Water balloon fights, water gun fights, obstacle courses along with delicious barbecued ribs and picnic food were at the Meet and Greet - for deployed/remote families at Centennial Park on Aug. 11.
Hayley Gerke and her sons, Jerad and Jaxon, sat down with husband and dad, Staff Sgt. John Gerke, 75th Logistics Readiness Squadron, as they visited with other families who had either recently returned from a deployment, currently had a family member deployed or were about to send a member on a deployment.
"I've learned that I can do anything I can set my mind to," said Hayley, as she discussed her husband's past deployments. "I can take care of my kids by myself. I can run a household without my husband there -- it's not easy but I've learned that I can do that."
The first time her husband deployed her oldest was very young, she said, and she didn't know all the resources available. Jerad is now 5, and Jaxson, now the youngest is 18 months old. They are expecting a new baby this winter.
The Gerkes bought a home and some of the yard work that comes with a new home brought even more experiences. "I learned how to screw in sprinkler heads, I had never done that before," Hayley said, with a note of accomplishment in her voice.
When asked about her past experiences, she credits "the military family" the Gerkes have found as they have been in the Air Force. "They've been wonderful," Hayley explains. "You have someone to lean on, you have someone to help with your kids if you need something. You have someone to give you advice. They have been through something that you haven't."
The Gerkes found lots of information given out at the event.
Hayley said she didn't know so many helping resources were available. "Knowing now that the resources are there it's comforting to know that," she added.
Cindy Rodgerson, 75th ABW/MSG Key Spouse, explained that events such as these give families a chance to have a good time, gather information and set up informal playgroups.
Security forces provided a Humvee which the kids played water balloon and water gun games in and around. A water buffalo provided plenty of water. "I don't think we are going to run out," said Rodgerson.
Dog tags were made and provided for the kids just like the ones their moms and dads have, keeping the security forces members busy.
Stuffed Sesame Street animals, recordable books and care packages -- all assembled and ready to be mailed -- were there for families' needs provided by the USO.
USAA provided information on special benefits available when a spouse is deployed. Representatives from the CDC, Youth Center, New Parent Support Nurse, Exceptional Military Family Program (FS), A&FRC and School Liaison were at the event as were many first sergeants, chiefs and representatives from the wings and other organizations on base.
Informal conversations were going on everywhere you turned.
"We have Moon Dogs helping us grill ribs and Texas Roadhouse is sending us over some rolls," said Rodgerson, as she gestured at the barbecue area as delicious aromas wafted by on the breeze prior to the lunch service.
Junior ROTC members from the local area ran the obstacle course with children and games suited for smaller hands and feet were located on the other side of the covered picnic area.
"We have a lot of families meeting each other for the first time." said Rodgerson. "Hopefully, they are getting peer-to-peer knowledge of what others have gone through and what worked for them during a deployment/remote assignment. Sometimes just meeting a family you can hang out with during this time is just what you and your kids need. Our leadership is finding out what these families need from the base for support, what is good and what needs to be improved upon. No one can help each other if they don't know each other. This is all about getting out and meeting each other to make life easier during a stressful time."
Donations were made by USO, Military One Source, USAA, NWAOR, Moondog's CafÃ©, Geneva Rock, Hill AFB Thrift Shop, Hill AFB Chapel, UMFF, Sam's Club, Comcast Cable and Boyer Hill Military Housing. (No Federal endorsement intended).