HAMPTON — Just as college freshmen often struggle being away from home for the first time, the same can be the case with military personnel.
To help those stationed at Joint Base Langley-Eustis make the adjustment a smoother transition, the City of Hampton, the Langley Civic Leaders Association and the base teamed up three years ago for an adopt-an-airman program called “Welcome Home to Hampton.”
“I would say it’s gone extremely well,” said Bruce Sturk, the director of Federal Facility Support for the city. “We feel it’s a worthy cause to take on, and the Air Force senior leadership and folks out at the base really believe that it’s a good program.”
The program, which officially launched in November 2015, provides airmen a home-away-from-home during their first enlistment in the military. In that time, they go through a first-term orientation course.
“When they are in the course, they get an opportunity to apply to this program,” said Sturk, who noted nearly 700 airmen are enrolled in that course every year.
After applying, the airman’s first sergeant or supervisor will review the application before passing it along. Anyone wanting to be a host must also go through an application process, making it easier to match hosts and military personnel with similar interests.
The program has accommodated about 120 military personnel in its three years, and Sturk said there’s usually a list of 10 or more airmen looking for hosts at any given time.
“I’ve got six airmen that we’re getting ready to notify their host that they’ve been paired with,” Sturk said. “There’s a need, more so on the community side, for host and host families to adopt these young men and women.”
Host and host families aren’t limited to residents of Hampton. Sturk said hosts also have been from Williamsburg, Newport News, Poquoson and York County. And hosts don’t have to be families. They can be individuals.
While the program is relatively new to Langley, it is not new to the military. And that’s how it ended up at Langley. A few years ago, a senior enlisted adviser who was familiar with a similar program approached Sturk about starting one at Langley.
“He said, ‘We’re interested in partnering with you all in a program that’s around the Air Force and a couple other locations,’” Sturk said.
“They’ve had a similar type program ever since its inception many years ago,” Sturk said of the Air Force Academy, which was established in 1954. “And we hear, through the grapevine and through officers that are assigned to Langley that have participated in the program, they’ve actually kept in touch with their host families 20 years after they’ve been in the Air Force.”
Sturk said without the program, the airmen might not get exposed to the local community.
“They live, eat and sleep and work on the installation,” he said. “And in many cases, during a 4-year or longer assignment, they might not even know that the city of Hampton exists just because they’re unable to get off the installation, for whatever reasons, and don’t get exposed to the community at large.”
Those off-base visits might consist of going to a movie, a sporting event or getting a home-cooked meal. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate.
Sturk said the best parts of the program are “the appreciation and the responses from both airmen and families about how much they appreciate being able to do things together, get to know each other, understand what airmen do for America and the service to their country. And the airmen, I’m sure, enjoy just getting away from their work environment outside the installation.”
Things have gone so well, that many hosts participate in the program more than once, coming back to Sturk and saying, “We had such a great experience with our airman that we’d like to adopt another one.”