America Supports You: YMCA Keeps Base Residents Rolling
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska, Sept. 19, 2005 Staff members of the Armed Services YMCA here have stepped up to solve a transportation problem for people stationed here and at nearby Fort Richardson, Alaska.
Air Force Airman Waylon Roberts, his wife, Chasity, found the Armed Services YMCA shuttle service very helpful on trips to the local combined exchange store. Roberts recently arrived at Elmendorf Air Force Base and is assigned to the 3rd Medical Operations Squadron. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The neighboring bases share an exchange store, a hospital and other amenities that are not conveniently located for those who don't have transportation. For instance, it's about eight miles one way from the housing area at Fort Richardson to the combined exchange store located on Elmendorf, store officials said. And even though the store is on Elmendorf, residents here don't get much of a break. It's still an across-base walk.
The Armed Services YMCA solved this problem with a free shuttle service that runs from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.
Since March, John Williams, the local ASYMCA's transportation manager and a former Army staff sergeant, and his staff of two have been driving residents of the two bases to appointments and to do their shopping.
The crew also has standing appointments to pick up civilian employees who either don't drive or don't have vehicles at bus stops near the gates and drop them off at their offices, and then take them back out to the gates at the end of the day. Some, like interns, may not have vehicles, and other employees don't drive for a variety of reasons. On weekends, the transportation service will take residents from either base to a transportation hub in downtown Anchorage as well.
A nonprofit organization, the Armed Services YMCA is a national member association of the YMCA of the USA and works with the Department of Defense. The ASYMCA has provided child care, hospital assistance, spouse support services, food services, computer training classes, health and wellness services, holiday meals, and other services to servicemembers and their families for more than 140 years. It is focused on junior-enlisted men and women.
"The program was requested by the servicemembers," said retired Army Lt. Col. Peter Mulcahy, Armed Services YMCA of Alaska's executive director and a former unit commander at Fort Richardson from 2000-2002. He said the transportation issue came up repeatedly at town hall meetings.
Mulcahy said rules governing the use of appropriated funds for transportation nipped other transportation ideas in the bud. "Any kind of scheduled service just doesn't work. We've tried it periodically. So we had to get the free taxi," he said.
Air Force Airman Waylon Roberts, a recent arrival at Elmendorf, said it took almost an hour and a half to take the base shuttle bus to the exchange, a real inconvenience for him and his family until their car catches up with them.
"If it was just me, it'd be all right," said Roberts, who is assigned to the 3rd Medical Operations Squadron here. But he'll need to drive their only vehicle to work, and his wife and daughter will still need a way to get around.
Williams said junior enlisted servicemembers and their families are the most frequent riders of the service.
"I think this program is needed on every military post," Williams said, "(because of) the fact of the high prices of the taxi cabs, the high prices of fuel. It saves a lot of people fuel."
One driver, Debra Templeton, agreed that the program would be welcome on every post. Her husband and Williams' wife are both deployed with the Army's 164th Military Police Company from Fort Richardson. Templeton said she wishes something similar had been available at other duty stations.
To use the YMCA's program, riders call a dispatcher, who will contact the closest driver. That driver will go anywhere on either base to pick up and deliver riders to their desired destination. One of the drivers will then pick them up when they're finished. If a rider has a car-seat-aged child, but no car seat, one can be borrowed from Army Community Services for the duration of the ride.
Williams and his drivers strictly enforce the car-seat rule, Williams said.
Sometimes the driving team goes above and beyond the call of duty. Williams said that driver Makeba Brown got a call one night after hours from a mother with a baby who had a high fever and had started convulsing. Brown picked up the mother and child on Fort Richardson and got them to the hospital on Elmendorf. When they arrived, the baby's fever had spiked to 105.4.
Williams explained that that response time for the ambulance could have been six to eight minutes, depending on where it responded from. This response time was lessened by Brown's intimate knowledge of the housing areas and roads between the two bases from driving the ASYMCA vans. The baby was treated for the high fever and released to her mother after the fever broke.
The program operates on donations, some of which come from the riders themselves. Most, however, come from the civilian public and corporations, Mulcahy said, adding that it takes about $40,000 a year to maintain one vehicle with one driver. Donations so far have come in the form of cash and good deals on the two vans used in the operation.
Since March 1, the program has racked up more than 15,000 accident-free miles and carried more than 1,400 passengers, Williams said. With these accomplishments in hand, Williams said he really only wishes for a few more vehicles and drivers.
"If I had four (more) ... drivers and two (more) vehicles, it would double the people and cut the wait times in half," he said.