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Key Spouse Program provides critical support to families

“The Key Spouse Program is a peer-to-peer support program and a way for spouses to volunteer,” said Jessica Maldonado, 944th Fighter Wing Airman and Family Readiness director. “Key spouses are appointed by the wing commander to come alongside military members and leaders to provide support to families, particularly the spouses.”

944th Fighter Wing Key Spouses pose for a photo Dec. 12, 2020 during a key spouse meeting in Phoenix, Ariz. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Louis Vega Jr.)

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. --

A part of the Air Force culture is volunteering and giving back to the community.

An elite team of volunteers serve as a communication link between the wing commander and Luke Air Force Base families. They are known as key spouses.

“The Key Spouse Program is a peer-to-peer support program and a way for spouses to volunteer,” said Jessica Maldonado, 944th Fighter Wing Airman and Family Readiness director. “Key spouses are appointed by the wing commander to come alongside military members and leaders to provide support to families, particularly the spouses.”

Key spouses support families with various resources. Maldonado said key spouses have three main functions: providing information, being a communication link between the wing commander and spouses, and providing support during deployments.

“Our key spouses go out to the newcomers’ orientation and reach out to the families new to Luke,” she said. “During deployments, they would call and check in with the families, let them know what’s going on like when we do back-to-school events or giveaways for the holidays. Key spouses are getting information out to the families and letting them know about the resources available to them.”

The 944th FW Key Spouse Program was launched in 2017 with Maldonado and three key spouse volunteers. Today, the program has grown to 20 key spouses but more volunteers are still needed to support the thousands of families within the wing.

“The big thing, and probably why people shy away from the key spouse program, is they think it’s just a social club,” Maldonado said. “These individuals go through specific training such as what PII [personally identifiable information] is and how to handle sensitive situations. They have a specific and vital role within the wing.”

Jill Kuehler, spouse of Senior Master Sgt. Michael Kuehler, 944th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron first sergeant, was one of the three volunteers who helped kick off the 944th’s Key Spouse Program three years ago.

“Initially they needed someone, I said sure I’ll do it and I learned more about it since,” Kuehler said. “It’s a very meaningful program. And I think the more [the program] grows and the more robust it becomes, it’s better for families of the 944th, better for members, and it really helps grow the family participation and atmosphere of support here.”

Maldonado wants Reserve Citizen Airmen to understand the importance of the key spouse program.

“I feel the key spouse program is underutilized in the Reserve as some believe it’s solely an active duty program,” she said. “I want people to know more about our program and the resources we can provide them. This is an amazing group of people and they are passionate about taking care of families.”

Kuehler still volunteers her time as a key spouse and enjoys helping her community.

“It feels good helping other people,” she said. “I love the involvement of being a key spouse and I really enjoy giving back and helping other families. This program is about making connections and how the key spouses can facilitate helping in times of need and taking some of the burden off those families.”

As with any Air Force program, there are challenges that come with the responsibility of being a key spouse.

“Connecting with families is a big challenge given the part-time nature of the Reserve,” Kuehler said. “We’re working to get the word out to families that we exist and there is a valuable resource for them.”

Kuehler said being a key spouse helps her connect with her husband’s Air Force culture.

“The Air Force is a big part of my husband’s life, so participating in that together and staying connected with him is a great reward,” she said. “He speaks another language when he’s talking about Air Force stuff, so the more I’m involved, the more I know the people and it makes it easier for us to talk about stuff or reference something.”

Both Maldonado and Kuehler are strong advocates for the key spouse program here at Luke and encourage others, both male and female spouses, to volunteer and be part of something great.

“If anyone is interested in becoming a key spouse, talk to one of us or Jessica and find out what it’s like,” said Kuehler. “It’s pretty awesome.”

For more information about the 944th Key Spouse program, contact the 944th FW Airmen & Family Readiness office at 623-856-8324 or jessica.maldonado.7@us.af.mil