EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
A ghost town now exists at Eielson AFB where 300 families once lived.
Blanketed in several feet of snow, artic winter winds whistle through the solitary Sprucewood homes section of base housing. Before the bitter winter had set in, the more than 300 Airmen and their families called this area home.
Following a dispute with the owner of this privately owned housing area, the Air Force was facing a very tough decision.
"We couldn't reach an agreement with the homeowner, so we decided to vacate the 300-home development -- that involved 300 families," said Lorie Dallas, the chief of the Eielson AFB housing office. "So we had to reach out to them, talk with them and explain to them what was going on and find them a new home, and get it done quickly. This is part of our community. These are our families. So everybody wanted to make sure that it got done with the minimal amount of pain."
Beginning in August, the base housing office rolled up their sleeves and got busy. The first thing they did was concentrate on educating the community. The base had a town hall meeting that had more than 500 attendees. They also put their efforts into new education initiatives like creating a frequently asked questions pages and a dedicated Web site for the residents.
All these efforts were focused in on accomplishing one goal -- taking care of Air Force families.
"The Eielson community is really a family," Ms. Dallas said. "It was extremely important that we meet with every family, one-on-one, to identify their special needs. And ensure that we moved them into a new home that would work for their family."
One such family at Eielson AFB was the Bridges.
A day before returning home from seven-level school in Texas, Staff Sgt. Philip Bridges got the call that he and his wife, Jamie, and their two little girls, 2-year-old Liberty and then 2-month-old Lily, would have to move out of Sprucewood. The family also faced another challenge of military life.
"I was getting ready to deploy the first week in September," Sergeant Bridges said. "From the notification (to move) until my deployment, it was about two weeks."
Like other soon-to-be displaced families, the base housing office began immediately trying to meet the needs of the Bridges.
"It was a huge process," Ms. Dallas said. "Everybody was involved. The entire Air Force chain of command asked for weekly updates and made sure we had what we needed to get these families taken care of."
And the Bridges family did get taken care of before Sergeant Bridges' deployment. Now the family lives in a three-bedroom, three-story house with a garage, close to the Eielson AFB Child Development Center where Mrs. Bridges works.
"I believe, it was a Wednesday when they gave us the keys to the house and that Sunday was the day I was getting on the airplane to go TDY," said the fuels resource control center supervisor. "It was just non-stop go, go, go. We started packing just as soon as we knew we were going to have to move. Wednesday and Thursday was just a rush to get everything going."
But the base support didn't end when each Air Force family found a new home.
"It was truly a team effort -- neighbor helping neighbor was evident every day," Ms. Dallas said. "It was something really incredible to see something of this size come together so quickly. And it couldn't have happened with just (the housing office). It was everybody on base. It was master sergeants helping out senior airmen -- driving down the road, seeing a family in need and pulling over to help them. People were offering up trailers for DITY moves. It was wonderful."
"I was very impressed by the way that most of our neighbors and friends and family pitched in and helped me clean the house after (Philip) had left," Mrs. Bridges said. "We packed our boxes, moved to the house and everything else was left at the other house and I had to clean it. But I had three or four really good friends come over and help me clean the house, which was a really big help -- a very big help.
"All we were hoping for was a house similar to what we had," Sergeant Bridges said. "But, everybody pitched in. They made us dinner. They helped us move. Honestly, we couldn't have done it without the rest of our Air Force family."
As December came to a close, the last of the 300 displaced families at Eielson AFB found themselves in new homes. While the experience might have been chaotic and a bit stressful, these families still feel good about Air Force base housing.
"If we have to move while stationed here, I would have no pause about going down there," Sergeant Bridges said. "Those folks down there work hard and they have the best interests of troops and the families in mind. They do what they can for them. If we PCSed somewhere else and the housing offices are half of what the housing office is here, we will be in good hands."
"I think the Air Force takes pretty good care of its troops," Mrs. Bridges said. "If you look at any other branch of the military, it is kind of hard for the families. But, the Air Force takes care of family and I enjoy the Air Force because the Air Force makes you feel like a part of a great big family."
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