JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas --
Today’s Airmen and their families have a variety of choices when it comes to where and how they enjoy their leisure time.
One option, conveniently located on their installations, offers exclusive membership to reasonably priced events and culinary experiences, interactions with like-minded people and a host of opportunities to build more profound relationships with fellow Wingmen.
In addition to locally planned events such as squadron gatherings or game nights, Air Force clubs offer a series of team-building central programs managed and funded by the Air Force Services Activity headquartered in San Antonio.
The central programs offered at almost every Air Force installation include Football, UFC and Family Frenzy; the Air Force Scholarship Program; Air Force Birthday heritage events and Membership Appreciation.
“Our team continuously assesses programming so that it remains relevant, interesting and desirable to our customers while staying flexible to changing times and mission sets,” said Jonathan Boyd, AFSVA chief of non-appropriated fund food and beverage operations.
“Our goal is for Airmen to feel a sense of connectedness and create a social support system at their clubs,” Boyd said. “This builds a strong sense of community which directly feeds into the social pillar of Comprehensive Airmen Fitness.
“If you take a minute to think about it,” Boyd added, “Clubs are as important to building healthy and resilient Airmen as are fitness centers.“
Richanda Rodriguez, Eifel Club general manager at Spangdahlem Air Force Base, Germany, said he takes his mission to provide customer-driven food, beverage, entertainment and other programs for families, Airmen and club members, very seriously. He’s also aware that his customers rely on the club as a hub for social gathers.
“We support the Air Force community … serving as the primary location for official social functions and community relations events.
At his base, located in Germany’s Eifel region, customers seem to really enjoy the Football Frenzy program, Rodriguez said.
During football season, club members gather for watch parties with their friends and family to root for their favorite teams, enjoy food and have the chance to win various prizes, including a trip to that season’s Super Bowl.
“Something very unique this year was the partnership with USAA for Football Frenzy,” Boyd said. The sponsorship allowed hundreds of club members to receive tickets to games, prizes and to attend NFL watch parties throughout the season.
“We’ve received numerous emails and feedback from members expressing their appreciation for this and other central programs. Clubs provide a home away from home for many members whether overseas or stateside … Airmen and their families were able to enjoy this great American past time together,” Boyd added.
Susan McGraw is a military spouse and has enjoyed everything Air Force clubs have to offer for many years.
“My first memories of an Air Force club is RAF Mildenhall, England … It was prior to 9/11 and the British people came from miles around to attend the discos and live bands playing. It was very busy and very popular,” McGraw said.
She remembers her first trip to an Air Force club stateside as well, at the former Rome Air Force Base in upstate New York.
“I went there for dinner with a World War II Mustang pilot and his British war bride. I remember the bar area being decorated in the era of WWII, it was very special,” she said.
Air Force clubs represent safety and affordability, McGraw said, and a place of comfort.
“When my husband was deployed and our children were young, it was a place I would turn to help relieve the stress,” she said.
She specifically remembers a very difficult time in her life and how the club gave her a normalcy she and her family desperately needed.
McGraw was six months pregnant when she was notified that her father had unexpectedly passed away.
“It was Wednesday night, family night … that night I went to (the club) still in shock. I knew that my daughter would have two hours of running around and dancing, get a good dinner and I didn’t have to ‘function,’” she said. “I chose to go to the club on the day my father died because it met my needs and my family’s.”
McGraw, who has been a club member for about 20 years and attends events there now for social interaction, encourages everyone to give club membership a try.
“I have made friendships due to attending the club and I have recently become a UFC fan and experienced something I never even imagined I would (because of the club),” she said.
McGraw won the UFC 195 VIP trip to Las Vegas and took her daughter with her since her husband was deployed for a year in Afghanistan. She said she had “an awesome experience.”
But club membership is much more than winning.
“In the long run, you save money by being a club member and become more involved with the military as a whole. You get exposure to veterans coming onto base looking to socialize and meet them. It’s an exclusive feel that places off base cannot match,” she said.
There’s an important residual benefit to club membership that helps the entire installation as well.
“It pays to be a club member not only in benefits but (a percentage of dollars spent by Airmen at the club) goes back into the MWR programs, allowing continued support of Airmen and their families,” Boyd said.
“Your Air Force club system is expanding options and improving value, so now is the time for you to join and choose to spend your off-duty time strengthening our Air Force culture,” Boyd added.
“During my time as director of operations at AFSVA, we’ve given away two jeeps, two trips to the Super Bowl, over 100 NFL tickets, six UFC Fight Night trips, nearly $60,000 in scholarships and hundreds of other prizes,” Col. Mike Lamb said. “That’s great, and I’m excited to find more and better ways to reward our loyal members. That said, those things have very little to do with why I’m a lifetime member of the club.”
The colonel said he’s a club member for many of the same reasons that he’s committed the last 25 years of his life to.
“I want to be part of something bigger than myself. I want to associate with people who care about the same things I care about. I’m thrilled that our Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein has made revitalizing the squadrons a top priority. Clubs can be such a powerful tool for squadron commanders to develop the social pillar of Comprehensive Airmen Fitness in their Airmen. I’m excited to see what ‘s next,” Lamb said.
Everyone on Air Force installations is invited to join the Air Force as it prepares to enter a new era for club membership and programs.
“By September, the requirement to obtain a credit card will no longer be a condition of membership … a fact most often cited as to why people do not join,” Lamb said. “As we expand this new program, you will be able to choose from an array of dues payment methods including your card of choice or an on-line payment service like PayPal. Your Air Force Club system is expanding options and improving value, so now is the time for you to join and choose to spend your off-duty time strengthening the AF culture.”
Stop by the club at your installation to find out what events they have planned. You can also find out more about AFSVA’s clubs central programs at www.myairforcelife.com.