News

Can we take care of you?

Children play with bubbles during the Sensory Camp at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, March 25, 2015. The Exceptional Family Member Program hosted the camp at the Youth Center to give children the opportunity to interact with one another and experience a variety of sensations of objects and textures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jeremy L. Mosier/Released)

Children play with bubbles during the Sensory Camp at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho, March 25, 2015. The Exceptional Family Member Program hosted the camp at the Youth Center to give children the opportunity to interact with one another and experience a variety of sensations of objects and textures. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jeremy L. Mosier/Released)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- At 10 o'clock, Terrill Owens made his way through crowds of hospital staff and patients chatting on their phones or filling out paperwork. He walked through a door towards an office he shares with a coworker, sat at his desk and flipped through six stacks of paperwork.

"That's a lot for a Monday," he said.

It's possible that one day, a stack with your name will sit on his desk.

As the base's Exceptional Family Member Program coordinator, Owens ensures the safety and needs of military families are met. Currently, he's in charge of more than 300 families - an increase from 135 families in October, 2012.

"Basically my job is to make sure wherever you go, or even while you're here, the medical and educational needs of your family members will be taken care of," he said.

His job is summarized with a simple question: "Can we take care of you?" It's a question governing not only his work, but the lives of Airmen and their families stationed at his base. It's a question that's bitter sweet.

It doesn't matter if it's asthma or autism, dependents or spouses; if the answer to the question "can we take care of you?" is "no", then Owens works to find another assignment. This means occasionally taking away "dream jobs" from Airmen.

"Let's say they have orders to go overseas," Owens explained, "and then letting the family know 'hey, you know what, you can't go.'"

He's not just a guy behind a desk making decisions without empathy.

"I feel for them," he said. "Some of them tell me 'hey I've been here ten years, and every time I want to go somewhere they say "no."'"

But understanding his clients only goes so far. "There are times when things get changed and they like to blame the program," Owens said, addressing a stigma he's struggling to change.

That's where people like Tyler Cullin, Owens' counterpart on the family support side, comes in. Cullin is, in a nutshell, an ambassador for the program.

"It's important for people to know that we're here for absolutely everything they need," she said.

In addition to raising awareness in the community through outreach programs, she plans EFMP events - most recently a "sensory camp" allowing young children to explore different sensations of objects and textures.

"Sensory work is a huge part of some special-needs families," she said. And, these programs aren't exclusive to EFMP children.

"I think that's the best part," she said. "It's not a camp for kids with special needs. It's a camp for all the kids."

Cullin explained all young children - whether in the EFMP or not - benefit from engaging their sensory abilities. It helps improve both mental and motor development, and develop social skills with other children early in their development. If you have kids, you know how crucial those early years are.

She also acknowledges the stress special-needs dependents can bring to the table, as well as the stigma attached to the EFMP. But that won't stop her from trying to get the community involved.

"Sometimes it feels a little overwhelming, but it's just knowing that there are people here on base to support you," she said. "I don't think there's anything negative about that."

It comes back to, "can we take care of you?" That question isn't in place to help take care of your career; it's there to take care of your family.

If you're the one losing an assignment, you may be angry. If you're wondering why a mental health condition is keeping you from an assignment in Europe, you might be confused.

If you're the man who had a hand in these decisions ... "That's probably the hardest part ... seeing the disappointment," Owens shared, glancing at six stacks of papers on his desk.

The EFMP seems to live under a negative spotlight. If you ask Cullin though, changing that light may be as simple as getting priorities straight - they're here to take care of your family.

"I don't think I've ever talked to a person who said 'my kids aren't my number one priority' or 'my family isn't my number one priority,'" Cullin said.

And it's a priority EFMP strives to live by every time they pick up a stack of papers at 10 o'clock on a Monday.