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COMMENTARY: Feeling at home at my first base

COMMENTARY: Feeling at home at my first base

Airman 1st Class Sydney Campbell, third from left, 2nd Bomb Wing public affairs photojournalist, Sara Halphen, second from left, Roots for Boots host mom, and other Airmen pose for a photo at a bridal boutique in Minden, La., June 24, 2017. Campbell joined the Roots for Boots program and now has a host family at her first duty station, Barksdale Air Force Base, La. (Courtesy photo)

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- When I arrived at Barksdale in March 2017, I was thousands of miles away from my home and family. I’m familiar with the military lifestyle because my mother is an active duty Airman, but nothing could have prepared me for the depression and loneliness I often found myself feeling.

I found myself alone, in my dorm, crying about me being in the military. Not because I regretted my decision, but because I didn’t have anyone to hug or laugh with. I didn’t have someone there to celebrate my accomplishments with and it felt like I had no one.

After my first few weeks on base I went to the First Term Airmen Course (FTAC). During FTAC we were briefed on many different programs and organizations around the base. One that stood out to me was a sponsorship family program, Roots for Boots. A seargent briefed us on the program and asked if anyone wanted to join. I hesitantly raised my hand because I didn’t really know what would come of something like this, but I wanted to at least try it. I filled out a questionnaire that made me feel like I was joining a dating website. It asked me about my religion, interests and likes. I handed it back to the sergeant and went on not thinking much of it.

A few weeks later I got an email from 1st Lt. Molly McAuliff, Roots for Boots coordinator, asking if I could attend a meet and greet for Airmen and their new sponsor families. When the day came I went, still not knowing what to expect, but I am very glad I took that small leap into the unknown.

The Halphen’s, my local area family sponsor, stepped up to be there for me when my family couldn’t. I no longer had to worry about being alone. Obviously no one can replace my family, but I am thankful there is a program in place to allow local families to give back and support young Airmen.

The Halphen’s took me into their home and treated me like family, they made me home cooked meals and we hung out.

Being a part of something that gives me a break from the military has really helped me not feel alone here at Barksdale. I know there are thousands of agencies out there to help people who may be sad, hurting and depressed, but nothing comes close to a hug from someone who cares about you. I never knew these strangers would have this big of an impact on my life.

Sara Halphen, my host mom, has stepped up more than once to be the mother figure I’ve needed her to be.

I have had times were I did something great at work and my family was unable to celebrate with me. In these situations, I would call Sara up and share the good news and she would be just as happy for me as my own parents.

One time back in June of 2017, Sara stepped up in a big way and helped me more than I could have ever asked for.

I got engaged and needed to go wedding dress shopping. I kept putting it off so my mom could fly out and go with me but as time passed, the date got closer and closer, and I came to terms with the fact that I was just going to have to find a dress on my own. At a time when I should be the most joyous, I was again saddened by the fact that my family was thousands of miles away.

Thankfully, Sara stepped up and helped me find a bridal boutique and made all the arrangements. She helped me find the dress I would walk down the aisle in and I even got the opportunity to facetime my mom so she could still be a part of the experience.

I would have loved for my mother to have been there in person, but I am so glad I had Sara to help me through the process and be like a mother and a friend.

I have had such an amazing personal connection and experience with the Halphens and the Roots for Boots program. For other Airmen who are currently in the situation I was once in, I would encourage them to take the step I made and contact McAuliff at molly.mcauliff@us.af.mil to join Roots for Boots. Families that wish to support Airmen through this program can reach out to her as well.