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Air Force Enlisted Village Celebrates Patriotism During Pandemic

Memorial Day weekend is a big holiday at the Air Force Enlisted Village where residents are either retired service members or spouses of service members. 

And even as the coronavirus pandemic disrupts aspects of daily life, AFEV wasn’t going to let the military holiday go unnoticed. 

Saturday morning, residents in red, white and blue waved to a parade of vintage cars, motorcycles and first responders. Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” blared from a car speaker and the loop of resident halls and apartments were lined with American flags. 

“We’d normally have a big ceremony with a guest speaker, but of course that’s not happening,” said Brooke McLean, a retired airman and president of the Village. “We had all individuals pre-screened, maintaining social distancing. This is different, but still an opportunity to remember the sacrifices of service members.” 

Serving a community of at-risk individuals means a lot of adapting for the Enlisted Village which consists of independent and assisted living. One of the key changes since mid-March, on top of state guidelines, was limiting outbound traffic as much as possible. Volunteers from Hurlburt Field have been grocery shopping for the independent-living residents, making pharmacy pickups, and the facility is asking residents to postpone any elective appointments they have. 

Credit Jennie McKeon/WUWF Public Media
Ginny Green gives a thumb's up to parade participants. The old cars reminded her of her late husband, who enjoyed vintage cars.

Peg Polomski has been a resident at AFEV on and off for 13 years. Without any visitors, she’s been keeping herself busy cleaning and cooking. Some of her go-to recipes include cabbage rolls, lasagna, and apple pie. Having help with the grocery shopping is “very much appreciated,” she said. 

“It’s also kind of comical,” she added. “I put one banana on my shopping list and they came back with a whole bunch, so the neighborhood enjoyed them, too. I appreciate them, though, because they’re risking their safety to keep us safe.”

McLean said they’ve challenged residents to help be proactive. On Saturday, the bust of Bob Hope (who was an early supporter of AFEV) was wearing a T-shirt that read “Keep Calm and Flatten the Curve.” Staff and guests are required to wear masks when interacting with residents. At the front entrance, the number of local and state cases is posted to remind folks why the guidelines are in place. 

“With so many of our residents being service members, or spouses, they know there’s times when you have to sacrifice,” said McLean. “And they willingly did so.”

One-third of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. are residents and workers at nursing homes. AFEV didn’t have a confirmed case until May 13 as the facility started to test all residents and staff. The patient was asymptomatic and has been in quarantine for over a week. 

Games and activities are still in place at the facility, but in smaller groups. Staff has also been connecting residents to their families through Zoom video conferencing. But Saturday’s parade was relief from reality, even if it’s a little bittersweet.  

“(The holiday) makes you miss your mate,” said Ginny Green, a resident for about a year. “That’s why I like it here. There’s camaraderie since we have similar backgrounds. Even if it’s unspoken — we know.” 

Green joked she felt AFEV was almost too protective of residents. She’s encouraged by the reopening efforts and looks forward to having her family visit again. 

“My son said to me, ‘I bet you have a long list of things for me to take care of.’ But I said, ‘No I don’t need you to do chores. Just come over and visit.’” 

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.