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Team McConnell helps Vets 'move on'

Christian Peel and his father, Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peel, 931st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production superintendent, carry part of a bedframe for a veteran moving into new housing in Wichita, Kan., March 19, 2015. McConnell Airmen, the Robert J. Dole Veterans Administration Medical Center and His Helping Hands, a local non-profit, are all working together to end veteran homelessness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Abigail Klein)

Christian Peel and his father, Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peel, 931st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron production superintendent, carry part of a bedframe for a veteran moving into new housing in Wichita, Kan., March 19, 2015. McConnell Airmen, the Robert J. Dole Veterans Administration Medical Center and His Helping Hands, a local non-profit, are all working together to end veteran homelessness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Abigail Klein)

Volunteers from McConnell arrange furniture into the back of a truck outside of a warehouse at His Helping Hands, a local non-profit that distributes household items to families in need in Wichita, Kan., March 5. The VA in Wichita works with His Helping Hands to provide household goods for homeless veterans as part of their initiative to end homelessness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Abigail Klein)

Volunteers from McConnell arrange furniture into the back of a truck outside of a warehouse at His Helping Hands, a local non-profit that distributes household items to families in need in Wichita, Kan., March 5. The VA in Wichita works with His Helping Hands to provide household goods for homeless veterans as part of their initiative to end homelessness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Abigail Klein)

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 another base.

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 times.

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 veterans.

"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.

"It was 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 difference."

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 said.