EAST GRANBY, Conn. --
In a year that has presented several challenges to families throughout the nation and state, Kasey Timberlake, 103rd Airlift Wing Airman and Family Readiness program manager, has prioritized keeping unit members and their families connected to the wing and the resources available to help them.
“I think what happened with Airmen from the 103rd was a direct reflection of what happened with the entire population throughout the past year,” said Timberlake. “It was a good representation of the many problems Americans faced in 2020. From childcare issues, to mortgage payment issues, to not feeling connected to others and feeling unsure of what was going on and what was available to help.”
The goal of the Airman and Family Readiness program is to support members throughout their military life cycle, from student flight through retirement, and connect them with helping resources throughout the various stages of their careers.
During the first wave of COVID-19 and the associated transition to mass telework, wing leadership, Timberlake, and other members of the Wing Care Team noticed a potential gap in resource awareness and took action to connect with the wing’s Airmen.
“I think what made the challenges of 2020 interesting for our specific population, especially Drill-Status Guardsmen, is that if something was happening in their civilian life, they may not have known there was something on the military side that could help them,” said Timberlake. So what I did, along with Lindsey Rohner, the director of psychological health, [Col. David Larsen, Connecticut National Guard State Chaplain – Air, and Lt. Col. Eric Wismar, Connecticut National Guard full-time state support chaplain], was call every Airman of the 103rd just to let them know that our services are here and that we’re available to help.”
The effort of making these approximately 1,200 calls was well-received by the wing population, said Timberlake.
“Some people just wanted that check-in phone call to feel connected to something other than the monotony of what their quarantine life looked like,” said Timberlake. “In those phone calls we were able to directly connect them to other resources either on base or outside in the community.”
These efforts helped connect Airmen to resources that helped with a myriad of challenges, the most common of which were finances and, later, childcare, said Timberlake.
“We have the Connecticut National Guard Foundation grant, which helps Airmen experiencing a financial hardship, and that was probably the most utilized service of the first few months of the pandemic,” said Timberlake.
As Airmen from the 103rd deploy throughout 2021 following an unprecedented year of domestic operations missions, Timberlake is ensuring families have access to the support they need during an especially busy time for the Guard.
“To roll from that experience directly into a deployment when we’re already kind of burned out and ready for things to go back to normal, and then you have the family member with increased responsibility at home and more of the ‘figure it out’ that comes along with a deployment—it’s really concerning to me,” said Timberlake. “So my hope for this year is to make sure our deployed families feel like they have an opportunity to get together with one another, reach out to the resources if they need to, and know that there is support from the base.”
Timberlake began her career in military family readiness in 2008 and has helped numerous service members and their families in the ensuing 13 years.
“My husband was a Marine and my first job was Readiness and Deployment Support trainer at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point,” said Timberlake. “From that role I moved over to Marine Forces Special Operations Command and I was the Family Readiness Officer for Marine Special Operations Regiment at Camp Lejeune.”
Timberlake then served as a regional education coordinator for Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, now called the Traumatic Brain Injury Center of Excellence, while working at Camp Lejeune’s TBI Clinic.
“Because I’ve been doing this for quite some time, there’s nothing that shocks me,” said Timberlake. “I know that sometimes people are embarrassed about a situation or shy or unsure—I’ve seen it all and I’ve heard it all, so the idea that I wouldn’t understand or I wouldn’t get it is just not there. There’s a tremendous amount of empathy we have for what they’re going through.”
One of the unique challenges for Guard families compared to those at active duty bases is not having as many families in close proximity that can relate to their experience, Timberlake said. However, Timberlake wants these families to know they always have someone on base who understands.
“I’m married to a former Marine. I’ve done deployments, I’ve done long TDYs, I know what the challenges of a military spouse are because I lived them myself,” said Timberlake. “I’d like the families to know that if they need someone to talk to because nobody else gets it, I get it and I would be more than happy to be that sounding board for people who might be struggling.”