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Maxwell deployment programs support Airmen, families

Stepping off a C-130 at Maxwell Feb. 21,Tech. Sgt. Jeff Harris receives an enthusiastic welcome from his daughters, Amanda and Brittnie. Sergeant Harris was one of 60 aircrew and maintenance members of Maxwell’s 908th Airlift Wing that deployed for three weeks to Europe, flying missions out of Ramstein, Germany. An Air Force Reserve wing, the 908th flies and maintains eight C-130H aircraft. (Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Scott Moorman)

Tech. Sgt. Jeff Harris of the 908th Airlift Wing here gets a hug from his daughters Amanda and Brittnie after returning from an overseas deployment in February. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Scott Moorman)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- As the Air Force deployment tempo continues to surge forward, Airmen and families stationed at Maxwell have a variety of programs providing assistance during each phase of a deployment. 

"As the military continues to transform to meet unexpected and uncertain missions, the components of military family support must also change to meet the evolving needs of families," according to a 2004 Survey of Support for Military Families, conducted by the National Military Family Association, or NMFA. 

Pre-deployment
The Maxwell Airman and Family Readiness Center offers a variety of classes, briefings and services to assist Airmen and their families prior to, during and after a deployment. 

"We have a plethora of programs to assist the families and ease the burden of the military member being deployed," said Andrew Tveit, the A&FRC Family Readiness Coordinator. "The great thing about all of the programs we offer is that they are free of charge." 

One example is the "Before You Deploy" class. 

The class provides Airmen, spouses and family members the opportunity to prepare for a deployment as a team. The class spans a wide range of topics, such as: long distance communication, appropriate communication techniques with children and homecoming preparation. 

"The purpose of this class is to educate and empower families to stay healthy during and after a deployment life cycle," said Marie Hixon, A&FRC Personal and Family Life Education consultant. "It is a great way to let members and their families learn about what resources are available for them to help them through [deployment]." 

Participating in classes and attending briefings prior to a family member deploying can provide many benefits. 

"The more informed a family is and the more they work as a unit, the better they cope with the special challenges of a deployment," she continued. 

One Maxwell school provides support and recognition for their deploying Airmen with a visual reminder for those staying behind. 

The Ira C. Eaker Center for Professional Development, or ECPD implemented a deployment morale program with one flag flown for each Airman deployed in a central location in their building. 

"We hang the flags in our main ... entryway facing the Eaker Exhibit," said the ECPD Commander, Col. James Galloway. "This location is one that nearly everyone in the college passes several times per day. The flags serve as a visual reminder for how many of our Airmen are deployed and as a prompt to keep them and their families in thought." 

A small metal plaque attached to the flag is inscribed with the Airman's name, dates of deployment and location. The flag is hung and retired by the Airman during an "all-call," which all ECPD personnel and the Airman's family attend. At the retiring, the Airman is asked to share a deployment experience. 

"These flags serve as a visual reminder to those of us at Maxwell, and upon departure and return, bring special attention to the Airman for his or her contribution to the war effort," Colonel Galloway said. 

Deployment Support

During the course of a military member's deployment, the A&FRC and home units are postured to provide aid. "We are here for the life-cycle of the deployment of our troops," Mr. Tveit said. 

For example, the A&FRC can assist in coordinating free morale calls to keep families connected during a deployment. 

"We want our military members to understand they have a support system behind them that will support their families in their absence," Ms. Hixon shared. 

For those with children, the Air Force Aid Society, or AFAS, funded program, "Give Parents a Break," provides free child care twice monthly at the base child development or youth centers. The location is alternated between Maxwell and Gunter. 

Family members of Airmen deployed for more than 30 days, or assigned to a remote tour, are also eligible to receive a free oil change at the base Auto Hobby Shop through the AFAS-sponsored program "Car Care Because We Care." 

"If finances are an issue for deployed families, we have a trained financial planner on staff that can assist in creating a pre-deployment budget or assisting the spouse left behind if financial problems arise during the deployment," Mr. Tveit shared. 

Employment and volunteer opportunities on base and in the local community can be coordinated through the Employment Assistance consultant and the Volunteer coordinator. 

Home units can also provide assistance to the families of Airmen deployed. 

"Regular communication with both the deployed member and their family is the most vital thing a unit can do," said Senior Master Sgt. David Richerson, the Jeanne M. Holm Center for Officer Accessions and Citizen Development's first sergeant. "Without regular communication, the unit may miss an opportunity to help." 

The Carl A. Spaatz Center for Officer Education does just this to keep the lines of communication open. 

"We make, at minimum, monthly phone calls to the family when the member is deployed," said Master Sgt. Willie Fantroy, the Spaatz Center's first sergeant. "It is important to let deployed personnel know that we support them and wish them a safe return." 

In addition to providing assistance to families, home units also provide support to the deployed service member. 

"Our deployed members must feel they are not forgotten and that they remain part of the unit family ...," First Sergeant Richerson said. "While deployed, feelings of isolation can be all too real. If a deployed member needs some type of assistance they cannot get in-theater, or their family members need help, the unit must be there to support." 

Reunion 
With Airmen deploying in non-traditional roles, "... the concerns of our returning troops are changing," Ms. Hixon said. "We must be ready to address them and we must help the family members be ready to face these new challenges." 

To assist in combating these challenges, spouses are highly encouraged to attend post-deployment classes or seek counseling, such as "Preparing for Your Loved Ones' Return" prior to their Airman's return. 

With class offerings varied each month, the A&FRC is able to address evolving family concerns and needs. 

"We also offer numerous 'Family Fun' events throughout the year," Mr. Tveit shared. "In the past we have had a night with the Montgomery Biscuits, Breakfast with Santa, first-run movies at the base theater, bowling night and a magic show." Home units are also involved in the homecoming. 

"We make sure to meet our deployed personnel at the airport when he or she leaves and returns," First Sergeant Fantroy said. 

First Sergeant Richerson agrees. 

"Having a unit welcome home committee meet their returning personnel caps off a successful deployment very well," he added. 

With the support of home units and the A&FRC working in conjunction with base agencies, deploying Airmen and their families have numerous resources available. 

A&FRC officials remind everyone that in addition to deployment support, other services are available on a daily basis. 

"We encourage everyone, not just deployed members and families to visit the A&FRC to find out about all of the programs and opportunities available to them," Ms. Hixon said. 

According to the recent Air Force service demographic report dated June 30, there are 445,854 active-duty family members in the Air Force. 

For more information on classes or services offered by the Airman and Family Readiness Center, call (334) 953-2353.