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Spouse programs play important role for military families

Many 37th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilots stand with their spouses Nov. 2, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Spouse flights are annual for the 14th Operations group to thank spouses. Military spouses are next to uniformed members across the world, supporting the Air Force mission by supporting their Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Elizabeth Owens)

Many 37th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilots stand with their spouses Nov. 2, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Spouse flights are annual for the 14th Operations group to thank spouses. Military spouses are next to uniformed members across the world, supporting the Air Force mission by supporting their Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Elizabeth Owens)

Instructor pilots 41st Flying Training Squadron stand with their spouses Nov. 2, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Spouse flights are annual for the 14th Operations Group to thank spouses as well as show them firsthand what their uniformed family members do every day at work to complete their mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Elizabeth Owens)

Instructor pilots 41st Flying Training Squadron stand with their spouses Nov. 2, 2018, on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi. Spouse flights are annual for the 14th Operations Group to thank spouses as well as show them firsthand what their uniformed family members do every day at work to complete their mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Elizabeth Owens)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Military Family Appreciation Month acknowledges spouses crucial role in supporting their military member and contributing to the mission with little to no spotlight.

So when it comes time for another move, to some unfamiliar place, the Air Force understands that spouses need to be supported. Key Spouse programs connect families together before they even set foot at a new location, they help families find houses, move in, enroll in schools and so much more.

There are numerous key spouse programs on bases across the globe, ranging from squadron to wing levels, and on Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi each program works together at the wing level to encourage maximum engagement and networking.

“I don’t think we could do the mission the Air Force wants us to do without the spouse programs the Air Force has instituted across the branch,” said Steven Bostwick, 14th Student Squadron assistant operations officer. “If I’m worried my wife isn’t able to hang out with friends because the kids need to be taken care of and all these other things, I wouldn’t be able to focus solely on the mission at hand, but the Air Force and the families around us really do care and it makes it easier to do the job when you’re gone.”

Bostwick’s wife grew up with a military family and had to transition into a spouse role, but he said it wasn’t a crazy change of pace for her.

For Capt. Eric Hendricker, 14th Student Squadron Transition Flight commander, the military was a large change as he introduced his wife to the military and spouse lifestyle in pilot training.

“My wife got an idea of how the life was when I was in pilot training,” Hendricker said. “At first she didn’t like it that much, but I think that’s normal, no spouse really enjoys being away from their husband or wife for long periods of time.”

Even though each pilot’s family was different, the spouse programs played an essential role in keeping the family active with their units, squadrons and bases.

“She really started getting involved with spouse networks,” Hendricker said. “Finding other spouses in the same situations getting lunches, going out to different events the group set up, it was key to getting her into the Air Force lifestyle. … Getting engrained in that spouse network can be a huge benefit and a lot of those from our previous bases are still friends with us today.”

Kelly Marshall, wife of Lt. Col. Sean Marshall, 14th Medical Support Squadron commander, is a Key Spouse for the 14th Medical Group and the 14th Flying Training Wing and has been working to revitalize the 14th MDG’s Key Spouse Program.

“They are ground roots right now,” said Lt. Col. Marshall. “They have a meet and greet for all spouses to meet from across the base and they put that on to show what their organizations is about.”

Marshall said key spouses can be a big help to spouses with their military member deployed. Because it’s often more comfortable to talk to a spouse rather than somebody within their military member’s chain of command.

“It’s different when I call a family compared to if Kelly Marshal, (my wife), and she asks ‘Hey, would you like me to stop by and bring some coffee,’ it’s a more comfortable approach,” he said.

With the medical and operation groups different missions, they don’t often interact outside of a work related setting, but bringing families together helps build a community working together, in turn helping pilot training feel more comfortable and a better training environment.

“I think the spouse programs are valuable,” Marshall said. “You don’t realize what’s going on in the 14th Operations Group until you see the messages of all the events they are hosting and how involved the families get here. … It’s valuable to hold that family concept.”

With military members focused on their duties in the office or in the sky, it’s hard to think about anything else sometimes, but spouses help keep them focused, grounded.

Hendricker and Bostwick both explained how they and most of their classmates during pilot training would spend Sunday night until Friday afternoon focused in on training, but as soon as they could they would drop the training to spend quality time with their spouses, giving back as much attention afforded to them before having to hit the books again.

When they go to work each day since the first day of pilot training Hendricker, Bostwick and most other uniformed members need to complete their mission, so the spouses will lead the charge and help each other with their children, school, careers, and many other aspects of military family life.

A 14th Operations Group tradition is an annual ‘spouse flight’ or taxi, where pilots will taxi or fly their co-workers spouses to show them what their uniformed family member does every day. The unique opportunity gives an experience to spouses so they see firsthand the hard work Airmen perform daily to complete their mission.

“The spouse program is essential, but the people running the spouse programs have to be go-getters,” Hendricker said. “If they aren’t the whole program could easily fall apart.”

The groups tend to cultivate a selfless mentality, with one family helping another and the favor continuously being passed to each family, bringing potentially the entire base closer together with each helping hand, all while the military member could be deployed and completing the mission somewhere else entirely.

There is something unique about being a military family, and when members leave the military they say that’s something they often miss.

“You hear pilots going to fly in the civilian side, the one thing they miss the most about the military is the comradery,” Bostwick said. “I think that’s similar on the spouse side. … The military asks us to go places that most people will never go and do things that are inherently dangerous, the least the military could do is make sure our families are cared for while we are gone and I think the Air Force takes care of us extremely well.”