What does it take to enable test excellence? A foundational requirement starts with humans, not hardware. Members of Team Edwards, regardless of the uniform or status, face additional challenges due to the remote and isolated nature of the installation.
COVID-19 exacerbated an existing challenge facing many of Team Edwards’ members: the need for available, quality childcare. As the 412th Test Wing continues to fight on four combat fronts, the leadership is committed to expanding childcare options and capacity.
Top-quality childcare has been a priority at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., for many years as evidenced by the quality facilities, the wide variety of programs offered and the recent expansion of available slots for children. Ongoing efforts focus on further expansion through existing projects and securing additional project and program funds.
“Edwards is The Center of the Aerospace Testing Universe (TCOTATU), and sustaining that role, from a workforce perspective, requires us also to be the center of first-rate family support,” said Brig Gen. Mathew W. Higer, 412th Test Wing commander. “Schools at 93523, including the CDC, are my top priority. When someone considers Edwards they first ask the question — How will my children, my legacy, be cared for and what developmental opportunities exist at TCOTATU?”
Higer’s commitment to childcare is based on his own personal history as both a young officer coming up through the ranks and a parent. “I have two Air Force CDC alums in my household,” Higer said. “Both of my kids started their Air Force CDC experience at eight weeks, which enabled both my wife and me to focus on our military duties because we knew our kids were in a safe, caring environment.”
Maj. Liz Moyer, 412th Force Support Squadron commander, often declares, “TCOTATU runs on childcare.” Higer agrees. Recently, 412th Test Wing leadership formed the Remote and Isolated CONUS Installation (RICI) coalition, which focuses on advocating for resources, including aspects related to childcare, across all remote and isolated CONUS installations in the Department of the Air Force. Childcare remains a top focus area for those that serve at Edwards and across the Department of the Air Force.
The spouse of the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Sharene Brown, announced the Five & Thrive initiative in 2021, which increased focus and attention on the top five quality-of-life challenges military families face. These challenges – childcare, education, healthcare, housing, and spouse employment – are directly tied to military family readiness, resilience, and retention of the force, she said.
Edwards remains on the leading edge of major iniatives in these five areas. “Quality of Life for everyone that lives and works at 93523 is of vital importance to TCOTATU mission execution,” said Higer. “The Edwards AFB housing area, know by it’s Zip Code: 93523, is a wonderful environment for families. Mrs. Brown’s initiatives, when realized, will accelerate the impact this 93523 community provides to the Nation and her Allies.”
Chelsey Mastalski, a working Air Force civilian and mom at Edwards with an active-duty husband faces a life filled with challenges every day. None is daunting on its own. Altogether they are manageable, but so much more so when she receives a little help along the way.
One challenge Mastalski doesn’t fret over is the quality of care her young children receive while she’s at work. At the beginning of each workday, Mastalski drops off a toddler at the Child Development Center and then another child at the elementary school, who later transitions from 1st Grade to the School Age Center or a youth sports program, two of the many Child and Youth Programs offered at Edwards.
“As a parent, dual-career spouse and Air Force civilian, my top priority is childcare. Every time we move or look for potential jobs, everything starts to fall into place once we have a spot for our two kiddos,” said Mastalski, who works as an operations officer for the 412th Force Support Squadron.
“I love the rigor of the accreditation offered in the Child and Youth Programs and know my children are in a developmentally appropriate learning environment. It’s so important that we can take our kids to a place where we know they will be well cared for that also provides a safe, fun, educational and intellectually stimulating environment”.
To amplify services to Airmen, the base extended hours offered through Edwards childcare services, which are open from 6:15 a.m. to 6 p.m. “My spouse and I are so grateful for the expanded care hours that allow us to accomplish the mission and flex with varying schedules, events and TDYs,” Mastalski said. “It’s wonderful being able to have my children in care on the installation – it provides a sense of security for our family that is second to none,” she said, providing a safe environment inside the Edwards border, secured by 412th SFS.
From the top down
Commitment to quality childcare at Edwards starts at the top.
In January Col. Carolyn Ammons, Air Force Services Center commander visited Edwards to discuss remote and isolated base authorities and projects to expand childcare on base.
“Our service members and their families face many challenges and none more personal than finding affordable and safe childcare,” Ammons said. “Team Edwards faces additional hurdles as a Remote and Isolated installation and is fully committed to increasing childcare capacity. The Air Force Services Center will continue to partner with Edwards to test new initiatives, schedules and programs for the Child and Youth programs. We can make a difference, one child at a time.”
Filling and expanding
Even with the base’s commitment to childcare, it’s still a work in progress. Two Air Force civilians, Allison Skiles and Rebecca Balkenbush, also military spouses with children in the programs, have stepped up in interim roles to champion the “TCOTATU Runs on Childcare” initiative.
At the CDC, they have offered 93 additional spots since January of 2023 and brought back vital programs like parent’s night out, Youth educational field trips, with more expanded programs to come in instructional and sports. But there is more work to be done.
The Edwards CDC currently has one facility with a maximum capacity of 317 children. Even with the increase in enrollment, the current number of children falls short of that maximum because 17 childcare provider positions have gone unfilled.
“We need base community awareness here,” said Moyer. “We have an opportunity to immediately expand care, but we need the right people applying for these jobs right now. Let’s get the word out. We provide the training, offer incentives and even pay for school!”
As an incentive, a new DOD policy reduces childcare costs for caregivers. For those who choose to be caregivers in the classroom, which are known as direct care positions, the cost of the first child is completely covered. A multi-child discount of 25 percent off applies to additional children. Employees working in non-direct care positions, such as those in management, administration, kitchen staff or cleaning services that support the Child and Youth Program receive a 25 percent discount for each child.
Most childcare jobs on base are non-appropriated fund positions and can be found on the USA Jobs website. A few positions fall under acquisition demonstration and can be found on the AFTC job board.
Edwards is also pursuing other avenues to increase the size of childcare facilities and opportunities on base. Base civil engineers and the 412th FSS are working closely with the Air Force Services Center to expand the CDC to accommodate more children. That effort is currently at what is called the planning charrette stage, which validates the scope of the project, site and costs, and refines the programming documentation in preparation for project approval.
To further support Edwards, the Muroc Joint Unified School District recently began offering after-school care until 5:30 p.m. for the 2023-2024 school year, a continued collaboration between the Air Force and the local community. Edwards has also invested heavily in STEM curriculum through the STARBASE Edwards and 412th Test Wing STEM outreach office to ensure students in the community are receiving enhanced educational experiences.
Edwards remains committed to improving the quality of life for all active-duty and civilian Airmen. Learn more about Edwards childcare options at www.edwardsfss.com/familyfcc or call 661-275-7529.
Childcare fees for the CDC and School Age Center are set by DOD and based on total family income for households that fall into one of fourteen categories. Membership fees for Open Recreation and the Teen Center are approved by the Air Force Services Center.
The Child and Youth Program at Edwards AFB provides care and opportunities for kids ages six weeks old through high school graduation. A brief summary of those services follows:
o The Child Development Center cares for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years, with a DOD-wide curriculum. The curriculum is focused on learning through play activities supporting social, emotional, physical and intellectual development. Installations across DOD follow the curriculum on the same timeline to allow seamless permanent change-of-station transitions for youth enrolled in care.
o The School Age Center provides before and after-school care and summer camp for children ages 5 to 12. During school breaks, full-day camps are offered. SAC promotes cognitive, social, emotional, cultural, language and physical development through programs that encourage self-confidence, curiosity, self-discipline and resiliency.
o The open recreation program at the Main Youth Center provides a safe space for ages 9 to 12 to attend after school. Programs include Power Hour, STEM, Torch Club, social recreation, youth camps, special events and more.
o The youth sports program provides intro and league opportunities for ages 3 to 12, and promotes inclusiveness, self-discipline, commitment, resiliency and social skills. There are four sports offered annually for ages five to 12: baseball/softball, soccer, flag football and basketball. Smart start programs are available to ages 3 to 5. There are many other sports and camps offered throughout the year.
o The Teen Center is available for ages 13 to 18 during the school year. Programs offered include Military Youth of the Year, Keystone Club, social recreation, STEM activities, college trips, leadership camps and more.
o Youth programs (SAC, open rec and teen) are affiliated with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and 4-H.
o Family Child Care homes – there are currently three FCC homes on the installation. They can provide care for ages two weeks to 12 years. FCC providers are trained by Child and Youth Program training and curriculum specialists and have the flexibility to determine their hours of operation and the ages of youth within their care. The program’s new dedicated manager, Jennifer Stegmann, may be reached at 661-275-7529.
Although CDC enrollment capacity is 317, not all slots are currently filled because of a shortage of childcare workers. School Age Center enrollment capacity is 156. After-school care enrollment is 130. Before-school care enrollment is 75. Summer Camp 2022 was at its capacity and enrollment for Summer Camp 2023 opens April 3.