Key spouses support military families

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Kathleen D. Bryant
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs

All over the world there are Airmen separated from their families while supporting various missions at deployed locations.

At Moody, while these Airmen are gone for months at a time, the 23d Wing and 93d Air Ground Operations Wing Key Spouse Programs ensure support and care for their families.

The Key Spouse Program, established Air Force-wide in 1999, is an official commander-directed program managed by hand-selected volunteers trained to provide peer-to-peer support, address the needs of military families and enhance readiness.

“Help is out there, we just need to ask,” said Regina Dean, wife of U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Alexander Dean, 74th Aircraft Maintenance Unit dedicated crew chief, who received help from the key spouse program when she was pregnant with twins. “While [my husband] was still overseas, I went into pre-term labor. [They] helped tremendously with my little boy and dogs [at home] while the doctors tried to stop the labor. After contacting my key spouse to get ahold of [my husband], I mentioned I was alone [at the hospital] and she and another key spouse came down and were an amazing support system. They even [went to the extent of] feeding me ice chips.

“I’m not one to ask for help, but I’m eternally grateful I did because they helped me through a scary situation and after I gave birth [they] checked on me,” Dean added. “These ladies do the best they can and are volunteers for their positions. They have kids, jobs, and spouses who deploy too, yet still find time within their crazy lives to contact us to make sure things are okay and if we need help. They rock!”

While Dean was receiving help from the key spouses, her husband was on the other side of the world thinking about her well-being.

“When I heard she went into labor, I was immediately a wreck,” said Alexander Dean. “[Knowing she wasn’t alone,] I felt better almost instantly. It was nice knowing that someone is looking out for our families when we are gone. From what I've experienced, having a family in the military is hard. Being thousands of miles away from family and friends makes things that much more difficult. To have someone to go to for help in a situation like mine, is huge.”

Whether it’s helping someone through a tough circumstance, lending an ear to a tired mom or providing dinner to a family, these key spouses are there to support Airmen and the ones they love.

“The spouses are an important part of the military community and our support to each other is going to be what makes or breaks an assignment,” said Jen Kunkel, wife of Col. Thomas Kunkel, 23d Wing commander. “The memories that you take away will be about the friendships you make. Getting there means stepping out of your comfort zone a little bit, putting yourself out there, and coming to events that maybe you only know one person, because you won’t leave knowing one person.”

Talking to people is the key part of the program and knowing what to say comes with training. The key spouses are trained in readiness concepts such as information, assistance, resiliency and friendship to help military families through rough times, specifically when their Airmen are deployed.

“[Since the] operations tempo and deployment rate is very high at Moody, the program focuses a lot of attention on deployment support and ensuring deployment readiness, but it doesn’t only act in that capacity,” said Kunkel. “The key spouses are an important component of the support structure that you need to have in place when you have, not just a deployed spouse, but an active-duty spouse.”

Kunkel added that knowing who your spouse’s squadron commander, first shirt and key spouse are and how to contact them can make a difference in a stressful situation.

“I call them the triad of support for any active-duty spouse,” Kunkel said. “In your bucket of resources, knowing your key spouse is just another contact who can help you get what you need when those unfamiliar circumstances arise. You’re [more likely] to feel comfortable calling the key spouse versus calling your husband’s boss in certain situations.”   

Although the key spouses are there to help families, they also know the appropriate resources to redirect spouses to for specific situations. Some of these resources fall under the Hearts Apart Program through the Airman and Family Readiness Center to include family child care, deployment briefings and car care. This program hosts monthly events and quarterly dinners for spouses and their children.

The Key Spouse Program also receives information daily about training, events, and activities for spouses and families to get involved in through the base and local community.

Anyone looking for more information on the Key Spouse or the Hearts Apart Programs, please contact the AFRC at 229-257-3333.