Totin' tigers put families first

  • Published
  • By SSgt Mary McKnight
  • 77 Air Refueling Squadron

The 77th Air Refueling squadron hosted its first family day since COVID-19 at the Bombs Away Ballroom, Nov. 6.

North Carolina weather can be unpredictable. Originally planned as an outdoor event, Lt Col Stephen Blackstone, commander of the 77 Air Refueling Squadron, and his wife Amanda Blackstone adapted to the weekend's weather and made lemonade out of the North Carolina weather.

"We had the event scheduled for Debden Park, but the forecasted rain, wind, and cold was not a recipe for fun," said Lt Col Blackstone.

The Blackstone's knew they wanted to bring people together when they arrived at the 77 ARS.  Therefore, instead of canceling the event, Lt Col Blackstone enlisted his wife and key spouse coordinator to help make Saturday's event possible by changing the location instead of the date.

"Family day is different each time, so it makes it unique each time," said Senior Master Sgt. Mark McElmurry, 77 ARS superintendent. "The new commander brought his cornhole boards and a bouncy house indoors. I've never seen that before."

After 24 years of being in the unit, McElmurry has attended quite a few family day events. He brought his two children to take part in the family day, just as he has in the past.

"I feel that bringing my family out gives them a chance to see what I actually do," said McElmurry. "It's an opportunity for them to see who I work with, see my office, and see the new airplane."

McElmurry's 16-year-old-son Connor was excited to attend the festivities. Family day is an opportunity for members to showcase what they do and give their loved ones a chance to experience a day in the life of their reservist.

"It's really cool to meet the people he works with," said Connor, McElmurry's 16-year-old- son. I get to see all that he does and where he works. Being able to go on the plane is really cool because it's basically his office, but not his office," said Connor with a smile as he looked over at his dad.

The last family day the 77 ARS had was in 2019, before COVID.  It was essential to Lt Col Blackstone and his wife to bring back the event to give the squadron a sense of normalcy. 

"With COVID, everyone was disbursed for over a year. I thought it was important to bring our squadron back together to reconnect," said Lt Col Blackstone. "It's not just about connecting in difficult times but laying a foundation for a supportive network. Events like this give spouses the opportunity to connect with one another for support when we go out the door. It's not a matter of if, but when we head out."

Family day is crucial to the families. Mrs. Blackstone understands this better than most.  Having supported her husband and three children through multiple deployments, she knows that having a community is essential, even if it is long-distance.

"If I'm alone physically, I don't have to be alone emotionally," said Mrs. Blackstone. "I want the spouses to know life is better together, even if we are separated by distance. We are just a phone call away."