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Spouses’ Club vs. Key Spouse Program

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Vandenberg Air Force Base supports the needs of more than 4,000 spouses and dependents, and although both the Spouses' Club and Key Spouses are tasked with helping provide services for them their missions are very different.

"The primary difference in the two programs is the Key Spouse program is a Commander-run, unit-appointed position where the individual has an official role within the squadron or unit," said Ainsley Gottrich, President of the Vandenberg Spouses' Club. "The Spouses' Club is a strictly voluntary group outside and across unit designations. Our charter is to provide service, volunteer, and social opportunities to enhance our spouses' community whereas the Key Spouses provide support and resources to the spouses and families within their unit."

The Spouses' Club

"The Spouses' Club is an all inclusive charitable and social organization dedicated to promoting a sense of belonging to, support for, and a collective voice for the Vandenberg community," said Gottrich. "Each of us seeks inclusion in a group, and as spouses we find that sense of belonging in our Spouses' Clubs across the military services."

Members pay annual membership, ranging from 10 to 40 dollars based on the rank of their spouses, gain special discounts and the ability to vote, and hold office within the organization.

"The Vandenberg Spouses' Club is an all-inclusive, all-ranks club and we welcome all spouses and even fiancées and significant others as Associate Members," said Gottrich. "We understand the demands of being a military spouse and are here to provide them help getting involved in our local community, both on and off base. We have been in similar shoes to yours many, many times over! Each one of us has experienced that 'I'm new here' mantra, too."

The VSC hosts one to two monthly functions, ranging from seminars to road trips and self-defense classes. Additionally, they provide a dozen interest groups to the spouse community called, "mini-clubs" that have their own schedule of events each month.

"Our Airmen can rest assured that their spouses are included in our community, given ample opportunities to network and make friends, and to give back to our entire Vandenberg community," said Gottrich. "We offer community donations to organizations such as Operation Holiday Wagon, that provides hot meals to those Vandenberg Airmen working on Christmas Eve; service projects like our annual Cookie Express that delivered home-baked cookies to more than 250 Airmen across the dorms and the base; and several annual VSC events open base-wide, such as the Vintners' Festival and the Masquerade Charity Auction that raise funds for our Scholarships and Community Donations Programs."

The Key Spouse Program

"The mission of the Key Spouse is to work with the leadership in their command as a bridge of communication between the command and the families," said Duane Purser, Airman and Family Readiness Center Community Readiness Consultant and Key Spouse Program Coordinator/Trainer. "Commands have all different kind of needs and the Key Spouse can be an ear for people - especially the spouses of the deployed and new members. The Air Force sees this as a way for families to communicate with the command without going to the Commander or the First Sergeant but instead to someone who looks like them, the Key Spouse, who is hooked in to the command and can help them with all kinds of issues -- generally information and referrals."

In 2008, when Purser was hired at Vandenberg, there was not a Key Spouse program, but the Air Force was talking about it. The Key Spouse program was implemented Air Force-wide as a quality of life initiative in March 2009.

"The way it used to be was every base did their own thing and even different commands did their own thing, depending on deployment schedules and how busy they were with deployments and families needing assistance," said Purser. "Now everyone gets the same curriculum, goes through the same training, and calls it the same thing - The Air Force Key Spouse Program."

Key Spouses receive an initial 12 hours of training through the AFRC to facilitate peer-to-peer wingman support and complete monthly continuing education to remain current on Air Force and command trends. The Key Spouse is interviewed and appointed in writing by the unit commander, with a minimum one-year commitment.

"The AFRC does the training, keeps the roster, and will help coordinate but they really belong to unit commanders who choose them, appoint them, and delineates what they want them to do and not do," said Purser. "What people don't understand about the Key Spouse program is that it's a job, not a club. It's a job where they're hired. It's outlined in the Commander and First Sergeant Guide that they should have an interview. Commanders can set up expectations of what they do and don't want and Key Spouses can be removed."

The initial training covers six modules relating to families and the command, suicide prevention training, and attending a Heart Link seminar. Advanced training covers a range of subjects briefed by representatives of base services, ranging from Family Advocacy to Casualty Assistance.

The goal of the program, according to Manpower & Personnel, is to "have a cadre of trained spouse volunteers who can support military families." The Key Spouse establishes and maintains contact with all unit, incoming unit, and deployed members' families and works directly with the First Sergeant to track and report big picture issues or concerns.

"The Air Force is trying to aim at new folks coming in, because it's important," said Purser. "When you're brand new to the Air Force, everyone's throwing around acronyms and everyone's wearing a uniform with stripes, or gold, or something on. They all look official. Now you have another spouse that looks like you and talks like you but seems to know something. It's easier to connect and in that way have a connection with the command, especially if they have needs and challenges."

The Air Force's current system of deployment bands also means that there may only be a few members of a unit deployed at a time, leaving their spouses feeling isolated in the process.

"If you're new with a baby, and your spouse deploys, who can help you? Airman and Family Readiness Center can help you, but a more human touch is the Key Spouse," said Purser. "The Air Force's buzzword the last couple years has been 'resiliency.' The Key Spouse program can be a real resilience builder for people, especially when the active duty person has to be deployed. If that person knows when they're deployed that there's a Key Spouse in their unit, and that their spouse is not going to be there alone, it can really ease their minds."

How do they overlap?

Both the Key Spouses and the Vandenberg Spouses' Club contribute to Airman readiness by creating a community for the dependents of service members.

"As a Key Spouse Mentor and the current President of the Vandenberg Spouses' Club, I see the two organizations as complimentary and a terrific partnership opportunity to get our information out to as many spouses and service members as we can," said Gottrich. "When our Airmen are confident that their families are being taken care of and looked after, from day-to-day, and during long absences, they are more focused to excel at the duties the military asks of them."