Key Spouse Program enhances readiness, resiliency

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Shelton Sherrill
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

Imagine needing surgery, having no transportation to doctor appointments, and your mother having a catastrophic health emergency.

Meredith Sielke-Meade, a Key Spouse for the 403rd Communication Flight, 403rd Maintenance Squadron, and 403rd Maintenance Group, experienced this all while her husband was away. Living out Murphy's first law, she quickly saw how anything that could go wrong did, and at the worst possible time.

Service members are consistently briefed on the wealth of resources available to them and their families, but it's hard to remember, access, and relay that information to loved ones.

"I had a really difficult time during my husband's deployments, and I didn't get the support I needed," said Sielke-Meade. "That's why I wanted to be there for other people."

As a Key Spouse, she can support families while their Airmen are off accomplishing the mission.

The Air Force Key Spouse Program was created to support families during separation while building stronger communication between leadership, spouses, and family members. Their goal is to enhance readiness and create a community.

Sielke-Meade describes the program as a concierge service for families.

"When you want to go to dinner or a show, they're not the person who cooks your meal or puts on the Broadway show,” she explained. “They're the ones that know what's playing, who can drive you there the safest, and good restaurants around."

When a member or their family is in need, Key Spouses don't just give them a link to information; they help people connect directly to resources and utilize them.

In addition to connecting members and their families to resources for financial assistance, mental health counseling, childcare options, job opportunities, and more, Key Spouses provide support through their experiences.

Jennifer Bryant, the 403rd Force Support Squadron Key Spouse, remembered when an uninsured driver hit her while her husband was deployed. During her first-year volunteering with the program, a wife reached out to Bryant while going through the same situation. Although states apart, she was able to provide support and information that got the wife through her situation.

"I wasn't pretending to be a subject matter expert, but since that happened to me, I can completely understand and empathize with what she was going through," said Bryant.

These situations are why Key Spouses are essential to the mission.

"Once that member gets on that plane, their mission is to be ready for whatever, not worry about what's going on at home," said Patricia Jackson, 403rd Military and Family Readiness director. "We want to make sure that they feel comfortable knowing that there's someone here taking care of their family members and helping them through whatever problems they may have."

The Air Force Key Spouse Program is a source of support for some, but for others who have the heart, it's an opportunity to support others. 

"I don't want someone to need something and not have them thinking no one cares … because I care," said Bryant. Going through a challenging situation without help motivated her to volunteer as a Key Spouse.

The program is open to anyone over the age of 18.

“You are welcome to volunteer whether you’re a wife, husband, sibling, parent, or relative of an enlisted Airman or officer in the unit,” said Jackson.

Once the unit commander appoints them, Jackson works with them to provide the proper training to support others.

The training can be done at any base where offered, online, or in person at the Military & Family Readiness Center (M&FRC).

After an initial time investment in learning resources, it doesn't take a lot. As a mother, wife, member of the American Heritage Girls, singer in the choir, and personal learning goal, Bryant said she still finds time to be a Key Spouse.

Beyond the time it takes to send occasional informational emails to members about various programs and resources to military families, Sielke-Meade said the most important commitment is being available.

"It's not about moving mountains. It's about being dependable, being there, making sure the families know they can rely on you and that you care,” said Sielke-Meade. "There is a great sense of accomplishment that I get out of it."

Even though Bryant encourages members and their families to connect with their units' Key Spouses for support, she promotes others to volunteer as Key Spouses.

Quoting Gandhi, Bryant's motto is, "If you ever feel in your life that you're too small to make a difference, then you've never slept in the dark with a mosquito."

To volunteer as a Key Spouse or connect to your unit's representative for support, contact your leadership, first sergeant, or the M&FRC.