HILL AIR FORCE BASE — New Airmen hit the ground running when they are stationed at Air Force bases across the country and the realities of life with a new job in new territory hit full force, but Air Force leadership are hoping they have an easier transition with the Adopt-an-Airman Program, started nearly a year ago with a nationwide mandate.
Twenty-four Airmen newly stationed at Hill Air Force Base met with volunteer mentors last week as part of the on-going program through the First Term Airman Center and spent an afternoon asking a host of questions, ranging from how to get transportation after a party, how to navigate medical issues with their health insurance, setting up finances, and even what to see and do in the area, including how to handle the bases’ pressurized bubble for fitness.
Several of the mentors expressed how beneficial a program like this would have been when they were transitioning into military life.
When Staff Sgt. Robin Hughes finished her technical school training, she was immediately put into a combat readiness course, sleeping in a tent with her fellow military members. “We were our own support team, but it would have been helpful to have something like this,” said Hughes, who has volunteered to be a mentor several times for new Airmen. “The Air Force tells us what they feel is important, but it’s nice to talk with others and talk about what you think is important.”
While some mentors played basketball or walked around the block discussing the nuances of life in the Air Force, Master Sgt. Christ Gibson, who helps oversee the program at Hill AFB, has seen the impact it makes on new Airmen.
“We want to get them on the right foot so they can be successful. Many of them have just come out of their mom and dad’s house and are still growing, and in the process of transitioning, coming to a new base, they may be uneasy. I wish I had this many years ago, learning from mentors on how to get involved and not get into trouble,” Gibson said. “They get a giant tool box of stuff to use, and hopefully they choose to use it, and get them away from going the wrong direction.”
Staff Sgt. Kenneth Thomas talked to his new adopted Airman, Jordan Connor, about the importance of getting his finances in order immediately. When Thomas finished his college degree before entering the military, he was impressed with the classes teaching new Airmen about finances. “In college, they don’t teach you how to do your finances. You just go to school, and they demand payment. Finances gets people in trouble, besides drugs and assault, because if you have debt or other finance issues, it is a clearance killer,” Thomas said, which is something new Airmen don’t necessarily think about up front. He talked to Connor about setting up funds in a health savings plan, as well as setting up an emergency fund and living within his means.
Zackery Stevens, who hails from a small town in Michigan with less than 300 people, said it was a shock coming to an area with so many people. As his mentor Jennifer Winkels, a surveyor on base, talked about the various gyms on and off base, Stevens was impressed with the variety, having come from an area that had no gyms.
“I am definitely getting more of an insight of the base and the surrounding area, and I’m enjoying the more relaxed feeling here versus technical school where they were on us constantly,” Stevens said.
Prior to meeting with their mentors, new Airmen receive training focusing on finance management, base services, and furthering their education and training. Once Airmen are paired up with mentors from different job assignments on base, they have a support system on base they can reach out to regularly.
“There may be things they may not be comfortable asking their team, so this creates an outlet for them, and lets them know that we aren’t scary,” Hughes said, remembering when she first entered the military being nervous around higher ranking officers.