NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. --
There are a million ways to motivate a person to give back and become active in a community. For Betsy Russell, the 914th Key Spouse Chairperson, it was a wooden dump truck.
Almost 17 years ago, while her husband was on back-to-back deployments, her youngest son had fallen down the ladder of a bunk bed, landed on a wooden dump truck, cutting himself open. After a trip to the Emergency Room and facing potential surgery, Russell realized that regardless of how strong, and independent she felt…she needed her husband to help make a decision that could affect her son’s future. Within 30 minutes, she was on the phone with her husband and immediately reassured that she was not alone, thanks to the efforts made by the Key Spouse program.
“I knew I needed to give back,” said Russell. “I needed to be apart of this amazing program that was created to take care of military family members.”
Over the duration of 17 years, and counting, Russell has dedicated her time and effort into making military members and their families feel welcomed, and supported through the Key Spouse program. After years of devotion, the Air Force Reserve Command recognized her hard work by presenting her with the 2019 AFRC Key Spouse Award.
“I am humbled by the calls and messages I have been receiving,” she said. “This award is not just for me, but for all of the men and women who volunteer their time to the 914th Key Spouse program.”
The Key Spouse program consists of volunteers who act as a liaison between unit leadership, the member, and their families providing support in myriad forms, especially during deployments and times of transition.
“Our main focus is to take care of the members’ loved ones that are left at home,” she said. “If the service member knows that their loved ones are being taken care of they can carry on the mission set before them with less stress.”
The program is designed to enhance mission readiness and the resiliency of Airmen and their families, along with improving the quality of life.
“I am so honored to work along side amazing volunteers and leadership who support the program,” said Russell.
The leadership at the Niagara Falls ARS is very supportive of the Key Spouse program.
“Congratulations on a job well done, Betsy Russell,” said Col. Mark Larson, Commander of the 914th Air Refueling Wing. “I am grateful for your sacrifice and steadfast devotion.”
Larson said that when he thinks of those who volunteer in various agencies he is reminded that not all patriots wear a uniform.
“Thank you to all of our Key Spouse members and other volunteers for all that you do to support our mission and our Airmen,” said Larson.
Russell said that establishing a routine for you and the family is important; having this can help alleviate some of the overwhelming sensation of feeling alone, along with knowing there is nothing wrong with asking for help.
“This is where your key spouses come in,” she said. “Let them help you find resources for you in your specific situation.”
Each month, key spouse volunteers meet with newcomers during in processing; this is an initial way to introduce the program to new service members and gather information about their families for future assistance.
“The 914th reservists span over multiple states and we are continually exploring different methods to reach our members,” she said.
Social networking has been an instrumental part of sharing information and resources.
“We bridge the gap between the community and the military, giving the families the knowledge of resources they are entitled to,” said Russell.
Key spouses are involved in squadron events, family days, and base wide events establishing relationships with the members and families; there are also live meetings on Facebook to involve those families that cannot attend.
“We (Key Spouse volunteers) are a family and have the same passion to serve,” she said.
The Key Spouse program is an essential part of the functionality and completion of the Air Force mission, so for those interested in volunteering there is training and meetings available.
“Receiving this award has already inspired me to do more and help the program continue to grow,” said Russell. “I am excited for what the future holds for the 914th’s Key Spouse program.”