Key Spouse Program: strengthening Reserve Citizen Airmen and their families

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Shayna Hodge
  • 512th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The Key Spouse Program supports Air Force families, enhances family readiness and resiliency, and improves unit cohesion. Standardized across the Air Force in March 2009, it is a partnership between commanders, the Airman and Family Readiness office, and key spouses.

A key spouse is a commander-appointed volunteer who informs and refers deployed and home-stationed families to installation and community helping agencies. These volunteers also cultivate relationships with families, participate in unit and installation functions, and serve as a communication link between unit leadership and families.

The 512th Airlift Wing’s Key Spouse Program consists of 22 volunteers assigned to 11 different squadrons across the wing.

“Key spouses ensure families know there are resources available to help them,” said Laura Coseglia, the 512th AW A&FR director. “Key spouses do all they can for members, whether they’re deployed or not, to provide the support they need.”

In-person and virtual counseling, food and financial aid, legal services and unemployment assistance are some of the resources key spouses identify for families. To ensure they are well-informed of these resources, the Key Spouse Program requires volunteers to complete training on the program’s purpose, available resources on and off base, privacy act information , sexual assault and suicide prevention.

In addition to these trainings, there are mentors assigned to each squadron who provide support and guidance to key spouses. Kendra Haynes, wife of Col. Gregory Haynes, the 512th AW commander, is the lead key spouse mentor. In this role, she works with leadership to coordinate and execute the Key Spouse Program and is responsible for assigning key spouses to families.

She also serves as the 512th Aerospace Medicine Squadron mentor and provides advice to three group-level mentors— Kelly Robin, Maj. Leigh DeSantis and Tammy Ordway. These three serve as mentors for squadrons within the 512th mission support, operations and maintenance groups, respectively.

Coseglia, who offers support to the mentors and key spouses, said the realities of deployment and the obstacles the COVID-19 pandemic have created for families make outreach the most significant service a key spouse can provide.

“Contacting a family helps them stay connected; it lets them know they're not alone,” she said. “It’s that kind of service that means the most to people.”

Mrs. Haynes shared Robin’s experience of being a new key spouse who felt her efforts toward a family were pointless, because the family never answered her monthly phone calls. She said Robin would leave voicemails for the family to check in on them but felt like she wasn’t doing any good, because she wasn’t making voice-to-voice contact. However, Robin’s efforts eventually proved to be beneficial to the seven-member family, she added.

“One day Robin received a Christmas card  the whole family signed,” said Mrs. Haynes. “They thanked her and told her how much they appreciated her monthly messages. The connection she made with the family through her voicemails truly meant something to them.”

Beyond outreach, key spouses care for reservists and their families in other ways. For example, a Spanish-speaking key spouse recently assisted the wife of a deployed Airman whose wife only spoke Spanish. In another instance, another key spouse picked up groceries for an Airman who was quarantined because of the coronavirus.

“What key spouses do are examples of a servant’s heart,” said Mrs. Haynes. “To be a key spouse, you have to want to build relationships with family members and be willing to extend your time and care.”

The commitment key spouses make to families extends to 512th AW reservists who reside in over 30 different states and four countries.

This geographic diversity creates a unique experience for reserve families, said Mrs. Haynes.

“Unlike active-duty members who’re more than likely have others who understand the military lifestyle, family members of reserve Airmen may not have family or friends who can identify with having a loved one deployed,” said Mrs. Haynes.

To compensate for the geographic differences of Liberty Wing members, the Key Spouse Program partners with non-local agencies that assist out-of-state families. The program also partners with local agencies that offer services unavailable on base. These organizations include the Food Bank of Delaware, Dover Behavioral Health and Auto Team Delaware.

“We know we can always turn to our community partners for help,” said Coseglia. “They’re especially useful for reservists who may be ineligible for certain resources if they’re not on military orders.”

Coseglia, who’s been involved with the Key Spouse Program for two decades, said despite many changes to the program over the years, what hasn’t changed is the willingness of family members to be a part of their member’s life.

“I’m always impressed at volunteers' service oriented attitude ,” she said. “Serving really is a family affair. You’re not just asking the service member to make sacrifices, you’re asking the family to do it too.”

As a program that embodies the family mentality Col. Haynes established for the Liberty Wing, the Key Spouse Program is open to more than spouses. Mothers, fathers, significant others and close family friends can volunteer too.

“When we say 512th Family, we mean it,” said Coseglia. “We want families to build their resiliency, be educated about resources and understand there are services available to help them, no matter what the need may be.”

Individuals interested in serving as a key spouse can locate contact information for Mrs. Haynes and the A&FR office on the 512th AW’s family resources webpage. Reserve families seeking a key spouse can also visit the webpage to learn which key spouse is assigned to their squadron.