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Feature | Nov. 28, 2018

Local families host troops for Thanksgiving

By Airman 1st Class Alexandra Singer 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The annual Adopt-a-Service Member Program, sponsored by the United Service Organization and the 733rd Mission Support Group, returned to Fort Eustis, Virginia, for the Thanksgiving holiday.

The program aims to improve service member morale and enhance community relations.

“It’s important these young service members know they are thought about and these families that reach out are caring,” said Danis Lensch, USO of Hampton Roads and Central Virginia center director.

Approximately 120 U.S. Army Soldiers and U.S. Air Force Airmen have dinner with local families who welcome the members into their homes. Each member is able to not only share in the holiday festivities in a family-oriented setting, but they also get a chance to represent their units to the community.

Participating units included the 128th Aviation Brigade, Echo Company, 266th Quartermaster’s Battalion and the 362nd Training Squadron Detachment-1.

Families interested in hosting service members sign up to “adopt” a number of service members they can accommodate and welcome them into their home to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal.

The Stalnik family does their best to make anyone feel at home. With a house full of adopted children, five dogs and seven cats, it’s a wonder how they have been able to open up their home to service members for the past 12 years.

Andrea Stalnik heard about the program 12 years ago from a co-worker and was instantly interested. She told her husband about it, and being a retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt., he agreed it was a great idea.

“When I was active duty, I didn’t spend that many Thanksgivings at home so I know what it’s like to be away from everything,” said Thomas “Spike” Stalnik. “I get an opportunity to share my experiences with them.”

The Stalniks not only host Soldiers in their home, but they hope to become lifelong friends. They give their number to each Soldier in case they need rides anywhere, need to get off base for a while or just want to hang out at their home.

“No Soldier should have to spend Thanksgiving alone,” said Andrea. “We keep them as part of our family.”

Pvt. Drake Koch, 128th Aviation Brigade Advanced Individual Training student, was one of the Soldiers the Stalnik’s hosted.

Koch said he was nervous because he wasn’t sure what to expect out of the family. He was excited as this was his first time being out of uniform in eight months.

“If I could do it again, I would,” Koch said. “I’m really glad we got to play soccer and play with the Frisbee, but watching the football game (was) the best part.”

All the Soldiers agreed that it felt like home.

“Being away from the Company is a huge de-stressor and the food was really good,” Koch said. “This is something I would love to do one day.”

The Stalniks plan to continue this tradition for other Soldiers for years to come.

For more information on the Adopt-a-Service Member Program, call the USOHRCV at (757) 878-2415.