06/26/08 — Honoring those who stand behind SJAFB's airmen

View Archive

Honoring those who stand behind SJAFB's airmen

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 26, 2008 1:45 PM

Chrysta Dickens remembers the day a military spouse called on her.

She can still hear the stress in that young woman's voice.

Her husband had been given only 24 hours notice before his deployment.

"Because there were just so many things to do, he just didn't have time to get them all done," Mrs. Dickens said. "So she called me."

There was paperwork to complete, financial affairs to put in order.

And "being able to talk to him while he was there, that was the most important thing," Mrs. Dickens said.

So, she picked up the phone and started making calls on the couple's behalf.

After all, Mrs. Dickens has been there.

And when her husband deployed, senior spouses were there to lift her up.

"They gave us an idea of what to expect, what was going on over there, what the conditions are like down range," Mrs. Dickens said. "It was really comforting to hear that. It really does put your mind at ease."

Still, at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, the Key Spouses program is about more than coping with deployment.

"Often times, people think it's just for when there is a crisis, when there is a deployment going on," said Joni Kwast, a Key Spouse and wife of the 4th Fighter Wing commander. "In reality, the program is more like an ongoing relationship-building program."

So when a new couple join the 4th Fighter Wing family, their squadron's Key Spouse is likely one of the first people they meet.

"We become very close. It's like a hyper-family," Mrs. Kwast said.

She learned that in the early '90s, when her husband, Steve, deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm.

"I decided to go back to Phoenix for a while. But everyone there was like, 'Oh God. I'm so sorry Steve's gone.' They were pitying me," Mrs. Kwast said. "I said, 'I have to get back to Seymour.' Because here, it wasn't that we would sit around and feel sorry for each other. It was, 'Hey. We can do this. We can make it through this.'"

Much the same as it was in the case of Mrs. Dickens, that faith was instilled in her by spouses who had been there.

The mission of the Key Spouses program is clear -- to support military spouses in good times and bad so that morale at home is always high.

That way, when airmen are in theater, they are "100 percent" focused on the mission of taking air power to the enemy.

"If the guys are stressed down range, it really hurts morale," Mrs. Dickens said. "They don't need to be worrying about putting out fires back home."

That is what the wing's Key Spouses and their "helpers" are for.

And whether that means setting up a play date for children of the deployed or inviting one of the new spouses to the squadron coffee, they will always be a mere phone call away.

"If there is a need, we are there," Mrs. Kwast said. "Because we have seen, if a spouse is unhappy with this lifestyle, the active-duty member is going to get out as soon as they can."