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914th Airmen and Family Readiness wins DoD award

NIAGARA FALLS AIR RESERVE STATION, N.Y. --

When Ethan Saxby began as the Airman and Family Readiness director for the 914th Air Refueling Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, New York, in 2017, he said his only goal was to do everything he could for all Airmen. That his secret for success was communicating every opportunity to all Airmen, building a team with unique skills and following your gut.

"We were more proactive. We went to every squadron, and we had so many people come to us for help," said Saxby. "It was just about helping people and passing information as much as possible."

It's this attitude that helped Saxby and his team take home the Department of Defense 2019 Reserve Family Readiness Award, an award dedicated to recognizing the military's finest organization in command support, communication to the unit and family members, community outreach programs, technology and communication improvements, best practices and military to civilian transition services.

Saxby said the beginning of their success came after he hired a contracted financial manager, Chris Gibbas.

"We were a team--that's the important part," said Gibbas. "Financial readiness is mission readiness, so that's the part that I played."

Gibbas joined the Airmen and Family Readiness team in August of 2018 through Saxby. Gibbas was working with Zeiders Enterprise, which contracts with the Department of Defense. Gibbas said there are significant challenges from the Airmen's point of view they have to overcome.

"It ends up being debt management," said Gibbas. "A lot of Airmen face this challenge, and we counsel them on that. We pull their FICO credit score and come up with a plan to manage those debts to put them in a better financial situation."

Gibbas said they also encourage Airmen to start planning for retirement. In just one year, the Family Readiness team got 200 members revalidated or started on a Thrift Savings Plan and helped inform mid-career Airmen on several other financial programs. They also held monthly financial seminars during drill weekends for over 300 Airmen and their family members to attend.

Saxby has since moved on to become the Wing Manpower Officer and leads the Company Grade Officer Council. Saxby said the best piece of advice he learned during his three years as the director is that Airmen and Family Readiness is for everyone who is part of the station.

"Anytime you learn something at Airmen and Family Readiness," said Saxby. "Please pass it on. Don't hold onto that information even if you think it doesn't matter to anyone else. Everything helps."

The Secretary of Defense typically invites winners of the award to receive it at the Pentagon; however, due to COVID-19, they could not travel outside New York State. 914th Air Refueling Wing Commander, Col. Carl Magnusson presented the award during a commander's call in November.

"It would have been nice to go to the Pentagon to receive the award, said Gibbas. "That's just the reality of this COVID situation, but it's better to be safe than to risk an illness."

Gibbas added, this entire award is a testament to the whole team.

"Sure, I could have done a great job myself, but if I didn't have support from Ethan, the director of mental health, the chaplains," said Gibbas, "we never would have won this award. It was a team effort to pull all the pieces together and cover all the bases from mental health to financial health."