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Mara Wight was named the 2010 Joan Orr Spouse of the Year, an award that goes to the top civilian spouse of a military member in the Air Force. During her two years at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Wight spearheaded a number of programs unique to U.S. Air Forces in Europe designed to help spouses.

Mara Wight was named the 2010 Joan Orr Spouse of the Year, an award that goes to the top civilian spouse of a military member in the Air Force. During her two years at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Wight spearheaded a number of programs unique to U.S. Air Forces in Europe designed to help spouses. (Stars and Stripes)

Mara Wight was named the 2010 Joan Orr Spouse of the Year, an award that goes to the top civilian spouse of a military member in the Air Force. During her two years at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Wight spearheaded a number of programs unique to U.S. Air Forces in Europe designed to help spouses.

Mara Wight was named the 2010 Joan Orr Spouse of the Year, an award that goes to the top civilian spouse of a military member in the Air Force. During her two years at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Wight spearheaded a number of programs unique to U.S. Air Forces in Europe designed to help spouses. (Stars and Stripes)

Mara Wight was recently named the 2010 Joan Orr Spouse of the Year, an award that goes to the top civilian spouse of a military member in the Air Force. During her two years at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Wight spearheaded a number of programs unique to U.S. Air Forces in Europe designed to help spouses.

Mara Wight was recently named the 2010 Joan Orr Spouse of the Year, an award that goes to the top civilian spouse of a military member in the Air Force. During her two years at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, Wight spearheaded a number of programs unique to U.S. Air Forces in Europe designed to help spouses. (Stars and Stripes)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany — After a career that spanned 25 years and launched her as high as an Air Force lieutenant colonel, Mara Wight found herself in unfamiliar territory.

She was a military spouse without the uniform, a “dependent” in military speak.

Wight left the Air Force to be at the side of her husband, Col. Lee Wight, when he became the 52nd Fighter Wing commander at Spangdahlem two years ago.

An intelligence officer, Wight knew her Air Force job well. But as the senior spouse on base, “there’s no checklist to follow when someone falls apart in your arms” because her husband just deployed, the basement is flooded and the baby has chickenpox, she said. “I did not have a whole lot of preparation for that.”

Wight rose to the occasion — and then some. Shortly before she and her husband departed Spangdahlem late last month for the Pentagon, Wight was named the No. 1 spouse in the Air Force, an honor that came on the heels of earning top U.S. Air Forces in Europe spouse. She received a letter from Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, Air Force chief of staff, congratulating her as the 2010 Joan Orr Spouse of the Year. She’ll head to an awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., in September.

While Wight never expected recognition — she said she tried to convince her fellow spouses to nominate someone else — those who know Wight say no one is more deserving.

“She treats everybody like gold,” said Spangdahlem spouse, Tina Tubbs, 45. “For her, spouses always come first.”

Wight, 46, made sure she was accessible to spouses any time, whether they were enlisted or officer.

“From the very beginning, I noticed a misperception, that by virtue of the fact I was married to the wing commander, I cannot be approached,” Wight said. “We had to change that right away.”

Tubbs, a German native, said she never felt part of an Air Force community during her 13 years as an enlisted spouse until she met Wight. “Mara said, ‘Come on, you sit next to me.’ She was my mentor … she turned into a friend.”

Wight created several programs unique to USAFE, including www.saberspouses.com, USAFE’s only spouses’ website. She founded the command’s only “Spouse to Spouse” program, which helps spouses adjust to overseas life, and the first spouses’ sponsor program to support spouses before and during their permanent change-of-station moves to Spangdahlem.

One of the goals of “Spouse to Spouse” was to connect spouses with jobs or volunteer opportunities, Wight said. “It just turned a switch from ‘I’m miserable, I’m nobody, I’m a dependent’ to ‘I’m worth it, there’s so much I can do.’ ”

svanj@estripes.osd.mil

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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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