Between UTAs, Airman & Family Readiness is a one-woman show

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Bob Jennings
  • 442d Fighter Wing Public Affairs

The members 442d Fighter Wing are combat-proven warriors, ready to answer the nation’s call, whenever it comes. They’re laser-focused on the mission and always ready to attack, defend, support, or sustain.

But sometimes, concentrating on the mission – and the unique demands that come with military life – can steal an Airman’s focus from other things that matter, like family and finances. Not focusing on these things doesn’t mean they take care of themselves, though, and a buildup of off-base problems can wrap back around to negatively affect the mission the Airman was so focused on.

Enter Mrs. Elizabeth Rutherford.

Rutherford is the director of the Airman and Family Readiness Program for the 442 FW. She’s here to provide targeted Airman and family support and services, contributing to the mission readiness, resilience, and well-being of the Air Force community.

A former enlisted member of the 442d who has been both the deployed spouse and the one left at home, Rutherford possesses a master’s degree in psychology, as well as graduate certificates in financial counseling, forensics, and hospital administration – and an obsessive need to help people.

“We fill gaps,” she said of the role A&FRP plays in the wing. “We fill needs. We do what is required to ensure you can focus on the mission.”

Those needs far exceed what can be listed in a single article, but they include confidential crisis support for Airmen and family members impacted by natural or man-made emergency events such as fires, floods, earthquakes or evacuations. Members or their families affected by these types of emergencies can use the Air Force Personnel Accountability and Assessment System to communicate the type of support they need.

The A&FRP also provides support for deploying Airmen in the form of pre- and post-deployment briefings to inform the member of their benefits and available avenues of support for their families while they’re gone.

Traditional Reservists often find themselves at the whims of a fickle job market, but members and their families can participate in the Employment Assistance Program for aid in finding short- or long-term employment through skill-development workshops, job banks, networking help, and even resources for entrepreneurship.

The Airman and Family Readiness Center is also the focal point for the Exceptional Family Member Program, which provides support and services to sponsors of special-needs family members.

And speaking of family members, A&FRP also provides training for the Key Spouse Program, which is a commander’s initiative that provides a liaison between the wing and Airmen’s spouses or unmarried partners. The Key Spouse Program is a vital link to keep families informed and involved, not just during deployments, but throughout the member’s career.

There are a lot of things that can affect an Airman’s finances, from promotions, to retirement, to family changes, to health issues. A&FRC provides private financial readiness assistance for all stages of an Airman’s life and career to help members keep on top of their money so they can keep on top of the mission.

Rutherford’s office is also the go-to for a wealth of other issues. She handles liaising with Dept. of Veterans Affairs and the Air Force Wounded Warrior program, the Transition Assistance Program for members transitioning off of Active Duty or extended orders, and the Survivor Benefit Plan for families of deceased Airmen. They also head up the School Liaison Office to help military kids integrate into local school, and the Air Force Aid Society to help members with personal emergencies they just don’t have the finances to manage.

“We’re plugged into several charities,” Rutherford said, explaining that the range of reasons people stop in can cover anything from seeking healthcare, to assistance with taxes, debt consolidation, or baby formula. “It’s better to get in A&FR early with troubles or issues. It makes it much less difficult to ‘right the ship.’ “

And if you think that’s not enough for one office to cover, bear in mind that this not a comprehensive list, and you can always elect representatives who will increase the scope of the A&FRP. Not sure how to do that? Luckily, the A&FRC is also the Installation Voter Assistance Office, so they can help you out.

As the A&FRP director, Rutherford tirelessly advocates for the well-being of more than 1000 Airmen assigned to the 442 FW. And – because the rest of her team are TRs – most days, she does it all on her own.

Many of these services cost money in the civilian sector, like financial or marriage counseling, or employment skills training. The A&FRC offers them for free.

Of course, an Airman’s first stop is always their chain of command, but if you don’t feel comfortable going that route, and you’d like to contact Rutherford, you can reach her office at 660-687-3530. She prefers a text to her official cell phone, though, since she’s rarely at her desk: 660-624-3072. All of A&FRC’s services – with the exceptions of matters dealing with harm to self, harm to others, or impact to the mission – are confidential.

“Bring me the need,” she said, “and we will work to resolve it. The greatest motivation for this office is in our charge to be ‘Force Multipliers.’ Our members are assets to their unit, our wing and the Air Force. A plethora of services are out there to help you be the best Airman you can be – we are here to get you ‘plugged in.’ So, come to one of our many training opportunities, download and explore the Air Force Connect app, use these resources that are out there for you – and let the 442d Airman & Family Readiness office be your Wingmen!”