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Embracing the challenges

Retired CSM and wife make a difference

Donna and retired CSM Frank Handoe continue to serve soldiers and their family members at JBLM and throughout the Pacific Northwest. Photo credit: Courtesy photo

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Donna and Frank Handoe work to help service members and their families navigate the challenges they face both during and after their time in uniform.

"I married Frank 32 years ago and began serving in the Military Family programs," Donna began. "I felt that being involved would help me embrace this new lifestyle."

She began by volunteering to help where she could in a Family Support Group (FSG), which she called a lifeline as she and her husband began their life together. "I saw the value in families coming together to support one another when our service members were training or deploying," she added.

When the FSGs transitioned into Family Readiness Groups (FRGs), Handoe took a leadership role to ensure that spouses were ready and knew their resources. "FRGs were a vital lifeline for me and for my fellow spouses at 9-11," she explained.

Her involvement grew. She became involved in the Army Family Team Building (AFTB) program and the Army Family Action Plan (AFAP). The AFTB is an educational program in which she trained spouses in the areas of basic military knowledge, personal growth, and leadership skills; in the AFAP Handoe took a leadership role at conferences that centered on quality-of-life issues.

"I felt it was important to be involved to help improve the quality of life for families and service members," she said.

While her husband, Command Sergeant Major Frank Handoe, was stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord from 2012 thru 2015, she became involved in Santa's Castle. "I felt that it was a new and fun way to support our service members," she added. When CSM Handoe retired from Fort Carson, Colorado in 2019, they returned to live in this area.

"I rejoined the Santa's Castle Board, and in 2020 I took on the role of president," she said. "There are a lot of worries that come with serving ... affording nice gifts for your children during the holidays should never be a worry."

She added that they will have toys to support every service member referred to the program by their chain of command, a chaplain or several other pre-approved organizations. The referral season is from Oct. 2 thru Nov. 3 and is done via

Alleviating worries soldiers and their families face is also important to retired CSM Handoe, who in April 2020 began to work with the Transition Assistance Program.

"It's a mandatory commander's program designed to prepare and connect service members, DoD civilians, retirees, and family members, who are making critical career and transition decisions long before their separation date," he explained.

"This world-class transition assistance allows soldiers the opportunity to develop the knowledge, skills and self-confidence necessary to be competitive ... in the global workforce."

He also serves as the president of the Sergeants Major Association of the Northwest, a non-profit organization of active duty and retired command sergeants major and sergeants major that focuses on supporting service members in the Pacific Northwest.

"We hold an annual golf tournament to raise funds to put back into the installation," he pointed out, "and last year we granted over $9,000 to JBLM units and service members."

He also serves on the JBLM Retiree Council, a body which advises the garrison commander on issues that concern the retiree population in the Pacific Northwest.

"We both want to continue to make an impact with our service members," he concluded.

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