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Program Educates Military Spouses, Builds Confidence

By Joel Fortner
88th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

5/16/2006 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFPN) -- Signing up to join the military can be an intimidating ordeal for military members, but they're not the only ones who experience anxiety when the dotted line is signed.

Before 2002, military spouses here were on their own to learn about Air Force services, customs and courtesies. Now, coordinators for a program called Heart Link hope to remove the anxiety and fear of the unknown.

"(The program) was established to strengthen military families and to enhance mission readiness by increasing spouse awareness of the Air Force mission, customs, traditions, protocol and support resources and services that are available to them," said Sabine Benson, base program coordinator here.

Representatives from base organizations speak and "shed some light into what the Air Force culture is all about," she said.

The program was created for spouses with five or fewer years of experience with the Air Force, and orientations are conducted quarterly throughout the year. Future spouses who are close to marriage may attend, too. Heart Link topics range from understanding a leave-and-earnings statement to family support services and health care.

Before Heart Link, a spouse orientation program did not exist here, and spouses were more on their own to find things out, Ms. Benson said. Members of the Air Force Community Action Information Board determined a program was needed to better prepare families, not just service members.

Door prizes, complimentary meals and free child care are available, and class graduates receive a "spouse coin."

"Everyone who attends it is really pleased," she said. "They make friends, too. It's not just the information, it's also being with other spouses in the same boat."

Tabitha Baur, wife of Airman 1st Class Michael Baur, said that understanding she was not alone was comforting.

"As any military spouse knows, it is rather intimidating to get married to someone in the military," she said. "You have no idea what to expect or what is expected of you.

"This program provided me with proper protocol for formal events I may be attending with my husband, resources which I may use to get questions answered, a general briefing about the base and the local area and, most importantly, the realization that I am not alone in this," said Mrs Baur. "I am not the first woman who has ever been in my place, and they all survived just fine."

Renee Trad, who is married to 1st Lt. Eric Trad, said she not only learned but was able to teach as well.

"I live away from base, but I am from the area, so I have things that I can share with others about the area," she said.

"And I hope that when I go somewhere that I have never been before, I have a chance to do the Heart Link program again, so that I can meet some new people, and they can share information with me," Mrs. Trad said.

"If the husband is a 'military brat' but the wife isn't, I think it makes it hard because, for the husband, very little is new since someone in the family has been through it," she said.

Both Mrs. Trad and Mrs. Baur said they have recommended Heart Link to others.

"Now I feel like an old pro," Mrs. Baur said. "I am even able to pass on information I learned to other new spouses, something I never expected to be able to do. When they asked me where I learned that, I told them, 'Heart Link, something I highly recommend you attend'"

(Courtesy Air Force Materiel Command News Service)

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