Back in 1978, after the office closed for the day, then-volunteer June Brennan would arrive at NMCRS Rota to type the director’s daily correspondence. She brought her newborn baby along, and he would fall asleep in his car seat, listening to the noise of the typewriter. “This was before computers,” June recalled. “I started as a receptionist writing letters to clients reminding them to repay their loan from the Society.” This was June’s first volunteer assignment when she was a new Navy spouse. Now, more than four decades later, June is retiring from the Society after serving as long-time director of the NMCRS Rota office, area trainer for all NMCRS’ offices in Europe, and as a volunteer in Society offices around the world. She’s also knitted countless blankets for the Society’s Budget for Baby® program.
From their first duty station in Rota, Spain, June and her husband Tom PCS’d to Hawaii, where she volunteered at NMCRS Pearl Harbor. “I said I would never do casework, but they talked me into learning how, and I did casework one day a week,” June laughed. Then the Brennan family returned to Rota and June served as the volunteer director for the NMCRS Rota office. Next, the family PCS’d to Newport, Rhode Island, where they were stationed for a year before returning to Rota. Upon return, the director NMCRS Rota position was filled, so June worked for the Navy Fleet and Family Services, still staying in touch with NMCRS. After two-and-a-half years, the family PCS’d to San Antonio, Texas, where June worked for the Air Force Family Service Center, helping out the Air Force Aid Society, a sister military aid society. From there, the Brennan family PCS’d to London, England, and June was hired as director of NMCRS London as well as serving as the area trainer for the other NMCRS offices in Europe.
“I got to travel around Europe training directors and volunteers,” June said. “I was Margaret Copson’s mentor [who recently retired as director of NMCRS Naples]. Margaret and I worked together and helped each other for years.” When the Navy closed its London base, June’s husband, who had served as a naval flight officer for 24 years, retired. “We loved the lifestyle here in Europe,” said June. “We didn’t want to go back to the States. I was hired as the director of NMCRS Rota in 2004 and we moved here. My husband became my dependent!”
“I am not the oldest person in the Rota office, but I’ve been around the longest,” June said. “I’ve had a terrific group of volunteers, but I’m old enough to be their mother, or grandmother to some of them.”
Because of her impressive tenure, June has seen a host of changes at NMCRS. “I was here when they brought the first casualties from this war into a temporary hospital in Rota. We went out to the hospital to do basically the equivalent of a Quick Assist Loan® for the wounded. They arrived and had nothing, and they were going to be stuck here for a while.”
Later, the makeup of the base changed “when the Navy downsized, the aviation squadron left and ships came in,” June recalled. “We went from being a naval air station to being a base supporting navy ships. We also have Marines assigned here. Rota is a very active base.” Requests for NMCRS financial assistance spiked when the ships began arriving. “As military families arrive, we see a lot of clients who need assistance to set up their household in the local economy, as well as assistance for temporary housing and living expenses.” In addition to Navy and Marine Corps personnel, the Air Force also has a significant presence on this base. “We’re the only Navy base I know of whose active duty fund drive kickoff has included support from an Air Force colonel. We’re truly a blended base.”
June has also witnessed the evolution of the Society’s approach to financial assistance. “One of the things I absolutely love about the Society is that we can be much more flexible and responsive than the military. As Admiral Abbot says, it takes a long time to turn a ship. We’re a much smaller ship so we can turn quicker. We can be there when people need the help, then back away when the military catches up.” Since the advent of inexpensive long-distance calls and the internet, Society field offices—particularly those overseas—are able to collaborate with NMCRS headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and get quick, timely approval for complicated cases. “In the early years, when I was volunteering in an overseas office, we couldn’t call NMCRS headquarters for exceptions to policy, because the phone lines didn’t work, or it would be too expensive. Instead, our NMCRS office treasurer made those decisions. Now, we’re in frequent communication with headquarters and get answers quickly. We’re not shy about calling when we have a strange case that needs to be discussed at a higher level. We can talk to headquarters and get permission to help our client.”
One memorable client June worked closely with for years was a Navy retiree who lived on the Southern coast of Spain. “When I was first hired as director, NMCRS Rota, the retiree was already receiving monthly supplementary income from the Society,” June recalled. “I went to visit him once a year to review his budget and see what he needed. Before that, he made a three-and-a-half-hour bus ride to get to our office. Often, I would drive down and pick him up and drive him back to Rota so he could get military medical care. I was with him when he had cataract surgery and I was there when they took the bandages off. He opened his eyes and he said, ‘Sweetheart, I can see you!’ When he was 89, I convinced him into moving to Rota. He moved up here and became an integral part of the base community.”
Until she lived in Europe, June explained, she didn’t realize how many foreign nationals serve in the US military, in addition to the number of foreign-born military spouses there are. “We deal with immigration issues a lot,” she said. “For example, before a military member can move his foreign spouse to the US, the couple have to go to Madrid to get the immigration paperwork done. They don’t always realize how much that will cost, or how long it’s going to take, so our office helps them with financial assistance and advice. We’ve also had numerous service members report to Rota from Japan and have foreign-born spouses without visas. You can’t even land in the US to change planes if you don’t have a visa. One foreign-born military spouse without a visa had to fly the other way around the world.”
Although June officially retires on 22 February 2019, she plans to continue to volunteer with the Society in Jacksonville, Florida. “I’m retiring, but I’ve got to keep active,” she said. Her motivation for moving to Jacksonville is to be close to a medical clinic which is renowned for knee replacement surgery, which she needs. Because of her advance planning, the Society was able to hire June’s successor—Courtney Snyder—so the two of them would overlap for a few weeks and June could train Courtney before departing.
June and Tom plan to remain in Spain until April, saying goodbye to friends. “I’m going to miss a lot of people,” she said. “My husband is a volunteer for Fleet and Family Services and has been the director of the Retired Activities Office, is the regional Retired Activities Officer for Europe, and is the treasurer for a local retiree group. Between us, we’ve been very involved with the US military retiree community. We feel like we’ve made a difference here.”
They look forward to spending more time with their two children and three grandchildren when they relocate back to the States. June and Tom plan to live in Jacksonville until June has recovered from her knee surgery, and then alternate their volunteer service with travel. “This is the next chapter of our lives. We’ve had 33 ½ years living on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, plus three years in Hawaii. Now, we’ll see what’s next.”
Congratulations on your retirement, June, and thank you for your decades of service!
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso