Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall is America’s Post, an installation married with a history of ceremonial tradition and innovative firsts.
While some may recognize the post as the home of the oldest infantry unit in the Army, or the site of the first testing of military aircraft, there is another side of JBM-HH history the installation prides itself on. That history is the story of volunteerism.
The Armed Forces Hostess Association, a historic organization of volunteers, is dedicated to serving the personal information needs of members of all branches of the armed forces, their Families and government civilian personnel.
Kathy Feehan, a JBM-HH workforce development specialist, emphasized that the volunteer force has always been valued by the joint base leadership.
“The commander’s priority is connecting people with the resources they need and to support partnerships that provide resources to the community in innovative ways,” she said.
In light of the current virtual environment, Feehan asserted that the JBM-HH and the Army continues its mission.
“The main thing is all of the services we were doing before COVID-19 face-to-face are still being done (virtually),” said Feehan.
While the Army marches on, the need and value of volunteers continues. As Department of Defense active duty and civilians enter and leave the National Capitol Region, volunteers are often on hand to assist, Feehan said.
This is where the role of the Armed Forces Hostess Association comes into play.
The organization, originally known as the Army Hostess Association, was founded in March 1949 when Gen. Omar Bradley asked Gen. Hobart Gay, the commanding general of the Military District of Washington, D.C., to assist three officers’ wives to establish a Pentagon office to assist incoming personnel to the nation’s capital. It became the Armed Forces Hostess Association three months later when other service wives joined the effort.
The legacy continues to the present day. The Armed Forces Hostess Association, located in the Pentagon entrance level, is an all-volunteer organization of military spouses and retirees.
AFHA president, Elaine Freeman explained that for the volunteers the opportunity to help is a personal and important one. She began volunteering in 1966 when her husband was active duty Navy stationed at the Pentagon.
Although the program includes volunteers from all services, it started out as Army Family readiness and was that way for 70 years, she said. In the past year, the program was transferred to Washington Headquarters Services, Pentagon Division. Housed in the Pentagon now for 71 years, the AFHA is a conduit for other military related agencies like the USO, the Transition Assistance Program and more.
“I feel strongly that AFHA provides a morale boost to those visiting the AFHA office, especially in these trying times,” she said. “All volunteers have had people comment on how the friendly atmosphere is appreciated.”
According to Freeman, the organization is best known for its main focus, which is to provide sponsor packets to inbound military to the National Capitol Region, regardless of what branch of service. Inside the packets, one can find maps of the NCR region, details on schools, insight on vehicle registration and telephone numbers for installations across the region including JBM-HH, Fort Belvoir and Joint Base Andrews. The information provided includes military specific information, including transportation options to installations and the Pentagon, and information on slugging and carpools.
For Families who are relocating to the NCR, the packets can be invaluable, Freeman said. The region is expansive, and not everyone lives close to their place of work. Having the right information can help Families
determine where to live. The
packet for instance, provides detailed information on area medical resources, which can assist Families with children with medical issues through the relocation process.
The information is vast, including details on national parks and bicycle maps.
“It is an overwhelming amount of hard copy,” said Freeman. “In this day and age, people like everything online, but people like having these hard copies.”
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the office is currently open only two days a week, Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Elaine Freeman can be contacted outside those hours by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The service is not just for Families already in the area. If an active duty service member wants to arrive earlier than his or her Family, it is good to have the information. Likewise, the AFHA often hears from active duty members who are departing and required to give their replacement information.
The AFHA also assists those visiting the region.
“We had a request from the Marine Corps two years ago,” Freeman recalled. “A Marine was to receive the Medal of Honor and we (provided) packets for his Family, as they were coming to town for a few days. So, we put special packets together with sightseeing, transportation. We put together about 30 packets. We do this when requested. For example, (if) NATO (has) visitors or for groups visiting the area for training.”
The idea of military serving military fosters a unique connection, Freeman explained.
“You can only volunteer if you are a military spouse or retired military,” said Freeman. “If you are part of this military experience, you know the kind of assistance that is needed, and it is helpful. You don’t know how good it is to talk to someone (who understands) face to face, with a smile on their face. When you get out of the metro we are the first thing you see, our office is welcoming.”
Freeman spoke to the history of how the AFHA has responded to the moment. For instance, following 9/11, the volunteer organization worked tirelessly to maintain and share information for those deploying.
Freeman spoke highly of the contributions of military spouses.
“I find that spouses of active duty are incredibly helpful,” she said. “We have had spouses of three stars, and spouses of sergeants (and below). (Most of our volunteers are) Army.”
Thinking of 2020, she said “It’s a difficult time but we are here. We try to provide the most up to date answers that we can. If you ask me a question and I do not know, I will take down your name and contact and I will get the answer for you.”
This article originally ran in the Pentagram on November 19, 2020.