JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. --
It’s been a busy and exciting year for Capt. Alexandra Bissey, an Air Force officer serving as an air battle manager and the chief of weapons and tactics for the 16th Airborne Command at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia.
She and her husband recently welcomed their first child, and Bissey is set to take on a fulfilling instructor position at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nevada, later this Fall.
As a dual military household, these two milestones also led to some tough conversations. The closest her husband, then an Army intelligence officer, could be stationed was Fort Irwin, California.
The two worried the distance and juggling parental responsibilities would make them less effective in their careers. Ultimately, they decided her husband would separate from the military and become the primary care provider for their infant daughter.
“My husband is completely okay with the decision, and while it could lead to feelings of resentment for others, he’s been incredibly supportive of my military career,” Bissey said. “I couldn’t do it without him -- he’s the bedrock of our family and our household.”
There are thousands of male and same-sex spouses supporting service members across the Department of Defense. And while the military has come a long way from the era that coined the phrase if the ‘military wanted you to have a family it would have issued you one,’ Bissey soon realized there was room for improvement in how all families are acknowledged and taken care of as an essential part of mission success.
“I remember having a conversation with my husband after I received this e-mail from the Airman and Family Readiness Center to send your spouse for a free pedicure. We joked about it, but I think it’s a little isolating for him because a lot of the programs appeared to be based on a stay-at-home model of motherhood,” she said. “And I thought how can I help connect him to Air Force culture in a different way?”
Bissey soon volunteered to be part of Air Combat Command’s second annual Sword Athena event. Sword Athena is a 60-day leadership development forum focused on solving female and human-centric barriers to readiness. Modeled on the Weapons and Tactic Conferences (WEPTAC), it’s broken into Mission Area Working Groups (MAWGs).
Bissey was assigned to the Spouse Inclusivity MAWG. There she focused on developing unconscious bias training for leaders to help them see Airmen and their families as individuals with unique needs. She collected case studies from service members and spouses to help the leaders develop critical thinking skills for situations that aren’t explicitly outlined in regulations or official guidance.
Other Lines of Effort for the Spouse Inclusivity MAWG included deliberate family onboarding and assignment location awareness for ACC Airmen.
“The Air Force places a huge demand on families,” she said. “How well we take care of the spouses and families directly impacts the service member, their work performance, mental health and whether they decided to stay in the Air Force.”
On May 21, Sword Athena MAWGs briefed senior ACC leadership on their LOEs.
Gen. Mark D. Kelly, commander of Air Combat Command, was the original thought leader in ACC on Spouse Inclusivity and asked the Sword Athena leadership team to focus on male and same-sex spouses. The team will continue to roll out the results over the next few weeks, and Kelly said while it could lead to uncomfortable conversations, it shouldn’t get in the way of what is right.
Chief Master Sergeant David W. Wade, ACC command chief master sergeant, echoed his support.
“I’m proud to be in ACC because it’s the best [major command] for 100 different reasons, but I’m proud to be in ACC today because of Sword Athena, and the work that you’re doing and what the team comes together to accomplish,” he said.
For Bissey, the extra hours and work that went into Sword Athena meant she could model the guiding principle Mission First, People Always.
“If I have the chance to make it better for someone else, then it makes it worth it for me to invest my time,” she said.