With the Help of USO Delaware, Airmen at Dover Air Force Base Have Friends on the Flight Line

2nd Lt. Jacqulyn Noffsinger

For years now, Dover Air Force Base (AFB) in Delaware has become widely known for its somber role as the location through which all dignified transfers arrive in the United States. That is, the return of the remains of fallen service members from overseas. Dover AFB is also the Department of Defense’s largest air terminal in the world, accounting for 20% of the nation’s airlift capability. For the airmen who work the flight line of this base, the responsibilities of such tasks can take its toll – which is why the USO works hand-in-hand with our military partners to offer support.

USO Delaware partnered with Dover Air Force Base chapel team members from the 436th Airlift Wing to establish the Friends on the Flight Line program. This program is intended to serve members of the 436th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 736th AMXS and the 436th Aerial Port Squadron at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware.

Photo credit DVIDS/Roland Balik

Airmen during a Friends on the Flight Line visit at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, on Oct. 11, 2022.

The chapel team visits the flight line twice a month, during both day and night shifts, to hand out refreshments and connect with the airmen and show that someone cares about them. For many, something like a snack might seem small, but for our service members, it’s the thought behind the action that can go a long way and provide a morale boost.

“That’s been the whole goal,” said Chaplain (Capt.) William Guy, 436th AW chaplain. “Let’s bring our care to where [airmen] are, even if it’s just for a five-minute conversation.”

The initiative began in November 2021, when the chapel team brought hot chocolate out to the flight line.

Photo credit DVIDS/Roland Balik

USO Delaware Senior Center Operations Supervisor Cari Matthews (right) offers drinks, sandwiches and snacks to Tech. Sgt. Dnetric Gatling (left).

The program grew as the chapel team partnered with the USO and the squadrons’ integrated resiliency teams to provide more support for the airmen working on the flight line. The team went from serving just hot chocolate to providing mentorship in addition to snacks, meals and other refreshments.

“I love the partnership that we have with so many volunteers and with the USO,” William said. “When you have a team, different personalities, you get to connect with more people.”

Friends on the Flight Line ensures that resiliency resources are brought directly to the airmen who need them. Due to the success of this program at Dover AFB, the USO is working to have this partnership replicated across other bases.

“The whole point is connecting with the airmen that you typically don’t get to see on a normal day,” said Cari Matthews, USO Delaware senior center operations supervisor. “We figured we would bring the USO to them. You’d be surprised what something so little means to them.”

The Many Ways the USO Supports Airmen and Gold Star Families on Dover AFB

This is not the first time the USO has supported service members at Dover Air Force Base. Since 1991, the USO has been present at every dignified transfer that has taken place at Dover.

Dignified transfers can be incredibly emotional – not just for the families of the fallen service member, but also for the service members working during the dignified transfer. During the transfer, airmen in the U.S. Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations as well as a military Honor Guard are present, and must facilitate the dignified transfer.

Photo credit U.S. Air Force/Mauricio Campino

Josie Donithan, USO Delaware volunteer, serves food to Honor Guard team members and mortuary staff prior to a dignified transfer on Jan. 24, 2019, at Dover Air Force Base, Del.

Undertaking such a solemn mission can obviously take its toll on service members as well, many of whom have also traveled to Dover. The USO offers support to them too, providing them with a quiet place to relax, meals or even a hot cup of coffee on a cold night – as dignified transfers can happen at any time of day, in any weather.

Aside from offering support to service members present during a dignified transfer, as well as forging connections in day-to-day operations through the Friends on the Flight line program, USO Delaware also provides crucial support to Gold Star Families traveling to and arriving at Dover AFB.

A Gold Star Family is one that has lost an immediate family member in the line of duty of military service. From the moment they are notified about the passing of their loved one to the dignified transfer at Dover, the USO is ready to stand by their side and provide support to these Families of the Fallen every step of the way.

The process of a dignified transfer begins from that very first moment the Gold Star Family or Gold Star Spouse is notified of the devastating news, and are informed of the process of their loved one’s arrival. Many families receive only 24-48 hours-notice before the dignified transfer, and must then decide if they wish to be present for the dignified transfer of their loved one at Dover AFB. If they decide to attend, then they must take on the arduous task of quickly traveling – sometimes across the country or the world – to Delaware.

Photo credit DVIDS/Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations

A U.S. Air Force carry team transfers the remains of Staff Sgt. Austin Bieren, of Umatilla, Ore., on April 1, 2017, at Dover Air Force Base, Del.

As they navigate the stressors of losing a loved one, Gold Star Families are also navigating stressful travel arrangements, which, combined, can be overwhelming. But the USO aims to alleviate the strain of this journey by being there the moment these families arrive at the airport. USO staff meet with the Gold Star family and help alleviate the burdens of travel as they mourn the loss of their fallen hero. This includes escorting the family to their gates, finding a private space for them to recharge in the USO airport lounge, providing them with everything from a hot meal to a place to sleep, ensuring the family makes their connecting flights and many other methods of support that the family may need during their time of bereavement.

USO Delaware also supports families during their stay in Dover through a collaboration with Fisher House, an organization that provides comfort homes for military families to stay in while their loved one receives medical care, including a specific location located near Dover. USO Delaware provides meals for Gold Star Spouses and Families to relieve them of the stress of going out for groceries or takeout.

Whether it be supporting Gold Star Spouses and Families of the Fallen, or forging new connections with airmen with Friends on the Flight line, the USO continues to remain steadfast by the side of our military community at Dover Air Force Base.

-This story was originally published on DVIDShub.net, it has been edited for USO.org.

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Every day, America’s service members selflessly put their lives on the line to keep us safe and free. Please take a moment to let our troops know how much we appreciate their service and sacrifice.


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