When 24 inches of snow blanketed upstate New York’s Hancock Field Air National Guard Base last month, nearly 270 Airmen being deployed to Afghanistan were stranded because their plane couldn’t take off in the storm.
And those were some pretty hungry Airmen, too. To make matters worse, the base about five miles from Syracuse doesn’t have a mess hall. But the installation does have Crystal Dano and Darlene Griebel.
Their little Express is usually closed on Saturdays. On this particular Saturday, Dano and Griebel each drove 45 miles from home to open the Express about 7:30 a.m. to feed the troops during the blizzard.
“We came in on our own time,” Dano said. “We wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. We’re here to serve the troops.”
Over snow banks and into the store
The Airmen trudged about 500 feet from the tarmac over snowbanks and into the store, where they scooped up more than 800 products in an hour. In four hours, total sales reached nearly $4,500.
“We just did what we had to do.”
– Darlene Griebel
On a typical day, the store, which is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, averages about $1,500 in sales for roughly 150 customers.
“The troops were so appreciative that we were there for them,” Griebel said. “The closest restaurants outside the gates were three or four miles away. They kept saying, ‘What would we have done without you?’”
For taking care of the stranded troops, Griebel and Dano received coins from the installation’s Chief Master Sgt. Michael Will.
“We just did what we had to do,” said Griebel, who’s worked for the Exchange for 28 years. “They are our family.”
A symbolic tree
This isn’t the first time that Griebel and Dano have lived out the Exchange core value “Family Serving Family.”
About three years ago, Dano, the Express shift supervisor, began making customers’ visits to the Express special by using their donated military patches to decorate a Christmas tree.
She began asking Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors and Marines for military patches to donate so she could create ornaments on the 6-foot tree. The response was overwhelming, as patches poured in from throughout the world.
Many of the patches come from Airmen who attend Hancock Field’s school for drone pilots.
“The tree symbolizes the fact that we’re all family,” Dano said. “We’re close down here because the base is so small. Everybody represents our extended family. People who have trained here and then left have come back, looked at the tree, seen the patches they’ve donated some years ago.
“They are still with us as family members, regardless of where they’ve come from.”
Dano has made about 30 ornaments from military patches and has about 25 more to make and hang on the 6-foot tree during the next holiday season.
“We obviously,” Dano said, “need a bigger tree.”