AFAS helps a retired Airman navigate a challenging financial emergency far from home

Technical Sergeant Deborah Cowdrey grew up in a family that believed in service to one’s country. “I remember hearing President Kennedy’s famous words ‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’ as a child, and that always stayed with me,” shares Tsgt Cowdrey. That desire to serve her country, as well as her dreams to travel and receive a quality education led her to the U.S. Air Force (USAF).

During a 20-year career in the USAF, TSgt Cowdrey says her life was enriched in ways beyond what she could have hoped for. “I learned about responsibility and leadership. I traveled to and lived in places that I might never have seen otherwise. I made friends and built a family.”

Recently, TSgt Cowdrey was reminded that – even as a USAF retiree – she’s still a part of the Air Force family, and Airmen always take care of their own.

TSgt Cowdrey had been planning and saving for a trip to Hawaii for two years. The day before she was scheduled to leave, she discovered that a clerical error after the death of her father had actually led to her being declared as deceased in the Social Security Administration (SSA) system. This mistake would have devastating implications on her Air Force retirement pay, Virginia disability pay and Social Security income, not to mention her medical benefits.

Officials at the SSA worked to try and resolve the error quickly, and her bank assured her she should be okay to travel with continued access to her accounts. So, she boarded her flight to Hawaii, looking forward to the long-planned trip. When she arrived at her destination, however, the situation had become even direr. During her flight, her bank account and her credit card account had not just been closed, they had been entirely deleted.

Finding yourself hundreds of miles from home, with very little cash in your wallet and absolutely no access to your financial accounts and assets is more than even the most seasoned of world travelers, like TSgt Cowdrey, could manage alone. She immediately turned to her Air Force family.

“I went to the Chaplain’s office at Pearl Harbor and he gave me the number for Air Force Aid Society (AFAS). I called the local AFAS section and explained my situation. The Sergeant in charge helped me do the emergency assistance paperwork over the phone and got a quick approval for a no-interest loan so I could get food and cover the cost of returning to the airport for my flight home. He even brought the check to me rather than having me come in person to pick it up, which helped me save on travel expenses.”

TSgt Cowdrey’s trip didn’t quite turn out as she planned, but she’s appreciative of the experience, nonetheless. “I didn’t get to do the things I would have liked to in Hawaii, but it was warm and beautiful there, and thanks to AFAS I had the funds to survive on until I was able to return home. And, now that the situation is corrected and my benefits and finances are back in place, I have a good story to tell.”

Beyond the good travel story, TSgt Cowdrey also has a renewed peace of mind that no matter where life’s journey takes her next she will always have a place to go for help as part of the Air Force community.

“I do not know what I would have done without Air Force Aid Society. As a USAF retiree, I am treated with respect and acceptance by other Air Force members, and I will always have that. I have often wondered what I would have done in this situation as a civilian. I am so glad AFAS was there for me.”

The Air Force Aid Society is the official charity of the U.S. Air Force and has been meeting the unique needs of Airmen and their families since 1942. AFAS works to support and enhance the USAF mission by providing emergency financial assistance, educational support, and community programs. Over the last decade, AFAS has provided nearly $180 million in direct support via approximately 500,000 assists. Visit to learn more, apply for assistance or make a donation.