For the “Mission Movers” at the 721st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, the work can be tiring. As the busiest of the 521st Air Mobility Wing’s en route maintenance units, the Airmen often work hours upon hours to keep the mission moving.
Working an extremely high tempo, the Airmen put in time, day after day, often missing holidays, family events and special occasions.
Yet, looking at them, one might hardly notice as morale is high amongst Airmen and their families. It would seem the 721 AMXS is doing something right.
Though that wasn’t always the case for everyone involved with the 721 AMXS.
“When I first arrived, I sat in (temporary lodging) for a week and a half with two kids and two dogs,” said Aaron Sandrini, 721 AMXS spouse. “There was no one there to help support me and the kids.”
The 721 AMXS leaders, hearing similar comments and anecdotes about difficult transitions to the unit and living overseas from spouses, took a good look at the programs they had to help spouses.
“When I took command, an important focus area was taking care of the Airmen and their families,” said Maj. Scott Gilliland, 721 AMXS commander. “That meant creating programs that were crucial to the well-being of our AMXS family.”
With the help and support of the unit’s leadership, the 721 AMXS key spouses implemented two key programs — the Spouse Sponsorship Program, benchmarked off of the 721st Aerial Port Squadron program, and monthly Newcomer’s Orientation and Dinner.
With the sponsorship program, incoming spouses receive emails three to six months prior to their expected arrival and until they arrive at Ramstein with the intention to help answer any questions they may have. Once at Ramstein, both the military member and spouse receive a squadron orientation and invitation to a free meal to meet with leadership and key spouses.
“The first impression is a lasting impression,” Gilliland said. “This is a way for new Airmen and spouses to get to know their leadership team in a relaxed setting and a perfect way for us to properly welcome them to the AMXS family.”
On top of the Spouse Sponsorship Program and the monthly Newcomer’s Orientation and Dinner, the 721 AMXS leadership team also supported the establishment of other programs such as quarterly Airmen Appreciation Dinners for the Mission Movers, live social media broadcasts and a monthly newsletter to help keep everyone informed, a spouse group to allow spouses the opportunity to interact and get involved with each other and the unit, Meals on Wheels and the New Parent Support Group.
While the programs are backed by unit leadership, they are run by “the best key spouses and spouse group a commander could hope to have,” Gilliland said.
“For me, the experience coming over here was very hard,” said Kendra Anthony, 721 AMXS key spouse. “I did not adjust well. It was a really tough year, and then Maj. Gilliland came here and interviewed me for key spouse. One of the things he asked me was what would I have done differently. I said, ‘I would have loved if someone had reached out to me.’”
Many of the programs were formed through similar processes — key spouses and others simply asking what they would have liked done for them.
Through the programs, the 721 AMXS leaders and key spouses hope to make family members feel closer to the 721 AMXS family, allowing them to build closer relationships and support groups, not only giving them someone who can reach out to them but also giving them someone to whom they can reach out to during difficult times.
When hard times do come around, the key spouses come around as well with other spouses through the Meals on Wheels and New Parent Support Group programs.
If an Airman or family member is hospitalized for an extended period of time, the 721 AMXS spouse group comes together and supplies meals to help lessen the strain a long hospital stay can cause.
On the other side of the stress spectrum, the New Parent Support Group puts new moms and dads together once a month to get to know each other and gain useful information from each other about having kids overseas.
“We had our first child out here,” said Senior Airman Steven Stanfa, 721 AMXS hydraulic technician. “It was a bit of a struggle for us, being our first child. It wasn’t planned to be out here, but thanks to all of the key spouses, who already had kids, because they were a super big help to my wife.”
Because of the help Stanfa and his wife, Jazmin, received with their child through the New Parent Support Group program, she became more involved with other spouse programs.
“The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that when we first got here, she was stuck in the room all day,” Stanfa said about his wife. “She didn’t really have much to do or people to talk to. … She was kind of stuck by herself not doing anything. With the new (programs), (the key spouses) actually reached out, and (my wife) has a connection with all of them now. … Seeing her involved really affects me positively because I know she’s not alone. I know she’s got everyone else here with her.”
Thus, Stanfa gets to focus more on keeping the mission moving, and there is less of a chance spouses will have bad experiences when transitioning to a unit with not only a high work tempo but also high morale.
“What makes a unit great is the ability to take care of the Airmen and their families,” Gilliland said. “At the end of the day, leadership can come up with amazing programs, but it takes dedicated individuals to make these programs flourish. At the 721 AMXS, we have some of the best spouses who have a heart to serve. Without the combined effort of each and every one of our spouses, none of this would be possible.”