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Pillowcases popular with program participants

David Craig, a key spouse trainee with the 433rd, Joint Base San Antonio- Lackland, Texas, and Lisa Radliff, a key spouse mentor with the 419th Fighter Wing, Hill AFB, Utah, adhere family photos to a pillowcase during a Yellow Ribbon event in Florida. Key Spouse volunteers set up a table with sign-up sheets, hot presses and a tablet or laptop. Families can stop by to sign up for one or two pillowcases depending on if they are pre-deployment or post-deployment. (Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Chance Babin)

David Craig, a key spouse trainee with the 433rd, Joint Base San Antonio- Lackland, Texas, and Lisa Radliff, a key spouse mentor with the 419th Fighter Wing, Hill AFB, Utah, adhere family photos to a pillowcase during a Yellow Ribbon event in Florida. Key Spouse volunteers set up a table with sign-up sheets, hot presses and a tablet or laptop. Families can stop by to sign up for one or two pillowcases depending on if they are pre-deployment or post-deployment. (Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Chance Babin)

A couple attending a Yellow Ribbon event in Florida picks up their pillowcase that was prepared by key spouses. The program can help bridge the emotional distance for families who are about to deploy. (Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Chance Babin)

A couple attending a Yellow Ribbon event in Florida picks up their pillowcase that was prepared by key spouses. The program can help bridge the emotional distance for families who are about to deploy. (Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Chance Babin)

ORLANDO, Fla. --

Air Force Reserve Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program participants receive free pillowcases imprinted with family photos to take on deployments via a collaborative arrangement.

“I wish we had something like this when my husband was deployed and my kids where young,” said Kimberly Wren, the “key spouse” from the 440th Airlift Wing at Pope Field, North Carolina. “The families get so excited when they see the pillowcases.” 

Wren joined the Key Spouse Program 18 months ago and volunteered to provide pillowcase support for the first time at a Yellow Ribbon training event March 28-29 in Florida. Key Spouse is a commander’s program that promotes partnerships with unit leadership, volunteer spouses, families, and representatives from Airman & Family Readiness Centers and other agencies.  It has been standardized across the Air Force to address the needs of all military families with special emphasis on support to families across the deployment cycle.

Yellow Ribbon promotes the well-being of reservists and their families by connecting them with resources before and after deployments. Each year, the Air Force Reserve program trains 7,000 reservists and family members in education benefits, health care, retirement information and more through a series of conferences held around the nation. At last weekend’s training, volunteer key spouses made 125 pillowcases for families in addition to mentoring participants and resource providers on the mission of the Key Spouse program.

During Yellow Ribbon events, Key Spouse volunteers set up a table with sign-up sheets, hot presses and a tablet or laptop. Families can stop by to sign up for one or two pillowcases depending on if they are pre-deployment or post-deployment. Then the family decides whom they want in the photo to be pressed on to a plain white pillowcase. A volunteer takes the picture, prints it onto transfer paper and then presses the image onto the pillowcase. Various groups of enlisted Airmen from around the command paid for the heat presses and pillowcases.

"We take a picture of the kids, the spouse, the member, or the whole family depending on what they want," said Kelly Gay, lead key spouse at Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts. "Then we print it on transfer paper and iron it onto a plain white pillowcase for them."

The program can help bridge the emotional distance for families who are about to deploy.

"I will never forget one event, we took a picture of a family -- two little girls, mom and dad," said Gay. "When they came to pick them up, one of the little girls started crying and thanking us."

While families are at the table ordering pillowcases, volunteers tell them about their ability to provide support and access to resources for families of deployed reservists.

"The main purpose of the Key Spouse Program is to support families of deployed members. Sometimes that means linking them to resources, sometimes it's opening lines of communication between them and their spouse’s chain of command, and sometimes it's just giving them a shoulder to cry on and someone who will listen to what they're going through," said Gay. "Sending families home with a photo of their loved one they can snuggle helps reinforce what we can provide."

Wren said the program is great for bringing spouses together to form a support structure to lean on, but many people don’t know the program exists. James Evernam, Key Spouse mentor at Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, worked a Yellow Ribbon event in Miami in February and met at least eight vendors who hadn’t heard of it.

"It's shocking how many people don't know how it can help," he said.

Westover has a strong Key Spouse Program, said Gay, who encourages people in units without one in place to work with their Airman and Family Readiness office to start one.

"We're fortunate that we can support the member's families in that way and it makes us closer,” she said.