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Have you ever been broke?

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Have you ever been broke?

I don't mean the "can't afford to get the latest, hottest X-Box 360 game" kind of broke; I mean the "can't put food on the table" kind of broke.

We have!

Back in the day when staff sergeants took home about $390 a pay check, my still "new to the Air Force" bride and baby daughter learned the hard way that military pay didn't always enable me to provide for my family the way I felt I should. Just because the Air Force stretched my workdays didn't mean the paycheck got any bigger.

We weren't wasteful spenders. In fact, shortly before my daughter was born I traded in my single-man's Corvette for a married guy's 1966 Chevy wagon ... $300 worth of semi-roadworthy, faded green transportation I aptly nicknamed "the Bomb." We didn't spend money on new gadgets, trinkets or nice to have furnishings. In fact, we didn't have the latest anything we didn't get as a wedding present. Our dinette set was a wooden picnic table and our coffee table was a refurbished old wooden Army footlocker. Get the idea?

With my wife on un-paid maternity leave, I paid the rent and utilities, one auto payment and insurance, and a couple of other small bills and we found ourselves with just $15 left to last us two weeks (well actually 16 days since that pay period was on the 15th and next one was on the 31st). Fifteen bucks didn't cover formula and diapers; not even in 1982.

What I remember most about that pay day and the next few that followed, was how much of a failure I felt. Even though I was working hard at my job at Strategic Air Command Headquarters, I felt like I was letting my family down. Without my wife bringing in a second pay check, we just didn't have enough coming in to have anything left over.

My mom and dad and my wife's mother had all passed to heaven over the previous 18 months and I was too dumb and proud to ask my father-in-law for help. So we dug a deeper hole by paying for food using a credit card. The only thing worse would have been to have gotten into the pay-day loan trap (Yes, they had those way back then as well).

While there were some outreach support agencies, there was nothing at Offutt like our Tinker Food Pantry. There was no place a young military family could go to get food where they didn't have to feel ashamed to be there. A place where the people offering help understood firsthand the difficulty young service members can have in making ends meet.

Sometimes our young military families need a little help. The Food Pantry is just one example of how Tinker is working hard to "Care for its people to enable success." There wasn't a Food Pantry to go to when we needed it. I am proud someone cared enough to start one here.