SPOUSES IN THE FIGHT
IN CELEBRATION OF
THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF
THE UNITED STATES AIR FORCE
Do you know the heritage of the military spouse? Military spouses have cared for their community and supported their service members for hundreds of years. In order to really appreciate the value that milspouses bring to our community and force today, we must recognize and pay homage to those that came before us while also recognizing our spouses of today and their contributions to that rich heritage of care and support! We hope you enjoy these stories of "Spouses in the Fight" who have and are making a difference for our military communities.
JOAN ORR: MAKING EVERY MOMENT COUNT
The Air Force Spouse of the Year Award is named after the late Joan Orr, wife of the former Secretary of the Air Force Verne Orr. Mrs. Orr was a rare inspirational leader. Joan began her love for dance in the late 1930s teaching dance classes at local churches and schools. She was the President of the Pasadena Arts Council in 1977 and 1978. During her tenure, she sought to bring out the best in others and believed that cultural arts were essential to the community. Her connections and passion lead her to chair the Lewitzky Dance Foundation. Her husband Verne Orr was appointed as the Secretary of the Air Force in 1981. Her husband recalls during their visit to over 100 bases she never went to museums or shopping, “she was always on duty”. While her husband peered inside aircraft hangers and inspected flight lines Joan Orr visited hospitals and childcare centers meeting with Air Force wives and families. She was sensitive to their lonely and transient lifestyles and lent a supportive ear to their problems. During the Christmas holiday, the Orrs traveled to remote bases to visit service members who were away from their families. Verne Orr’s tenure was cut short when Joan was diagnosed as having ALS in June 1985. After doctors predicted she had only three years to live they returned to Pasadena. In the Fall of 1985, she walked and began utilizing crutches, and a month later had to use a wheelchair. Several months later a former student suggested teaching dance classes. Mrs. Orr realized she had something to give and the willingness in her heart to give it. Orr’s disease affected her voice first and then other muscles. Her microphone was replaced with a slate where she jotted instructions. Even though she suffered from the deliberating effects of Lou Gehrig’s disease she never canceled a class. Orr taught two weeks before her death. She was determined to make every moment count. The Air Force honored her by initiating the Joan Peak Orr Award to be given annually to an Air Force spouse who makes an outstanding contribution to the service. Joan Orr died seven months after her daughter presented the first Joan Orr Spouse of the Year Award in 1989. The award is still being presented today by recognizing the significant accomplishment made by military spouses.
Written by Arlene Ogan- AF Spouse, Laughlin AFB
VANCE SPOUSE SPACE: TOGETHER, WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
Vance AFB has a new and inviting, functional Spouse Space. In a small, isolated town, the spouses of Vance were having a hard time finding somewhere to work and connect. With remote work rising for military spouses, a team of spouses took on the challenge and found an innovative solution.
Creating partnerships with the M&FRC and Vance Chapel, the team secured two rooms in the Community Chapel Activities Center. The first room is a coworking space and the second is a conference/meeting room. The team worked tirelessly over the course of 4 weeks volunteering their time, talents, and entrepreneurial skills with DIY, thrifted or donated furniture, decor and office supplies.
In reaching out to leadership and community partners for support, the team used the Five & Thrive platform. They explained that this initiative was in support of military spouse employment and mental health. They indicated to the Vance leadership that creating empowered and resilient spouses would improve readiness and retention in their units.
Hearing the call, leadership and community partners alike showed up to support the effort. The response was so positive, it spurred AFA National's attention and they are working on an effort to support similar projects DAF-wide through their local chapters. It takes a triad of support to make this happen - Military Spouses, Military Leaders, and Community Partners - together, we can truly make a difference!
HEBA ABDELAAL: REAL CHANGE
To many, the legislative process can be intimidating. But to military spouse and advocate Heba Abdelaal, it is an opportunity to use her expertise to improve military quality of life through advocacy. And she has certainly done that.
From her service as Legislative Committee Chairman for the Military Spouse Career Coalition (MSCC) to co-authoring the National Military Spouse Network’s 2022 White Paper, The Military Spouse Employment Dilemma to her legislative work on the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, transforming the 10-digit number to a simple three-digit one, 9-8-8, Heba is still in the fight!
In addition, Heba has experience as a Key Spouse Mentor and is always ready to serve. In fact, General C.Q. Brown, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, recognized Heba for one of these acts of service where she “played an important role in mobilizing support for Afghan evacuees”.
She not only led military spouse efforts in coordinating relief for 30,000 Afghan refugees, but her cultural, religious and language expertise was invaluable.
Heba continues to inspire us all–and to encourage us as well. She has recently begun contributing to the “Advocacy in Action” section in Mrs. Brown’s monthly SITREPs to share her knowledge with fellow military spouses. As noted in her Air Force Military Spouse of the Year profile, Heba reminds us that “military spouses do not need to be policy experts to engage in meaningful advocacy.”
Where there is real change, there is Heba Abdelaal–and military spouses in the fight!
MRS. GRACE PATRICK: THE AIR SERVICE CLUB
A long time ago, before the U.S. Space Force (est. 2019) was born from the U.S. Air Force (est. 1947)--and even before the U.S. Air Force was born from the U.S. Army Air Corps (est. 1926), there was the U.S. Army Air Service. It was from within this U.S. Army Air Service that a group of pilots’ wives, led by Mrs. Grace Patrick, started on their own mission, to do what had not been done before: create an Air Service Club, the very first of its kind. On Wednesday, May 16, 1923, as this group of 50 gathered in Washington, D.C. at Grace’s home on Bolling Field (now JBAB), with a call to order and simple vote, the Air Service Club was formed!
The new club had three elected officials (President, Secretary, and Treasurer) and three Committee Chairs (Membership, Hospital, and Entertainment). Grace, whose husband was nominated to be Chief of Air Service, was elected President. She would go on to actively serve in the club for many years. While Patrick Air Force Base (now Patrick SFB) would eventually be named after her husband, Major General Mason Patrick, one could claim that Grace Patrick is—perhaps—the mother of military spouses clubs!
Yet what is indisputable, is that first-of-its-kind kind club would continue to change and evolve as the force continued to change and evolve: moving from ‘Air Service Club” to the “Air Corps Club” to the “Air Force Officers’ Wives’ Club of Washington D.C” to the “Air Forces Officers’ Spouses’ Club of Washington D.C.”, and now, most recently, welcoming Space Force spouses as members.
As the first and oldest Spouses’ Club gets ready to celebrate 100 years this May 16, 2023, one thing has not changed: its commitment to enriching the lives of spouses, families, and service members. This legacy continues through its service through the Arlington Committee, the Charity Gala (formerly the Charity Ball), Scholarships, and its role in beginning the Air Force Village (now Blue Skies over Texas) and the Air Force Aid Society, showing that spouses have—and always will be, in the fight too!
In coordination with the Air Force Historical Research Agency and Air University, feel free to check out the club’s original notebook here: https://aul.primo.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/01AUL_INST/1r5hs6d/alma995882083006836
THE 909 ARS KEY SPOUSE PROGRAM:
ARE YOU READY TO BE EMPOWERED?
ARE YOU READY TO BE EMPOWERED?
Stationed at Kadena Air Base, Heather Gardner had to take a break from her profession in human resources and started cutting hair to stay busy and connected. As she chatted with fellow spouses, she saw a disturbing trend. Spouses were not getting access to the healthcare that they needed, especially mental health. She brought the issue to her squadron Key Spouse Program and they advocated to leadership. Taking the issue seriously, leadership partnered with mental health and elected to host a spouse health and wellness forum. They examined the issues from the top to the bottom and found out that the average wait for mental health support for a spouse was 9-12 months. They thought, "there has to be a better way.”
After countless months of research and spouse forums, the team developed an answer. They proposed a simple solution, which would ultimately mean a Tricare Overseas Policy change through the support of DHA. Specifically, they honed in on the fact that U.S. instillations overseas are and should be considered U.S. jurisdiction, which means CONUS Tricare providers could be referred to and leveraged via telehealth services. This change in policy would help not only dependents stationed at Okinawa, but all overseas locations.
Of course, a project of this magnitude takes the support of many! The 909 ARS KSP is fully supported and championed by commander, Lt Col Ryan Wilson. Lt Col Wilson ensured that the team received backing from relevant leadership, especially the group commander’s spouse, Ms. Amanda Ferrell. The initiative was supported by wing leadership, as well as the USFJ/CC and the PACAF/CC, where it was briefed at the most recent PACAF/CC leadership conference. The initiative has additionally been championed by Mrs. Amy Rule, Spouse to the U.S. Ambassador of Japan. The momentum created by the many people who have spoken into this initiative has culminated at the Defense Health Agency where they are working to put the plan into action.
Thanks to the 909 ARS KSP and all of their champions for innovating in support of our families.
ETHEL KUTER: EDUCATING SPOUSES
Mrs Ethel Kuter was the spouse of Lt Gen Laurence Kuter. General Kuter retired after 35 years of service after serving as commander in chief of the North American Defense Command, a post he assumed in 1959. His service record was remarkable, as was hers.
Ethel was the epitome of a military spouse both in everyday moments and in force-wide projects. Along with Hollis Giles, Kit Edwards, and Dorthy Grant, with the sponsorship of Mrs. Bee Arnold, Ethel adapted the Army Spotters program for the brand-new Air Force and installed it nationally across all bases. The Spotters were spouse volunteers who welcomed incoming spouses and found them either a volunteer position that supported the war effort or a paid position if their family needed the income. She did this while waiting for news of her husband overseas during WWII.
Years later, the Kuters were stationed at Maxwell AFB. In 1954, a fellow spouse wrote to Ethel asking for help. Her husband was about to step into command and she didn’t know how to accomplish her role. In response to this inquiry, Ethel leveraged the Maxwell Officer’s Wives Club and created “An Orientation Course for Wives of Potential Commanders.” For this effort, the club gained the full support of the leadership on base, created a spouse run daycare called the Fledgling Hangar, and in the first iteration of the course, educated 1800 women. After the first course, some 100 wives clubs from across the country wrote to the Maxwell Wive’s Club asking for help setting up their own spouse orientations. Seven years into the course, they recognized another need and the value in inviting and educating NCO spouses in addition to officer’s spouses.
In 2009 during the year of the AF Family, the AF recognized the immense value of this effort and fully funded the course that is now run by Ms Paula Flavell, a retired Air Force member and milspouse, at the Eaker Center.
Ethel’s efforts shaped the culture of the Air Force and reverberate to our spouses of today. We thank her for her service.
SUE HOPPIN: BLAZING TRAILS
“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
For Sue Hoppin, this is not just a favorite quote, but a way of life. But the journey has not always been easy. Highly educated, multilingual, with world experience and a PCS to her hometown of Washington, D.C., it seemed Sue had arrived professionally. Yet, as an Air Force spouse with frequent moves, she still found the path pointing in one direction, a direction all too familiar to military spouses: unemployment or underemployment.
Refusing to settle, seeing a great need and honing in on her unique and incredible skill set, Sue became a pathfinder! In a time before elevated awareness of military spouses unemployment or underemployment was even a focus on the map, Sue was among the first to advocate for military spouse professionals and to highlight their importance on active duty retention rates. In 2010, Sue founded the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), a membership organization supporting the professional goals of military spouses with mentorship and career coaching–and the first of its kind.
Now a nationally acclaimed expert and published author, Sue has continued pathfinding–and fighting to combat the 24% military spouse unemployment rate. In 2019, she created the National Day of Advocacy and crafted the first of several white papers on providing solutions to military spouse unemployment and underemployment. Sue, breaking down the barriers to this decades-old challenge, first recommended expanding the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to include military spouses, while also teaching military spouses how to advocate for themselves and others.
Still very much in the fight, Sue continues to dedicate herself to not only forging a new path, but leaving the trail better for others. For the work she has done and continues to do--and for the example she has set, we will always be thankful for this pathfinder and trailblazer!
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF AIR FORCES WOMEN
Since before the Air Force was established, spouses have raised their hands to volunteer in support of the mission and their communities. This is true during peace times, but especially salient during times of trouble. In 1944, Bee Arnold helped create the National Association of Air Forces Women (NAAFW). Managed by Ruth Spaatz, the association was formed to provide an overarching organization to unite and train spouse volunteers across the Army Air Forces (AAF). The NAAFW did not start from scratch, they cleverly leveraged members of AAF clubs across the country to ensure that they were the most effective in supporting WWII efforts. Their hope was to offer support and direction to individual clubs while giving them flexibility to solve local problems.
The response to the call for the NAAFW was immediate and immense. Letters flooded in from across the country from clubs and individuals mailing in their $1 dues to become part of the association. The response was so great that the NAAFW opened a second office to handle the influx of new members and the ideas they sent in.
An excellent example of the work they accomplished came from the Hickam Field Women’s Club. Within minutes of the Japanese attack on Hickam Field, the women of the club were in the hospital caring for the wounded. They collected blankets, evacuated children from danger and stayed with them until their parents could take over. They drove cars and trucks offering emergency aid, prepared food and drinks, and brought order to a terrifying sense of chaos. It has been noted that what they accomplished was nothing short of a miracle. But as the NAAFW points out, they had already been trained for emergencies.
Although these efforts took place almost 80 years ago, they echo the military spouse work we see today. This is apparent in the amazing volunteerism that spouses displayed during Operation Allies Refuge. Much like the spouses of the NAAFW, spouses across the DAF leveraged the communities that were already in place to provide necessities and comfort resources for nearly 35,000 Afghan evacuees. To learn more about the work military spouses contributed to, visit https://www.dvidshub.net/video/819086/oar-oaw-documentary.
HEATHER CAMPBELL: BEYOND THE WALLS OF HOME
Our heritage is lined with military spouses making a difference–and today is no exception. Just like the spouses who have come before us, our spouses today identify a problem and work tirelessly at transforming it into a solution.
One of today’s military spouses in action is Heather Campbell. Perhaps you have heard her on a podcast. At some point soon, you may see her testifying to Congress. Maybe you recognize her as Eielson’s Air Force Base’s AFI Military Spouse of the Year 2022. But what truly sets Heather apart is her passion for fighting military food insecurity.
While personally experiencing food insecurity, Heather found many military families struggle to put food on the table. In fact, she discovered this affects as many as one in five. Identifying this gap, she knew she had to prioritize figuring out a solution for her own family first, noting, “Deep in my heart, I always thought that once I could make it work within the four walls of my own home, I could make it work for the community beyond them.”
Now empowered with a mission to educate and advocate on military food insecurity, combined with her educational background in Clinical Nutrition and professional experience as a pediatric dietician, Heather continues to be a spouse in the fight! Her work not only helps the spouses of today but will no doubt benefit the spouses of tomorrow.
HELEN LEMAY: IT TAKES A VILLAGE
It takes a village to, well, start a village. And that is exactly what happened in 1961: Helen LeMay, spouse of the Air Force Chief of Staff General LeMay, began leading a community effort to start the Air Force Village, a place widows could find needed and affordable housing.
What seemed like an impossible endeavor transformed into a possible reality under Helen's care and direction. First, Helen engaged with the local spouses' club, who was overwhelmingly supportive of this important cause. Next, Helen was joined by Pat Daus (Ladd), a young Air Force widow, and the two began raising funds through bake sales and charity balls. Their first contribution was $9 and was collected on Pat's kitchen table in 1965, and over the next five years, the donations would quickly grow to 1 million dollars. A planning committee was created by General LeMay, Air Force service members donated through a service-wide drive, Ray Ellison Industries donated 15 acres for the village and over 217 spouses clubs from around the world donated time and talent.
In May of 1969, Helen attended the groundbreaking in San Antonio, Texas. The ceremony actually included the soil from the 217 spouses clubs who were instrumental in this effort, thus honoring all the military spouses involved. In 1970, the Air Force Village opened--and another chapter of spouses in the fight was written!
In 1987, the General and Mrs. Curtis E. LeMay Foundation was founded to help widows and widowers of all Air Force Retirees through financial grants. To this day, this foundation cites the privilege that it is to serve those who embraced the military lifestyle with their service members. Today, the Air Force Village is called Blue Skies of Texas and is open to civilians and military in all services.
GLADYS VANDENBERG: SILENT SERVANT LEADERS
Military spouses are often the silent and servant leaders on the sidelines, but they are--and have always been--in the fight, too! It is not uncommon for a military spouse to see a hard situation and transform it into a helping one.
Mrs. Gladys Vandenberg, wife of the second Chief of Staff of the Air Force, is no exception. Living close to Arlington Cemetery, she and General Vandenberg would often walk the hallowed grounds. It was during this time, she noticed Airmen being buried without any family present. Moved to action, she decided to personally attend each service, ensuring that no Airman was ever laid to rest without a member of their Air Force family present. When this became too much for one person, she recruited her friends and fellow Air Force wives, becoming our first Arlington Ladies. Eventually, the Arlington Committee was created within the AFOSC of Washington, D.C. and since 1948, no matter the weather, Arlington Ladies and Gentlemen still serve our Department of the Air Force service members today as they are honorably laid to rest. As good work often does, it inspired others to do the same: the Army established their Arlington Ladies in 1972, the Navy in 1986, and the Coast Guard in 2006.
MILDRED YOUNT: THE AIR FORCE SONG
The important work and support our military spouses provide behind the scenes is often overlooked and unfortunately sometimes unknown. Our spouses are the quiet force behind the Force, and this can be seen in many examples throughout history, none less than the adoption of our own Air Force song. The song was solicited by General Westover and General Arnold in 1937 through a contest offering a $1000 prize, paid for by Liberty Magazine. It was written by Robert Crawford, but it was Mrs. Mildred Yount, spouse of General Barton Yount, who championed the song and did the legwork that we see evidence of today -“Hey!”
Mildred presided as Chairman of the volunteer committee of senior Air Corps wives with musical backgrounds. This committee parsed more than 650 entries over the course of two years, without finding a good contender. Days before the contest deadline, Mildred received a phone call from Robert Crawford who sang his song to her over the phone. Mildred knew that after hundreds of entries they had finally found the one and she predicted it would stand the test of time. She encouraged Crawford to write down a rough manuscript of his song and she slipped it into the middle of the pile of entries to be fair to the other contestants. Crawford’s entry was selected unanimously. He knew his song would have never been chosen though if it were not for the work and support of Mildred Yount. Crawford thanked her for her untiring efforts on “our song.”
BEE ARNOLD: AIR FORCE FAMILY
Hap Arnold, the first general of the Air Force, is widely known for his heroic service. What is lesser known is that while he was building our force, his wife, Bee, was building our forces’ support system. Bee recognized that the Air Force was more effective when functioning as a family. She coined the term “Air Force Family” and initiated the close-knit family culture we appreciate today.
Do you know any stories that would qualify as heritage spouse stories?