Soldier Austin Terminel signed up for the the Flint Hills Home Away from Home program two years ago and was paired with Krista Blaisdell and her husband, Travis.
This past week, the Blaisdells attended his wedding in Florida.
Krista said what first sparked her interest in the program was her experience as a college athlete, where she had host families. Her husband also served 19 years in the military. Krista thought it sounded like a wonderful opportunity to mentor young soldiers in the community.
The Blaisdells found the perfect match in Terminel.
“He is part of our family,” Krista said. “He is another child for us."
The Blaisdells have also become close with Terminel’s family.
This past year, Terminel went with the family to visit Krista’s parents for Easter and the Blaisdells plan to visit his family in Alaska.
Though the Blaisdells adopted their son, his entire extended family, including his in-laws, have embraced the Blaisdells with open arms.
“His family has basically adopted us,” Krista said.
At the wedding, her family was pictured with Terminel’s in the official wedding photos.
“According to them, we are now family,” Krista said. “We can’t escape, we can’t get away.”
Not that they want to escape.
“We love it, we think it’s great,” Krista said. “We thoroughly enjoy (Terminel) and how he has become a part of our family."
Terminel signed up for the program when he first arrived at Fort Riley.
He was looking for someone he could depend on if he had a problem and the possibility of a homemade meal every once in a while. He found something much more than that, however.
“I found another family,” Terminel said.
He underwent his first overseas deployment with help from the Blaisdells, who sent him care packages and routinely talked to him while he was deployed in Europe.
“(Krista) definitely helped,” Terminel said. “Her husband was in the military, so she knew — she knew how it was going, she knew what was going on."
The family did a lot for him stateside, back in Kansas, as well.
“Back here, when I’ve had car problems, they’ve directed me toward the good places to go,” Terminel said. “They’ve helped me. They’ve driven me to the airport when I had to go to the airport."
Terminel said he believes his experience of Fort Riley would have radically different for him if he hadn’t signed up for the program.
He will depart from Fort Riley in March of 2020.
“I’m going to miss the people,” Terminel said of the Junction City area.
For obvious reasons, he intends to keep in contact with the Blaisdells — they’re lifelong friends and he plans to return and visit them when he can.
Home Away from Home is an adopt-a-soldier program started roughly two years ago by City Commissioner Phyllis Fitzgerald. The program serves young, single soldiers who are new to the Army and Fort Riley.
Fitzgerald said soldiers involved in the program are typically between the ages of 17 and 21.
“Some of them, it may be the first time they’ve left their home or their parents or their guardians,” she said.
Fitzgerald said she can always use families who want to host soldiers.
“Right now, I have about 120 soldiers that are matched up with about 48 or 49 host families,” she said. “I have had as many as 60 families and probably close to 200 soldiers that I had matched up.”
The number changes all the time, Fitzgerald said. Families are welcome to adopt multiple soldiers if they wish. This won’t, she said, disrupt anyone’s lifestyle.
“They’re not living with you or anything like that,” Fitzgerald said. "You help to get them out of the barracks and out of the gates at Fort Riley, out to the community. Engage them in the community.”
It provides peace of mind not only to the soldiers involved in the program, but also to their families.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than to hear the father or the mother say that it gives them a lot of comfort to know that not only is the Army taking care of their soldier, but so is the community,” Fitzgerald said.
Interested families and soldiers who qualify for the program can download application forms, the handbook, and waiver form from www.junctioncitychamber.org/home-away-from-home-program.html. For more information, people may also contact Fitzgerald at firstname.lastname@example.org.