A homecoming of sorts for 87th APS Airman

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Charlie Miller
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
A reservist assigned to the 445th Airlift Wing's 87th Aerial Port Squadron had a homecoming of sorts when he performed his annual tour at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., in June, the same location his father was assigned before his sudden death in 2007.

Senior Airman Kevin Shaffer, an air transportation technician, was part of a group of Airmen from his squadron that deployed to Andrews for their two-week annual training June 6. Shaffer was ready to face new challenges in his young military career and revisit a place that held some tragic memories. Kevin's father, Lt. Col. Martin Schaffer, was the director of protocol when he passed away at the age of 45.

"Dad had taken a few days of leave to relax and had a massive stroke. We talked the day before he died. I didn't know people can go from looking perfectly healthy one day to be gone the next," Kevin said.

Kevin was 18 at the time of his father's passing, just three months he graduated from high school. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Now, four years after his father's death, Kevin is working at the same passenger terminal where his dad used to work.

"You can request annual tour locations but my assignment came up randomly. I saw my name on the list for Andrews and I was like, hey, I know a little bit about that base. We came to work the first day and I walked into the Distinguished Visitor Lounge and it looked exactly like it did in 2007 when my dad was the director of protocol here," Kevin said.

Cheryl Eresman, a licensed professional clinical counselor in Kettering, Ohio, said that it's really Kevin that has changed.

"Being in a place that's full of memories of his father can bring closure," Eresman said. "Kevin can 'see' his dad, everywhere. So, being in that specific place could be particularly healing for him. The up side of someone dying so unexpectedly is that they don't suffer. The downside is that you don't get to say goodbye. Working where his father worked will give Kevin a chance to say goodbye," Eresman said.

Time itself is an agent for change. But there were strong memories of walking into the place his late father used to work, walking the same halls in his own uniform now where he once followed his father four years ago.

"After I found out that I was going to be working in the same terminal my dad did, I began to wonder if any of the people he worked with were still there. I walked into the DV lounge and recognized Mr. P. (John Polhemus, Deputy Chief of Flight Line Protocol). I knew he worked for my dad. He said 'Hey, don't I know you?' I hadn't seen him in four years and I was still in high school."

Polhemus recognized Kevin immediately.

"Seeing Kevin come in that door was really cool," Polhemus said. He told Kevin that the entire staff had honored his father not long after his death by naming the Distinguished Visitor Suite after him.
Kevin knew nothing about the room honoring his father. He was both surprised and happy. It was clear that his father was loved and respected by the protocol staff.

With his father's passing and all the events surrounding it, Kevin wasn't able to focus on his freshman year of college or Reserve Officers' Training Corps at the University of Maryland. He's back on track with college now and wants to pursue being an Air Force officer like his dad, but if possible, attaining a higher rank than his dad.

While getting caught up with Mr. P., Kevin wondered out loud if his father would be proud of him, or maybe upset that he wasn't an officer yet. Mr. P. was quick to respond.

"Your dad would be proud of you, Kevin," Polhemus said.

Kevin said having a father with a prominent position can sometimes bring benefits.

"He brought me in to work a few times and I got to see, but not meet, President George W. Bush, several senators and a variety of foreign diplomats," Kevin said. "One year he helped run an air show and at the last minute ended up with a few extra DV tickets. He said, 'Here, get some friends together and have a good time.' That was a fun day."

Kevin believes that, without a doubt, his dad would come up with a joke about the assignment.

"I know that if my dad was still alive and working here he'd come over to the ticket counter and make fun of me and try to embarrass me. Then I'd remind him of the time he fell asleep in a golf cart on the flight line at an air show and got a bad sunburn. Overall, coming back to Andrews has been a very good experience for me."