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Program provides support for new military spouses

New military spouses participate in a purse scavenger hunt during the last Heart Link at the Airman and Family Readiness Center. The next Heart Link class will be held Feb. 22 at the A&FRC in Bldg. 6001. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

New military spouses participate in a purse scavenger hunt during the last Heart Link at the Airman and Family Readiness Center. The next Heart Link class will be held Feb. 22 at the A&FRC in Bldg. 6001. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Valentine's Day, the day of love and affection, is a special holiday for many couples around the world. Heart Link workshops are special times for many couples as well, particularly spouses on Tinker Air Force Base.

Heart Link is a free, one-day workshop offered through the Airman and Family Readiness Center within the 72nd Force Support Squadron. The workshop gives support and provides military briefing for new spouses on base.

"Heart Link is a spouse orientation, and it was designed for spouses who have been married to military (members) for five years or less," said Carolyn Smith, community readiness consultant in the 72nd FSS. "We are trying to get our brand new spouses in here, and trying to teach them about the protocol of the Air Force and the culture they have married into."

Each Heart Link workshop is set up with six tables to seat a total of 24 attendees. In addition to new spouses, seasoned spouses also attend the workshops to provide support, advice, guidance and knowledge as mentors. At Tinker, the seasoned spouses who attend are those who are more experienced and are spouses of base leaders, such as commanders and chiefs.

"Our seasoned spouses are our spouses who have been in the military for 10 years or longer," Mr. Smith said. "We try and have at least one seasoned spouse per table."

Spouses who attend Heart Link learn many aspects of military life in general but are also educated about activities on base, the mission of Tinker and financial aspects, as well as many other topics. Ms. Smith said all of this is taught through fun, interactive learning activities rather than the basic Power Point presentations that other workshops often include.

"It's not your typical workshop. We have helping agencies from all over the base that will come in," Ms. Smith said.

Every spouse who attends a Heart Link workshop receives a coin marked with the Heart Link logo, which has a unique meaning on its own.

Air Force members' spouses are often the heart of the Air Force team, and also play a dynamic role in their husband's or wife's mental, emotional and physical well being. The spouse is the connection, or the link, to the family and often is the key to preparedness and mission effectiveness. The spouse is also the main support for the family during deployments and separations.

The team is made up of the sponsors, families, leadership and everyone assigned to the units and support agencies in Air Force Materiel Command.

Wings in the center of the logo represent the Air Force and an aircraft represents the flying and support mission of AFMC as well as an operational mission with deployments, temporary duty and remotes. A red contrail symbolizes the link from the spouse to the sponsor and the heart depicts the spouse as the heart of the team, hence, the title of the program -- Heart Link.

The program was developed in 2002 and originated at a base in Air Combat Command. It gained wide recognition and was deemed worthy to be taught in the Air Force nationwide. Tinker has been offering the program for several years and has reworked it to fit local Air Force standards.

Brittani Usera attended Heart Link for the first time in 2010, being a spouse for five years.

"I have a better understanding of the military life," Ms. Usera said. "Even though I've been a military spouse for longer than most spouses who were in the class, I still found out things I didn't ever know."

Ms. Usera has been involved in the Tinker Enlisted Spouses Network for the past two years and is now the president of the club. She said attending Heart Link not only helped her gain more knowledge as a spouse, but also allowed her to meet other spouses and get them involved as well.

"It was a great networking time. I found a lot of friends and it helped benefit me for recruiting spouses for the organization," Ms Usera said. "We had a lot of time to socialize. It helped me understand more what spouses need and what their concerns are to help me better develop my network."

In light of the approaching Valentine's Day holiday, Heart Link can even strengthen a couple's bond by helping develop new admirations.

"Heart Link helped me better appreciate my husband's job and his time here, so I can better appreciate having him here this Valentine's Day, too," Ms. Usera said.

Heart Link workshops are offered four times per year. The next one will be held on Feb. 22 from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the A&FRC, and lunch is provided at the Vanwey Dining Facility. Interested spouses must pre-register to attend by calling 739-2747 by Feb. 17.

"The main reason we want them to come is to make a connection with another spouse," Ms. Smith said. "When that spouse has something come up in their life, they've made a connection so they can reach out to that other spouse. The friendships that are made in Heart Link are life-long."