An Air Force Family, Part One

Miss C and me, looking for our Airman. Photo by April L.

Martin graduated from Air Force Basic Military Training on Friday, April 12 in an official ceremony on the parade grounds at Lackland Air Force Base.

Even though we reunited with him just the day before, I found myself way more emotional during the graduation ceremony than I expected to be. There was a different mood and energy that morning, and the vibe lasted the entire day. It wasn’t as anxious and frenetic as the day before, when Miss C and I were practically humming with anticipation just to see Martin.

Instead, the vibe that Friday was slower and more nostalgic.

And I was a sucker for it.

Miss C and I both got up just a little extra early that morning, and dressed in new dresses and shoes we purchased for the occasion. Traffic was lighter, and we got to Lackland Air Force Base with plenty of time to spare. I was able to park just a short distance from the parade ground, which is the same parade ground my father marched on when he graduated from BMT in 1975, and the one I marched on in 2000.

It’s lined by retired aircraft on display, and I pointed out different spots to Miss C, explaining the aircraft and showing her where my flight stood when I graduated from BMT, and how we marched. I kept catching myself asking her, “Don’t you remember that?”which was silly because obviously, she wasn’t even alive back then.

But the memories of my time in BMT don’t seem all that long ago, definitely not more than a decade, not while I was standing there.

Since I knew where Martin’s flight would be standing, Miss C and I found our seats again in the center of the front row of bleachers underneath one of the canopies to the right of the parade ground. We watched as family members began filling up the seats, and as the trainee on detail duty (similar to what Martin did a few weeks earlier) stood in front of us, politely asking guests not to step off the grass onto the walkway.

As we waited, I wondered why I was feeling a lump in my throat about this whole thing.

And then I got my answer.

Shortly before the ceremony started, our friend Annette arrived and sat down next to us.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Annette has known me for years. She retired from the Air Force in the 1990s, but continued working as a civilian writer/editor for the Air Force news agency in San Antonio. When I got stationed at the Pentagon, writing for the news service, she and I spent lots of time on the phone with conversations that started about something work-related, but eventually evolved to other awesomeness, such as learning that her parents were German immigrants, and she grew up in the Midwest, too. When I left active duty, she helped me craft my resume, told me to list her as a reference, and provided advice for my photography business. She’s a bonafide family friend.

Of course, she came out to support Martin’s BMT graduation.

Annette took this photo of me taking a photo of Martin from across the field.

Shortly after Annette arrived, two other dear friends showed up, too: Karen and April.

April sidled up next to me as I had my camera raised, nudging me with her elbow. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of the ABU uniform and some rank, and wondered who on earth would violate my personal space like that. Of course, it would be April. She and I were stationed together at the Pentagon before she got assigned to San Antonio. Although we worked in different offices, we always made time for lunch at the local Chevy’s Mexican restuarant. We trained and deployed at the same time. We were pregnant with our second babies at the same time, too, and her son was born just a few weeks after Lola. And a few years later, our families met up for lunch under the pretense of swapping some newborn baby clothes her boys no longer wore, and 24 hours later, I gave birth to Jaz. In my note of thanks to her, I blamed the Mexican food.

And just like the day before at the Coin Ceremony, Karen appeared next to us on the bleachers, and the conversation picked up again just as easily. Just like the others, I’ve known Karen for years, having connected through career field workshops and forums. She took the reigns over the Air Force social media program when I left active duty, and we stayed connected as I worked in the Air Force Reserve, while also tracking our families and careers through social media.

Three awesome friends, all a part of my own Air Force history.

It felt great having them there.

Karen, April, and me. I had left my coffee mug at the hotel.

But then Steve showed up, too.

Steve and I were stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany together more than 10 years ago. He was the one who picked me up at the airport when I arrived at my first duty station. He was also the one who introduced me to a hosting site that he and his bride Christina were using to share their then-recent wedding photos, a site that I ended up using just months later when my Bundeswehr boyfriend and I got engaged. More than 10 years later, he’s still active duty, and also now stationed in the San Antonio area with Christina and their children.

It was so neat to see him again.

This time, he was armed with cameras and a phone: equipment for his job doing social media for the Air Force. He pointed out another photographer, and explained his team was going to be tweeting about the ceremony, and posting things online.

And it didn’t stop there.

Every now and then, I looked online on my phone, and saw messages and posts from friends and family around the world — literally, from Asia to the Middle East to Europe to all over the United States — who were posting best wishes and sharing the link to the ceremony’s live-stream so others could watch it online.

It was all so overwhelming.

Meanwhile, across the field, Martin stood quietly with his flight, completely oblivious to the amazing support being shown to us at that very moment.

I could see him with my zoom lens, standing in the front corner of his flight, looking pretty sharp in his own blues uniform. I wondered what he was thinking about, if he could see us from where he was standing. (It was a reason I wore my red sunglasses. You can’t miss me in the red sunglasses.)

It was really a very significant moment.

Can you spot Martin?

I’ve been asked many times why on Earth I would support my husband’s decision to join the Air Force, especially at this stage in our lives.

Especially since he would be starting from scratch, with no rank and in an unfamiliar career field.

Especially with all the uncertainty in the world, and with an Air Force that’s trying to regain it’s footing after severe budget cutsseveral horrifying sexual assault cases, questionable leadership decisionsforce-shaping, and a host of other issues that paint such a bleak picture for the service.

And especially since I was so burned out by all of it it when I left active duty.

How could I be so accepting of Martin taking on the burden of service now, too, with all it’s risks and rewards?

My answer to that was so obvious there at the ceremony.

It’s because of the people like Annette, April, Karen, and Steve, and the many others who supported us that day.

It’s because of Dan, who was stationed with us in Italy, who wrote to Martin during BMT from his new home in Minnesota.

And Lupe, who was a fellow military spouse in Italy with Martin, who also wrote to him during BMT from Turkey, where her husband is now stationed.

And Jason who sent me a screenshot of Martin’s flight from his computer in Germany.

And Trevor who pulled from his past military training instructor experience to provide humor and insight to what Martin was going through, a British-American who helped us navigate the application and waiver process when Martin enlisted as a foreign national.

And Sarah, the wife of a fellow public affairs NCO, who lives 10 minutes from my house and came over to fold laundry with me while Martin was gone.

And Erin and Joe, who was my boss at Aviano, who checked in often from their home in Maryland, who offered to take the kids for a few hours whenever I needed a break.

And all the others who’ve reached out to us …

Coworkers don’t do that for each other … but friends do … and not just any friends, but friends who make up our Air Force family.

It was through my Air Force career that we made all these connections, but Martin was embraced just the same. These are the people who were there for some of our best moments, and our worst.  Who celebrated our accomplishments and milestones with us, and helped us see through the tough times. And though time and distance separates us from most of them now, those connections have stayed so strong.

I never really felt like Martin was doing something new by joining the Air Force because he already was a part of it for so long. Yet at the ceremony, as I sat there surrounded — literally and virtually — by the family we created through my Air Force experience, I couldn’t help but feel so excited that Martin was officially becoming an Airman, and that he, too, would also be connecting and establishing relationships with truly amazing people … all in the process of doing something that is truly a calling for him.

It made me feel so proud.

Of Martin.

Of my service.

And our Air Force family.

This wasn’t Martin’s flight, but I took a photo anyway because back in the day, my BMT flight carried the flags, too. 🙂

The graduation ceremony itself only lasted about 30 minutes.

Martin’s flight was honored as the “Honor Flight” which means out of all the graduating flights, his flight passed all the inspections, evaluations, and such with the most points.

There was a speech given by Lt. Gen. Robert Allardice, who I actually interviewed a few times during my days at the Pentagon.

Then the flights all marched in formation past the special guests and family members. I had the perfect view from my spot on the bleachers, but then other family members starting jumping up and standing in our way.

Our friend April even jumped up to direct them all back to their seats, but when it became clear they weren’t going to respond, Miss C and I jumped up, too.

We got right on the edge of the walkway, and once again, there was Martin right in front of us as his flight marched by.

There’s Martin! This was a photo I took while my camera simultaneously recorded video. I love my camera.

Once all the flights marched past us, they lined up again on the grass and were soon dismissed. Once again, family members were able to walk out to their Airmen, and it didn’t take long for us to get to Martin.

And this time, we had an entourage: Karen, April, Annette, and Steve were all following Miss C and me as we approached Martin, who was able to keep a straight face the whole time.

Not a single tear — just smiles all around.

Well, all smiles for us, but not for the guy behind him. Ha! Photo by Steve G.

Photo by Annette

Martin’s flight regrouped after the ceremony for their Honor Flight portrait.