Homefront Help

November 17, 2008

Homefront Help is SIGNAL Connections’ effort to support U.S. service members, veterans and their families. The column highlights programs that offer resources and assistance to the military community ranging from care packages to benefits and everything in between. In that same spirit, Homefront Help presents opportunities for readers to donate time, offer resources and send words of thanks to those who sacrifice for freedom. Programs that provide services are listed in red. Opportunities for the public to reach out to service members are listed in blue. Each program description includes a link to the organization's Web site, when available. 

The Army and Air Force Exchange Service (AAFES) offers a wealth of resources—some of which have been featured in this column before—for the military community and offers many programs for the public to support its freedom fighters. One of the classic ways the organization enables citizens to reach out to warfighters is through its gift cards and exchange catalog gift certificates. Anyone can purchase these items and send them to a specific military member or designate them for any service member, including injured warriors, for distribution by a service organization. AAFES is offering free shipping on the cards as well to avoid extra costs.

Anyone also can send Gifts from the Homefront certificates to military members—again to specific or “any” warfighters. These certificates are available in some lower and different amounts than the other gift certificates and cards, and they do involve a shipping fee. Gift cards and both types of certificates are redeemable at any AAFES as well as Navy and Marine Corps exchanges. The Gifts from the Homefront also are valid at the Coast Guard Exchange, and the catalog gift certificates can be redeemed for merchandise from the exchange catalog. All forms of cards and certificates can be purchased and sent through the AAFES Web site, via links on the home page.

For folks more interested in helping service members reach out and touch their loved ones, AAFES offers phone cards that are operable from Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. People not authorized to shop at military exchanges can view a comparison chart of how much each call costs per minute based on minutes purchased and can buy cards online; authorized exchange shoppers can purchase the cards through the online store.

AAFES does its own part to help the troops beyond asking the public to donate. The Web site includes a PCS Headquarters where military members and their families can find various resources on moving to a new assignment. The site includes a Patriot Family Connection area, which features military-themed contests and activities. Coupons, disaster preparedness information, sweepstakes and other helpful, eclectic items also are posted.

Compensation and Benefits Handbook
In another example of how the military community can receive help through military organizations, the U.S. Defense Department has released a comprehensive handbook outlining compensation and other benefits service members and their families are entitled to after separating or retiring from the military because of serious injury and illness. The departments of Veterans Affairs, Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, as well as the Social Security Administration, cooperated on the book’s development. Information about assistance from other governmental and nongovernmental organizations also is included.

The handbooks are available in hard copies and electronic versions. Both provide Web sites and toll-free numbers for more help and assistance, and the electronic publication includes hyperlinks. The hard copy will be updated annually and the electronic copy will be updated frequently.

Free YMCA Memberships for Military Families
Families of deployed members of the National Guard, Reserve and active duty service members on independent duty and their families are eligible for free family memberships at participating YMCAs in their local communities. The free memberships for Guard and Reserve families are available when service members are deployed for at least six months, and the deploying family member is eligible for a three-month pre- and post-deployment membership. Active duty families assigned to independent duty stations and not receiving support from the service component also are eligible at participating locations. While memberships are free, some classes may have costs associated with them, which military members must pay.

In addition to free memberships, 32 hours a month of no-cost respite child care is available for families of deployed National Guard and Reserve members and geographically dispersed active duty service members in 10 states with YMCA child care programs preapproved by the U.S. Defense Department. Those states are Indiana, Maryland, Montana, North Carolina, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington. The Defense Department is working with the Armed Services YMCA to expand this offering.

Active duty families at select bases also are eligible as part of a pilot program for free memberships on a first-come-first-served basis with between 300 and 450 memberships available per location. The select stations are: Lackland Air Force Base (AFB), Randolph AFB and Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Langley AFB, Fort Myer and Henderson Hall, Virginia; McChord AFB and Fort Lewis, Washington; Fort Carson, Colorado; Pearl Harbor and Hickam AFB, Hawaii; Naval Weapons Station Charleston, South Carolina; McGuire AFB, Fort Dix and Lakehurst Naval Air Engineering Station, New Jersey; Anacostia Naval Air Station and Bolling AFB, Washington, D.C.; Elmendorf AFB and Fort Richardson, Alaska; and Andrews AFB and Naval Air Facility Washington, Maryland.

A completed eligibility form, a copy of deployment orders (where applicable) and a military identification card are all that are needed for local YMCAs to process memberships. The YMCA/DOD eligibility form and more information are available by choosing a military branch at this link


The SIGNAL Connections staff encourages readers to take advantage of the programs mentioned in this column and to pass along the information. In addition, if you know of a program that is helping service personnel, please let us know about it. Submit that information to SIGNAL's news editor.

The SIGNAL Connections staff has made every effort to verify the legitimacy of these programs and to include information accurate at the time of publication. Inclusion in this column does not constitute an endorsement by AFCEA International or SIGNAL Connections.

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