Still serving: Retiree Activities Office a guiding light for retirees

by Kimberly L. Wright
Air University Public Affairs

12/3/2010 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- A small group of devoted volunteers are poised to offer retirees of all branches of the armed forces and their families guidance on a number of issues, including benefits and procedures.

With a motto of "Still Serving," the Retiree Activities Office provides liaison services between the active duty units at Maxwell Air Force Base, Gunter Annex and the local retiree communities from all branches of the armed forces. According to the Retiree Activities Office fact sheet, the office is a base-level component of the Air Force Retiree Council, which itself provides the link between members of the Air Force retiree community and the Air Force chief of staff.

The Retiree Activities Office, located in building 804, around the corner from the wing commander, is usually manned in the mornings.

"We're always happy to take walk-ins when we're there," said John Burch, a retired colonel.

They give retirees vital information on an assortment of topics and, if they don't know the answer, they know someone who does.

From among the five volunteers who take turns manning the office, "we have more than 100 years of experience," remarked Mr. Burch.

"It's very interesting fielding calls from people. They don't necessarily know where to turn," said Fred Paine, a retired chief master sergeant who has been volunteering a day a week since 2003.

Agencies that they refer retirees to include the base legal office, the Social Security office, the clinic, Veterans Affairs and base Casualty Affairs.

"We listen to what the situation happens to be, evaluate and refer them to the proper agencies," Mr. Paine said.

Joe L'Abbe, a retired colonel who has volunteered with the Retiree Activities Office for two years, spent a recent Monday morning listening to seven messages left on the office's voicemail over the weekend. He appreciated the chance to help out fellow retirees, "just being of assistance to people who need help. We get quite a few calls," he said.

The office also produces a quarterly newsletter that goes out to about 10,000 retirees, mostly in the state.

Mr. Burch is interested in recruiting additional volunteers to join the Retiree Activities Office, as five volunteers are "not nearly enough." Volunteers can include widows and retirees from other services.

He started as a volunteer in the Retiree Activities Office in 1986 when he retired.
His most memorable time as a volunteer came when he gave a couple advice about Medicare. He advised them to get the supplement in addition to their coverage, a decision that ended up being crucial when the man was diagnosed with cancer that year. The supplement "saved them thousands of dollars," Mr. Burch said. "It was real heartwarming to know that we were able to help them."

Volunteers also benefit from each other's company and shared experiences, telling "war stories" about being on active duty while preparing the newsletter, Mr. Burch said.

"There's something about the camaraderie of arms, all those years we watched each other's backs," said Mr. Burch. "Retirees that volunteer, they still feel a part of that team. In a real way, we're all still in blue suits."

For more information on the Retiree Activities Office or help with retiree-related issues, call 953-6725.