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Air Force programs help families rebuild post-Katrina

By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Sept. 22, 2005) -- Hurricane Katrina is long gone, but civilians and Airmen are still picking up the pieces of their devastated lives.

The Air Force helped many civilians in the aftermath of that storm, but it also made sure to take care of its own through Air Force OneSource, family and child development centers and the Air Force Aid Society, said Brenda Liston, Air Force family matters chief.

"The Air Force is providing more than half a million (dollars) in Air Force Aid Society assistance to bridge the time of need from the loss of whatever their home had, to reestablishing that home," Ms. Liston said. “We also are providing now, and have provided for weeks after the storm, meals in some of our family centers on base or at some of the recreation centers on base."

Ensuring families are taken care of is not only important to the families, but to accomplishing the Air Force's larger mission. Ms. Liston said she understand the Air Force's core value of service before self, but also understands that holding true to that value can be tough when balanced against concern for loved ones.

"I think we all know (Airmen) can't do their job the way they should if they are worried about their family," she said. "There is service before self, that has got to happen, and that is why we are here. But can you do it if you are worried about your family and their basic needs? There needs to be the Air Force concern and involvement."

Air Force officials are concerned and involved in the lives of families affected by Hurricane Katrina. Today, families who once lived at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., are scattered around the country, living in hotels, on Air Force bases or with relatives. Air Force programs support those displaced families with "safe-haven allowances."

A safe-haven allowance is special compensation the Air Force provides to families that are evacuated from an installation. The allowances help them find food and lodging in the aftermath of disasters like Hurricane Katrina. The amount of the safe-haven allowance is based on family size and other unique factors.

The security the allowances bring to a family allows Airmen to get on with the mission, knowing their loved ones are OK, said Senior Master Sgt. William Barauskas, Air Force chief of travel and contingency policy.

Airmen at home station are taking care of the mission and cleaning up while the family is taken care of at a safe haven, Sergeant Barauskas said. Families can receive the monetary safe-haven allowance for up to 180 days.

The vast network of family support centers at Air Force bases worldwide has also kicked in to help support displaced families of servicemembers. These centers help find clothing for families who may not have taken enough when they evacuated, and helped provide school supplies for children who must now return to a classroom in a new environment.

Through programs provided by base family support centers, child development centers and through the Air Force OneSource support line, Airmen and their families receive assistance on how to tap into resources available through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Air Force Aid Society and American Red Cross. Airmen can also learn how to file paperwork and submit claims to their insurance companies -- all programs designed to bring life back to normal.

"The Air Force takes care of (its) families," Ms. Liston said. "There is always a worry when you have a family and you can't be right there with them. But thank goodness we have so many resources to support those families."

Air Force OneSource is available anytime by phone in the United States at (800) 707-5784, internationally at (800) 7075-7844 or collect at (484) 530-5913. The program is also available in Spanish at (800) 375-5971 and to the hearing-impaired, via TTY/TDD at (800) 346-9188. Airmen may also visit the program Web site at www.airforceonesource.com. The site requires customers to log on by using “airforce” as the user ID and “ready” as the password.