STRATTON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.Y. --
"She encourages me to do what's best for me."
"He takes good care of my children."
"She protects us as a family unit."
"He is my best friend, and I can tell him anything."
"When I deploy, she deploys too -- just differently."
These are just a few of the descriptions of what a military spouse means to some of the Airmen with the 109th Airlift Wing.
Many will agree that families are the backbone of any military member. That's no exception for the 109th AW Airmen. With drill weekends, annual training and deployments, whether members are full-timers or traditional guardsmen, the military lifestyle can be tough on loved ones.
That's where the 109th AW Family Matters Group comes in. The all-volunteer group of family members is the communication link between what's going on at the base and the families at home. Their biggest role is planning social activities for members and their families, and reaching out to families of those Airmen who are deployed.
"We want to make sure they know they are still part of the 109th even though their family member is away," said Lindsay Knott, the group's lead.
The group, which is command-sponsored, started as a way to improve communication with families. "If we hear from families about hardships or if things aren't working right, we'll pass that information on to command and the Airman and Family Readiness Program Manager," Knott said.
Some of the events the Family Matters Group plans include Fall Fest, the Children's Holiday Party, and most recently the first Spouse and Partner Appreciation luncheon. The group hopes to make the luncheon an annual event.
"The event turned out wonderful," Knott said. "Our whole goal was to say thank you to the spouses, the partners, kids - everyone - for all they do for the Wing."
The group is already making plans for future events, such as starting a contact group within the base to improve communication even more, and they are also talking about hosting a children's summer event at the base.
Their work hasn't gone unnoticed. During the luncheon, held May 18, Knott was presented the award for the 2013 New York Air National Guard Key Volunteer.
"The 109th Airlift Wing is indebted to the exceptional level of support Lindsay, and the entire Family Matters Group, have provided the Wing," said Col. John Russo, 109th AW vice commander. "Lindsay has been instrumental in standing up the Family Matters Group and development of a long-term plan to increase the group's outreach and support of all the Wing's Airmen and families. We are fortunate to have her."
The Family Matters Group isn't the typical "enlisted wives club" that many remember. The group can include spouses, partners, Airmen and even their children. While Knott's husband is enlisted, Kristen Rinaldi, who is the group's co-lead, is married to an officer, and Betty Cristiano, the group's treasurer, is the wife of a retiree.
Rinaldi said it's been very rewarding for her since joining. "It's been a good learning experience for me - I've learned so much about the base, and I've been able to help others because of it."
Besides planning events, just having a network of other military families can be helpful. Non-military families sometimes don't understand what goes along with that role.
" 'It must be so hard for you' 'How do you handle it?' 'How can you live without him for that long?' You hear a lot of that from other spouses who don't know much about the military," Rinaldi said. "It's nice to have a network of people who understand what we go through as a military spouse."
"We've all been there," Knott said. "We've been through deployments, through training, through drill weekends."
"It's just rewarding knowing that you're able to help one other spouse who's been in your shoes," Rinaldi said. "Someone who's had the same hardships. It's about being able to connect people with each other, making sure they know there are others like them, and making sure families in general are part of the base."
"For us, families come first," Knott said.
Knott and Rinaldi said volunteers are only required to give as much time as they are able - whether it's 20 minutes or 10 hours. The group is always looking for volunteers to help plan events. If you'd like to volunteer, or to just be part of the 109th military family network, you can contact them through their Facebook page at "109th Airlift Family Matters Group" or request to be part of their email distribution list by emailing 109FMG@gmail.com