Air Force Assistance Fund helps Airmen in times of need

  • Published
  • By Col. Luke Closson
  • 51st Mission Support Group commander
Most of us can recall a day in our lives that we will never forget, be it a high school graduation, a wedding day, the birth of a child, or Sept. 11, 2001.

I have another day that I'll never forget - Jan. 6, 1994. It was on that day that, when faced with a tragedy, an Air Force Assistance Fund charity came to my unexpected aid.

I was a young captain at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., and it was an incredibly busy time at work.

The morning of Jan. 6 marked the first day of a deployment exercise before an operational readiness inspection. Sometime during the morning, I received a call from my wife with words I was prepared for, but not quite expecting at this point in her pregnancy. "Honey," she said, "I think I'm having contractions, so I'm heading to the hospital."

I still recall my exact words in reply. Quite regrettably, I remember telling her, "Honey, this is not a good time." Her dad was in town, and he would drive her to the hospital. So, since she didn't sound too concerned, I simply asked her to call me when she knew more.

The next call I received changed my life forever. It was then that I learned the doctors could no longer find the heartbeat of our baby.

While the days that followed were difficult to be certain, I can tell you that it was a period of incredible learning and grace in our lives. Quite unexpectedly, I also learned about the Air Force Assistance Fund and the Air Force Aid Society. Days after we left the hospital and days after our memorial service, we were left to cope and carry on with our lives. It was within days of returning home that I received a surprise phone call from an organization now called the Airman and Family Readiness Center.

The call lasted only a few minutes, but even today I respond emotionally when I think about that short phone call. As I recall, it started with condolences for our loss, and then the conversation quickly transitioned to finances. Specifically, I remember him simply asking me to bring the bill from the funeral home and letting me know that AFAS would pay the expense in full.

I was stunned. This wasn't an offer for a loan; it was a grant to cover the full expense.
To this day, I cannot recall the amount AFAS paid, all I can recall is their desire to help a hurting Airman and his family. It was simply an unexpected grant to an Air Force member in need. It was a grant that we didn't deserve and one which we would never be able to repay no matter how hard we tried.

Not surprisingly, Jan. 6 is a day of remembrance for my family every year. So too is the annual Air Force Assistance Fund kick-off event. Every year during the AFAF campaign, I am forced to stop and recall the wondrous gift I received nearly 20 years ago. It was simply a gift from one Airman to another. It was a gift I didn't expect and one I will never be able to repay.

Over the years, I've learned many lessons. Some lessons are learned the hard way. One of the best lessons I ever learned in my Air Force career was the services provided by our Airmen and Family Readiness Centers and the Air Force Aid Society through the Air Force Assistance Fund. AFAF and the four affiliate charities - AFAS, the Air Force Village, Air Force Enlisted Village, and the LeMay Foundation -- meet the needs of Airmen every day. It meets those needs in the form of loans, grants and living facilities when Airmen and their families are facing tragic events or have simply fallen on hard times.

As we enter this year's annual Air Force Assistance Fund campaign, I encourage you to give a little. I encourage you to give a lot. I encourage you to give with your heart to help Airmen in need. You will likely never know the impact of your contribution. However, I can assure you that those on the receiving end of those contributions will be blessed beyond measure and will be grateful for your generosity.

From this Airman, let me say on behalf of my family and every Airman who has benefited from the generosity of Airmen who have contributed to the AFAF -- thank you.