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Home Away From Home Growing in Support

Linda and Hank Duncan, center, speak with two of their Airmen, A1C Albert (he goes by Thomas) McConnell, left, from the 552nd Training Readiness Squadron, and Amn. Karson Cyr, from the 552nd TRS. The Home Away From Home program currently has 138 active military participants and 61 active host families. For more information, visit www.teamtinkerhomeawayfromhome.org. Air Force photos by Kelly White/Released

Linda and Hank Duncan, center, speak with two of their Airmen, A1C Albert (he goes by Thomas) McConnell, left, from the 552nd Training Readiness Squadron, and Amn. Karson Cyr, from the 552nd TRS. The Home Away From Home program currently has 138 active military participants and 61 active host families. For more information, visit www.teamtinkerhomeawayfromhome.org. Air Force photos by Kelly White/Released

Front left, Amn. First Class Enzo Ocsas and front right, Amn. First Class Kellan Goins, both with the 72nd Operation Support Squadron, maneuver through an obstacle course while holding a raw egg during a Sept. 20 picnic for the Home Away From Home program.  Air Force photo by Kelly White/Released

Front left, Amn. First Class Enzo Ocsas and front right, Amn. First Class Kellan Goins, both with the 72nd Operation Support Squadron, maneuver through an obstacle course while holding a raw egg during a Sept. 20 picnic for the Home Away From Home program. Air Force photo by Kelly White/Released

Maria Baker, a host mother with the Home Away From Home program, poses for a picture at a recent picnic for the program with her “adopted” Airmen, left to right, Amn. Basic Nolan Switanowski, Amn. First Class Braden McGee, Amn. First Class Benjamin Pohl, Amn. First Class Kyle Long and Amn. First Class Jacob Lozano. All Airmen are with the 552nd Air Control Wing. Air force photo by Kelly White/Released

Maria Baker, a host mother with the Home Away From Home program, poses for a picture at a recent picnic for the program with her “adopted” Airmen, left to right, Amn. Basic Nolan Switanowski, Amn. First Class Braden McGee, Amn. First Class Benjamin Pohl, Amn. First Class Kyle Long and Amn. First Class Jacob Lozano. All Airmen are with the 552nd Air Control Wing. Air force photo by Kelly White/Released

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Tinker's Home Away From Home program has grown since its inception two years ago.

The program started after two young Airmen with the 552nd Air Control Wing were killed on Christmas night in 2011. During an awards banquet for the 552nd Air Control Wing, Pam Kloiber asked [then] Col. Greg Guillot, [former] commander of the 552nd ACW, if there was something more the community could do. Ms. Kloiber said the colonel didn't hesitate, saying he would like to have a sponsor program similar to what they had at the Air Force Academy. So, she simply said, "Let's do it!"

After many trials and tribulations, the program has evolved to one that is now a "best practice" for the Air Force. Ms. Kloiber said she's had at least six other bases call to find out how to start their own.

According to Ms. Kloiber, the HAFH program that started as a private organization is now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation with five board members, along with two military liaisons. Senior Master Sergeant Nathan Caldwell with the 752nd Operations Support Squadron and Master Sergeant Chris Peters with the 72nd Logistics Readiness Squadron are here to assist with the program.

"We're organized, and it is great," said Ms. Kloiber.

Through the program, community members provide a home away from home for Airmen and Sailors in their first years at Tinker. The host family serves as a mentor, friend and adviser. They also provide a caring environment where the troops can relax to get away from work pressures.

The Airmen and Sailors benefit from having positive adult interaction, and the host families serve as role models and help to reinforce positive social values.

"We serve first term Airmen and Sailors just out of basic training, single and living in the dormitories," said Ms. Kloiber. "Once the troop marries or changes duty station, they become alumni."  Several host families stay in touch even after they've become alumni -- the connection isn't broken.

She said each host family and Airman or Sailor fills out a questionnaire, so they can pair families with troops sharing similar interests. The official relationship lasts for the duration of the time the Airman or Sailor resides in the Tinker dormitories.

Ms. Kloiber added that so far 260 Airmen and Sailors have been mentored through the program. Currently, there are 138 active participants and 65 active host families.

Hank and Linda Duncan signed up to be a host family a few months ago. They now host six Airmen: Airman Thomas McConnell, Airman Karson Cyr, Airman 1st Class Jeremy Zapp, Airman 1st Class Ricky Jinenez, Airman 1st Class Benjamin Baumert and Airman Johnny Stone. Airman Baumert recently got married, so he will become an alum.

The Duncans have two grown children: Melissa, who attends Oklahoma State University, and Tyler, who is in the Air Force. Mr. Duncan, who is prior military, retired from the FAA a few weeks ago. Mrs. Duncan works for Deaconess Hospital as the chief clinical dietician.

"We are relatively new with HAFH, but we're glad we signed up," said Mr. Duncan. "It's really a two-way street in that we get as much, and perhaps more, out of our involvement with the program. I sort of expected that as an ex-Air Force man myself knowing we'd be associating with the cream of the crop. They're a great group of young men and we look forward to our continued association with them and others as time goes on." 

Senior Airman Maegan Phillips, an aviation resource manager with the 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron, is an active member of HAFH and agrees that it is very well worth it.

"I enjoy it a lot," said Airman Phillips. "It's like having an extended family. We get to go do things together like going out to dinner, Frontier City and we even attended an art show."

Airman Phillips said her host family, Mark and Sherri Alexander, is amazing. They have a son who is also in the military, though he's stationed elsewhere.

"I'd encourage anyone to definitely give the program a try," said Airman Phillips. "It will make you feel less excluded and have a family -- someone to joke around with and just hang out when you need it. It has definitely been a lift to my Air Force life."

Anyone looking to become a host family can visit
www.teamtinkerhomeawayfromhome.org to find out more information. All host families must sign a liability waiver and have a background check.