459th ARW members bridge generations at Armed Forces Retirement Home

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Amaani Lyle
  • 459th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs Office
Decades since they faced and overcame the challenges of war, dozens of Armed Forces Retirement Home residents in Gulfport, Miss., couldn't have expected the events of Aug. 29, 2005.

By the time most of the world became aware of Hurricane Katrina's magnitude, the daylong cataclysm had already ravaged parts of Louisiana, Alabama and the Mississippi Gulf Coast - forcing the relocation of the facility's 400 residents to the alternate campus in the nation's capital.

More than a year later, members of the 459th Air Refueling Wing have forged new friendships with the displaced veterans and paid them a visit Nov. 16 to show gratitude for their service.

"We happily took on this project to 'adopt' the veterans who live here and have made such great sacrifices for our country," said Chap. (Lt. Col.) Greg Havrilak, 459th ARW chaplain. "It's an honor this holiday season to be able to meet with them and offer assistance through clothing, supplies, or simply quality time."

The chaplain joined Col. Stayce Harris, 459th ARW wing commander, Chief Master Sgt. Patti Hickman, 459th ARW command chief, and several other wing members to dispense goodie bags, exchange stories and provide a bit of musical nostalgia. Trombonist Senior Master Sgt. Ray Price, 459th Maintenance Squadron, played each service branch's anthem as spectators clapped or stood up to salute.

"There was really a sense of family and belonging here - it was wonderful to be able to play for them," Sergeant Price said.

As Congress develops plans for the design of a new AFRH facility in Gulfport, some residents said they're in no hurry to return.

"We already back home right here," said Bill Fink, who retired from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., in 1974. "The main reason a lot of us are here is because we can take care of ourselves."

AFRH Director Ben Laub agrees, and said flexibility is what distinguishes the facility from other homes.

"We call this a continuing retirement community," Mr. Laub said. "We provide our residents with different intensities of care based on their needs - so if you get temporarily sick, you can get the medical attention you need without changing your address."

Mr. Laub added that the 459th ARW's visit helped "maintain continuity, bridge generations and demonstrate the best that our country has to offer."

A retired senior master sergeant offered first-hand knowledge of generation continuity when he revealed a 1962 black-and-white photograph of him and fellow softball teammates from the now closed Wurtsmith Air Force Base, Mich.

William Sinott, a retired boom operator from the 920th Air Refueling Squadron, awed wing members with a picture of a jersey-clad Capt. Robert Maddox, father of the current 459th Operations Group commander Col. Robert Maddox.

Mr. Sinott described the elder Capt. Maddox as a "great guy who took his job seriously."

"He was one of the youngest pilots to fly the KC-135," Mr. Sinott said.

The 459th OG's Colonel Maddox has made previous visits to the home to meet with Mr. Sinott.

The Washington Campus is located just minutes from the White House, U.S. Capitol and other national landmarks. The home once housed four U.S. Presidents, including Abraham Lincoln.