WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --
WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. – The holidays are a time for family togetherness, however, for many Airmen, it can be hard to make it home for the holidays.
This year, 18 members of Team Whiteman will get to spend their holidays with their families thanks to Whiteman Base Community Council.
Some of those Airmen, like Airman First Class Marina Zapata, a 509th Contracting Squadron administrator, haven’t been home in nearly a decade.
“I haven’t been home to Romania for the holidays since 2013,” Zapata said. “I’ve never showed my husband the Romanian experience and traditions for holidays so I am that much more excited to go home!”
Zapata and her fellow Airmen are getting this opportunity because of the Home for the Holidays program run by the BCC. The selected Airmen were celebrated at the 4th Annual Bomber on Nov. 12, an event which also serves as a fundraiser for the Home for the Holidays program.
The Home for the Holidays program, which purchases Team Whiteman service members tickets home at no cost to them, is one of the BCC’s biggest annual initiatives. This year, they raised about $52,000 for the program, the most in the program’s history. The money raised will cover the service members sent home this year and be used for other future BCC programs. The 18 Airmen going home is also a record.
Whiteman BCC Incoming President Suzanne Taylor said there was also record interest the program this year.
“The Whiteman BCC received approximately 40 applications this year,” she said, “the most we have ever seen since the program’s conception in 2018.”
Taylor said that she, the other BCC board members as well as Whiteman first sergeants and senior leaders had a difficult task deciding who would go home.
“All the Airmen were more than deserving,” Taylor said.
This year, the program paid for approximately $18,000 in traveling costs, and Airmen were sent home across the U.S. and even as far Puerto Rico, Guam, Africa and Europe.
Col. Daniel Diehl 509th Bomb Wing Commander said that for those service members chosen to go home, this opportunity can mean a lot.
“I know from experience, it’s an honor to serve but it’s hard to be apart from your loved ones,” he said. “From the moment we receive orders to leave, we’re already looking forward to when we’ll get to come home.”
Home for the Holidays is one of several ways the BCC supports Whiteman Air Force Base by helping foster relations between the base community and the 18 local communities that make up the BCC.
Taylor pointed to the success of the Bomber Ball and Home for the Holidays program this year as a testament to the ability of Team Whiteman and the BCC to maintain strong bonds and even flourish during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think the BCC and Team Whiteman did well in sustaining their partnership through COVID,” Taylor said. “I believe the most significant impact is knowing we are making a difference to the well-being of an Airman.”
Taylor expects the program will continue to grow next year, which will come as welcome news to service members like Zapata.
“I can’t capture in words how grateful I am to the Whiteman Base Community Council for this opportunity,” Zapata said.
Congratulations to the service members who were selected for the Home for the Holidays program:
Airman Daniel Kaipat, 509th Maintenance Squadron
Airman 1st Class Michael Johnson, 509th Maintenance Group
Airman 1st Class Marina Zapata, 509th Contracting Squadron
Airman 1st Class Kianthony Bettis, 509th Logistics Readiness Squadron
Airman 1st Class Evelyn Butler, 509th Healthcare Operations Squadron
Airman Malek Yamak, 509th Healthcare Operations Squadron
Airman Dakota Creer, 509th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron
Senior Airman Maureen Gatere, 442d Fighter Wing Medical Squadron
Senior Airman Edward Nganga, 442d Fighter Wing Medical Squadron
Airman Caleb De Leon, 358th Fighter Squadron
Senior Airman Justin Mitchell, 358th Fighter Squadron
Airman 1st Class Yashira Rosado Ortiz, 509th Operations Support Squadron
Airman 1st Class Bubacarr Sisawo, 509th Operations Support Squadron
Senior Airman Mark Daniel Apilado, 509th Comptroller Squadron