Monday, December 02, 2013

Grand Forks AFB highlights family during VIP visit

by Staff Sgt. Susan L. Davis
319th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

11/27/2013 - GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. -- The Airmen of Grand Forks Air Force Base were able to highlight the importance of pride, people and respect in the Air Force family when hosting a trio of important visitors this week.

Air Force Chief of staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, his wife, Betty, and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Cody spent Nov. 25 and 26 on the base, getting to know the Warriors of the North.

Mrs. Welsh focused her visit on the families' perspective of military service, the importance of respect and professionalism in the service, and the vital role of resiliency.

Families--The Heart of the Air Force

On Monday, the Airman & Family Readiness Center hosted a session with Key Spouse mentors and first sergeants. Mrs. Welsh offered some advice and personal experience from her 35 years as a military spouse, and answered questions from other key spouses in attendance.

"Early in General Welsh's career was probably one of the most stressful times of my life," she said. Mrs. Welsh explained that back then, when she had four children all under the age of seven, there were no formal programs available to spouses to take care of any issues that may have come up.

Luckily for her, however, she met a squadron officer's spouse who she counted as a great mentor. Between the two of them, they were able to form something resembling the Key Spouse Program of today, complete with a counselor, chaplain, financial advisor and other valuable resources.

The Key Spouses' Program became an official Air Force program under the leadership of former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and his wife, Suzie, in 2009. It is modeled after the Navy's Ombudsman Program, and is designed to enhance unit readiness and establish a sense of Air Force community, with special emphasis on support to families across the deployment cycle.

"The Key Spouse Program is not just another program," said Mrs. Welsh, a Long Island, N.Y., native. "General Welsh likes to say, 'We recruit Airmen, but we retain families.' So this program was started to be a support system for military families to help keep them engaged and resilient."

Many of the questions posed to Mrs. Welsh centered on family reintegration following deployment, Key Spouse mentorship, and some of the best practices she has seen as a Key Spouse.

"I knew of one Key Spouse who attended every Heart Link seminar, every newcomers briefing, who had her photo on the leadership board, and had her own bulletin board," she said. "People are more willing to trust when the unknown is taken away. People can't build that trust and communication until they know who you are, and don't feel like you have to do it all on your own. Many hands make light work."

Cultivating Professionalism and Respect

On Tuesday, Mrs. Welsh attended a briefing on the base's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program, where she heard from the SAPR program assistant, Sexual Assault Response Coordinator, victim advocates, as well as representatives from the 319th Medical Group mental health clinic, Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Equal Opportunity, and the 319th Judge Advocate.

Each briefed Mrs. Welsh on how his or her function is doing its part to reinforce a culture of professionalism and respect within the Air Force.

Mrs. Welsh expressed her gratitude to all of the briefers.

"I just want to thank each and every one of you for everything that you do," she said. "What you're doing is having a positive impact on everyone you touch, so thank you and keep up the good work."

Capt. Carman Leone, 319th Judge Advocate chief of military justice, spoke about his role in prosecuting accused perpetrators, helping the commander enforce the military directive of good order and discipline.

"The most difficult and rewarding aspect of what I do is working with the victim of an assault," he said. "When you can prosecute and get justice, it's good for the victim and the base as a whole. You have to find that balance between meeting your burden of proof, and not re-traumatizing the victim at the same time."

Leone explained that the Special Victims Counsel program launched by the Air Force in January has helped more than 600 victims of sexual assault and currently holds a 90 percent approval rating from its participants.

Staff Sgt. Althea Hunter, 319th Air Base Wing Equal Opportunity NCO in charge, explained that it is her job to assess people's attitudes and behaviors, particularly when an office environment becomes uncomfortable or hostile, and help instill a sense of respect and professionalism in the Airmen she works with.

"A lot of the change we would like to see in the Air Force has to come from a cultural shift," Hunter said. "We all come from different backgrounds and environments, and we all have our own perceptions of certain things, but the best way to bring out the best in our Airmen is to cultivate a culture of trust and respect."

Capt. Thomas Efird, a Family Advocacy officer and licensed clinical social worker at the 319th Medical Group, offered that perhaps one of the best ways to empower those impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault is to "stop referring to them as victims."

"'Survivor' is a much better word than 'victim,' I think," he said. "We break people with that word."

Sue Grollimund, SAPR program assistant, summed up the meeting by reinforcing the idea of a healthy Air Force culture.

"We all have the same goals," she said. "Cultivate an environment where we treat each other with respect, and hold those accountable who violate that trust. It's all about relationship building, and it's all about getting things done in a positive way."

What Makes You Resilient?

Mrs. Welsh wrapped up her visit with a Resiliency Reflection Tea co-hosted by Bonnie Bauman, spouse of 319th Air Base Wing Commander Col. Paul Bauman, and Becky Duncan, spouse of 319th ABW Command Chief Master Sgt. David Duncan, in the Bauman's residence.

The event was framed around an essay campaign that was opened up to civilian spouses of military members on base earlier this year. Respondents were asked to write about where they find the source of their strength, and what keeps them resilient.

One thing almost all of the essay writers had in common was children. A few were prior military members themselves, giving them a unique understanding of their active-duty spouse and the challenges they face.

Some said they drew their resiliency from their spouses; some said it was having a network of other spouses; and still others credited their faith with giving them the strength to carry on during difficult times.

Mrs. Welsh, after hearing each of the essay writers' stories, explained that she is very close to her family back home, but because they have not been exposed to the military and the military lifestyle the way she has, there is much they can't understand and can't relate to.

"All of your stories have been inspiring to hear," Mrs. Welsh said. "The fact is that this is not just a job--this is a lifestyle, for our husbands or wives and for us. Our support system is in our military and in our fellow spouses. I always say that every Air Force family has a story, and they should share it. I feel privileged to have been able to share yours with you here today."

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