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‘Caring for People’ is in her newly-minted job description

Tinker’s new Caring for People coordinator Charlotte “Charlie” Lewis discusses the upcoming DePLAYment program with Tech. Sgt. Keith Scott, NCOIC of Readiness at Tinker’s Airman and Family Readiness Center.  Ms. Lewis’ life as a military spouse fuels her enthusiasm about making sure families know about available help, but especially when a loved one is deployed. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

Tinker’s new Caring for People coordinator Charlotte “Charlie” Lewis discusses the upcoming DePLAYment program with Tech. Sgt. Keith Scott, NCOIC of Readiness at Tinker’s Airman and Family Readiness Center. Ms. Lewis’ life as a military spouse fuels her enthusiasm about making sure families know about available help, but especially when a loved one is deployed. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Charlotte "Charlie" Lewis knows her subject well. Recently hired in the newly created Air Force position, Caring for People coordinator, she's lived the job first-hand and said she is excited about the programs available to her customers.

After a "Caring for People" forum was held in Washington, D.C., in April 2009, Air Force officials decided it was necessary to give more attention to the families of deployed members. Nine positions -- seven stateside and two overseas -- were created to help families with pre-deployment, deployment and reintegration challenges. Hired in November, Ms. Lewis relocated to Tinker from Andrews Air Force Base, Washington, D.C., for the two-year pilot position.

"Charlie is an invaluable resource to Team Tinker," said Daniel Bell, 72nd Force Support Squadron director. "Not only is she ready and willing to help, but as a military spouse, she understands what needs to be done to support our military men and women and their families."

Married to a former Marine for the past 20 years, Ms. Lewis said she understands the military life, deployments and all. Within their marriage, her husband has spent approximately 10 years on deployments or temporary-duty assignments.

Her toughest challenge came two years ago, when pregnant with their first of two boys. Four months into the pregnancy, Ms. Lewis's husband, John, a gunnery sergeant, was deployed. He returned five days before Lance's birth, when Ms. Lewis had complications. Five days after her emergency cesarean section, Gunny Lewis deployed again. He did not return until Lance was 4 months old.

"I'm a very independent person, so I didn't look for some of the services out there, and now I look back and think, 'Gosh, why did I take the hard road? It didn't have to be that way,'" Ms. Lewis said. "So, I want to help some of the military members' spouses. There's so much out there for the deployed families."

As a Caring for People coordinator assigned to the 72nd FSS Airman and Family Services Flight, Ms. Lewis can talk and disseminate information about the free resources and programs to the spouses of Tinker's deployed without the undeserved "stigma" other units have.

"Military members who are deploying may encourage their spouses not to seek the programs because of the undeserved stigmas attached to them," she said, "whereas, I don't have any of that."

Ms. Lewis said families of the deployed may benefit from programs such as a marriage retreat that will take place in the August-September timeframe, Train the Trainer workshop, in which six people are trained to deal the families of deployed members. Then, those six people will train noncommissioned officers and first sergeants. Operation Purple, a summer camp for children of deployed families, and Kids Understanding Deployment Operations, or KUDOS, where children and their parents participate in a faux deployment line, are also available.

The newest initiative is the DePLAYment program, which allows the family members of deployed members to enjoy recreational activities for free. Services include membership at the youth center, up to 10 hours of child care at a child development center, bowling, adult instructional classes at the arts and crafts building, and trips from the information, tickets and travel building. DePLAYment is available for families until July 31 or grant money runs out.

"My goal is to help at least 85 or 90 percent of the deployed families," Ms. Lewis said. "I want to let them know they're not alone and there are people behind them who appreciate the sacrifices they make."