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Perspective: Key Spouse Program not just a social club

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

A  Key Spouse Program can make the difference between an ordinary Air Force squadron and an extraordinary squadron. 

The adage that the Air Force recruits individuals but retains families is woven into the foundation of every successful key spouse program. My philosophy for implementing a successful squadron program starts with a close exploration of the Air Force’s modern Key Spouse Program. Following a deep understanding of the contemporary program, my philosophy centers on the virtual need for presence and connection.  

Over the last few years, the Air Force has evolved its KSP. In the past, some programs centered on growing social connections with a sorority or fraternity type of experience.  

The 2017 Key Spouse Program is not a social club.

Conversely, it’s now a squadron commander-based formal Air Force program. The best programs have the full support of the squadron commander, superintendent, first sergeant and flight commanders. The mission of the program has also advanced. The modern mission is to provide information and resources to military spouses, supporting families in successfully navigating throughout the military life cycle. Another advancement is the recognized addition of key spouse mentors.

A mentor doesn't have to be the commander’s spouse.

It can be any spouse with vast experience and a strong desire to make a difference in their loved one’s squadron. In light of their varied experiences in both the military and civilian worlds, mentors act as advocates and support key spouses and KS initiatives. Mentors also promote KS recruitment and recognition as well as advocate for base and unit readiness programs. Equally important, key spouse mentors and key spouses undergo extensive training.  

This formal training orbits around heart link, suicide prevention, federal privacy laws, and base and community support roles and responsibilities.  

The training may also include being issued a volunteer common access card, commonly referred to as a CAC. A successful key spouse program requires presence and connection. Ideally, key spouses have an office in the squadron and maintain regular office hours.  

Additionally, key spouses should conduct monthly meetings to reinforce the program and disseminate information. Presence is the cornerstone of the program.  

When a KS team is accessible and approachable, a culture of support is the logical outcome. However, support for the modern Air Force family goes far beyond just showing up. A handshake or a hug is not enough. You have to know their story. Meaningful connections are imperative for a successful support program.  

Connections are made via phone calls, visits, squadron functions, social media and email. Regular contact, especially during deployment, is paramount.   In the end, if we recruit individuals and retain families, then we need to be really good at connecting with families and being present in their daily lives.

Not only does a powerful squadron key spouse program do that, but it also depends on committed squadron leadership working hand-in-hand with, and through, key spouses who can make and sustain the connection between the squadron and its families.