More than 50 first-term airmen arrive at Joint Base Langley-Eustis every month (about 600 per year), and for a lot of them, this is the farthest they’ve ever been away from their homes and support systems.
As a career assistance adviser at JBLE, MSgt. Brent Likes teaches the First Term Airmen Course to assists them with their in-processing and as an introduction to the base and the area. He’s one of the first people these airmen see when they arrive from basic and tech school training.
With few connections in the area, Likes said some of the new military members, typically between 18 and 22 years old, tend to become confined to their work centers and their dorm rooms without ever leaving the base’s gates.
It’s part of the reason there’s a poster hanging on the classroom’s wall with a smiling young airman with a new “adopted family.”
“I [tell the airmen] if you’re in the dormitories and find that you want more out of your assignment than simply the few square miles of Langley Air Force Base, there are civic-minded individuals in the community who have a heart for young people and…they are willing to host you, show you the area, and share their homes,” he said.
In a partnership with the city of Hampton, Likes along with Bruce Sturk, the city’s director of federal facilities support, have recently revitalized the “Adopt an Airman” program and are matching first-term airmen with volunteer host families in the community.
The two coordinators meet periodically or when they have enough applications to pair airmen looking for a “home away from home” with families based on factors like interests, hobbies, and even the practicality of being able to meet, Likes said.
Building relationships outside of the military while helping them to explore Hampton Roads are all factors Likes said play a part in an airman’s connection to their service.
“It can even increase their patriotism, increase their feeling of connectedness with the population they serve, not just as a job they’re doing, but gives them a sense it’s a calling and service…they’re connected to the community they serve,” he said.
Launched in November 2015 and in association with the Langley Civic Leaders Association, Adopt an Airman has successfully matched more than 200 airmen with families in Hampton who have the opportunity to work with local neighbors at Joint Base Langley-Eustis and, according to the website, “meet first hand our fine young Air Force men and women…the air and space leaders of tomorrow.”
And while some airmen find reaching out to contact a stranger socially intimidating or “like a blind date,” Likes said he encourages them to at least try, noting he wished he would’ve had the courage to participate in a similar program as a new airman.
He also said there are plenty of airmen who do have an interest and follow through with filling out the application for Adopt an Airman.
In the coming months, Likes and Sturk are sitting down to match at least six more airmen with one of the eight families who’ve been vetted and cleared to adopt. But they’re hoping more families would apply in light of the 594 more first-term airmen who’d benefit.
Likes said the positive impact is significant for the airmen who become connected to their service and local families who when it’s time for their adopted airman to move to a new duty station, feel as if they’re saying “goodbye” to a family member.
“That’s the kind of feedback we get even though it’s a small number in the community and in the Air Force who are affected by the program, the benefits are definitely worth our time to continue this program,” he said.
For more information or to become a host family for a first-term airman at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, click here.