The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Progress 2013

March 30, 2013

Taking care of the family

Airman & Family Readiness Center works with those deploying to try to limit stress

ENID, Okla. — Military families must deal with a number of difficult circumstances, among them frequent moves and postings that take them far from relatives and friends.

But the greatest hardship faced by military families is having a loved one deployed overseas.

To help make this difficult time easier, Vance Air Force Base’s Airman & Family Readiness Center has a number of programs available for deployers and their families.

Tech. Sgt. Amy Snyder, readiness non-commissioned officer with the Vance A&FRC, meets with airmen prior to their deployment. She has them fill out a form that not only includes information about their deployment — such as when, where and how long — but also about their families.

“They (the deploying airman) are going to have support down at their deployed location,” she said, “but we’re really trying to key in and make sure those spouses and those families are taken care of while they are gone.”

Snyder, a dental technician by trade, is the contact point for all deployers from Vance and their families, helping them prepare for deployment or cope with the inevitable things that crop up when a family member is deployed, like a leaky water heater or a faulty alternator.

“She’s got the keys to the kingdom,” said Angel Dominguez, community readiness consultant. “Sgt. Snyder can make anything happen at a moment’s notice.”

Snyder contacts family members of all deployed airmen to let them know everything that is available to them.

“We have a lot of really good resources,” said Snyder.

One of those involves making sure the children of deployed airmen get a good night’s sleep. The Readiness Emergency Sleeping Tool, or REST, is a pillow case with the deployed airman’s photo on it.

“It is a good way for them to be able to cuddle with the pillow or to be able to sleep at night and make it a little easier on the kids,” said Snyder. “Also it relieves the parents, too.”

A new program in the works is United Through Reading. Through the non-profit organization, deploying airmen are recorded reading books and their families given a copy of the DVD. As the children watch the video, their reaction is recorded and sent back to the deployed service member.

“That way the kids at home can put the disc in at night and see their mother or father reading to them,” said Snyder.

Vance A&FRC holds monthly Hearts Apart meetings and meals for families of deployed airmen. The spouses can compare notes and commiserate with their peers while their children do crafts under the supervision of A&FRC staff.

“We try to do that every month,” said Snyder. “That way they have an outlet, something they can look forward to every month.”

Also monthly are Single International Gourmet Meal Opportunities, or SIGMO. These are dinners open to all single airmen, plus families of those who are deployed or stationed in remote locations where families cannot accompany them. Each month, members of a different squadron volunteer to prepare and serve these meals, which are held in Vance’s Community Chapel Activity Center.

“They have some very elaborate meals,” Snyder said. “It’s just another opportunity for them to get out of the house and not to have to worry about dinner, just to be able to connect with other people.”

Snyder sends out a monthly e-mail newsletter keeping deployed family members apprised of what is going on not only on base but in Enid as well.

“We try to take the stress out for them,” said Snyder. “I really try to take the guesswork out and make it as easy as possible.”

Every fall, Vance A&FRC holds Operation Cookie Cutter, packing boxes with cookies and Christmas cards made by local children and sending them to deployed members. Last fall they sent out 38 boxes.

Vance A&FRC looks out not only for the families of airmen but of all deployed military members who have family in this area.

Children of deployed service members at Vance are honored annually as Hometown Heroes and presented with medals.

“It is very hard for a military child at times,” Snyder said. “We want to make sure that we can recognize them as much as possible. A lot of times it’s the little things that they do during the deployment that will keep a parent going.”

Squadrons of deployed airmen provide their own support for family members. The 71st Security Forces Squadron annually deploys the largest number of airmen from Vance.

“They have a magnificent resiliency team at security forces that helps out all the family members when their members are deployed,” said Dominguez. “The squadrons are very, very tight around this installation.”

Each squadron has a Key Spouse who serves as touchstone for all other spouses in the unit.

“Key spouses, they are so valuable to us,” said Snyder. “Sometimes there are things that are out of our hands, we’re unable to take care of it because of the situation, but those key spouses will step right in.”

One Vance Key Spouse, Anita Amador of 71st Medical Group, was recently named Key Spouse of the Year for Air Education and Training Command.

Prior to their deployment, airmen and their families are given a checklist to help them deal with all the different aspects of preparing to go overseas.

“It’s itemized, anywhere from documents to finances to taxes to comfort items,” Snyder said. “Anything you could possibly think of, we have it listed on there.”

Among the items provided is a spread sheet so the family can work out a budget, Snyder said.

“That’s really important,” Snyder said. “Take it from someone who’s had their spouse deployed before, the communication on who’s spending money, and when, is really huge. Creating a budget specific to deployment is really important.”

“It’s a step-by-step process of things they have to think about while they are deploying,” said Dominguez. “They’ve got to go through these lists and make sure everything is taken care of before they leave.”

The non-profit Air Force Aid Society provides funding for many of the programs offered by Vance A&FRC. One is Give Parents a Break, which opens the base Child Development Center once a month for free babysitting for spouses of service members who are gone for extended periods on deployments or temporary duty.

“It has come to a lot of people’s aid when you’ve just had a really long month and you have all these kiddos and you just need a break to yourself,” said Snyder.

Air Force Aid also funds the Car Care Because We Care program, which offers free oil and filter changes, lubrication and vehicle safety checks for spouses of airmen who are deployed or on remote tours.

“Deployers don’t have to worry about their family while they are downrange,” said Dominguez. “They know that their family is going to be taken care of.”

Military Family Life consultants are available to provide education and information to service members and their families to help them deal with various issues, she said.

When airmen return, Snyder gives them a post-deployment briefing during which she quizzes them on ways A&FRC can improve service to deployers and their families.

There also are classes and one-on-one sessions available for airmen who have returned from deployment to help them readjust to life back at home, Snyder said.

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