WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — Before the COVID-19 pandemic, it would not be unusual to see Mindy Schwickerath, a key spouse for the 88th Security Forces Squadron, appear in costume in support of the many events in which she participated.
Among the ensembles the former preschool teacher owns are a shark, elf, Easter bunny and superheroes. But her lighthearted approach belies the serious work Schwickerath does, which is why she has been named Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s 2020 Military Spouse of the Year.
She won the award based on what her husband, Master Sgt. Nicholas Schwickerath, and other 88 SFS personnel wrote about her. She will go on to compete at the major command level.
The focus of key spouses has changed from supporting deployer families to all military families associated with the base, ensuring they have the resources and information they need to thrive. Schwickerath, began her volunteerism with the squadron two years ago when she, her husband of 16 years and son, Reilly, came from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, after a decade there.
Her volunteer efforts at Wright-Patt have included:
- Supplying water and Gatorade for gate-entry controllers at all Area A and B gates during hot days;
- Because baby showers are being canceled in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, gathering donated gifts, gently used baby items and adding her own.
“Being a military wife, you have to be thrifty, so I used coupons and bonus points at certain stores,” she said.
When people donated money, she turned it into gift cards from the commissary or Exchange so those funds continued to benefit the military community. The baskets were given to 88 SFS members and a few other organizations that don’t have key spouses but work with the squadron.
“I never turn anybody away,” she said. “If they don’t have a key spouse or they reach out to me, if I can’t find somebody in their unit who can help them out directly, I don’t turn them away. I’d rather help somebody. I know what it is like to be that spouse and not have the connections or somebody to turn to.”
- Arranging meal trains;
- Interacting with Blue Star Families, who donated Facebook portals to communicate using FB Messenger or What’s App;
- Coordinating a back-to school drive-thru event for 88 SFS students;
- Organizing a holiday party for 88 SFS children;
She partnered with the Airman and Family Readiness Center for kids from newborn up to age 18 to get a stocking of gifts. Within a four-day timeframe, she and other volunteers gathered gifts, wrapped them and stuffed the stockings. She dressed as Mrs. Claus to deliver the stockings to 88 SFS active-duty members to take them home.
- Managing 88 SFS’s Key Spouse and Mentor Key Spouse Facebook page;
- Arranging for spouses at home station to get 12 days of holiday and Mother’s Day gifts from the Full Circle organization, along with a handwritten note from the deployed servicemember;
- Participating in Wreaths Across America.
Schwickerath said she spends a lot of time researching what is available to deployed members and their spouses so she can disseminate that information.
Why does she do it all?
“I know from experience,” she said. “My grandmother and mother were military spouses. This is my lifestyle. This is what I grew up doing. … “I love hearing testimonies like, ‘Oh, this helped out so much’ or ‘I never knew about this until now.’ It breaks my heart to hear, ‘My husband was deployed and I felt like I had nobody’ or ‘We’re struggling because of XYZ.’
“If I can keep that from happening and help people have good experiences and say, ‘I love being a military spouse’ then I know I did my job.
She said she is thrilled to win the award and thanks Wright-Patt leaders who allow her to do what she does. She is especially grateful to Maj. Julie Roloson, 88 SFS commander, who gave her the opportunity to serve.
“For many Airmen in this squadron, this is their first assignment, so having someone experienced like Mindy contributing to the efforts of our Key Spouse Program to help them has been extremely beneficial,” Roloson said. “And we were pleased to have the opportunity to recognize her efforts.”
Added Schwickerath: “I love that people feel comfortable enough to come to me when they need something or they have a question.”
Her future goals include doing more in-person volunteering. She hopes to work with other key spouses from SFS and perhaps even throughout the Wright-Patterson community to put together an Easter event. Perhaps she will be able to don her bunny suit.
Schwickerath’s husband thinks it’s hilarious when she dresses up but feels she sometimes bites off more than she can chew, she said. She is not, however, above “strong-arming” her friends and former neighbors living in base housing to help with projects.
“If you are interested, we are always looking for key spouses,” she said. “Please reach out to the Wright-Patterson Key Spouses Facebook page, first shirt or even the Airman and Family Readiness Center.”
The 2020 Military Spouse of the Year award is not Schwickerath’s first bit of recognition – in 2019 she won “Mrs. Military,” an online pageant dedicated to women married to military members.