ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
The Air Force Reserve relies on resilient families to enable Airmen to support its vital missions. Family resilience is tapped monthly as Reserve Citizen Airmen attend drill weekends, often requiring family members and friends to assume responsibilities back home. Additionally, many Airmen travel outside of their local area to perform unit training assemblies, compounding logistical issues.
This tyranny of distance can also leave family members feeling disconnected from the unit. These monthly stress tests can be a dress rehearsal for longer deployments and periods of family separation. As a team, we understand how even predictable routine family separations can tax resilience, which is why we advocate for programs that help take care of our families.
The Key Spouse Program serves as a first line of defense for family resilience. It is an official Air Force unit family readiness program designed to enhance mission readiness and resiliency while establishing a sense of community. Unlike our active-duty counterparts, Reserve Citizen Airmen may not live near a base. This can create a barrier to families attempting to access base services. For example, at Grissom Air Reserve Base in Indiana, the 434th Air Refueling Wing’s Key Spouse Program provides support to spouses across 35 states with a dedicated team of 26 volunteers.
To overcome geographic constraints, some wings have implemented virtual events for Key Spouses to share information through Facebook Live or other platforms. These events have been essential to continuing the Key Spouse program during the pandemic, allowing our Key Spouse teams to disseminate information throughout their units during a particularly stressful time. As it continues to become safer to gather in person, some Key Spouses may consider implementing office hours during unit training assemblies. The 310th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado pioneered this practice, enabling collaboration with Key Spouses and commanders across the wing to strengthen the program.
Cooperation between commanders and Key Spouses can help to better tailor programs to serve Reserve Citizen Airmen and their families. For example, a few years ago Air Force Reserve Command hosted its Wing Commander and Command Chief Conference at March Air Reserve Base in California. At the conference, the spouses in attendance learned about the 452nd Air Mobility Wing’s collaboration with the Al-Rahama Food Bank. During both unit training assemblies and the work week, the Airman and Family Readiness Center coordinated with this community partner to provide food to those struggling with food insecurity.
Partnerships with local communities can help build programs that meet the unique needs of Reserve Citizen Airmen and their families. For example, finding childcare during unit training assemblies can strain Reserve Citizen Airmen who are either single parents or dual military couples, especially if they commute long distances.
The Home Community Care program, which provides free childcare during drill periods when there is no other adult in a household available to provide care is specially tailored to their needs. This program partners with childcare providers by zip code to identify local providers available during drill weekends when many base child development centers are closed. Each base has a Home Community Care coordinator, who can help Airmen register for the program and find a childcare provider to meet their needs.
Recovering from the pandemic will not be as easy as flipping a switch. Each family will face different challenges. Job loss, rebalancing childcare with remote work, food insecurity and returning to in-person work are just some of the potential stressors that can impact Reserve Citizen Airmen.
These important issues tax resilience, undermine family readiness and potentially detract from the overall mission. We are especially grateful to commanders and Key Spouses who enhance readiness by helping families utilize the various programs offered to meet their unique needs. ■