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The best help money can't buy

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Cammie Quinn
  • 43rd Airlift Wing, Public Affairs
Cancer can be emotionally devastating and financially draining, but for one Pope family, the Air Force Assistance Fund provided the comfort, support and assistance necessary to stay afloat.

The Air Force Aid Society is an official charity of the Air Force and assists in relieving financial emergencies encountered by active duty members and their families. AFAS also assists Reserve and Guard personnel who are on extended active duty.

Leteacha Coleman, wife of Staff Sgt. Demetris Coleman, 43rd Communications Squadron, received help form the AFAF when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Initially, the couple was in shock, but had confidence knowing they had the support of family, friends and the Air Force.

Sergeant Coleman arrived at Pope in 2003 and is the 43rd CS messaging non-commission officer in-charge. He met his wife through her grandmother and a mutual friend at his church. They dated for two years, and were married in 2006. Mrs. Coleman was dignosed with cancer only one and a half years into their marriage. Sergeant Coleman was deployed to Camp Victory,in Iraq when Mrs. Coleman underwent a biopsy to investigate two lumps in her breast in December of 2007. While he wasn't present on the day of her surgery, Sergeant Coleman was by his wife's side six days later at the Womack Medical Center on Fort Bragg, when they were told she had cancer.

"When the doctor gave us the news, my feeling was of the utmost concern for her," said Sergeant Coleman. "I was trying to pay attention to the doctors to determine next steps for us. Neither of us knew much about cancer at all, other than that it can be devastating. I just tried to stay as open minded and confident as possible for her."

A doctor from Womack informed the couple that while one cyst on was benign, the other was cancerous, but controllable. This small piece of information was the just enough hope to keep Sergeant Coleman positive.

"In the same breath, the doctor assured us it was treatable," said Sergeant Coleman. "This knowledge alone gave me the confidence to know that cancer was something we could, and would, conquer. I held on to that, it was my comfort."

After obtaining a second opinion from UNC Hospital in Chapel Hill, N.C., the couple received a plan of action which cleared the path ahead, said Sergeant Coleman. Through several visits each week for two years to UNC Hospital, Mrs. Coleman was able to get the medical attention she needed. It was about a year after her diagnosis when Sergeant Colman began to review his family's finances when he noticed little things had begun to fall through the cracks. He was concerned to discover he was beginning to fall behind on bills and knew he needed help. He remembered a previous supervisor mentioning the AFAF and proceeded to research the support they provided.

They spoke with a counselor at the Airman and Family Readiness Center who was able to help alleviate their burden. The AFAF provided the Colemans an interest free loan, which they used to pay their utilities, phone, electricity and car bills. The organization also provided tires for the car as well as $25 vouchers to use at the commissary. It helped us because those were just little stressors that were in the way, said Sergeant Coleman.

"We used the financial services to find out where we could cut back," said Sergeant Coleman. "My wife and I moved into a smaller place, which helped reduce our electricity bills. It wasn't that we didn't have any money; it was just fitting money into places where we needed it. It's those simple things that you neglect to think about when your mind is elsewhere. They helped us out tremendously."

With Sergeant Coleman's mother in Texas, and Mrs. Coleman's family in Atlanta, the couple needed someone local to turn to. The staff working in the Airmen and Family Readiness Center became like friends, someone extra to assist and lighten the load, said Sergeant Coleman.

"We were able to lean on them and talk to them. I received assistance from Dawn Doan, she's an incredibly nice person. She continues to help me-- not just with my wife's situation, but for long term as well."

Sergeant Coleman believes both as a supervisor and as a subordinate, it is important for Airmen to know about, and take advantage of, the services the Air Force has in place to help those in need. He explained there are plenty of services available that, unless placed in a bad situation, most Airmen would not even know about.

"My senior leadership had the insight to know where I could go to receive help," the sergeant said. "And give back; you never know when you're going to need it. We put into it and we benefit from it, it's Airmen helping Airmen."

"I think as far as AFAF is concerned, we've had a lot of support and there's plenty to recognize. They provide moral, financial and educational support, and I'm grateful for their help," said Sergeant Coleman.

All organizations benefit Airmen and their families who are need of financial assistance. AFAF and the organizations it supports do not receive funding from taxpayers and 95 cents or more of every dollar contributed goes directly to the AFAF mission of assisting Air Force members and their families. For more information, including how to make donations, visit or the Air Force Personnel Center's voting and fundraising Web site at or contact the Pope Representative, Dawn Doan, at 394-2538.