944th FW Operation Reserve Kids: ‘It’s a Family Fight’

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Tyler J. Bolken
  • 944th Fighter Wing

Dad is gone… 


Mom is gone…

For a child of a servicemember, this is generally their thought or understanding when their parent is gone or deployed for military service. They only know mom or dad is not there. The sacrifice is not just the servicemembers’ to bear, it is also their families’ – left behind. 

To bridge this gap the 944th Fighter Wing hosted Operation Reserve kids on April 7, 2024, at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., to provide a unique, firsthand opportunity for children of Reserve Citizen Airmen to step into the boots of their parents for a day.

“Your mission today is to have fun and to defend America,” said Col. Todd Riddle, 944th FW Commander. 

There were 85 eager youngsters on hand, 3 of which were children of Master Sgt. Robert Norby, a logistics plans section chief for the 944th Logistics Readiness Squadron.

“Words can only go so far,” explained Norby. “They need to see and touch some of the equipment."

Norby further explained how the day was designed to simulate a deployment experience for the children, including swearing them in and exposing them to various military activities such as getting issued gear, living in a deployed environment, loading weapons onto aircraft, dog handling, explosive ordinance disposal, and being welcomed home. 

"It's hugely important. It really helps them grasp that sense of what we do and why we do it,” said Norby.

Operation Reserve Kids is hosted every other year by the wing and is also supported by sponsors from the community, which further demonstrates the collective care and backing shown for members and their families when service calls.

“Feeling connected and knowing you are supported is essential to building resilient Airmen and their families,” said Jessica Maldonado, Director of Military and Family Readiness. “We have an amazingly supportive community here at Luke and when they learn this event is for our own military kids, they go above and beyond to make sure it is special.”

The hands-on experiences provided the children with an unparalleled insight into the military world, allowing them to see, touch, and learn about the equipment and processes their parents work with.

Maldonado explained how everything is designed with the kids in mind, not only so they have fun and engage with the experience, but so they also get a sincere understanding of what their parents do. 

Master Sgt. Donnell Henry and his wife both serve, and he said he hopes what their 2 children’s experiences at Operation Reserve Kids helps them understand reasons behind their parents’ absence due to military service. Henry is an aircraft maintenance section chief with the 69th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and his wife is an active-duty Airman at Luke AFB.

“They don’t realize it, but everything we do out here is for the family and friends of this country,” said Henry. “It’s a small sacrifice you have to be willing to make.”

Operation Reserve Kids concluded with a "Welcome Home" ceremony at Hangar 999, mirroring the joyous return of service members from deployment. This closing event solidified the day's experiences, leaving a lasting impression on the young attendees and their families.

“I am the one wearing the uniform, but they make just as many sacrifices as I do," said Norby. “It’s a family fight.”

In hosting Operation Reserve Kids, the 944th FW not only bridged the gap between military service and family life but also reinforced the sense of community within the Air Force Reserve. 

“This truly was a Wing-wide event and I feel it brings us all together to celebrate our families and the amazing diverse mission of this Wing,” said Maldonado.

The event was a testament to the resilience and unity of military families, highlighting the integral role they play in the broader mission of defending the nation.