Commentary: ‘Five and Thrive’ program’s focus on quality of life helps families, national security in AF's 75th year Published Oct. 19, 2022 By Sharene Brown Military families are at the heart of this nation and Five and Thrive is about military families. It is a grassroots effort created to support and communicate viable quality-of-life programs and resources while highlighting various challenges military families face in five focus areas. The five areas are — childcare, education, healthcare, housing, and spouse employment. By highlighting preventative measures, promoting best practices, and fostering community partnerships in these five areas, this effort aims to provide Department of the Air Force families with the best communication, support, and opportunities to thrive. The need for these services is well known. So are the challenges to success. As we continue celebrating the Air Force’s 75th anniversary this year, we cannot lose sight of the fact that families play a critical role in keeping the U.S. Air Force the best in the world. Like many American households, Air Force families are not immune from the problems and stress surrounding childcare, education, housing, health care and finding fulfilling jobs. We know too that difficulty in one area can influence another, potentially creating a continuous cycle of struggle. I know this is true for our local civilian populations as well, but I believe it is magnified for our military families due to constant moves, lack of family support, and other stressors related to our military way of life, such as deployments. Many are suffering due to the current housing crisis where families are required to move but are unable to find affordable and safe housing in their new location. This continuous cycle of struggle can lead to other challenges, including food insecurity where some of our military families continue to suffer alone because they are too ashamed to seek help. We cannot do this alone…we need our civilian communities to help us solve these challenges. These examples, and many more, are why I collaborated with a small group of volunteer Air and Space Force spouses, known as the Thrive Team, to create Five and Thrive. This initiative provides a pathway of communication, an awareness of support and resources, as well as a facilitation of quality-of-life partnerships to help families overcome these types of challenges. This was the over-arching vision behind Five and Thrive. The importance of ensuring safe and satisfied military families is larger than the family itself. There is a direct correlation to our nation’s security since the strength military spouses and families bring to the fight ultimately improves the readiness, resilience, and retention of the entire force. Spouses are now and have always been an important part of our Air Force heritage. Their roots run deep in our Air Force history, and we are thankful to those who forged the path for future spouses to cultivate as they grow and thrive. My “Spouses in the Fight” series shows how spouses of the past inspire our spouses today, and I know they will continue to do so in the future if we keep their memory alive. Here are two impressive examples in the history of “Spouses in the Fight:” Gladys Vandenberg: Vandenberg, wife of the second chief of staff of the Air Force, would often walk the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery with Gen. Vandenberg. It was during these walks that she noticed Airmen being buried without any family present. Moved to action, she decided to personally attend each service, ensuring that no Airman was ever laid to rest without a member of their Air Force family present. Eventually, the Arlington Committee was created and since 1948, no matter the weather, Arlington Ladies and Gentlemen serve our Department of the Air Force service members today as they are honorably laid to rest. As spouses in the fight often do, they inspired others to do the same: the Army established their Arlington Ladies in 1972, the Navy in 1986, and the Coast Guard in 2006. Helen LeMay: In 1961, LeMay, spouse of the Air Force Chief of Staff General LeMay, began leading a community effort to start the Air Force Village, a place widows could find affordable housing. As we all know, it sometimes takes a village to start a village and through the help of many spouses, Air Force Village became a reality. The General and Mrs. Curtis E. LeMay Foundation was later founded to help widows and widowers of all Air Force retirees through financial grants. Today, the Air Force Village is called Blue Skies of Texas and is open to civilians and military of all services no matter where they live. These spouses of yesterday amaze me as much as our spouses today inspire me. As we celebrate the Air Force’s 75th Anniversary, I cannot help but reflect on the wonderful heritage we have. I like to think that we are all “spouses in the fight” just by helping each other and our military families every day. I hope that I can contribute to this rich heritage even just a little bit by encouraging and supporting all DAF families through Five and Thrive. I also hope that it can serve, like these heritage stories, as a beacon of hope for all “Spouses in the Fight.” You can learn more about Five & Thrive at https://www.fiveandthrive.org/ and Spouses in the Fight at https://www.fiveandthrive.org/spouses-in-the-fight. Mrs. Sharene Brown is the spouse to the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, General CQ Brown Jr., and proud mother to two boys. She has over three decades of experience advocating for military families and is a devoted champion for military spouses, recognizing their unique strengths and valuable contributions to our Armed Forces and nation. This led her to create a grassroots initiative known as Five & Thrive in 2021. This passion-led effort is designed to consolidate resources, highlight preventative measures, promote best practices, foster community partnerships, and encourage military families to thrive!