On My Way

JB and me in Iraq in 2007. I’m the short dude on the left.

 

I’ve been lucky.

Ever since my deployment in 2007, I’ve been able to keep in touch with my team: JV, JB, and JZ.

Unlike the experiences of my grandfathers and uncles who served in previous conflicts, I didn’t just go home and never see my fellow Airmen again.

Through social media, the grapevine, and in-person reunions, I’ve actually been able to keep track of retirements, career changes, families, and such.

Out of all my connections — military and professional colleagues, friends, and family — there is a special place in my heart for these three men.

For six months (if you include the time I spent training with them, too), I worked, lived, traveled, laughed, annoyed (I admit it), cared, and thankfully, survived with those guys. In the entire span of my lifetime, those months are just a small chunk of my life experience, right?

But whoa, was it extraordinary.

Because we actually worked together at the Pentagon for a few more years upon our return home, and because we live in the same region and invite each other to family barbecues and birthday parties, I actually get to see JV quite a bit.

JV at his surprise birthday party in 2012

I also got to reunite with JZ, who ended up being an attendee at one of my social media briefings a few years ago.

That was an awesome surprise for me, and I actually had Martin drive up with the kids so we could all sit and talk and catch up.

When I saw JZ, and got the scoop on how well he and his family were doing, and how his career was doing, there was such an unexpected sense of relief there for me. It’s one thing to see updates on social media or through the grapevine, or get emails every now and then.

It’s another to actually put eyes on your battle buddies, and see that they are well.

With JZ and Miss C in 2011. Jaz was still baking at the time. ūüôā

Which leads me to JB.

He’s the one dude from my team that I haven’t been able to see again in person.

The last time I saw him and his bald head was when they ran out of that kitchen (which was set up as the medical clinic) with him on the stretcher, out to the helicopter waiting to take him to Baghdad after his legs got shredded from the mortar blast.

He spent that summer in Washington DC at Walter Reed in recovery. Martin even got to visit with him.

But he was released and flown home just days before JV and I returned to the United States.

And we haven’t been in the same place ever since.

Until now.

This evening, I’m on my way to put a status check on him as he retires from the Air Force.

It will be good to see him.

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I did not know it was International Talk Like A Pirate day when I picked my nautical-inspired outfit this morning, ahoy! But thar you have it.
Thanks to Ashley¬†¬†the Intern for takin’ t’ picture.

This Is the Rest of Your Life

My thought as I took this photo in 2000?
“This is soooo going on my future web journal when I get this film developed.”

I forgot to point out a special anniversary/birthday earlier this week.

This blog turned 12 years old on July 28.

If it were my child, it would be going through puberty now. But I feel like blog years are sort of like dog years in that things grow and change rapidly, so in Internet/social media/technology years, my blog is really almost 200 years old.

I’m pretty proud of my archive over there.

For fun, I’m sharing with you some photos that were taken around the time I first started blogging/recording our history in 2000/2001, as well as the podcast Martin and I created a few years ago about that year.

You’ll see skinny Martin. Such a hunk.

Oh, and in recognition of my blog going through puberty (sort of), I’m also including one of the most delightful things I’ve seen on the Internet yet.

Enjoy. And happy belated blog birthday!

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Shut up. This was one of my clubbing outfits. Not even joking. There are no other photos of me in this shirt.
Grateful there were no cell phone cameras back in 2001. Thank you, Jesus.

His and her vehicles. Mine was a 1988 Ford Sierra and Martin had a 1992 Honda Civic.

Martin and his mother in fall of 2000, the day he left for Bundeswehr basic training. Love. That. Hair.

Martin wearing my BCGs — birth control glasses — from basic training while talking on the phone in my Kaiserslautern apartment to my family in the states in early 2001. I can assure you he did not put those glasses on himself.

I traveled a lot back then. This photo was taken in Berlin while I was visiting my friend Pam. I found the people in Berlin to be very friendly, although they had a thing for very strange hats.

Martin, his sister Carola, my dad, and my ol’ roommate, Stephanie, in Nuremberg in early 2001.

Dress shopping in the summer of 2001 while visiting Ohio.

That’s Martin on the far right during his Bundeswehr days. Look at those computer monitors.

Getting promoted to airman first class! Two stripes! YES! That was in the spring of 2001.
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On another note,  some habits die hard.

It’s gray and dreary today, and as I wrangled the kids out of the house this morning, I called over my shoulder, asking Martin to grab me an umbrella I could take to work with me.When I saw which one he brought me, I blurted out, “Oh, no! I can’t use that one!”

And he said, “Julie. It’s fine. It’s pink. And you are not in the military or in uniform anymore.”
***************

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Satisfaction

Amelia the Minivan is in the shop and Martin took the car to Andrews. We ran out of milk, so we grabbed the bikes and headed to the store. Which, I realized, is uphill the whole way. And it is a freakin’ sauna outside. But there was a sale on Cheez-it’s and Gatorade, so Mom’s heat exhaustion was totally worth it.

*******

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There’s a certain sense of satisfaction I feel as I listen to Martin try to log into the Air Force website responsible for his travel orders and such. It’s the password requirement. Hearing him curse in two languages … seeing him throw his fists in the air … “Why the hell do they need 15 characters? WCKR is NOT a word! Why is it saying it’s a word? It’s NOT A WORD!!”

I know now: it wasn’t me. No. It was never me.

PS – After about 15 minutes of entertainment, I finally went in there and showed him the trick. Sure, I could have let him suffer for about nine years, as I did before learning it, but I *do* have to live with him.

 

Martin Graduated

Some final words with one of his tech school instructors.

In the midst of all the excitement with Jaz last week, I didn’t get to share the good news.

Martin graduated.

He officially finished his military training last Wednesday and left technical school as a certified air transportation specialist* for the US Air Force Reserve.

I took off from work that day and drove down to Ft. Lee to attend the ceremony. A few other family members were there as well, and we all got to watch as our Airmen were given their certificates and words of encouragement from class leadership.

And I even got to step up and take the grip-and-grin photos for everyone.

 

After the ceremony, we headed over to the dorm so Martin could collect all his belongings, and within an hour, we were on the road again, heading home.

For good.

Martin is no longer considered a “pipeline” Airman. He’s done with his initial training.

Starting next month, he’ll be putting on the uniform at least one weekend a month, two weeks a year, and doing his work at nearby Andrews Air Force Base. Of course, there may be some travel to other locations here and there, some time apart, some more training down the road.

But now? He’s back to be being a full-time stay-at-home dad.

He’ll be posting soon about his tech school experience, and of course, we’ll be sharing as we follow this new path for all of us, especially as he re-integrates with the household again.

It probably goes without saying that we are so proud of him.

******************

* Here’s an Air Force video showing you what air transportation specialists — or¬† “Port Dawgs” — do in the Air Force/Air Force Reserve.

The One About Tech School

My roommate Carolyn and me during tech school in the spring of 2000.

This is the blog post about tech school.

The one I meant to write and publish earlier, after Martin’s graduation from Basic Military Training before life and all its distractions got in the way.

As you know, Martin is attending his technical school for his job in the Air Force Reserve right now, but this post is specficially about my tech school experience, when I went through it back in the spring of 2000.

For those who aren’t familiar with this part of military training, technical school is where an Airman (or Soldier, Sailor, Marine, or member of the Coast Guard) learns his/her job. In some ways, it’s like college or a trade school, with all the classes, studying, and exams. (In fact, one can earn several college credits there.)

There are even dorms and instructors and dining facilities, just like a college campus.

But with more rules, and uniforms, and military order, of course.

Everyone who wears a uniform performs a job in the military that falls within certain categories or career fields. Each branch has a different way of calling these jobs. In the Army, these are called Military Occupational Specialties, or MOS. In the Air Force, the categories are called Air Force Specialty Codes, or AFSC.

Based on one’s scores after taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude, or ASVAB, test, there are more than 800 careers one can have in the military.

Because I was Air Force, my AFSC was 3N0X1.

Public Affairs.

It was the only military job I ever wanted.

Within days of graduating from basic training, I was on a plane for Baltimore, Maryland. Unlike the majority of my fellow Airmen, who were headed to other Air Force bases for their training, I was heading to Ft. Meade, Maryland, an Army post that is home to the Defense Information School.

I wrote about DINFOS before on the blog, after I was a guest speaker during one of the graduation ceremonies there. Since then, I’ve spoken there a few times to individual classes related to social media and government work.

A lot of the people I knew and worked with in the Air Force are now instructors there themselves, to include some folks who went through tech school with me.

But I digress.

I was sent to Ft. Meade to attend the basic journalism course for three months.

The day I showed up at Fort Meade, I was assigned a roommate, Carolyn, who attended basic training the same time I did, although we were in different flights and didn’t know each other. She was from Minnesota and I was from Cincinnati, and we both were sort of obsessed with Ralph Fiennes and The English Patient at the time.

We got along just fine.

We shared a room in the Air Force dorms which were housed in a long, narrow building right across from the school. We each had a bed, a nightstand, a wardrobe closet, a book shelf and a desk, and we shared an ironing board and mini-refrigerator.

And while we still shared a bathroom with all the other girls on our floor, there were individual shower stalls for more privacy. While it was different than sharing a huge bay with 50 other ladies, we were still expected to make our beds every day, line up our shoes underneath, and keep everything dust-free.

Not all the Airmen were attending the public affairs course. Some were being trained as photographers. Others were there becoming broadcasters and videographers. A few were learning graphic design. Carolyn was training to become a photographer, which meant I was a frequent subject for her photography assignments.

That first weekend there,¬†all the Airmen were involved¬†in a fitness challenge. All the classes were divided up into flights, and my flight was the newest right out of basic training. So collectively, we maxed out on all the scores since we were all in prime condition. For the final obstacle, our commander — a captain who once played football at the Air Force Academy — challenged everyone to a chin-up contest. If someone from our flight could pump out more chin-ups than he, we would get the top prize: a weekend pass with no restrictions.

You see, there are “phases” during tech school. I wrote about them in an earlier post, but to sum it up, the phases are in place to ease the transition away from basic. Under normal circumstances, my flight would have remained in the first phase — which meant an early curfew, no civilian clothes, no leaving the base — for at least three weeks.

Fortunately, my flight had a few young men who could do chin-ups all day.

That first weekend, all of us got to put on civilian clothes again and head downtown to Baltimore. We went to Washington D.C. the next day.

On the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during my visit to DC.

That’s when I fell in love with this city. It was my first visit ever, and I just knew I would return to it in some capacity at some point in my life.

But at that moment, I was focused on Europe.

When it came to my classes, tech school was pretty easy for me.

From the age of nine, I knew about the public affairs career field, and my curriculum choices in high school reflected my goal to enlist in that career field. All those years in journalism and writing classes, learning about the media, all those public appearances during my theater years and on my mother’s television show really paid off at DINFOS.

Public affairs was a perfect fit for me.

But where was I going to go after tech school?

My public affairs class photo with my instructors
Like all active-duty Airmen in tech school, I expected to get orders to my first duty assignment sometime in the middle of my schooling there. We all got to fill out a “dream sheet” listing the locations we preferred, and all of my preferences were in Europe – most in Germany. When the instructor said I really should list some stateside bases, too,¬†I explained my reasons for not listing any.
Of course, my ancestors came from Germany, and my dad loved it when he was stationed as a young Airman, but any time there was a major international military event, what location was in the news?
Ramstein Air Base. Germany.
Throughout my high school years, I paid attention.
Ramstein was where distinguished visitors visited and Americans returned from conflict. Notable things happened there. It’s where those injured in the Balkans, or in the 1998 embassy attack in Kenya, were flown.
If I wanted to be in the middle of it, in a place where things happened and media activity was constant, I wanted to be there.
So, long before there was Martin, there was a desire to speak the language and live and work in Germany on behalf of the Air Force. As a sophomore in high school, I signed up for German classes and took it for three years before signing up to be a foreign exchange student in the summer of 1999.
I wanted to be as prepared for the assignment as possible.
The instructor laughed when I explained all this, and said my enthusiasm for an overseas assignment would lead me straight to Korea.
Another student, though, overheard me.
She was a technical sergeant, a Reservist,¬†and was cross-training into the public affairs career field. She didn’t live in the dorms with the new Airmen, but attended classes with us.
During our lunch break that day, she wrote an email address on a slip of paper and handed it to me.
“I heard what you were saying about going to Germany,” she said, “and I think you should write to this person. She’s the one who manages everyone’s assignments. I heard her speak at an event recently, and she seems really invested in people’s careers. I don’t¬†think it’ll hurt you to reach out to her.”
So, in a moment of inspired bravado, I took the sergeant’s advice and wrote to the chief master sergeant in charge of assignments.
I later learned that the email was circulated from Fort Meade to Texas to Germany … throughout my career field’s entire senior leadership, actually.
It’s not every day that an airman basic — the lowest¬†rank in the¬†Air Force¬†— writes to a chief master sergeant — the highest enlisted¬†rank in the¬†Air Force¬†— and explains how the Air Force would benefit by sending that brand new baby Airman to Europe.
But I did.

In Cincinnati after tech school during my two-week visit
 
The weekend after I wrote that email, my family from Ohio came out to visit me during the Cherry Blossom festival in DC, and it was the first time they got to see me in uniform since they didn’t attend my graduation from basic training.
I was in Phase Two at the time — I could go off-base yet I had to wear my blues uniform. During the first day of their visit, we spent the day walking around the Mall to see the monuments.
At the Women’s Vietnam Memorial, a lady approached my father and me. She identified herself as an Air Force senior non-commissioned officer, and wanted to know what I did for the Air Force. When I said public affairs, her face lit up.
“I work as a career field manager¬†down at Randolph Air Base in Texas,” she said. “I don’t handle the public affairs assignments, but the lady who does sits right across from me.”
Needless to say, I started talking.
She took down my name, saying she would put in a good word for me to her colleague.
My dad was flabbergasted.
“I can not believe that just happened,” he said. “I think it’s a sign.”
It was.
About a week or so later, I got my orders to Ramstein Air Base.

To say I was excited is putting it mildly.

I couldn’t wait to head over to Europe.
But I had to finish tech school, of course.
In addition to the classes, there were “GI Parties” every Sunday night, when all of us Airmen were assigned household chores, such as mopping the hallways or dusting furniture in the open areas of the dorm.
There were random fire and evacuation drills in the middle of the night.
Early morning “fun runs” with the squadron.
Physical fitness (PT) in the afternoons in the field next to the dorms.
Curfew. Random room/uniform inspections. Custom and courtesy drills.
But there were fun times, too.
I really did enjoy my journalism and photography classes, completing assignments, and hanging out with the others after school or the weekends, when we ventured off base to the local malls and movie theaters, or to Baltimore or Washington DC again.
I got a belly piercing in a tattoo parlor right off base. (That was interesting.) And a few of us discovered a thrift shop not far from the base: I invested a nice chunk of my new paycheck on some great vintage finds.
I also bought a portable CD player and a huge CD storage case to begin my very own CD collection. (10 Internet points if you even know what any of that means.)
And I celebrated my 19th birthday there, too. A group of Airmen and Marines (who lived in the dorms across from ours) took me out for a birthday dinner that weekend, and brought me a cake and candles that morning.

Cake!
I graduated in the last week of May. 
The ceremony lasted about 20 minutes. I don’t even remember who spoke at it.
Later that day, my dad arrived from Ohio to take me back to Cincinnati so I could start two weeks of the “recruiters assistance program” which allowed for me to visit with family before heading over to Germany.
And the rest, they say, is history.

Family Reunion

Martin got to reunite with the whole family this past weekend.

Ever since graduating from Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, Martin’s been attending technical school at Fort Lee in Virginia. For the longest time, I thought this part of his training was going to continue in Lackland, as mentioned in his orders. While it is true that the training group is based in Texas, Martin’s school is part of a joint training facility located on an Army base, just like my own tech school experience.

You can imagine how thrilled we all were when we realized that Fort Lee is only two hours away from us in Northern Virginia.

Regardless of his location, Martin’s considered a “pipeline Airman” right now. That’s a term given to brand new Airman who make their way through the “pipeline” — BMT and tech school — before joining the real Air Force. Continue reading

Thank You For Your Service

Enjoying breakfast on the Riverwalk

That Sunday after his graduation ceremony was the last we saw Martin while down in Texas.

He earned a town pass for the day in two ways. First, he won it by maxing out on the physical fitness standards, earning himself a “warhawk” status¬†for extraordinary fitness.¬†Because of that, he got a certificate, a t-shirt, and a town pass.

This incentive is something new to BMT (or at least, new to me), and when Martin told me about it over the phone, his German accent threw me off, and I misunderstood that he was a warthog.

It was a few days later until I realized my mistake. I just assumed he was referencing something from BEAST week, and didn’t bother to get clarification.

It’s Warhawk: the Air Force God of Fitness.

(I made up that last part.)

The second way Martin earned the Sunday town pass was through his flight, and their designation as the honor flight. All the others in his flight also got to spend one extra day with their families as a reward for earning the most points through their exams, inspections, and fitness tests.

So, Miss C and I picked up Martin early Sunday morning and immediately drove down to the city, where we enjoyed breakfast on the Riverwalk.

Halfway through our meal, an older gentleman approached us, and introduced himself as a former B-52 pilot. He had been eating at the table behind us with his family, and when he saw Martin in his uniform and overheard our conversation, he realized Martin was a recent BMT graduate, and he wanted to treat us.

So he bought our entire breakfast, thanking Martin for his service.

The gentleman wasn’t the first to thank Martin that weekend. In fact, just about everywhere we went, people approached Martin to shake his hand, thank him for his service, and welcome him to the Air Force.

Martin said this made him feel really awkward because not only is he naturally a pretty humble dude, but for so long, it was people coming up to me and thanking me for serving, and occasionally treating me (or us) with some random act of kindness.

But most of all, Martin said he felt weird about it because in his mind, graduating from BMT didn’t really count as a significant contribution of service.

But he is wrong.

Every time someone approached Martin, I wanted to speak up about my husband, to bring them up to speed about how he’s already served and sacrificed. And it’s not even that he gave up his own Bundeswehr career, or offered such unconditional support to my own Air Force career.

It’s just that, in addition to all things that motivates one to join the military, Martin really and truly knows how hard it is, and how much is given and lost when one puts on the uniform … and how mundane and ordinary working for the Air Force can be … and how exciting … and how draining human politics and office politics and DC politics can be in the military, and how much it can change you, and not always for good … and all the other things that make life in the military one of the hardest and most stressful career choices out there.

Most new Airmen do not have that perspective.

But despite having witnessed all of that through my career and those of our good friends, and despite having a comfortable life as a stay-at-home dad with us at home, my warthog STILL decided to serve.

Yes, Martin.

Thank you for your service.

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The three of us. That’s Miss C sporting the panda mask she got at the San Antonio zoo.

The rest of that Sunday was definitely more low-key. After breakfast, we let Miss C decide our plans. This led us over to the IMAX theater near the Alamo, where we saw a documentary about monarch butterflies.

Afterwards, we drove back to our hotel, where the three of us ordered room service and watched animal reality television shows featuring adorable puppies and psychotic cats while all piled up on the huge bed. The only thing missing were our two babies, Lola and Jaz.

At least, though, we knew that the hardest part — BMT — was over, and we were that much closer to being all together again.

Our goodbye to Martin that day was relatively quick and painless. I pulled into the parking lot next to his dorm, helped him unload his new luggage set, and gave him a quick hug and kiss goodbye. He had an early morning flight out of Texas — the airport bus picked him up at 2 am — and then he would be off to technical school to learn how to become an air transportation specialist.

This meant he was now a lot closer to home, too.

Literally.

For the longest time, I thought his tech school was there at Lackland Air Force Base. But as it turned out … of all the places he could have gone for his training, his school is at Fort Lee, Virginia.

Just two hours south of where we live.

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Can you believe that Martin already wrote something for the Air Force’s official blog?

It’s true.

That Sunday, while we were hanging out in the hotel room, Martin typed up some thoughts about his BMT experience.

You can read it here.

Just Add Zing


I think it happens in all marriages or long-term relationships:
at some point, that zing — that mysterious and powerful tension — that cackled and sparked in the early days of the relationship dissolves into something that’s a lot more tepid.

It definitely happened in ours.


And let me be clear: I’m not talking about romance or attraction, or even THAT specifically, either. With a little bit of effort, I think all of those things are sustainable. Martin has always been good about finding little romantic things to do for me, and I like to think I‘ve done the same for him. And I’ve never doubted that he finds me attractive, just as I’ve always found him to be one good-looking dude. No complaints here.


But after awhile — and especially after three kids and more than a decade together — things become … comfortable, right?¬†

Like, it’s just assumed one will get a kiss from the other before leaving the house, if one’s not in too much a rush. What was once bought at Victoria’s Secret gets picked up from the clearance rack at Target. Putting on anything other than yoga pants is a sign you want to be taken out. Nobody thinks twice before passing gas under the sheets. And there are no surprises, except maybe when helping identify whatever it is that’s growing on the other’s back that he/she can’t see in a mirror.

It’s not that this level of comfort is a bad thing. In fact, being at that comfort level with each other is a comfort all by itself, in a way, because it means we’ve been through it all, we know each other completely, and are free to be ourselves.


Yet, being at that level also means that gone are the days of that zing, that puppy love and anticipation, right?


Wrong. 


It IS possible to put zing back into one’s marriage even after fourteen years together, three kids, stretch marks and hair loss.¬†

Here’s how you can do it, too.

1) Send your spouse or significant other to basic military training, or some other environment that’s going to completely remove them from your home for months at a time. Deployments are an alternative, but I don’t recommend them. Be sure that all forms of communication are severed, except for traditional letter-writing and maybe one phone call every two weeks. It also helps if wherever you send them uses physical fitness as punishment in the form of push-ups, situps, and flutter-kicks.

2)  While your spouse is away, write a ton of letters and feel free to share things that are much easier to share on paper than they are person-to-person.

3) Lose nearly 20 pounds, but don’t mention it at all to your spouse. On the days you reunite with your loved one, wear clothes that fit you well and show off your assets. (Hey, that’s advice straight from Tim Gunn!) In fact, wear a snazzy dress in his favorite color on you. Bonus points if it’s two sizes smaller than what you were wearing when he left. Get your nails did and your hair done, too.


4) No matter what, do NOT forget the rules. Most importantly, don’t forget that Airmen in uniform are not allowed to participate in any form of PDA (public display of affection.) This means no kissing, no hugging, no snuggling, no hand holding.¬†Even if the closest you’ve been to holding your spouse’s hand in public in about five years were all the times you were handing a diaper bag/stroller/baby bottle/flashing the bird to him, you will suddenly want to hold his hand all the time. Nope. Don’t do it. You get about 20 seconds to do this when you FIRST see your spouse, but anything after that is unacceptable.

5) Don’t gawk too much when you finally see your spouse and you see that all the running, push-ups, sit-ups, and flutter kicks shaved about 10 years off of him, and that he still looks really, really good in uniform. Try not to stare.


6) Be prepared to feel incredibly awkward at all times. Don’t take it personally when, after the official graduation ceremony and after he’s already seen you the day before, your spouse just sort of pats you on the back because he doesn’t want to break any rules … and he doesn’t want others to think he’s breaking the rules, either.¬†Use your kid — who is allowed to hold hands with your spouse — as a barrier. Be prepared for questions and clumsy behavior. Such as when your daughter asks in the car why Dad won’t hold Mom’s hand, and as he’s explaining the reasons, you turn on the car radio only to realize you left the volume turned up and the song that’s playing on the radio just happens to be “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye. Bonus points if your husband’s wingman from Nigeria is in the back of the car, singing along as you fumble for the volume because he thinks it’s a really good song.¬†Yeah. Awkward.



 

7) At other times, try sitting or standing far apart from your spouse so that nobody suspects you really just want to jump each other’s bones. Try not to blush when your good friends — ah, those good, ol’ friends — point out that they can tell you just want to jump each other’s bones. Be horrified when they actually capture this in photos.

 


8) When touring your husband’s dorms while wearing that snazzy dress, be sure to remember that there are chrome strips running along the floor and they’ve been polished to shine. And reflect. Since you are a lady, don’t panic: just swiftly step/shuffle over them so that nothing is revealed. But as you are leaving the dorms, lean over and whisper to your husband that a warning for such an issue would have been nice because one can see everything — everything — in those chrome plates. Pretend not to notice his jaw drop.

9) In the most gracious and vague way possible, ask your husband to (gently) ditch his wingman — who has provided excellent wingman support for two whole days — because you and your daughter had your hearts set on going to SeaWorld for some family time on his first day of town pass. Pick him up early the next morning and mention that your daughter went to the early morning Shamu show with a friend, and that you guys will join them there. But the truth is, you’ve actually arranged it so that your daughter gets to spend her day at the zoo with a friend’s family. But he doesn’t have to know that.

10) Don’t be alarmed when in the parking lot of the resort hotel where one has booked one of the finest rooms in the whole place with deluxe room service and lots of food, your husband looks confused, and after a moment of silence, says, “So, we’re NOT going to Sea World?”


Zing.

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An Air Force Family, Part Two

After the ceremony and all the picture-taking, we said goodbye to our friends and headed over to the dorms for the open-house visit.

Walking into the area was such a mind trip because not very much has changed since I went through BMT. Though my squadron (the 331st Training Squadron) was located in a building just down the road, all the dorms look the same. The patios. The stairwells. The hallways and open bays.

It was like stepping back in time with my husband and daughter.

Very surreal.

Martin’s bed was the bottom of the first bunk on the left.

Fun fact: his blue shower shoes are the ones the Bundeswehr issued to him.

Martin’s wall locker.

Martin’s secret: he perfectly folded everything once during the first week, passed his inspection, and then never used any of it. He just rotated the clothing items he actually used from his laundry bag, where he had bags for clean and dirty clothing. *gasp*

Martin showing us his personal drawer. He received so many letters, he had to line the bottom of the drawer with all the envelopes and cover it with a towel.

We told Miss C we expect the same hospital corners on her bunk bed.

The day room.

It was also a very sweet experience to meet the other Airmen who went through basic training with Martin.

Not only did Martin write about some of the Airmen in his letters, but I also connected with a lot of their families via the Air Force WingMoms website and forums. During the two months of BMT, we all shared stories, worries, questions, and encouragement as the men of our lives went through that experience.

Every now and then, I shared parts of Martin’s letters, too, since he did such a great job describing the various things they were doing, such as going through the gas chamber or making mistakes during drill practice.

During our time in the dorms, some of those families from the group approached us and introduced themselves. It was so cool to see Martin caught off-guard by the attention. While I did write to him about the Facebook group, he had no idea the reach and impact.

Vicky and her mom Judy were so cute: they told Martin they were so relieved when they learned Vicky’s son was in Martin’s flight. Knowing their son was around “someone like [Martin] really put their minds at ease,” they said.

After touring the dorms, Martin was then free to leave the base and spend the rest of the day with us in San Antonio.

So we headed out with his wingman, Larry, and made our way to the Riverwalk downtown, where they got to see the Alamo and have a quick lunch at Boudro’s Texas Bistro. We were also pulled into a welcome center, where the two men left pins on a huge map, indicating where they come from.

 

Not even out of BMT for an hour, and he was already ready to coupon. “Julie, did you bring the CVS card?”

Trevor and Martin were so lost in conversation. It was like an awesome first date. ūüôā

Later in the afternoon, we headed west to a local Asian restaurant near Lackland Air Force base, where we were greeted by more Air Force friends who all gathered to celebrate Martin’s graduation.

Annette was there with her boyfriend Mark.

Karen was there, too.

Eric — who helped me plan various Air Force workshops, and who also worked for the same company when we both left active duty — and his wife Peggy were there.

Todd — who was the deputy public affairs officers at Ramstein when I was there — brought his whole family, including his wife Mari, and his three children. I almost had a heart attack when I saw his oldest son: he was just a baby the last time I saw him and now he’s a charming and articulate young man. Almost a teenager! I couldn’t believe it.

Stephan retired after serving as an Air Force photographer, and he’s someone I’d worked with at various public affairs workshops, too, and he was representing his wife Piper, another friend of mine who is serving overseas right now.

And of course, Trevor was there.

It was the first time I finally got to meet Trevor in person after SIX YEARS. Though he was my replacement on the combat correspondent team when I deployed, we missed each other by about 30 minutes in the terminal as I was heading home on a flight, and he was just arriving.

We stayed in touch via email, though, and the occasional phone call, especially since his team experienced a lot of the lunacy my team faced during our months over there. As social media evolved, we connected through there, and when Martin decided to enlist, he was the first person I reached out to for information.

It was so good to finally meet him, and I didn’t even mind giving up my seat next to Martin for him.

Because you know, two foreigners with foreign military experience who were both military training instructors DEFINITELY had a lot to talk about.

I forget what we were talking about, but I was very animated.

Todd presented Martin with an official public affairs coin, and I got a few base newspapers for old times sake!

I think we stayed at the restaurant for three hours.

I didn’t even eat anything, I was so busy talking and catching up with everyone. Even Martin’s wingman, Larry, who didn’t know anyone, seemed to have a great time.

By the time Miss C and I dropped Martin and Larry off at the dorms, we were exhausted. Once we got to the hotel, we changed into our swimsuits and headed out to the hotel’s heated pool, only to realize it wasn’t that warm at all.

So we dipped into the jacuzzi instead, which we had all to ourselves.

And as the two of us floated on the bubbles, swatting away the ginormous Texas flies swooping down over us, I couldn’t help but think that it was a pretty awesome day.

*****************************

 

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 cuts,¬†several horrifying¬†sexual assault cases, questionable leadership decisions,¬†force-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. ūüôā

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.