Air Force Assistance Fund brings comfort to Airmen

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Trevor Rhynes
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The Air Force Aide Society provides financial relief to Airmen by providing money in times of emergencies. For some Airmen, like Senior Master Sgt. Mike Keeler, 86th Security Forces Squadron plans and programs division superintendent, money is requested for unexpected and adverse circumstances.

"I was in San Antonio from 2003 to 2004, as an instructor at the security forces schoolhouse," said Keeler. "My wife and I were excited to be on a controlled tour, because we wanted to start a family.

"When she had our son, it was the first of September," he said. "After three days, Connor was good enough to be brought home on the afternoon of the fourth. We had a few people over for a barbeque, and show our son off, everything was going well."

But that night, things changed for the Keeler family.

"I was up until four in the morning, staying with my son in his room, sitting on the rocking chair where he fell asleep on my chest," said Keeler. "I was talking to him doing the dad thing. I laid him down between four or five, then went to my room to go to sleep.

"An hour and 45 minutes later my wife woke me up," said Keeler. "I walked into his room at around six to pick him up for feeding. That's where I found him."

Even with all of his experience as a security forces Airman, Keeler wasn't ready for what he saw next.

"He was just laying there when I walked into his room," said Keeler. "I've responded to a lot of deceased calls, but it's different when it's your child.

"I immediately started CPR but I knew in my heart, that he was gone," he said. "My wife knew something was wrong because I screamed out 'call 911.'"

Chaos ensued, his wife and her sister were crying and screaming as the ambulance transported Connor to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

"We ended up leaving the hospital just after 2 p.m.," said Keeler. "My wife just didn't want to leave him. That was a very difficult time."

This is where he said his memory became hazy, because of a lack of knowing what to do.

"The next day my wife and I met with the shirt who directed me to the Air Force Aide Society to figure out how to transport Connor," he said.

"I sat down with the AFAS representative, Judy, who was a huge help," Keeler said. "She ended up planning everything from getting us tickets home, to contacting a mortuary, to making sure the airline would allow us to fly on the same plane.

"She did so much for me and my wife, but in that short period of time, I never got her last name," said Keeler. "She continued asking what I might need and even though I was never sure, she kept providing."

The help received from the AFAF has driven Keeler to take a bigger part in the yearly campaign.

"Since then, I've always made sure I've been a part of the campaign whenever I had the chance to," said Keeler. "I try to ensure that our folks know that donating money is a selfless act. It's special how we can take pride in helping fellow Airmen."

Reaching out to as many Airmen as possible is an important task for Keeler.

"This year, I was selected as our group representative," he said. "I ensure that my troops know how important this is, it's a program that only helps Airmen. This covers many different situations, not just those like mine.

"I know that I'll continue donating into my retirement. That's how important this has become to me."

Not everyone runs into someone like Judy whenever they're going through a hard time, but there is always someone to go to.

"My biggest piece of advice is seek someone out," said Keeler. "Seek someone to talk to, for me it was Judy from the aide society, but you can go to chaplains, supervisors, or first sergeants.

"Nobody will ever understand the pain you're going through, or the thoughts in your mind," he said. "However, they will help you turn those negative thoughts into positive ones to help you get through whatever problems you may have."

For Keeler, this story was something normally kept between him and close friends, but he hopes sharing it will help others going through similar issues.

"I had to ask my wife, if she was okay with me sharing our story at the Air Force Assitance Fund kick-off breakfast," he said "That was the seventh time I had told our story to anyone, previously it was just to close friends. But I know if telling my story will help at least one person, and I have someone in mind, it will ease their suffering."