ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Established in 2017, the Abilene Home away from Home program pairs local families with Dyess airmen who are facing their first assignment on their own, hoping to give them a sturdy foundation during the first steps of their military careers.

“They’re all homesick, it’s their first assignment away. They want home-cooked meals and maybe a little moral support,” says airman host Angela Starr.

Angela’s husband, retired Base Commander Col. Michael Bob Starr, first brought the program to Dyess five years ago.

“Another base had started it and was presenting it as a good idea. I loved it and wanted to start it here,” said Col. Starr.

Col. Michael-Bob and Angela Starr with their “adopted airmen”

The Starrs began hosting three airmen just one month ago, though there may be another on the way as word of the program’s success has gotten around.

“It’s an easy program, the things you’re going to do with the airmen are the things you enjoy,” said Angela.

Host families are matched to their airmen and women by interests so that each pairing is a good one. Though if anything doesn’t work out, either party can request a move.

The same process that matched Andre Vargas with the Starrs brought Jet Casares and Matt Budden to the O’Brien family.

“They’re definitely different than my family, a lot more vocal, but they’re awesome. Very good people,” says Airman Budden.

The O’Briens with their airmen at the Abilene Zoo.

“Typical things that we do, usually I walk in, I get shot by a Nerf gun and then we have a good meal. Sometimes we take trips,” says Airman Casares.

The O’Briens say its been a life-changing experience. Home-cooked meals, laser tag fights, and lazy weekends in the living room have all been enhanced by their new family members from the base.

“There’s only been one weekend since that initial weekend that we’ve had without either of them. They’ve just kind of become family at this point,” says Sammi O’Brien.

They’re experiences that the airmen treasure just as much, saying that without Home away from Home, they wouldn’t have been as eager to venture off base.

“My time here would be way different. I’d spend my weekends in my room and study, probably listen to music,” Casares says.

“At first I didn’t know a lot of things outside of Dyess, only bits and pieces from my shop. So it was a great opportunity for me to explore what Abilene can offer,” said Vargas.

Currently there are more airmen enrolled in the program than there are families to host, as 23 service men and women are looking for a local family to call their own.

“If there’s any family out there debating whether or not they should join this program please do so…Trust me it’ll bring a smile to some airman’s face,” Casares says.

More information and a sign up sheet can be found at myabihome.org.