FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. – Most military spouses never raise their right hand and swear an oath to serve our country, but their commitment and contributions are paramount to mission success.
Taking their role as a spouse one step further, key spouses step up and lay the foundation on which the relationship between military and families are built. They go above and beyond to ensure military families are taken care of, and maintain an open line of communication with leadership.
Standardized in March 2009, The U.S. Air Force Key Spouse Program addresses the needs of Air Force families while enhancing readiness, resiliency and establishing a sense of Air Force community. Key Spouses are commander-appointed, and aim to increase unit cohesion amongst service members and their families.
The key spouse program is where Airman 1st Class Mary J. Witkop, 70th Operations Support Squadron technician, found her love for the Air Force.
“I saw the key spouse program as a way for me to get involved. My husband [Master Sgt. Stuart Witkop, 34th Intelligence Squadron] has been serving for more than 16 years, and bridging the gap between the military and civilian family members was a great opportunity,” said Mary. “In 2018 I decided I wanted to enlist and join the other side of this Air Force family.”
Mary served as a key spouse to the 34th IS for four years and earned the 691st Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group 2017 Key Spouse of the Year award for her dedication during her time on the commander’s support team.
As a key spouse, Mary learned the ins-and-outs of the Air Force, and worked tirelessly to connect unit leadership and Air Force families. However, Mary eventually heard the call and decided to enlist as an Operations Intelligence specialist in the Air Force.
“It was not something I really thought about before. I was a massage therapist and my kids were getting older so the timing was just right,” said Mary. “When I first brought up enlisting, I was shocked that my husband thought it was a great idea. I realized I met all the requirements and could get into Intel, possibly heading back to the 70th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing.”
Mary’s tasks include briefing, working with others and taking care of her fellow Airmen. After already working with and being surrounded by military members for years, these tasks came naturally. Mary has a self-proclaimed love of talking to and helping others, so it only makes sense that she is still involved with several organizations within the wing.
“I still work with the 34th IS and now the 70th OSS Key Spouse Program, and I am excited to get back to work helping Air Force families,” said Mary. “Without the support from my family and leadership at the 70th OSS, I do not think I would be able to do it.”
Mary’s husband has always been her biggest supporter, and encouraged her to pursue her dreams and help others.
“Mary first brought up the possibility of enlisting in January of 2018. I told her she could do it and I would support her no matter what,” said Stuart. “We knew time apart would be hard for our family, but we have a really strong relationship.”
The Witkop’s have three children, ages 9, 11 and 13. As they were getting older and more self-sufficient, it made sense for Mary to begin her Air Force career.
Mary reached out to a recruiter and began the enlistment process. It was not long before she was heading to the Military Entrance Processing Station and taking her Oath of Enlistment.
“Basic Training was pretty difficult; being away from my family and friends and adjusting to the military life took time to get used to,” said Mary. “It was strange because I had only ever been on the other side when my husband was the one leaving for months at a time, and now it was me leaving.”
After typically being the one deployed, going to professional military education or on temporary duty assignments throughout his career, Stuart now faced challenges of his own he never anticipated.
“Duty requirements aside, being the one left at home was much harder than being the one leaving. Taking on the work Mary normally took care of for the past 12 years was… eye-opening to say the least,” said Stuart. “Seeing the home side definitely changed my perspective. While your partner is TDY or deployed, you have to do everything by yourself. You do not really have any backup, and that is not easy.”
Mary’s enlisted career may just be beginning, but her love for the Air Force and fellow Airmen has been strong for years.
“I have to say, no matter how hard this journey has been, I have no regrets. It was hard for our family, but we have all grown from the experience,” said Mary. “Being able to enlist and come back to the 70th ISRW is a dream come true.”