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Airman finds many wingmen in time of need

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Haila Hill, left, and Tracy Albright, are volunteers at the Peterson Air Force Base Thrift Shop. The Peterson AFB Thrift Shop along with a variety of helping agencies were integral to helping Senior Airman Tyler Symoens, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, and his family after a shipping container fired damaged their household goods. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jared Marquis)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. – Haila Hill, left, and Tracy Albright, are volunteers at the Peterson Air Force Base Thrift Shop. The Peterson AFB Thrift Shop along with a variety of helping agencies were integral to helping Senior Airman Tyler Symoens, 21st Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter, and his family after a shipping container fired damaged their household goods. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jared Marquis)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- A last minute PCS can be a frantic event. Packing up a household and all of the things that go a long with that; travel arrangements, locating to a new workplace and city are part of it. Finding out that your personal property is not going to be joining you any time soon makes it tougher. That is when having a good wingman, or wingmen is important.

That's just what happened to Senior Airman Tyler Symoens, a 21st Space Wing firefighter, and his family when he came to Peterson Air Force Base from Ramstein AFB in May. About two weeks after arriving at Peterson AFB, Symoens saw a Face Book post on June 3 from his previous base about a ship catching fire. He quickly dismissed the event as surely not involving his belongings, but about an hour later he got an email that his car, though not directly part of the blaze, received some damage. Symoens worried about the level of damage because he had a buyer ready to purchase the vehicle once it made it off the ship.

Symoens said vehicles and household goods don't typically end up on the same ship, but on June 13 he received a text that his household goods were damaged in the same fire. With all of their belongings somewhere else and nothing to set up house, Symoens, his wife Shawna and 13-month-old son Luke suddenly felt very alone. But that would not last long.
"When I was notified about the damage I looked at my wife and said, 'What are we going to do?'" Symoens said.

He posted his problem to the Peterson yard sale group on Face Book and within one hour he received 71 replies from people wanting to help. Even now people are still sending emails and making sure he and his family have what they need - which they do. As a matter of fact, Symoens said things came in at such a high rate his family got too much. He contacted the people who donated, but they did not want the items back so he will donate the excess to the Airman's Attic or the Peterson AFB Thrift Shop.

The family is grateful to Team Pete for helping them in such a dire situation. The kindness is something he didn't expect, especially being newly assigned here.
"People in Europe say the family vibe is not here (at U.S. bases)," he said, "But we don't see that here. Since we've got here everyone is helping and trying to help. I've made some friends out of this."

He credits his fellow firefighters as being a great help, offering him things he needed, giving him rides to look at things and even helping move items like furniture. The fire chief and his first sergeant reached out to make sure the family had what they needed.  Other help came their way as well.

The firefighters from his previous assignment pitched in and sent some money to help out. Symoens said it was a good feeling to get the helping hand from the guys at Ramstein.
The base thrift shop opened its doors to the family, though it was closed for business during transition to a new location, allowing them to take things they needed free of charge. The Airman's Attic provided needed kitchen and household basics and the Loan Locker provided other temporary needs. Symoens said the Airman's Attic folks held donated furniture, allowing him to look at it before making it available at their facility.

Two Chapel groups - Mothers of Preschoolers and Protestant Women of the Chapel - donated children's and adult clothing, toys, baby items and other items.

The Team Pete network of helping agencies kicked in quickly to assist the Airman's family in need. When Nona Daugherty, Key Spouse Program manager with Airman and Family Readiness Center caught wind of the family's plight, she contacted someone she knew to be well connected, Laura Hyten, wife of Gen. John Hyten, Air Force Space Command commander.

Hyten is involved in several groups in the Team Pete and Colorado Springs communities acting as advisor and mentor to some, including MOPS and PWOC. She shared the need, and those groups became enthusiastically involved.

"Not only do we have our Air Force that wants to take care of its family members and is well equipped to do so, but we have a wonderful and caring community in the Colorado Springs area who truly wants to step in and help," Mrs. Hyten said. "There are groups of people and individuals outside of our gates that value who we are as military families, value what we do to protect and defend the USA."

Symoens said he and Shawna were surprised when Hyten came to visit, not because of who she was - they didn't know at the time - but because they didn't know anybody locally yet. He recounted how Hyten came to their home and offered help, connecting them with people and organizations. She even drove Shawna to some places since they were short a vehicle, Symoens said.

For now his biggest worry is the location and condition of his household goods. There are many irreplaceable and priceless items related to their child and their time in Europe, for example. He said the claims office at Wright-Patterson AFB is providing valuable help in locating his belongings. Symoens will get to see his car and assess its damage by the end of September.

The transition has been extra challenging for his family, but it has been easier because of the care and concern of the Team Pete Community.

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