liaisons between the military and families,” said Desiree Hartman, 97th Force Support Squadron community readiness consultant. “The training we give to the key spouses ranges from resiliency to social media; I have around 40 different topics that we could go over with them. Key spouses are often the subject matter experts when assisting with spouses, so it’s important that they have a toolbox of knowledge for dealing with these issues.”

The Key Spouse Program is managed by the Airmen and Family Readiness Center, which hosts three different training sessions quarterly: initial, mentor, and refresher. The A&FRC has around 14 programs, including the Key Spouse Program, to assist Airmen and their families with difficulties that occur in military life. The goal of the training is to enable spouses to better understand and support the needs of military members.“Key spouses are a very critical piece,” said Hartman. “They’re linked to the families and maybe they know more. Taking these trainings to heart and letting it resonate will ensure that we are doing everything we can to help.”

The mission of the key spouses to connect, communicate, and care is in alignment with Air Force-wide resiliency efforts. According to research conducted by the Department of Defense, having “connectedness” programs are protective factors that can aid in reducing the risk of suicide.

“Suicides have been up, and we know no one can see everything going on in a member’s life,” said Hartman. “It is important to have the ability to recognize the signs and know how to be able to handle the situation. We all want the Air Force to succeed, but the most important aspect is the people behind it.”

When asked to explain the Key Spouse Program’s role, Elizabeth White, a newly trained key spouse for the 97th Operational Support Squadron, discussed her unique position with military families.

“I think the position is special because you get to be in an official capacity to help with the military family community,” said White. “When I was new to the military lifestyle, I had a lot of questions. Even though I don’t have a lot of experience being a key spouse, I look forward to it.”

According to Hartman, the Key Spouse Program enables help to come to military families of all shapes and sizes.

“In a majority of families, there are two parents and the kids, but that isn’t always the case and that’s where the key spouse can assist,” said Hartman, “We are all one family and we always need more boots on the ground.”

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