Most people in Bedford are familiar with Hanscom Air Force Base: one can’t miss the exit signs on I-95/Rte 128 and Rte 2A for the Base. But what about the people who live and work there, and spend time in Bedford? This first article in the “Community at Hanscom” series takes a look at the families living at Hanscom and what it’s like to come from away to Bedford. Meet Major Brandon Casso and his wife, Ariel, and their daughter Bailey.
What is Hanscom Air Force Base?
It’s important to understand that Hanscom AFB is totally different from Hanscom Airfield. They are two separate entities. First, some of the history of Hanscom Air Force Base. Hanscom AFB is part of the 66th Air Base Group That provides support for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center. Approximately 10,000 people are employed by Hanscom AFB, with 900 active duty military personnel and 400 Massachusetts National Guard assigned. The base is the only active duty military installation in eastern New England with on-base housing. Accordingly, more than just Air Force personnel live on base. Nearly 700 members and family from the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and even some National Park Rangers call Hanscom AFB home. About a third of the people living on base actually work at the base, while the others leave each day to work elsewhere in the area.
If you want to read more about Hanscom’s history, check out this story: A brief history of Hanscom Air Force Base
What’s it like coming to Hanscom?
Towns that host military bases are often dominated by those bases. Many businesses cater to the needs of Airmen and soldiers and their families, and often a military base is the main employer in the region Air Force bases are described as “a community that’s a lot like civilian communities everywhere around the country. In fact, Air Force bases are basically self-contained cities with everything you need to live and raise your family.” But Hanscom AFB is different. While Hanscom AFB accommodates the needs of those living on-base with grocery stores, bowling alleys, the base doesn’t seem to dominate the culture of the surrounding towns as often happens with other military bases. This affords the many different military personnel the opportunity to go out into the surrounding community and make the town –not just the base– a place they call home. And that’s just what has happened to the Casso Family.
Meet the Cassos
Major Brandon Casso is the 66th Security Forces Squadron Commander. He and his wife Ariel, and their 4-year-old daughter Bailey, live on base at Hanscom and can often be seen around Bedford. The Cassos were moved to Hanscom in January 2022, coming here from Tinker AFB in Oklahoma. Before Tinker AFB, Casso was stationed at Aviano Air Base in Aviano Italy. While home on leave from Aviano, Brandon and Ariel met and fell in love. They got married while stationed at Aviano and then Bailey was born there as well.
They both grew up in the South. Ariel was raised in southern Virginia, while Brandon is from the Tampa area. Needless to say, moving here in January was a bit of a shock to the system!
Major Casso is the Security Forces Squadron Commander, essentially the Police Chief of Hanscom AFB. Both of Casso’s parents were in the FBI and he knew he wanted to follow in his footsteps in law enforcement. His position requires him to reside at Hanscom AFB. And the family has been happy so far living there, but wish they could live in the broader community. When he’s not working, Casso, who is a history buff, finds plenty of places in the surrounding area to visit to get his fill of Revolutionary history. “Having reenactors just on the other side of the fence was really something during Patriots Day,” says Casso. The family also loves trips into Boston to see the sights as well as their frequent stops at Bedford Farms.
They both find New Englanders warmer and friendlier than the stereotypes often associated with people from the Northeast. They have built a network both through the base and the gym.
Adjusting to a new assignment is nothing new to military families. Both Ariel and Brandon feel strongly that it’s important to get out in the community. Keeping work and personal life separate is also important to both of them. Ariel and Brandon are CrossFit athletes. One of the first things they did when they landed in Bedford was to find a CrossFit gym in the Bedford community. There are exercise facilities on base at Hanscom AFB and even a CrossFit gym. Nevertheless, they both felt it important to find a gym in the community.
The Cassos tried out a few gyms around the area and settled on Club 600 on Wiggins Ave. as their “CrossFit home.” Ariel is now the head CrossFit coach at Club 600. In addition to her work teaching classes and doing some personal training, she also practices physical therapy at Moving Forward Physical Therapy at the same location.
For military spouses, finding work in the surrounding communities where they live can be a real challenge. Indeed, the national unemployment rate for military spouses is a whopping 21%! A big obstacle in finding employment is having good daycare options. Like most of the country, daycare here is extremely hard to find and is also very expensive. Hanscom AFB is fortunate to have The Child Development Center on-base which provides daycare. But, like a lot of places, there was a waiting list. Once a slot opened up for Bailey, Ariel and Brandon jumped at it! Both of them credit Col. Taona Enriquez, Hanscom’s Base Commander, for working hard to make it easier for spouses and families.
I asked them for their favorite thing about living here, besides Bedford Farms. Both of them mentioned the sense of community here in Bedford.
“I love how much of a small town, community feel the town is. The fact that I see smiles, people that know each other, or someone that knows someone to help get something done is what I like about a small town like Bedford. I think what I don’t like is that I’m not living in the community and have to go to it from our house to be a part of it. I’m from a bigger town where it feels like people are strangers and not as personal. I don’t feel that in Bedford.”
“My favorite things about Bedford 100% involve the community. As far as location, it couldn’t get any better. I don’t feel isolated from anything I want to get to but we also aren’t smack dab in the middle of a city. It’s perfect. I’m the opposite of Brandon in that I grew up in a very small town. So this feels like a colder version of home.”
The relationship between Bedford and Hanscom Air Force Base used to be much more integrated. The Officers Club was open to the public for events; many youth sports tournaments were hosted on the base, and Hanscom formerly hosted an Air Show that was open to the public. All that changed on Sept. 11, 2001. With the increased security since 9/11, the integration is understandably less. Nevertheless, the Bedford community continues to benefit from families like the Cassos who make a point to get involved in the area. There is a new effort to get the Hanscom and the Bedford community closer together. In fact the base is opening up to civilians for a tree lighting ceremony on December 4th. Base, Local Residents Invited to Attend Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony – Bedford Citizen, Nov 13, 2023.
We hope you enjoy this series as we get to know our neighbors on the base.