Helping families of deployed Airmen

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. - -- The holidays are rapidly approaching. For most people that means joyous times with family, but for many members of Team Tyndall, a part of their family is missing.

Tyndall recently deployed more than 200 Airmen to serve their country, leaving family and loved ones behind. This can seem like an overwhelming task but the Airman and Family Readiness Center with help from Team Tyndall and the local community hope to make it a little bit easier.

"Military members are the reason we have the freedoms that we enjoy in this country, and they make sacrifices for us all the time, especially during deployments," said William B. Fenimore, Bay County Chamber of Commerce chairman. "Extended separations are difficult at any time, and in my opinion we should do everything in our power as a community to support the families of deployed military members."

That is where Tech. Sgt. Lloyd Estes, 325th Force Support Squadron readiness NCO, and the Airman and Family Readiness Center come into play. They have several programs in place that ensure these families are not overlooked.

"I want to make sure those families are taken care of as much as possible and not forgotten," said Estes. "If they have any questions or any needs, we want to get them support as quickly as possible rather than them struggle the whole time not knowing that we have a program for this problem they have."

The biggest of these programs is Hearts Apart. It is mostly geared towards families of deployed Airmen with children with the AFRC hosting parties and movie nights for them. The Morale Calls system is also part of this program and allows family members stateside to call a loved one that is deployed.

Additionally, the AFRC works with agencies on base to provide these families with services like: Car Care Because We Care, a free oil change at the auto hobby shop and Give Parents a Break, four hours of free child care once a month at the child development center.

The AFRC and the Military Affairs Committee are looking for ways to create more community involvement for the struggling families.

"The MAC serves as a liaison between the civilian and military community and is involved with Family Readiness to help with the deployment support, due to the increase in deployments at the base," said Theresa Moran, Bay County Chamber of Commerce Governmental Affairs vice president. "Support from the community while a family member is deployed can help tremendously, especially to those families living off base. It makes them feel like part of the community and like they are able to ask for help."

Through a private organization called Friends of Family Support* the AFRC accepts donations that help its programs such as Hearts Apart.

"Anything donated through that organization is used specifically for military families," said Estes.

For the Hearts Apart parties, gift baskets, gift cards, sporting equipment, and other things that can be used as door prizes are always needed as an incentive to bring people out, as well as bags of candy to serve as prizes for the children's games.

The AFRC are also looking for venues off base to host the parties.

"Right now we do the parties on base for free with donations for food as much as possible, but the number of participants has grown. In the future, we are looking for other locations and businesses to host these parties," said Estes.

The AFRC also had a program where they would take a pillowcase and transfer an image of a deployed parent on them for their children, but due to lack of funds and supplies they have not been able to do it. If people donated the transfer paper and pillow cases the AFRC could bring the program back and hand out the pillow cases to the children at the Hearts Apart Wholiday Party so they could have their parent with them while they sleep.

For the spouses of the deployed Airmen that do not have children, local restaurants could set aside one day a month to give them a group discount becoming a location they can go to meet together in a support group fashion to spend time with others who are dealing with similar difficulties, said Estes.

"Military members and their families sometimes don't understand all of the support that the community gives, as they tend to stick to the base," said Moran. "They can find out more about the local community by visiting the Bay County Chamber of Commerce to see what the area holds for them."

The AFRC's next big event will be the Hearts Apart Wholiday Party from 5p.m. to 8p.m. Dec 5 at the Annex, 756 Airport Rd. Panama City, FL 32405.

To donate to any program in the article, volunteer, get more information on how to help or suggest ideas for new programs contact Tech. Sgt. Lloyd Estes at (850)-283-4856 or the AFRC at (850)-283-4204.

*The Friends of Family Support, is a private organization. It is not a part of the Department of Defense or any of its components and it has no governmental status.