BIDDLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Pa. --
Anna Richar believes in the American dream because long before she was an award-winning woman in charge of family readiness, or a small business owner, she was a little girl whose family left the “old country” for New York City in search of a better life.
Richar, the daughter of Italian immigrants, is now the Airmen and Family Readiness Program Manager for the 111th Attack Wing in Horsham, Pennsylvania, where she cares for military families serving to keep the American dream she experienced alive.
For Richar, who has 20 years of experience being a military spouse, her job allows her to serve families like her own. It’s also a chance to for her give back to the country that gave her so much.
“I came from a family that was poor,” said Richar. “Once I came into the United States, it was a great opportunity for me to grow and have what I did not have when I was living in Italy.”
“So as a little girl, I was helping my mother, sewing in the house, to make ends meet, Richar said. “We were a family of eight. It was only my dad working. So, I found that there were great opportunities for us to have an income to have food on the table.”
The work ethic Richar learned growing up in the Bronx and sewing with her mother to help make ends meet paid huge dividends, especially last year when the COVID-19 virus hit the Wing. At the height of the pandemic when personal protective equipment, or PPE, was in short supply, Richar helped organize a small army of key volunteers to sew and distribute more than 2,500 handmade masks to military families, and members of the local community for free.
Richar is the first to admit taking care of military families is a huge task that requires a team effort. To do her job well, she has enlisted some key volunteers to ensure military families get the best help possible.
One of those volunteers is retired Chief Master Sgt. Jenny Pappas, President of Friends of the Family Readiness Group – non-profit organization that champions family readiness at the 111th.
From food to funds, the Friends of the FRG handles the donations that address some of the most important needs of military families.
“The FRG goes hand in hand with family programs,” said Pappas, who retired from the 111th ATKW and has known Richar for more than a decade. “Anna and I work very closely together. She has her agenda and budget for those programs. So, the FRG makes a lot of it work through our community partners and our donations.”
“She helps people, that’s just the type of person Anna is,” said Pappas, a Pennsylvania Air National Guard Hall of Fame inductee. “Over the 10 years I have been lucky enough to know and work with her, she has always found a way to help service members and their families. Whether it was getting them the most up-to-date information on benefits and resources during a deployment, or making sure they knew about organizations that provided free car seats, strollers, and baby supplies to military moms and dads, Anna has always tried her best to make sure her families were taken care of so her troops could focus on their mission.”
Richar’s service to military families has not gone unnoticed. In 2014, she was awarded the Bronze President’s Volunteer Service Award signed by the then President Barack Obama. And in 2019, the Military Officers Association of America presented the Military Family Readiness Group Award to the 111th Attack Wing for “The development of a robust family readiness program, enhancing unit strength.”
“The award that means the most to me is winning the 2019 family programs recognition nationally,” said Richar. “It just gave me a wake-up call to what great things we're doing at the one 111th.”
Richar emphasized that paving the road to a successful family readiness program was never easy, nor a one-woman job.
“I have wonderful volunteers that helped me, because I could not do it alone.” said Richar. “It’s about recruiting volunteers and, and it's the most rewarding job that I’ve ever, ever had.”
One of Richar’s resiliency teammates is Donna Mignogna, Yellow Ribbon Support Specialist. Like Richar, Mignogna has a vested interest in her job, being a military spouse for more than three decades and an Air Force mom.
“There are a little over 20 men and women, some retired military themselves, some have family members that have served with the 111th or other military groups, and some with no connection to the 111th or the military at all,” said Mignogna while describing the 111th’s Key Spouse Volunteer Group. “They are ready and available to help with almost anything you could ask of them. They are an amazing group of people that want to do something to show their appreciation to those that protect and serve in the military.”
Mignogna credits Richar’s recruiting effort and leadership style for playing a large role in building such a robust network.
“Anna treats everyone with a huge amount of appreciation and respect for everything that they do,” said Mignogna. “It is always clear that providing top-notch support for the Airman and Families of the 111th is Anna’s first priority. The volunteers look to her for guidance as to how they can help provide for the service members and their families.”
Providing people with high-quality customer service in their time of need is exactly what Richar did when the pandemic broke. When her award ceremony, which was scheduled for March of 2020 at the Pentagon was canceled to maintain social distancing, Richar and her team never skipped a beat, or felt sorry for themselves.
Instead, Richar led an “attack” on the pandemic with the same resolve she used to overcome the obstacles she has faced throughout her nearly 20 years of service to military families in the Guard and reserve forces during their deployments and activations for domestic operations and disaster relief.
Richar and her team did more than just sew masks. They literally helped put food on the table for people who were struggling not just at the 111th Attack Wing, but in the surrounding area by stocking a food pantry and opening its doors to all of the military families, past and present, who were in need.
“We experienced people that were out of work and didn't have food,” said Richar. “We were able to have a food pantry here on base. So, all they had to do is give me a call and we'll meet them and get them enough food for the week for the family.”
Richar and her team didn’t stop there.
“Through donations and through our nonprofit organization the Friends of the FRG, we were able to provide gift cards for needy families so that they can purchase necessary items, put gas in a car,” Said Richar. “So, we were able to assist them that way.”
The efforts were greatly appreciated.
“My main goal was always to work with the community to get those resources here on base and let the members know we were here to help,” said Richar. “Anytime they encounter any kind of challenges through their military career, I want them to remember there's a one-stop shop especially for the 111th with all the resources.”
Richar admits she may not have all of the resources. But, she and her team are determined to find them when the need comes.
“I want them to realize that that no matter what they are encountering, there's always help out there,” said Richar. “When I walk into my office, they know that I am there for them. And, if I don't have the answer, they know I will definitely get it for them.”
In addition to her amazing team, Richar credits her success in the FRG to her experience as a small business owner in a salon in New York City, where she learned detailed planning, organization, and delegation.
“Family Programs is serving people and it's customer service,” said Richar. “That's how I visualize my job. I'm here to assist our members and families. I depend on my volunteers and we're all on the same page. Our mission is to make sure that we take care of families and our troops in all branches of the military. So, our door is always open for them.”
Richar said the idea that good fortune would come to her and her family if they were willing to work hard, left a lasting impression on her and instilled a willingness to pay that opportunity forward.
“Being here in America gave me the opportunity that I would never have had in my home country,” said Richar, whose warm smile and unmistakable New York accent reveal themselves anytime she offers someone a cup of coffee. “It was a miracle to me, the opportunity I had. I wanted everyone to have that. So, throughout my life, I always try to be of service and to assist people in any way I can.”