ROYAL AIR FORCE CROUGHTON, England — Speaking to a group of key spouses from the 501st Combat Support Wing at Royal Air Force Croughton on July 16, Betty Welsh smiled, and explained how she grew from a girl who lived with her family until she was 22, into an Air Force spouse and wife of Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III.
“I had no idea what being a military spouse was all about,” she said.
“I love to travel, and thought my life as a military spouse would be a great adventure of moving, traveling and meeting people, which it has been,” she said. “Make sure you embrace each and every place you live. Enjoy each place that is special, the people you get to meet and the friends you establish there.”
Welsh encouraged them to reach out to other spouses new to the wing or to the military.
“I had no idea how much the Air Force would be a family to me,” Welsh said. “I had grown up with my family. I had not experienced that type of situation before. It was a surprise to me.”
Welsh said new military spouses might be met with a similar surprise, which can be perceived positively or negatively. She emphasized the importance of key spouses acting as a liaison between military spouses and base leadership and resources, and fostering strong ties between spouses and the Air Force.
“Encourage them to embrace the Air Force family, because we are family, we are different,” she said. “If I can reach out to make spouses feel like the Air Force is their family, and I do nothing else, my job is done.”
Key spouses, Welsh said, are charged with keeping military spouses informed, and pointing them in the right direction if they need help. At its core, the key spouse program is about making and maintaining connections.
“If people feel isolated or alone, then they start having that feeling of disconnection and loneliness,” she said. “A key spouse can reach out to every spouse in the squadron — every family, and help to close that gap.”
Praising the accomplishments of key spouses both at the 501st CSW and across the Air Force, Welsh said she has been continuously impressed by the dedication and passion of these volunteers. Looking ahead, she sees a bright future for the program and the people involved in it.
“The program only started in 2009, and already the key spouses have done an amazing job,” she said. “I would like the program to continue its growth to where every spouse in the Air Force feels like they have a contact, someone they can go to with a connection back to the squadron.”
Whether the spouse is new to the military, or an installation, Welsh said she wants key spouses to serve as a steadfast link and helping hand — showing military spouses that even though they may be separated from their family, another one awaits them in the Air Force.
“That’s all we really want,” Welsh said. “For everyone to feel like the Air Force is their home, too.”
For more information on the Hill AFB Key Spouse Program, visit https://www.facebook.com/KeySpouseProgram.”