Joint military effort aids California families in need

By Pfc. Brandon C. Pomrenke | October 29, 2007

MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif. – Although the California wildfires have had a devastating impact on many families, a glimmer of hope is beginning to shine through. Servicemembers and their families, businesses, residents of the Riverside community and March Air Reserve Base now have a way to help with the relief effort.

People can make donations with “gift checks,” which those in need can use to purchase food supplies from the March commissary.

“Although we can’t donate from the commissary itself, our vendors can and have come through with gift checks to help families locally,” said Jerry Contreras, acting store director of the March commissary. “Since just yesterday we’ve raised $1,250 in gift checks.”

The base's Friend and Family Association is helping provide families with the purchased gift checks. The Association is also supporting military families, servicemembers and retirees who have been displaced or affected by the wildfires.

“We are trying to give to Reservists, retirees and even DoD civilians in the affected areas,” said Air Force Reserve Tech. Sgt. Elizabeth Buckingham, a family technician at March. “There is a new, updated list every day that is mostly retirees and reservists.”

One reservist’s family was forced to flee the roaring blaze and is now temporarily housed at March.

“We’ve suffered a tremendous loss, but this has been fantastic here,” said Rosalind Donoghue, wife of Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Brendan Donoghue, chief dentist with 452nd Aerospace Squadron.

The Donoghues and their five children saw flames heading straight for their house and were forced to leave without even a second to grab any personal belongings.

“We saw the fire coming toward us and embers flying around. It was right behind us,” said Mrs. Donoghue. “Brendan left, literally, with the shirt on his back.”

Once people have made a quick evacuation during what could be a life and death situation, not knowing what happens next can lead to even more stress and concern.

“We didn’t know what to expect the entire drive up here to [March],” explained Lt. Col. Donoghue. “I called my unit, and they helped me contact the necessary people.”

The Friend and Family Association was prepared to jump into action by the time the Donoghue family arrived. Lodging was ready, food was available and help was on the way.

“When we left, we didn’t even have clothes for five days of school for the kids,” said Mrs. Donoghue. “But, bit by bit, we are getting everything we need: food, a uniform so Brendan can work this weekend, a safe place away from the fires and even help getting medical appointments.”

Making sure that the Donoghues and others going through similar ordeals have all that they need takes a lot of effort from the military and local communities.

“We’ve been safe and secure here,” said Mrs. Donoghue. “We needed [the military’s] help, and it’s been great.”