For the second year in a row, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune-Marine Corps Air Station New River’s Marine Corps Community Services’ Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) partnered with Albert J. Ellis Airport (OAJ) in Jacksonville to give families a familiarity with air travel. The May 18 visit is part of the EFMP’s goal of helping Marines maintain mission readiness while taking care of their dependents.

“Compared to last year’s event, this year’s was much more effective in accomplishing the intention behind the event,” said Patrick Larkin, EFMP program manager. “An airport can be filled with numerous external stimuli for children with sensory processing disorders (SPD). For them, an airport experience can be much more overwhelming.”

Larkin made note of how events like this benefit service members and their families, particularly with a military lifestyle that will likely entail a few trips to the airport over the course of one’s career.

“Our partnership with the airport and Delta staff allowed us to provide an airport experience for children with SPD’s enrolled in EFMP,” Larkin said. “By participating in this event, the parents and children observed and experienced what it would be like to travel by air. It also uncovered some of the mystery behind airport travel for these families.”

The 2019 event saw a notable upswing in participation. Delta Airlines staff at OAJ was also eager to provide as much assistance as possible.

“This year’s event saw almost twice as much participation compared to last year. Each child received their own special boarding pass and a gift bag. Johnathan Mercer, the OAJ Delta Manager, and his team went above and beyond to accommodate our requests for this experience.”

The visit mirrored a typical airport visit. After receiving boarding passes, children made their way through security. Participants also carried small luggage totes with items inside of them. These bags were scanned and participants were also made to pass security checks. After waiting at their assigned gate for their flight to be ready for a simulated take off, participants loaded by section. Afterwards, families were permitted to speak to the captain in the cockpit and take pictures before heading back to the baggage carousel to wait for their luggage.

“The Lejeune-New River EFMP office is thrilled to have such great friends like Johnathan and his staff at our local airport,” Larkin said. “Together, we are interested in making the event more valuable in the future.”

EFMP is a program which assists active duty who have family members with special needs. The program spans across all branches of the military to ensure Marines, sailors, soldiers and airmen can have access to the facilities and medical assistance their family requires regardless of where a permanent change of station places them. Larkin emphasized the importance of taking account of unseen needs.

“Not all needs are visible,” Larkin said. “When you hear the term special needs you typically form a picture of someone and what they look like in your mind but most of our top 10 enrolled diagnoses are things that you can’t see when you’re interacting with somebody. Depression, anxiety, ADHD, asthma, allergies and epilepsy. You can’t really see that. Those diagnoses and the treatment plans associated with them require specialists, medication or frequent visits with psychiatrist or psychologist. It’s important to enroll in the program to ensure those specialists or even that medication is going to be available at your next duty station.”

“This EFMP is the best in the Department of Defense,” Larkin said. “Not even the USMC. Or team has excellent transition consistency.”

THE EFMP also hosted a special needs forum on June 4 which featured 14 prominent resources teaching families what to do in emergency situations. June 4 marked the official beginning of hurricane season meaning that storms, as well as the other hazards associated with coastal North Carolina, were areas of focus for the forum.

“Last year there was an experience that was very traumatic,” Larkin said. “We don’t want to over-infatuate the hurricane so this is about emergency preparedness. North Carolina also experiences 110 heat, significant pollen for those with allergies or asthma and in the winter ice and snow. Not to mention rain. We want experts available to help people deal with the four seasons of NC.”

For more information on the EFMP visit mccslejeune-newriver.com/efmp/.