Vance Air Force Base and the Enid community have a symbiotic relationship. Civilian members of the Enid community work at Vance, while service members live in the community alongside civilians. With Vance training new classes of pilots on a rapidly regular basis, there are continuously new service members making their way to Enid.
The Air Force has a Five and Thrive initiative, which focuses on what are seen as the top-five quality of life challenges for military families: childcare, education, healthcare, housing and spouse employment. All of these are things the Air Force focuses on in order to keep retention rates at a strong level.
Spouse fulfillment is an important issue to the military. It can be hard for families when they are moving constantly, and sometimes it can result in families choosing to leave the Air Force life. When spouses are aided with all they need help with, it strengthens the bond between the family and the military, therefore strengthening the military community. A recent addition to the accommodations for Vance families is the Vance Spouse Space, which opened Wednesday and is an area located on the base that allows spouses who work from home to be able to work alongside other spouses, which can help them from feeling isolated.
Kristen Johnson, wife of Col. Jay Johnson, commander of the 71st Flying Training Wing, said it is easy to get started on learning about Vance before setting foot on base.
“Someone who’s coming here, a family can or spouse can reach out and get plugged into this network before they’re even here,” Johnson said. “And it will be ongoing, because everywhere you go you’re stepping in as the new person and that cycle can keep going over and over again. So this is a big part of that acclimation … that they know they have a space to go to, they can connect with others, there’s somebody here that’s not just brand new like themselves that they can connect with.
“If a family is happy, strong and thriving, they’re more apt to stay in and have a positive outlook. That resilience piece of staying in the military, enjoying the experience and wanting to continue to serve. These efforts can help with that retention.”
The Spouse Space was aided by a number of spouses of service members at Vance, including Anne Parker and Meg Hewes. Parker said when there is support from all levels of the Air Force in a number of facets, it make it more likely that people will feel comfortable in their lifestyle on base, which allows all members of the family to make the military life something that is also their own.
“Because when families are in it, when they believe it and buy into the mission, when they feel supported, when they feel empowered, they’re not going to go to their service member and be like, ‘I want to get out of here, I don’t want to live this life anymore.’ They are going to own part of the life, it will be their life,” Parker said.
Hewes said Vance is the host of many who are just entering the Air Force, and that the strong support from all on base eases the transition to the military lifestyle.
“The military recruits airmen and retains families. We see a big shift in families not feeling supported and they end up getting out,” Hewes said. “That definitely is an important role we can play here. And I think Vance, even more than other bases, is an important place for this. Because we have so many people who come here and this is their first impression of the Air Force. About half the spouses, probably, on base belong to the student squadron and they are brand new to the Air Force. So having that good first impression, later on makes a difference.
“There is a lot going on right now just to try to support spouses, from the flight room level all the way up to the wing level. They’ve redone the welcome brief so it’s more inclusive for spouses. The squadron, spouse and family groups are as strong as ever and it’s just support from all different levels here at Vance.”
2nd Lt. Jonathan Soferr is from Boston, and said he has been at Vance since late July after graduating from the Air Force Academy. He and his wife are new to Enid, as she is a teacher at Hayes Elementary in Enid. Soferr said he had been at Vance for less than two weeks before being sent to Colorado for training, and that he returned to Enid within the past few weeks.
He and his wife have gotten into a good routine, he said, and said there are several members of the flying squadron who he went to college with in Colorado Springs.
“The community on base is super helpful,” Soferr said. “Everyone’s giving recommendations of where to go. My buddies over in the flying squadron, they’ll say, ‘Let’s go to Callahan’s,’ or something of the sort. Everyone who is new, we all knew each other a lot from college, so we would go and hang out at each other’s places and try and just explore a little bit. Also my wife, she’s been super helpful. She did a lot of research before coming here, so she joined a running club, so we’ve met a lot of people through there.”
Soferr said they have been able to learn about the town and the community from meeting people through the running group. He and his wife have also been able achieve something they didn’t think they would have been able to do a year ago.
“Pretty much everything my wife and I are doing out here is brand new. We’re coming here straight from college. She’s one year out of college, and I’m basically fresh out of college. So everything is new, really,” Soferr said. “We bought our first house. I got a great realtor in town, and he really paved the way for me to get to town. He really helped introduce me to the place and really helped me set our foundation.”
Soferr said moving from Massachusetts required a lot of red tape, with his wife needing to transfer her teaching licenses and them both needing to register their cars in Oklahoma. He said he and his wife enjoy Enid, especially with how close everything is.
“I came from Colorado Springs where I went to college, and I did not like it there,” Soferr said. “It was super busy and a lot of traffic and just a lot of people, so it never ended. Here, I really like the layout. If you want to go to the city, you take a right and go to the city. If you want to go anywhere in town, it’s no more than a 12-minute drive.”
Soferr said their new house is in a quiet neighborhood, but joked the planes are a bit noisy, although he will accept that because he is contributing to it. He said his transition to Enid has been a smooth one.
“We’ve got a good routine going now. Being on base has been super helpful for me figuring out what I’m doing while I wait for my training to start,” Soferr said. “And her being over at the school has been really good. We’re comfortable now. Now it’s just figuring out what our go-to places are. It’s been much better than expected. The house needed some work when we first got here, but if you told me a year ago, I’d own my own house and I’d be doing this stuff, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
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