Sunday, November 25, 2001

Nicholas Alexander, left, with mom Lulu Tapia, and Staci Cornman
with Kaitlynn Olewnik, center, and Zachary Lietzke, right.

24-hour duty means
24-hour base day care

Hickam Air Force base waives
day-care fees for parents who
work around the clock


By Gregg K. Kakesako

In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Air Force shifted many operations to 24 hours, seven days a week, creating problems and raising the stress level for its military couples and single parents needing after-hours care for their children.

With the week ending today set aside as Military Family Week, President George Bush said military families face challenges. "Many military families serve our country by sacrificing personal comfort as their loved ones help protect our nation. The men and women who serve in America's military depend on their families for solace and strength as they defend our people and our interests around the world."

The case of single parents can be even more stressful.

Hickam Air Force Base Staff Sgt. Lulu Tapia, a single mom, drew the evening shift as a supply technician with the Pacific Forces Regional Support Center. She immediately needed someone to look after her 6-year-old son, Nicholas Alexander, while she was at work.

Coming to her aid was Hickam Air Force Base's extended-duty care program, which allowed Tapia to leave Alexander with Staci Cornman, a licensed Hickam family care provider, and her family at night.

Judith Gross, flight chief of Hickam's Family Member Program, said normally Tapia would have had to pay $2 an hour to have Cornman take care of Alexander. However, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the $2-an-hour fee was waived through Jan. 2.

Gross said there were at least 15 children in the program at the height of the crisis with the program averaging more than 250 hours of care per week. "We were glad to offer this much-needed program to the community, especially now that the parent fee has been waived."

Tapia, who has been at Hickam for the past 212 years, said that "with very short notice Ms. Staci was able to take in my 6-year-old son and was available 24 hours anytime. Since I am a single parent and was immediately faced with serious responsibilities, she really came through for me.

"The entire family's nurturing care made my son and me very comfortable; although Nick had never met her, he adjusted and was very comfortable in her household within hours. This was a huge relief for me and allowed me to fulfill my military duties with the peace of mind to know my son was in good hands. I don't think I could ever thank her enough for being there, not only to support my needs, but also the needs of the country."

Senior Master Sgt. Billie Smith, chief of Hickam's aircraft maintenance training, said, "As a single parent, I immediately worried about not only who would care for my two children, but how I could afford the additional expense at $2 per hour per child for an undetermined period.

"I never imagined that the Air Force would step up and come to the rescue in the way that they have with the free-of-charge program that is currently being offered through the Family Development Center and their great home day-care providers," said Smith, a 20-year Air Force veteran.

Cornman, a 1983 Roosevelt High School graduate, said she logged about 180 hours one week taking in the children overnight and on weekends.

"At one point some other providers chipped in to try to give me a day off and time with my husband," said Cornman, who has three children.

But her husband, Senior Master Sgt. Jim Cornman, superintendent of Hickam's security force, got recalled to duty that weekend.

"I just caught up on my sleep," she said. "I think I must have slept most of the day."

Tapia, who has been in the Air Force for nearly 10 years, said that she was already paying $40 a week for child-care services before and after school before Sept. 11.

Her typical routine was to drop her son at the Hickam Youth Center at 6:45 a.m. each morning before his classes began at Mokuele Elementary School.

After her shift was over at about 5 p.m., she would then pick him up at the youth center.

When she was assigned to the night shift, her days were reversed.

"I would drop Nick off at Staci's at 8 p.m. on my way to work," Tapia said. "After I got off work at 7 a.m., I would pick him up and take him to school and sleep until I had to pick him up at the youth center around 4:30 p.m."

Under Hickam's normal child-care program, Gross said, there are 640 children a day being looked after during the week. "There are 170 in homes and another 470 in three child-care centers and two school-age programs."

The extended-duty care program, Gross said, is offered by the Air Force through a special $4,000-a-month grant that she expects will be extended after the program, initiated in February, ends in January.

She said the program is geared to the needs of working military couples and single parents.

Rose Hardy, Hickam's Family Child Care coordinator, said Air Force personnel must get a written verification from their supervisor stating they have to work beyond the 40-hour workweek for mission-related duties or have temporary shift change.

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