Team McConnell helps Vets 'move on'
By Tech. Sgt. Abigail Klein, 931st Air Refueling Group Public Affairs
/ Published March 24, 2015
MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. -- When it comes to
assisting local Veterans find a place to live, Melissa Hodge, a social worker
from the Robert J. Dole Veteran's Administration Medical Center in Wichita,
knows that Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peel, 931st Aircraft Maintenance, is only a
phone call, or text message, away.
For the past few years, Peel and
Hodge have been assisting veterans to find a place to live. To help furnish the
veteran's new surroundings, they have collaborated with His Helping Hands, a
local non-profit agency that provides household items for individuals and
families. Peel began organizing and managing the volunteers for the moves last
year, after the original manager, Master Sgt. Stephen Hedden, transferred to
According to the VA website, www.va.gov, the agency served
more than 240,000 veterans who were "homeless or at-risk of becoming homeless"
in 2012. The site states the VA identified more than 62,000 homeless veterans in
January 2012. With statistics like that, it's not difficult to surmise there
are a significant number of veterans who have fallen on hard
Fortunately, Peel and his team McConnell Airmen volunteers are
combating this statistic, one "move" at a time.
Each week, Peel sends
out an email to enlist volunteers from the base. Usually, about ten volunteers,
both Reservists and active duty, are used for each move, which includes a
furniture pickup from the His Helping Hands Warehouse, and then transferring and
loading that furniture to the veterans' new home, which is coordinated through
Hodge and the local VA.
Hodge, is one of eight social workers at the VA
in Wichita. She says the agency is continuing to make improvements to assist
homeless veterans, but there are always challenges. Since becoming involved
with the program, McConnell has enhanced Hodge's efforts with homeless
"Prior to McConnell's involvement, we were moving veterans on
our own and it would take us all day long because we had to find a truck and
make several trips back and forth because we didn't have enough people," Hodge
said. "Without their help, we can only move one veteran per week. [McConnell]
has tripled our efforts."
Peel is invested into the program; he often
enlists the help of his sons to help with the moves, and was even able to
maintain the program while he was deployed this past month.
difficult to maintain during a deployment; I mostly had to organize the moves
through emails," said Peel. "It's that important to keep this programs going,
especially for the Airmen because it shows the need for the older veterans and
gives them a sense of community and belonging to know that they are making a
Fortunately, when Peel deploys again this fall, Master Sgt.
Darrin Bang, 22nd Aircraft Maintenance Group production superintendent, will
continue to act as a liaison for Hodge, arranging volunteers for the moves.
Bang has already been able to assist Peel in organizing volunteers from the
active duty. He got involved because he liked the intention of the program, and
also wanted to help veterans.
"It's important to help them because a lot
of them don't have the means to do this, not just having a truck, but also
having the help," said Bang.
Despite the challenges of maintaining the
program, Peel is confident the program will continue in the future, further
benefitting veterans who have fallen on hard times.
"Doesn't matter the
weather, or if we have people deployed, we always show up," he