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Rakes to Shovels

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- As winter weather begins to roll in, Airmen are gearing up to help shovel snow for their fellow deployed Airmen's spouses.

Airman 1st Class Paul DeJarnette, 28th Communications Squadron application services technician, has been in charge of the lawn care and snow removal program since May 2010 when he took over for another Airman who was leaving for a deployment.

The need for snow removal typically ranges from October to June. Historically, August is the only month that hasn't had any snowfall in this area, said Airman DeJarnette.

"The service we provide is to help any family of a deployed Airman from Ellsworth whether they live on or off base, regardless of rank. We help the family whether the deployed Airman is enlisted or an officer," Airman DeJarnette said.

"I volunteered to take over because I know how to take care of lawns," Airman DeJarnette said. "I grew up mowing more than an acre of land with a manual push-mower. I also wanted to take advantage of an opportunity to make a wing-wide impact."

Last summer, Airman DeJarnette mowed three lawns himself, and as the point of contact for the program, sent updates and reports to the Active Airman's Council on a regular basis.

According to his records, Airman DeJarnette said that on average, volunteers readily sign up for lawn care in the summer than for snow removal in the winter.

"No one wants to be outside because it's cold, but what most Airmen don't realize is that working in the wintertime also has its perks, such as complimentary hot chocolate and warming up by a cozy fire," Airman DeJarnette said.

About half of the volunteers live on base, inside the dormitories.

"We actually need more volunteers who live off base," Airman DeJarnette said. "Right now we have approximately 30 volunteers ranging from newly-assigned Airmen up to Senior Airmen."

For those interested in volunteering, Airman DeJarnette requests they send him an email with their name and contact phone number.

"Motivation is very important to me," said Airman DeJarnette. "I want volunteers who are going to participate because they care."

Airman DeJarnette said it is important for Airmen to keep in mind they are providing a service to take care of the families of their fellow Airmen and not for personal financial gain.

"Should spouses offer tips, I encourage Airmen to decline," Airman DeJarnette said. "If they insist on paying the Airmen, I tell them to suggest that spouses instead make a donation to the AAC fund."

The AAC gives all donations it receives either to charities, or uses it to host events for unaccompanied Airmen.

Airman 1st Class Kelsey Myers, Air Force Financial Services Center finance technician, said she volunteers to gain experience and to become a well-rounded Airman.

"Volunteering gives me opportunities to do things I never would have done otherwise, such as being an usher," Airman Myers said. "It's good for morale. Volunteering provides a social opportunity; you get to meet new people."

The Airman and Family Readiness Center provides phone numbers and email addresses of volunteers to spouses of deployed Airmen, and spouses then provide the equipment.

"Most Airmen living in the dorms don't own either lawn-care or snow removal equipment, because they have limited space in the dorms and they don't have lawns," Airman DeJarnette said.

While the spouses provide the necessary equipment, Airman DeJarnette ensures the Airmen who volunteer to do the work are not over-tasked.

"I don't send the same volunteer out to do a job twice in a row; that's why I need a certain number of volunteers," Airman DeJarnette said.

Airman DeJarnette sites some reasons for spouses needing assistance with lawn care or snow removal.

"Some spouses need help because they are pregnant, sick, on their way out of town. Other times there's just too much snow for them to shovel on their own, or the grass is too thick for them to mow," Airman DeJarnette said. "They may also be working full-time and not be able to do the work in a time frame that's conducive to them doing the task."

Airman DeJarnette said he volunteers to help spouses because he cares, and also to ensure the safety of the mission.

"Mission performance down range will go down if our Airmen are worried about the welfare and well-being of their families back home. We step in to help ease the stress," Airman DeJarnette said. "We, as the Active Airman's Council, step in to help relieve that stress, and allow our wing's deployed personnel to focus on their mission at hand."