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Military families open hearts, homes to foster children

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Danielle Wolf
  • 442nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The 442nd Fighter Wing is all about family.

Not only do these reservists respect and honor each other, but also they have supported each other's families and the surrounding communities for years. A few members of the 442nd Fighter Wing have responded to a calling within those communities that few have the courage to do.

These Citizen Airmen are foster and adoptive parents who are unique; they are amicable and selfless, and have sacrificed for their families.

Senior Airman Tracy Brown is a weapons loader with the 442nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron. As a civilian, she works at Show Me Youth Christian Home in La Monte, Mo.

The home is a non-profit organization that serves the community by fostering children long-term. The children are placed by the state and child services.

There are six homes owned by the organization, all of which have a housemother and a housefather -- except for Senior Airman Brown's household. Although she is not married, the staff at Show Me Home is confident she is able to care for a family on her own. She works in the office during the day assisting with administration and cares for as many as five children at a time.

Senior Airman Brown's day begins at 5:30 a.m. After she gets ready, she wakes the children by 6 a.m. They have breakfast as a family before doing devotions and daily chores. By 8 a.m., the children are on their way to school, and Senior Airman Brown heads across the street to the organization's office for work. After school, the routine is very similar. There is time for homework, chores, a family dinner and individual time with each child before bed.

As a Citizen Airman, there are a few times Airman Brown remembers the children being a little nervous around her.

"Initially they were scared of me," she said. "They had never met anyone in the military before, so they thought I would be mean.

In addition to serving in the Air Force Reserve, Airman Brown has won weapons safety airman of the year and load crew of the quarter. She would make any recruiter proud.

"At first they would tell the other kids that I made them do push-ups all night long," she said as she laughed. "But now I show them pictures and my award, which is up in my room, and we talk about the military."

Airman Brown said that for children who aren't around the military, their view of it can be very skewed by what they've seen on television.

"When they saw me in uniform, I think they were scared because they think of killing and guns," she said. "But it's not like that at all It's about helping people."

Although she said she loves her family at Show Me Home, Airman Brown has always wanted to serve the Air Force on a deployment.

"We talk about deployment openly," she said. "They know I want to go on one, and it worries them. But I tell them I'm not afraid, which is the truth, and I think that assures them a little bit.

"I encourage my kids to talk to me about the military," Airman Brown said. "Most of them don't have (biological) families, so they may not have a bright future automatically. I encourage them to think about the Air Force, because it would give them consistency, which is what they really need."

Already, her children have developed a respect for the military, based on their experiences with Airman Brown.

"Their demeanor changes when I'm in uniform," she said. "They need good role models, and I think we provide that, even if we only get to make an impact briefly."

Tech. Sgt. Eric Anderson, a 442nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, agrees that children need good role models. For the last few years he and his wife have been foster parents to several children.

They began fostering after caring for a friend's child for an extended period.

"My wife was working with a lady who was working three jobs," Sergeant Anderson said. "She had a 2 or 3-year-old baby girl, and we started to babysit a lot."

After a while, the Andersons started taking care of her full time, and eventually opened their home to the child's mother.

"We knew fostering was something we'd like to do," he said. "So we started the 12-week training classes."

Although a Base Realignment and Closure action ended his assignment in Oregon, the Andersons were able to complete their course in Missouri.

"At first we were just thinking, 'We'll foster one kid,'" he said. "But then the lady said they had a little boy for us, and he had a brother. They were going to put him in another home, but we didn't want them to be separated, so we just took in both of them."

The boys, who were 2 and 4 years old at the time, quickly became part of the family, but they weren't the only ones. A short time later, the Andersons had a few more additions to their family.

"I came home from work one day and my wife told me to close my eyes. I thought she had brought home a puppy or something," he said with a laugh. "So I sat down and she said, 'Hold your arms out,' I did and she put something in my arms. I didn't know what it was, but I knew it wasn't a puppy."

Sergeant Anderson's wife had placed a two-week old baby girl in his arms. The baby wasn't alone; she had a 1-year-old brother as well.

So for months the Andersons cared for the four children and eventually a fifth, until the baby and her brother were adopted.

"We still see her from time to time, and she runs up to us and gives us a hug," he said. "We have pictures of her on our phone and everything."

As for the brothers, "They just seemed to fit in so well with our family," Sergeant Anderson said. "So we decided to adopt them."

The family integration hasn't come without its challenges.

"At first they didn't show a lot of emotion," Sergeant Anderson said. "But now they reach out for you and hug you."

Russell, who is now 5 years old, is Sergeant Anderson's little helper.

"He always wants to do whatever I'm doing," Sergeant Anderson said. "The other day he asked me if I would take him to work, he said, 'I like airplanes!'"

The Andersons know that an extended period away from the children would be difficult for the family. But Sergeant Anderson knows that deployment is a not foreign concept to reservists in the 442nd.

"When I go to work, Russell always asks if I'm coming back," he said. "Day to day, I have to assure him that, 'Yes, I'm coming back.' A deployment right now definitely wouldn't be easy, but we'll deal with it when it happens."

Sergeant Anderson said a great deal of his military training has been helpful in his role as a father. Not only do his cardiopulmonary resuscitation and Self Aid Buddy and Care training make him more confident with small children in the house, but he said staying fit has helped him be more active with the children.

"This is keeping me young," he said. "Working on the aircraft out here allows me to go home and have a couple kids piled on me."

He said his time management and organizational skills also help make things a little less hectic for his family.

"Routine is very important for us," Sergeant Anderson said. "It means security. It shows them that they are going to be fed, they are going to have bedtime, and they're going to be kept warm. They need to know this. The smallest things are so important to them."

Sergeant Anderson and Airman Brown have contributed to the community in their military service and their dedication to their families. Master Sgt. Vickie Chambers of Airman and Family Readiness said this is a trend for members of the 442nd.

"I have been part of several Reserve units, and I can honestly say that the 442nd is one of the best units around," Sergeant Chambers said. "We truly are a family and when there is a serious situation, our unit pulls together to help any way they can. We have had members lose everything in a tornado; flood or death and our unit stepped up to the plate and delivered 110 percent unselfishly."