Enlisted village cares for AF widows, families

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Retired Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Binnicker speaks about the Air Force Enlisted Village at the 2012 Air Force Sergeants Association Convention and Professional Airmen Conference in Jacksonville, Fla., Aug. 12, 2012. Binnicker, the ninth chief master sergeant of the Air Force, now serves as the president and chief executive officer of the Air Force Enlisted Village, a non-profit organization located in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ciara Wymbs)
Retired Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James Binnicker speaks about the Air Force Enlisted Village at the 2012 Air Force Sergeants Association Convention and Professional Airmen Conference in Jacksonville, Fla., Aug. 12, 2012. Binnicker, the ninth chief master sergeant of the Air Force, now serves as the president and chief executive officer of the Air Force Enlisted Village, a non-profit organization located in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Ciara Wymbs)

Enlisted village cares for AF widows, families

by: Airman 1st Class Jarrod Grammel | .
23rd Wing Public Affairs | .
published: August 15, 2012

8/14/2012 - JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AFNS) -- The ninth chief master sergeant of the Air Force, James Binnicker, spoke about the Air Force Enlisted Village during the 2012 Air Force Sergeants Association Convention and Professional Airman Conference here Aug. 12.

The Air Force Enlisted Village was founded in 1967 after a survey conducted by AFSA concluded there were almost 50,000 widows of enlisted men living in poverty. With the help of former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. John Ryan and his wife, a group of active duty and retired NCOs started the village with the goal of providing a home for spouses of surviving enlisted Air Force members.

"Our mission at the village is simply to provide a home," said Binnicker. "It started out with only Air Force enlisted widows, but over the years we have changed that to include a lot of different kinds of people.

"We take care of Air Force enlisted widows first and foremost," he added. "That's the priority. Then we have moral dependents, when it's just the right thing to do."

The Air Force Enlisted Village consists of three separate villages. The Bob Hope Village and Theresa Village are independent living villages. The Hawthorn House provides assisted living and memory care.

Although there are certain requirements to live in the village, Binnicker said many exceptions are made. He told a story of an Airman who wanted his mother-in-law to stay in the assisted living village. Even though she did not qualify for one of the existing categories, an exception was made for her.

"If you're asking a question, and you're in uniform -- my uniform -- we can make a category," said Binnicker.

He gave examples of people the Air Force Enlisted Village helped through the years, including spouses of active duty Airmen, retired couples and even mothers of deployed members. The village also helps widows of other services on a space available basis.

"It's not just a retirement home for widows," said Binnicker. "It is a community. It's an extension of the Air Force family, and we are very proud to provide that."

He also talked about how the village is a place where people with a common background come together to live.

The whole village is a gated community with round-the-clock guards, which provides security for the occupants. The village also has five vehicles and two buses to provide transportation to commonly visited areas.

Binnicker also stressed the importance of all the amenities the village provides, such as fitness classes, hassle-free maintenance, chapels, bowling and many others. Village occupants also look forward to seasonal events such as a luaus and Halloween parties.

"The village is not a place where people go to die," said the former chief master sergeant of the Air Force. "It's a place where people go to live. ... We don't just provide an apartment; it's a way of life."

Funding for the Air Force Enlisted Village comes from donations and the Air Force Assistance Fund. At the end of Binnicker's speech, Jeff Ledoux, AFSA international president, presented Binnicker with a $10,000 check on behalf of AFSA.

"We have some widows who live there for free," said Binnicker. "If it were not for your generosity and this program, they would be dead or living under a bridge. So, I thank you from the bottom of my heart."

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