Welcome Center Helps Ease Transition to New Installation

  • Published
  • By Rebecca Ward

USAF Office of Resilience March 28, 2019

Task Force True North provides Air Force leaders at all levels the qualified personnel and tools needed to optimize performance and increase Airmen and Family resilience, helping them thrive in their personal and professional lives and encouraging a culture of interdependency, so that helping Wingmen and seeking help for oneself are seen as signs of strength. It aims to promote the well-being of Airmen and their families from the moment they report to the installation, optimizing their mission-readiness and mitigating negative outcomes. That includes helping Airmen and their families avoid some of the stressors involved with moving from one assignment to another.

The Welcome Center is one of five components within Task Force True North, now in beta-test at four installations in the United States – Whiteman, Beale, Minot, and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The Welcome Center provides a foundation for the program from day one, helping Airmen and their families seamlessly integrate into a supportive and welcoming installation.

A picture of the USAF Office of Resilience Welcome Center

“We continually receive nothing but positive comments about our Welcome Center---from our youngest Airmen to our most senior members and their families,” Brig Gen John J. Nichols, Commander, 509th Bomb Wing said. “We are proud of the entire Whiteman Team for embracing and executing all elements of TFTN and as a result we have seen positive outcomes across our community.  Whiteman AFB supports a lethal-warrior focused mission, and to do so we must have professionals dedicated to keeping our Airmen and families resilient.  This program is paying big dividends to the health and wellness of our people.”

The Office Manager of the Welcome Center at Whiteman Air Force Base, Michael Criddell said the most common response he hears from Airman is, “What took so long?” It is not a criticism, though. Criddell said the Airmen he helps on-board into Whiteman are astonished to see a streamlined process where they can meet representatives from Force Support Squadron, the Transportation Management Office, the Finance Office and the Medical Office. All four departments are in the same building working as a team to streamline the on-boarding process for newly assigned Airmen and their families.   

“Once they’re here and they see that they can do everything at one location, one building, they’re amazed by it,” Criddell said.

Not only is this approach more efficient, it is a complete turnaround from the often-times lengthy and frustrating previous experiences associated with reporting to a new duty assignment. It replaces the impersonal and off-putting automated tasks with hands-on guidance from leadership, getting back to the basics with leaders who ensure the needs of Airmen and their families are met while orienting them toward the mission and the installation’s network of helping resources. 

Every Airman, regardless of first assignment or tenth, is accompanied by their Sponsor through the Welcome Center process, further strengthening Wingman culture. Even before they arrive, Sponsors begin communicating with Airmen and their families, developing a flight lead relationship that helps prepare them for their new home. Sponsors provide additional assistance if needed, reinforcing the ideals of resiliency – where giving and receiving help are seen as strengths.

At Whiteman’s Welcome Center, Criddell said, “The feedback has been incredible. As a former Airman, I understand why because normally when you arrive at a base, you are handed a map and told good luck, and you find your way around from office to office, usually on opposite ends of the base.”

Technical Sgt. David Knox is an air and space ground equipment craftsman with the 509 Maintenance Squadron, who recently arrived at Whiteman. He had been stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base last October, when Hurricane Michael approached with winds up to 155 miles-per-hour. So when he arrived at Whiteman, after four months as an evacuee, Criddell and the Welcome Center Team were there to help.

Knox said, “I think what surprised me most was how everybody seemed to know at least a little bit about me when I walked through the door.”

From his conversations with the staff at the Welcome Center, Knox learned they try to keep track of those Airmen who are coming under emergency or unusual circumstances.

“So that they know what resources they need,” he said, “to kind of push forward for each individual that comes through.”

For Knox and his family, who lost the majority of their belongings at their base housing at Tyndall, the Welcome Center staff was especially helpful. He said they pointed out local websites and Facebook postings where he could find inexpensive, resale furniture for setting up their new home. He was given information on the area and neighborhoods, as well as schools for his kids, so they could get settled quickly after weeks of being on evacuation status.

The Program Manager of the Task Force True North mission at Whiteman, Morgan Hildebrand, said she is pleased with way the Welcome Center developed. She said it purposely did not write an initial Operation Instruction.  Instead, Hildebrand said the Squadron Commanders and the Group Commanders of the units that run the Welcome Center decided to wait a year after its opening to see what it should look like.

“It’s incredibly refreshing,” Hildebrand said, “to have Commanders and Leadership sit down with the Airmen at the Welcome Center and ask, what’s working, what’s not working, are there things that we can get rid of to make them functional?”

“And, it is,” she adds, pointing to the success of the Welcome Center.

Whiteman’s Welcome Center can process up to 48 Airmen a week during peak season, when a majority of service members transfer to a Permanent Change of Station. Usually, he said, when Airmen first arrive on a base without a Welcome Center, they spend a lot of time in-processing, taking them away from their unit duties. 

Criddell said, “We try to flip that on its head and treat them like you’re welcoming a family member home, and you’re making sure that they’re comfortable, you’re making sure that their family is comfortable, you’re making sure they’re taken care of.”

A huge advantage of that process is the Travel Management Office (TMO). Whiteman is the only base in the beta-test, so far, that includes TMO at the Welcome Center. Criddell said it helps ensure Airmen get the correct PCS entitlements much more quickly. For some first term Airmen, it comes as a complete surprise that they are entitled to reimbursement of travel expenses because they may have arrived on base with little more than a duffel bag full of clothes.

The Whiteman TMO representative has been on the job 30 years and was about to retire until he learned about the Welcome Center. Criddell said that Glen Wiggins was so enthused about the new TMO office, he pulled his retirement papers and agreed to stay to help.

“He saves them money and makes them money every day.  He prides himself in that.”

According to Whiteman Welcome Center data, an average of about 496 man-hours are saved each month with the one-stop-shop in-processing. What used to take days to accomplish can now be completed usually within an hour and a half. For Airmen, Criddell said, the whole vibe of being the new guy and feeling like a hindrance is not there. Instead, he said, the Welcome Center helps Airmen quickly become a highly productive member of the team.

The Air Force Resilience Office supports Major Commands (MAJCOM) and their Wings, and subordinate formations to foster and promote resilience among Airmen and their families, optimize performance and decrease negative outcomes, while building a more lethal force of the U.S. Air Force.  For more information visit https://www.resilience.af.mil.