PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
When Lisa Fernandez became the Key Spouse for the 308th Rescue Squadron, she never imagined her efforts would lead to her nomination by Air Force Reserve Command for the 2019 Joan Orr Air Force Spouse of the Year award.
“I feel very blessed and honored, but I don’t do this for recognition,” Fernandez said. “I don’t do it alone. I have a very strong team that helps me.”
The Key Spouse program is an official unit program designed to enhance readiness and establish a sense of Air Force community that promotes individual, family and unit readiness, establishes continuous contact with spouses and families, provides an informal sounding board and links to troop leadership.
Fernandez says her husband, Master Sgt. Erick Fernandez, 308th RQS Material Manager, has served as combat support for Guardian Angel Weapon System comprised of Combat Rescue Officers, Pararescuemen, and SERE specialist, for more than 17-years and has gone above and beyond to make himself available to help her in her endeavors.
“My husband is very supportive of my role,” she said. “He’s always ready to help when there’s a need, even if it’s just to fix a sprinkler or help put up hurricane shutters.”
As Key Spouse, Fernandez made significant contributions to the 308thRQS and the mission of the AFRC. She remarked that one of the most important things she does is keep in constant contact with spouses and loved ones, especially during last year’s combat deployment which saw nearly every member from the 308th deployed across three separate geographic locations.
“The 308th is extremely proud of Lisa,” said Lt. Col. Timothy Hanks, 308th RQS commander. “Her love for our mission and our Reserve Citizen Airmen is unlike anything I have witnessed in my career. She is an operator with the mission for advocating for our families, friends and significant others.”
She did more than just talk to family members over the phone, she also coordinated multiple events every month to bring everyone together and keep morale high.
“We had beach parties, picnics, wine tastings, raffle prizes,” she said. “Just a lot of different activities to reaffirm the support that was available to them while their loved one was away.”
Through those events and her constant contact, families and loved ones become more like a family and less like strangers, allowing a foundation of trust to be forged.
However, Fernandez’s support didn’t end there. With the help of the Elk Institute and Troop Rewards, both non for profit entities, she also helped organize a five-day, all-expense paid vacation for several returning unit members and their loved ones which helped them re-adjust to life back home. Further, she helped organize a fundraising effort for The Elk Institute, a non-profit that was established to provide mental health education, consultation, treatment and clinical research service to military and veteran communities, which paid for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder sessions for five veterans in need.
“Families are the foundation to the success of the unit,” she said. “Our unit operates in a high tempo environment and we not only need our families to know they are supported, but it eases the mind of the unit member to know there is someone available for their loved one to call in a time of need.”
Her concern for the well-being of troops and their families also extended to those who were impacted by the destruction of Hurricane Michael which devastated Tyndall Air Force Base in October 2018. Her initiative to lead a “Team Patrick” donation drive provided more than 1,000 families in need more than 4 tons of supplies in less than one week.
Fernandez credits much of her success to the enthusiastic support of unit leadership and the support of her Key Spouse Mentor, Heather Hanks, spouse of Lt. Col. Hanks.
“The Commander and Chief have always made the Key Spouse program and our families a priority,” she said. “Without his support, none of this would have been as successful and I’m grateful for that because I’ve never served in the military so this is how I can serve and give back.”
Hanks explained how the history of this award reflects the dedication and commitment that Fernandez has continuously displayed to the Airmen, mission and local community.
“This was a tough year for the 308th,” Hanks said. “We completed the most challenging deployment in the history of our unit and, without a doubt, we could not have done it without Lisa’s leadership in taking care of our families.”
For additional information on the Key Spouse Program, please contact your local Airman and Family Readiness Center.