Families drive the mission

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alexis Christian
  • Peterson-Schriever Garrison Public Affairs

Although the Department of the Air Force has preached “mission first” for a long time, we have recently seen a change from commanders and their messaging. More emphasis has been placed on taking care of service members and their families. 


The Key Spouse Program is a volunteer force, appointed by unit commanders to act as trusted agents between leadership and families. Key spouses and key spouse mentors work together to advocate for the unit’s families, connect families with resources and information they need, and increase visibility of the program at unit and base events. 


“I always wanted to be the person welcoming in the new families,” said Amy Harris, Space Delta 3 – Space Electromagnetic Warfare key spouse mentor.  “I knew nothing when I married in, and I really relied on the few people who came by and just said hi. Families make a huge effect on a military career, and if I can help people enjoy this season of life and not hate the military, then that's huge.”


Creating a space where families feel heard and taken care of helps to take pressure off of a military member, so they can maintain focus on their mission. Finding yourself in the military lifestyle as a spouse is not always an easy transition, and can be lonely at times. 


“I had a very polarizing welcome into the military. I came from Europe, I’d never lived in the United States before, so my first three years at Buckley Air Force Base were a complete nightmare of isolation. There was no visibility or support, my husband was working shift work and so events were really hard to come by and I didn’t know how to seek support,” said Jasmin Parks-Papadopoulos, DEL 3 key spouse. “ I spent almost a year here by myself and then he immediately deployed. I had an epic meltdown about a month in, it seemed insane to me that the Air Force would take something so important from my family and give me nothing in return.”


However, it doesn’t take much effort from an outside source to make a difference in that experience, and sometimes those moments can encourage one to step up and help make a change in someone else’s journey. 


“I was Googling, trying to find information for setting up medical appointments,” said Parks-Papadopoulos, “I stumbled across the Key Spouse Program. I had spent five years as a military spouse and never heard of a key spouse. So I vowed that I would survive the deployment, and that as soon as he returned, I would start the training to become a key spouse and that's what I did.”


DEL 3’s key spouses go one step further. They don’t just show up when someone's life is falling apart; and they don’t wait for the military member to leave on deployment to step in and make their services known. 


“I think that the leadership we have are focused on actually following through on making families a priority,” said Karmin Vanlandingham, DEL 3 key spouse. “I think no matter where you go, Space Force or Air Force, you’re going to get a lot of lip service about trying to get families involved, but I think whether or not people follow through on that is really hit or miss. I think we are on a good path here at Delta 3.”


By pushing to be more visible to the unit and their families, these key spouse’s and key spouse mentors have been boosting morale and producing a climate where families can grow with and support their service members, while the Guardians and Airmen continue pushing the boundaries of space superiority. 


“Some squadrons, when it doesn't feel like family, you have very little participation and people aren’t laughing and joking,” said Cathy Fernengel, DEL 3 key spouse mentor. “What I’ve seen here in the last couple events, like trunk-or-treat, the turkey bowl and the chili cook-off, are people who like being around each other;  people who aren’t afraid to be loud and laugh and show up. I think that we’ve reached the goal of feeling like a family. There’s always room to improve, but the family that plays together stays together.”


U.S. Space Force Col. Christopher Fernengel, DEL 3 commander, has cultivated an environment that encourages and empowers the Key Spouse Program to effectively advocate and support the delta members and families. 


“I think Col. Fernengel has done a really good job creating an identity with ‘step into the arena’,” said Harris. “He holds himself to a high standard, and he expects everyone else to as well in a really encouraging way. At the chili cook-off, I saw camaraderie that has been vacant in the past.”


Cathy Fernengel and her husband understand that creating a family centered environment makes a huge impact on the experience of the military in both work and home-life situations. 


“The heartbeat of the delta are its families, and if the families are thriving then your military members are thriving,” said Cathy. “They are completely entwined.”