Key spouse unlocks program for deploying squadron

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Lori Fiorello
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
For a couple who are still in the honeymoon phase of their relationship, married just over three years and never separated more than two weeks, an upcoming deployment could certainly raise emotions. While Senior Master Sgt. Mark Gosling, 36th Aerial Port Squadron air transportation operations center superintendent and other deploying members of the 36th APS ramp up their mission readiness, his wife Cindi puts her anxieties aside and embraces her new role as the unit's key spouse.

"I know it's going to be hard because we're going to be apart for both of our birthdays, our anniversary, and my graduation this summer," said the master's in special education candidate who is expected to graduate from Walden University in Minneapolis, Minn. "But I'm used to it ... my dad deployed all the time when I was growing up."

In a memorandum to all squadron commanders and first sergeants regarding the Key Spouse Program dated May 14, 2013, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III wrote, "We recruit Airmen but retain families. We have a sacred responsibility to care for both."

Welsh's memo also noted, "Military families make a significant commitment to support our service to the Nation. They need to know what resources are available when they face life's toughest storms. Key Spouses can help in a huge way by pointing families to agencies that provide a 'shelter' during those times."

"I'm extremely excited about being the unit's key spouse," said Cindi. "When I was growing up with my dad in the military, we didn't have these kinds of programs. It's such a big deal to include the families."

The Key Spouse Program is designed to support military families by enhancing readiness and establishing a sense of Air Force community. Key spouse volunteers are formally appointed by the unit and trained by the 446th Force Support Squadron's Airman and Family Readiness Center to serve as a connection between military spouses and families to leadership.

"Having a liaison between the unit and the families is important," said Tech. Sgt. Vanessa Walsh, key spouse program manager for the A&FRC. "A key spouse is someone they can ask questions to, who has the connections within the chain of command and who supports both the family and the service member in helping to accomplish the mission."

The idea of becoming a key spouse began for Cindi when the couple attended a Yellow Ribbon event in preparation for Gosling's projected deployment.

"It gave us a positive feeling about what was going to happen," said Cindi. "The Air Force was helping us feel like it would be a positive experience versus a traumatic one."

According to the Yellow Ribbon Program website, the Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Program is a series of events designed to provide Airmen and families with essential resources prior to departure (pre-deployment), a level of stability and support while deployed (during deployment), and successful re-integration techniques after the deployment cycle ends (post deployment).

Cindi was touched by her experience at the Yellow Ribbon event and wanted to share what she learned within her husband's unit.

"There were families there that have just returned and families that are preparing to depart like we were," said Cindi, a special education teacher in the Renton School District. "We got to see the before and after, before the deployment even happened.

"My goal is to help the younger families (without prior deployment experiences) to be comfortable with everything."

Cindi is planning to help the spouses and families of the 36th APS ensure a sense of community by planning monthly 'meet and greets' and organizing day and weekend trips that offer something to look forward to every month. She also encourages them to attend a Yellow Ribbon event and uses social media outlets as a means of communication to include the spouses that are geographically separated.

"I am so very proud of my husband and every single member of the Air Force," she said. "I consider many of the men and women in Mark's unit to be good friends and even like members of our extended family."

For Walsh, who has worked with the A&FRC for two years, her support for the Key Spouse Program hits home in a different way.

"To me, this program hits on a personal level," she said. "I'm a widow ... my husband was a police officer and he passed away unexpectedly at age 34.

"Lucky for me, when I got the notification, I had friends that were close to me in the (police) department who were there to help me through it."

Walsh understands the importance of a support system during the good and the bad times.

"I think (the connections) need to start before the deployment for spouses to feel comfortable and establish that friendly face," said Walsh. "So if something tragic does come up, you would have that shoulder when you need it."

Cindi calls herself the "rookie wife" but has great plans for supporting her husband's unit.

"I truly hope that I am able to make a difference now, while my husband is deployed, and in the future."

For more information about the 446th AW Key Spouse Program or Yellow Ribbon Program, please contact the A&FRC at 253-982-5330.