MacDill’s FamCampers give back

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jessica Brown
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Every winter, he and his wife pack up their motorhome and drive 1,500 miles from Rhode Island to MacDill Air Force Base, Fla. They trade in their ranch style home in the frigid Northeast for a corner lot on MacDill’s family camp grounds, where they live in a recreational vehicle for six months out of the year.

“My wife and I have been coming to MacDill for nine years now, and we really enjoy it,” said Tom Peters, the FAMCAMP night host. “The trip is worth it! Do you know how cold it is up there this time of year,” asked Peters jokingly.

The Peters aren’t the only “snowbirds” who trade in their scarves and snow boots for Hawaiian button up shirts and flip flops. Every year, approximately 550 motor homes and RVs flock to MacDill for the winter months; mostly filled with retired military families bringing pets, plants and equipment for hobbies. Once they get to the base, they set up camp, re-connect with old friends and set out to serve the base.

Peters said most of his neighbors and friends in the FAMCAMP community volunteer as a means to give back to service members, but he also considers it as a way to remain connected and busy.

“My neighbor, Bill, leaves home around 6 a.m. most mornings and volunteers over at the golf course,” said Peters. “Almost everyone here donates time to some organization on base. I know folks over at the base pharmacy, library and the golf course.”

While some volunteer in the 6th Air Mobility Wing, others dedicate time to organizing camp activities like poker nights, dance lessons, karaoke nights, arts and crafts sessions, and more.

Collectively, it’s been calculated that the active volunteers on base have contributed to more than 71,000 hours of community service in 2016. The FAMCAMP residents contribute a large portion to that number. It’s been estimated that the total salary saved on base because of volunteers is about $1.6 million dollars.  

One such agency on base that benefits from FAMCAMP volunteers is the base pharmacy. 

 “We currently have three volunteers who live in FAMCAMP,” said Maj. Leighcraft Shakes, commander of the Pharmacy Flight. “I’m thankful to the generous volunteers who give their time and energy, selflessly serving us and the patients we take care of. They could spend their time doing so many other things, but instead, they’re devoted and for that we are grateful.”

Carol Rippberger, a FAMCAMP resident from Duluth, Minnesota, is one of those three pharmacy volunteers, and she comes to MacDill every winter.

“We’ve been coming to MacDill for 16 years,” said Ripbberger. My husband passed away three years ago, but I still make the trip because I love the people here. I spend about 10 hours a week volunteering in the drive-through pharmacy, and I really enjoy it.” 

Rippberger says her two-week road trip to Tampa is worth it because of the camaraderie and community connection she gets while she resides in FAMCAMP.  


“I get to work with really amazing people and it keeps me out of trouble,” she added. “We see enough patients to rival six CVS pharmacies.”

When asked why she contributes so much of her time, she said it’s because she wants to give back to service members.

According to Peters and Rippberger, FAMCAMP volunteers pride themselves in maintaining the link to the Air Force family through their contributions across the installation. A common belief among the residents is time is precious after retirement and volunteering across the installation is a fulfilling way to spend spare time.

The volunteers who contribute time and expertise to organizations across the wing give willingly, knowing their service cannot be repaid.

 “We know the wing saves money when we help out,” said Peters. “The money saved can go toward helping Airmen and we take great pride in that.”

Even though many of the FAMCAMP residents will pack up their motorhomes and RVs sometime in early spring to head back to their summer homes, their selfless volunteer work will leave a lasting impression around the base for the months to come.

 “Their service is admirable, and the fact that they continue to serve well after their retirement is even more commendable, and I hope today’s Airmen take note,” said Col. April Vogel, commander of the 6th Air Mobility Wing.