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Leslie Lorenz on Leadership -- Spouse Wingmen

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- I recently met two young military wives. I was so happy to meet these bright, young, eager, new spouses as they and their husbands begin an exciting career in our wonderful Air Force.

Randolph AFB is the first assignment for one of the couples. They are originally from the northeast and come from families with virtually no military connection. They've also just completed their first year of marriage. For the other couple, this is their second duty station. They previously had a wonderful experience at Columbus AFB and have also been married a year. Both spouses had been here at Randolph for a short time. Unfortunately, their common experience is that no one has welcomed them yet. This made me sad.

I invited them to come to my house for a potluck salad luncheon, with other spouses I've come to know since arriving at Randolph. Six spouses attended - my two new acquaintances and four others who were married to Airmen in training. The spouses of the trainees were busy, knew each other and seemed happy and looking forward to their next assignment.

I opened the lunch by sharing my experience as a new Air Force wife 35 years ago. I differed from these military spouses in that I was an Air Force "brat" so therefore knew about the Air Force culture before jumping into it with Steve. I was also a bit older, having taught school for five years before we were married.

I told them that a couple of months into our marriage I went through what we now call our "annulment period." Steve was so busy sitting alert, flying at odd hours of the day and night, and going to school on the weekends for his master's degree. I began to think it had been a mistake to get married. I missed my friends, my job and my family ... and I wanted to go home. Based upon my upbringing it was assumed I would simply adjust to the rigors of supporting my service member and everything he had to do. Over time, Steve and I worked through our initial struggles, and we've loved our Air Force life and all our assignments.

A short time after our spouses' luncheon, one of my new acquaintances sent me a thank you note and said she felt like I did 35 years ago. I realized that if these young spouses were feeling this way, probably others were too.

So, as military spouses what can we do? How do we respond to this inadvertent neglect? First, I implore active-duty members to be aware of the sacrifices their wives and husbands make. In the scenario of the two spouses I recently met, I'm talking about the beginning of the Air Force life for new families. I observed two young people who love their active-duty spouses but have left everything that is familiar to start their life's adventure.

The staff sergeant or lieutenant is doing what he or she wanted to do - they are serving the Air Force. They go to work, meet people, learn new skills and, hopefully, step closer to their life goals. However, their civilian wife or husband is in a new place, probably doesn't have a job or is trying to get one, or perhaps is enrolling in college. Worst of all is the lack of social support because they don't know anyone. The active-duty member should be aware and supportive while their spouse is making this transition. I would also submit that finding another couple in their situation can make the transition much easier. A retiree I once spoke to put it poignantly, "The spouse needs a wingman too."

This concept of wingmen transcends the active-duty force. I believe every member of the unit plays a role in supporting our spouses ... especially commanders and supervisors. I ask you to please consider your own experience in your unit. Did you feel welcomed, cared for and significant when you arrived? If the answer is no, think about what you can do. I understand the challenge with personal time constraints and operations tempo - but if your squadron, work area or office isn't welcoming new people, consider volunteering to lead this effort.

An additional asset the Air Force has formalized is a spouse care network through its Key Spouse program. The program is essentially a peer support group that units at all levels can use to integrate new spouses into the organization. The program also encourages key spouses to meet with Air Force leadership and collectively solve issues and concerns unique to Air Force families. It is another tool meant to be employed by unit leadership to foster the care and support our families deserve.

We owe it to each other to welcome and support our Air Force family members. This commitment involves creativity, persistence, passion and, most importantly, a heart for service to others. Are you willing to become a Spouse's Wingman?