Misawa Air Force and Navy officers and their wives, clockwise from left: Natalie Bilger, Debie Radloff, Tami Rosado, Maria Sison, Karen Weckhorst and Millie Sarinas.

Misawa Air Force and Navy officers and their wives, clockwise from left: Natalie Bilger, Debie Radloff, Tami Rosado, Maria Sison, Karen Weckhorst and Millie Sarinas. (Jennifer Svan / S&S)

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Two months into her husband’s first assignment, Barbara Max is learning that despite coming from an Air Force family, she still has much to learn about military life.

“A lot of the stuff, like the acronyms, I have no clue,” she said.

Is a shirt and first sergeant the same thing? And what does “smart casual” mean?

That’s what Heartlink is for.

Max and 13 other wives of airmen, sailors and civilians at Misawa attended the six-hour orientation class Friday at the Tohoku Enlisted Club, where they brushed up on military jargon, protocol and etiquette and learned what base services are available to help with an array of needs, from financial to legal.

“It’s to let them know how the military works; otherwise it can seem overwhelming and confusing,” said Rochelle Phelps, a family advocacy outreach manager.

Heartlink at Misawa is part of the Air Force’s integrated delivery system. The first class was held in January 2003 and is offered every four months to spouses of servicemembers, civilians and contractors new to the military way of life, organizers said.

“Part of it is just understanding how the military functions,” said Anne Turnbull, Family Support Center community readiness technician. “When you have active-duty folks working 12- and 14-hour shifts, understanding the mission of the military and what drives that mission … it’s generally much easier for them to be flexible with the hours the spouse spends away from home.”

Among the speakers Friday was Col. Don Weckhorst, 35th Fighter Wing vice commander.

“You probably know this, but it’s not an 8-hour job,” he told the wives. In today’s Air Force, “it takes everyone to do this job.”

The spouses also reviewed how to prepare for a Noncombatant Evacuation Order and how to decipher a military leave and earnings statement. But the best guidance may have come from seasoned military spouses.

Several officers and their wives joined the Heartlink class for lunch, including Karen Weckhorst, and Debie Radloff, wife of Misawa Naval Air Facility commander Capt. Wayne Radloff, who also stopped by.

Karen Weckhorst’s advice to young, military spouses: “They’re a lot stronger than they think and they can do it.”

To that, Debi Radloff added: “Don’t be afraid to ask your neighbor for help. … You’ll be surprised how helpful people can be.”

Natalie Bilger said she felt fortunate that her husband, Senior Airman Joseph Bilger, had yet to deploy five years into his Air Force career. When Bilger noted that she hadn’t seen her family in more than a year, Weckhorst said: “You’ll find, too, that the military, they can become your family.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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