Key Spouses promote readiness, support; relay information to peers

  • Published
  • By Brandice J. O'Brien
  • Tinker Public Affairs
A "key" is a verb, noun and adjective with a handful of synonyms. For 25 Tinker units, it's the symbol of a beneficial, and otherwise missing, link between active-duty Air Force members and their spouses.

Adhering to the motto, "See the key ... talk to me," these spouses work with squadron commanders and first sergeants to relay pertinent information, promote individual and family readiness -- particularly during deployments -- to other wives and husbands. Better known as Tinker's Key Spouse Program, there are more than 50 "key" spouses that have been hand-picked and appointed in writing by squadron commanders.

"The Key Spouse Program is a commander's program that supports Airmen and their families at all times -- it's a force multiplier for the unit. A robust program is especially helpful during deployments, separations, emergencies and other family situations that may arise throughout the year," said Col. Steven Bleymaier, 72nd Air Base Wing and Tinker installation commander. "We're very thankful for all Key Spouses and Ombudsman for the Navy who volunteer their time and talents to support our Airmen, Sailors and families at Tinker -- they are valuable and essential part of the team."

The Key Spouse Program -- introduced in late 2009, with training sessions beginning in January 2010 -- is an Air Force initiative that has resonated with the air base wing, 552nd Air Control Wing, 3rd Combat Communications Group and 76th Maintenance Wing.

After all, a military life is not a "normal" life, said Addie Pesche, a key spouse for the 964th Airborne Air Control Squadron.

"Normal people don't worry about their spouse being shot at, shot down or blown up. Normal people don't live hundreds of miles from their extended families," said Ms. Pesche. "The Key Spouse Program was created to help provide some semblance of consistency and support to an otherwise not normal way of life. If we can get this point across to the spouses, and sometimes, more importantly, the members, the major challenge facing us as key spouses would cease to exist."

Ms. Pesche said she requested to become a key spouse after her husband, Capt. James Behn, returned from his first major deployment. Having been gone for a total of eight months, she had found herself alone, caring for a newborn, working full-time with her nearest family more than 800 miles away.

"While I don't fault anyone, I never heard from anyone in the squadron the entire time he was gone," she said. "I felt overwhelmed and extremely abandoned. I promised that if there was ever anything I could do to keep another spouse from feeling what I was feeling I would; spouses need to know that they have a support structure to lean on in times of need. They Key Spouse Program gave me that opportunity."

Additionally, the program helps increase knowledge about the installation and available helping agencies and gives spouses an outlet should they be faced with a concern.

"It helps to resolve any issues at the lowest level such as a spouse having a stressor and may be concerned about going to the first sergeant or commander directly, but feels more comfortable going to a peer," said Master Sgt. Jason Crosby, Tinker Readiness non-commissioned officer-in-charge at the Tinker Airman and Family Readiness Center.

Shelly Black, wife of Tech. Sgt. Roderick Black and key spouse for the 552nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said as a key spouse she has also been there during other crucial movements aside from deployments, including the spring storms of May 2010 when a tornado hit Choctaw.
"The 552nd ACW key spouses collecte
d food, money and toiletries for all the families that were affected," Ms. Black said. "We went to Choctaw for one week and served the entire neighborhood lunch and supported them in whatever way we could. We also made up food baskets for our military families and delivered them to their hotels."
Following their selection, new key spouses attend orientation training, which meets on the second Friday of each month at the A&FRC. Continuing education meets the second Tuesday of each month.

For more information, call Sergeant Crosby at 739-2747.