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Base leadership holds forum to learn how they can help families of deployed

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Base leadership held two town hall meetings Feb. 13 for families of deployed servicemembers to learn what they could do to make their time apart easier.

It has been over 30 days since approxiomately 450 Airmen departed Misawa Air Base and headed to Iraq. The town hall meeting was chaired by the Col. T.J. O'Shaughnessy, 35th Fighter Wing commander. Group and squadron commanders and first sergeants as well as base staff agencies had people available to answer questions, alleviate concerns and educate audience members about programs designed to help them.

"We're here to help," said Colonel O'Shaughnessy. "We want to understand the trials and tribulations you are going through. There are so many good programs out there, don't be shy about asking for help ... because there is an entire base of folks who want to help."

The assembly started off with Patricia Johnson, Airman and Family Readiness Center, introducing the commanders, Navy Capt. Peter Rush, Naval Air Facility commander and Chief Master Sgt. Jack Adams, acting 35th Fighter Wing Command Chief. She then handed the microphone over to Maj. Tim Sites, 35th Services Squadron, to talk about some of the programs and special deals available to the families. Some of the programs mentioned include the AEF passport program, which offers discounts and free services to families of the deployed members.

"We try to give you options to get you out of the house, to see the local community and keep you engaged," said Major Sites. Other programs mentioned included the free returning home care, the "Give Parents a Break" night, the Spouses Connection e-newsletter, education and volunteer opportunities.

Once the first question was received, more questions on several different topics, mostly in writing, came flooding in. Most questions were submitted in writing, on a range of topics.

Some of the questions included guidance on road taxes to how many morale calls were allowed each week. Spouses of deployed members are authorized two 15-minute calls per week. The calls are made through the base operator, and your unit must submit an authorization letter to the 35th Communications Squadron in order for you to make morale calls. Because of the limited bandwidth downrange, it is preferred to have active duty members initiate the calls with their spouse back at Misawa.

Aomori and Misawa City tax officials set up tables at the Mokuteki Community Center to assist vehicle owners with their mandatory road tax, so they don't have to travel to the Hachinohe Tax Office. Anyone unable to pay the tax due to duty commitments or leave may have someone accomplish this for them. No power of attorney is required. For more questions and answers, go to www.misawa.af.mil and click on the "Questions" tab at the top of the homepage.

As the forum rounded the first 90 minutes, spouses began to feel more comfortable and began voicing concerns. A few actually said it was hard to ask for help at times, citing pride and feeling silly.

"It's really, really hard," said April Tockey, wife of Staff Sgt. Jereme Tockey, 35th Maintenance Squadron, who is deployed to Iraq. "I have to make an effort every day to reach out. It's the little things that make me feel silly to ask for, but it's the little things that my husband would do."

Several people suggested readiness assistance volunteers, first sergeants or other people in the squadron be proactive and offer to assist without waiting until the spouse needs help.

Col. Rusty Cabot, 35th Operations Group and Col. Cedric George, 35th Maintenance Group commanders, took a few minutes to assure the group that their spouses are doing well downrange.

"The guys are doing what they have been trained to do," said Colonel Cabot. "They are doing it in an outstanding fashion."

Colonel George said he receives photographs through e-mail from the Airmen and is in contact with them daily.

"They are doing great," said Colonel George. "We are proud of them."

Before closing the morning town meeting, Colonel O'Shaughnessy dispelled a rumor that the Airmen currently deployed will not be given compensation time when they return.

"That is not true," he said. "I don't know where that started." The colonel informed the audience Pacific Air Force Command allows anyone deployed to the area of responsibility to receive one day of rest for every six days deployed not to exceed 14 days.

In closing, the installation commander had a few words to say.

"I want to thank you for coming out and spending the time today," said Colonel Shaughnessy. "We are an Air Force family; we want to take care of our own."

For more information what is available to help families, call the Airman and Family Readiness Center at 226-4735.