WIESBADEN, Germany - The challenges of COVID-19 imposed quarantines have changed the nature of sponsoring incoming Soldiers and families. Sponsors at U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden have responded to those challenges with a combination of teamwork, creative thinking and selfless dedication.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Rafael Marin can attest to the changing dynamics of sponsorship. “Before COVID-19 hit, we would pick up our families and take them over to the hotel and typically within a week or two, they were able to manage their appointments,” he said. “With COVID, it has been significantly harder to help our families out.”
“Back then, we would try to get the families situated as soon as possible,” Marin said. “Now we are on call 24/7 for two weeks making sure if they need anything, we are available for them.” He added, “We try to limit the interactions we have with them because they are in quarantine from the states.”
Marin’s wife, Maritza, is a true partner in sponsorship responsibilities. As an Exceptional Family Member Program systems navigator for Army Community Service, she has insight into what resources are available to help new families when they arrive to Wiesbaden. Staff Sgt. Marin said, “The lending closet can provide our families with pots and pans, essential items for cooking, while they are waiting for household goods to arrive. And to help save some money, we are able to go to the food pantry and pick up non-perishable foods other military families have donated.”
Christina Schmitt and her husband Maj. Brad Schmitt are sponsoring the recently arrived North family. They have invested many hours into preparing for the family of five (and their two dogs). She said, “We went and looked at the house for them; my husband was there when they delivered the furniture; we asked them for a grocery list; we shopped for all their groceries; we picked up a water cooler; I went to the lending closet; I washed all their dishes; I made them a welcome basket with things we like from Germany like snacks and wine; I got stuff for their kiddos, coloring books and things like that; and I’m making a dinner for them so they don’t need to think about that on their first night.”
For Marin, he sees “thinking outside the box” as an important tool for sponsorship under COVID-19 restrictions. “We put ourselves in the family’s position and think, ‘What would I like to have if I were in quarantine?’”
Schmitt echoed the exact sentiment. “I do what would be a nice thing for someone to do for me,” she said.
The Marins have lent televisions, games, puzzles and other items in an effort to keep quarantined newcomers and their children busy. “A lot of our families are coming over with no entertainment,” he said.
Senior Airman Jacob Foster has been the beneficiary of a team-like approach to sponsorship. His sponsor, Staff Sgt. Brandon Alt answered questions, viewed four apartments, grocery shopped and picked up numerous boxes from the post office.
Marin picked up Foster, his wife and two large dogs from the airport. While Marin isn’t Foster’s official sponsor, he has followed up on the family’s needs since the airport arrival. “Under a normal situation, you get here and go out and start doing stuff,” Foster said. “For us, we have nothing else to do but paint.” Marin went out and bought paint and supplies so the family could bring fresh color to their living room, bedrooms and bathroom.
Marin said, “we understand that members can be anxious or scared being overseas and away from home; we have it down pretty well that we can make them feel at home right away.”
Marin is a part of a small Air Force unit in Wiesbaden. “It is more family structured and the cohesion helps us help each other,” he said. “There is that sense of belonging; you are a part of a family.”
“Once they exit quarantine, that is where all the fun happens - helping them move, scheduling appointments and handling basic needs like getting a cell phone,” Marin added.
For the Foster family, their official sponsor will walk them through their appointments, including in processing on Clay Kaserne, picking up their vehicle and escorting Foster to his unit.
Beyond the formal in processing, Schmitt is looking forward to teaching Ashley North how to shop on the economy and use VAT forms too.
Marin and Schmitt see communication as the key to effective sponsorship.
Schmitt said, “Ask for help; don’t be shy; we can only help you if ask.”
“Be open with your sponsor,” Marin said. “Help your sponsor identify your priorities - whether that be a cell phone or getting a vehicle. If we know that is a priority, we can help them start looking.”
Marin encourages Soldiers and their families to reach out to their sponsors and engage at least once a week before they arrive. He said, “Getting to know your sponsor helps you.”
“We owe a big debt of gratitude to our sponsors,” Foster said. “They’ve been fairly selfless in making sure our needs have been taken care of and we hope to be able to pay it forward to someone else coming in during this whole COVID situation.”