Woman with a heart of support

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Tracy DeMarco
  • Air Force District of Washington Public Affairs

While balancing duties as the wife of an Air Force servicemember and mother of three boys, Denise Gardner sets her thoughts on fellow families attached to the 1st Airlift Squadron at Joint Base Andrews.

"I think about it all the time! How can I help the families?" she said.

Possessing nearly 20 years experience as a military spouse and 17 years as a mother, Gardner serves as the 1st Airlift Squadron's key spouse. Since 2008, Gardner has brought focus and vision to an organization designed to assist the all-important Air Force family.

"She just doesn't quit giving to our military members," said Lt. Col. Timrek Heisler, 1 AS commander. "Denise's dedication to the Airmen in our squadron and in the Air Force is unbelievable."

"When we moved here we had no contact with anyone," Gardner said. "We lived here for two years before I met anyone."

It was only when Gardner's husband deployed that she received a call from her then key spouse, thus lighting a fire in Gardner's heart for the squadron's key spouse program.

Once in charge, she designed a newsletter filled with useful information and delivered the electronic file to all spouses with e-mail addresses. Gardner brought on two more key spouses and together the three women began phoning ¬the ¬more than 70 names on the 1st Airlift Squadron's spouse list. Her team worked to keep e-mail listings up-to-date and very quickly their efforts began to build a rapport with the other spouses.

The feedback they received told them that nine out of 10 spouses didn't have access to the information now being provided on a regular basis.

"Denise has led the most active key spouse group I have seen," said Master Sgt. Brian McNeil, 1 AS first sergeant. "Her dedication to helping the squadron led to others joining the key spouse team."

At its genesis, the formation of the U.S. military transformed housewives into the traditional military spouse: a woman dedicated to her family and her country.

Today, there are male military spouses. In 1948, the Women's Armed Services Integration Act granted women permanent status in the regular and reserve forces of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and the newly created Air Force.

"When you look back at how the spouse groups used to be, they were cliques. Those women took care of each other," said Gardner. "Women today are so busy; they don't have time for social clubs. Lots of women are working wives with children who may actually deploy."

Gardner feels that especially in the National Capitol Region women need support.

"There is a lot of pressure on today's women to have it all, to do it all," she said. "Our spouse program says, 'You don't have to do it all.'"

Gardner has received varied requests for help ranging from a mother trying to get a clown on base for a child's birthday party, to a wife admitting she tried to commit suicide.

"I'm not perfect," Gardner said, "we all try to be more than we can be and it's unrealistic. We all need to support each other better."

The 1st Airlift Squadron's spouse program supports almost 90 members now, but Gardner's vision doesn't stop there. She strives to support all the members in the unit whether military or civilian, male or female.

"Not only has she helped with families in transition or the deployed, she has also been a friend and mentor to the younger members of the squadron," said Sergeant McNeil.

"I just want them to know someone cares," Gardner said.