PANAMA CITY, FL (WMBB) — Serving in the military entails travel and lifestyle obstacles, but having a family member with special needs adds extra stressors.
According to officials at Tyndall Air Force Base, in 2009 there were 15,100 family members Air Force-wide with special needs who qualified for a military program called Exceptional Family Member Program.
The initiative centers around identifying the needs of these families and where they can be stationed.
By 2018 that number doubled to 32, 657 Air Force family members who qualify, said Colonel Brian Laidlaw.
This is where the Bay County School District enters the scene, partnering with the base’s team of school liaison personnel to provide special needs services.
Superintendent Bill Husfelt set up a tour of three special needs schools in Bay County on Thursday; Margaret K. Lewis School, New Horizons Learning Center, and St. Andrew School at Oakland Terrace.
Colonel Brian Laidlaw of Tyndall Air Force Base took the time to visit all three schools that provide special needs education.
Margaret K. Lewis, in particular, offers education starting from a very young age up to 22 years old, including transportation from and back to the base.
Services like these add value to the Air Force Base and the families stationed there says Colonel Laidlaw, adding, “So it is important for us as Department of Defense to see first hand the tremendous resources that a community like Bay County has to provide for all of the community and our military families.”
Laidlaw shared the tour impressed him beyond belief.
“You absolutely have to see this to believe this. You can read about it, you can study about it, but it doesn’t do justice to the men and women that we had the opportunity to meet today,” Laidlaw said.
Base leaders stress that these resources aid the Exceptional Family Member Program evaluations the Air Force uses when looking to bring military families living with special needs to the area.