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First Air Force Family Forever members receive Gold Star Family benefits

81st Force Support Squadron leadership and an Airman and Family Readiness Center representative pose for a photo with Air Force Family Forever Members Michael and Donna “Denise” Bradford, parents of Airman 1st Class Brian Bradford, inside the visitor center at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, Apr. 23, 2019.  As surviving parents of a service member, Michael and Donna obtained an ID card for recognition and installation access so they can attend events and access A&FRC referral services. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Andre' Askew)

81st Force Support Squadron leadership and an Airman and Family Readiness Center representative pose for a photo with Air Force Family Forever Members Michael and Donna “Denise” Bradford, parents of Airman 1st Class Brian Bradford, inside the visitor center at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, April 23, 2019. As surviving parents of a service member, Michael and Donna obtained an ID card for recognition and installation access so they can attend events and access A&FRC referral services. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Andre' Askew)

Brian and Donna "Denise" Bradford, parents of Airman 1st Class Brain Bradford, sign to receive an Air Force Family Forever member ID card in the Biloxi Visitors Center at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, April 23, 2019. Brian died while participating in a training exercise at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. As surviving parents of a service member, Michael and Donna obtained an ID card for recognition and installation access so they can attend events and access Airman and Family Readiness Center referral services. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Seth Haddix)

Michael and Donna "Denise" Bradford, parents of Airman 1st Class Brain Bradford, sign to receive an Air Force Family Forever member ID card in the Biloxi Visitors Center at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, April 23, 2019. Brian died while participating in a training exercise at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. As surviving parents of a service member, Michael and Donna obtained an ID card for recognition and installation access so they can attend events and access Airman and Family Readiness Center referral services. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Seth Haddix)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --

The Air Force strives to not only take care of service members, but their families as well. After the death of their son, Airman 1st Class Brian Bradford, Michael and Donna Bradford were the first Air Force Families Forever members given the same privileges as Gold Star Family Members in the Air Force April 23.

Michael and Donna received an installation access card that allows them to have unescorted access to the installation, utilization of recreational services as well as the services available at the Airman and Family Readiness Center. Gold Star Family Members, surviving family members of service members who died in an act of terrorism, used to be the only members who received these privileges. However, Holly Fisher, 81st Force Support Squadron Airman and Family Readiness Center AFFF and Gold Star coordinator, realized there needed to be a change in who qualifies for these privileges.

“I started working at the A&FRC in October and immediately recognized that we needed to change,” said Fisher. “The program needed equal benefits. The members of the AFFF program had family members who served just like everyone else and I felt they deserved the same privileges.”

When spending time with U.S. Navy members, Fisher came to a realization.

“In December I held a cookie decorating event with the U.S. Navy to bring these families together,” said Fisher. “We saw that the AFFF members weren’t receiving the same benefits as the Gold Star Family Members and the U.S. Navy families. It was at that point I realized we needed change.”

Fisher believes the importance of this is to take care of service members’ families.

“This lets the families know they are and always will be connected to the Air Force and that we will take care of them,” said Fisher. “Their service member paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country and for that we are indebted to them.”

Donna said she feels connected to the Air Force because of the support and care provided for her family. She believes the Air Force has helped her with the death of her son.

“Everybody around here has been awesome,” said Donna. “We couldn’t have made it without their support.”

Michael and Donna have volunteered for multiple events at Keesler and plan on volunteering more in the future.

“What’s amazing about this family is they feel indebted to the Air Force because of the care the Air Force provided for them,” said Fisher. “They reach out and volunteer for various events such as the air show and Special Olympics Mississippi. That’s what kind of people they are. They have experienced this horrible tragedy and yet they are still giving us a part of themselves.”

Michael was beyond excited when he was notified he would receive base privileges.

“How do you say awesome like a hundred times?” said Michael. “It is an honor because we come from a military family. Brian was in the Air Force so we want to do what we can to help other Airmen.”

Michael, Donna and Fisher all feel this has been a humbling experience and are honored to be a part of it.

Keesler Air Force Base will continue to give these benefits to AFFF members. Fisher said she is not only honored but proud to be a part of this process.

“It is a privilege to be a part of history today,” said Fisher. “It was such an honor and I can’t even describe what I feel. This is an honor to know these families are linked to the Air Force.”