JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. –
Family, this word has different meanings to different people. Most of us claim some sort of family. I believe there are four kinds of family to which we each belong.
First, we have our family of birth. Let’s face it, we all came from two individuals and we didn’t have a choice with our birth family – it just “is.”
Then, we have our family of choice. These are people with whom we feel close, like our friends, co-workers, our spouses and our children. This can also include our favorite sports teams, organizations to which we belong and even on-line gamers.
We also have the family which is thrust upon us. I think all of us in uniform have been in situations where we are assigned a bunk, a tent a battle buddy or a wingman.
Lastly, we have our community family, the neighborhood in which we live, the church, synagogue, mosque or faith group we attend.
When I looked up the word “family,” the dictionary listed 20 definitions, some having sub-definitions. The two definitions pertaining to this commentary are: “A group of related things or people,” and “a group of people who are generally not blood relations but who share common attitudes, interests or goals and, frequently, live together.”
To me, this is the definition of the military family. My wife, Vicki, and I have been in the U.S. Air Force more than 29 years. Our Air Force family has been with us through thick and thin. This family was there when parents died, when our daughters were married, when our grandchildren were baptized, when anyone was sick, having surgery, emergencies, financial challenges, 12 permanent change of station moves, eight deployments and more life events than I can count.
Whether you are married or single, new into service or an “old guy,” like me, this Air Force family has been the one constant in our nomadic life. I have to admit, Vicki and I feel closer to our military family than we do to our blood family.
Let me illustrate this belief with a true story. In 1997, Vicki fell and broke her right foot. She had surgery on a Wednesday, got out of the hospital on Thursday and on Friday I deployed to Malaysia for a month. Vicki was in a non-weight bearing cast, so she could not drive, stand, cook or clean for a month. Our daughters were 11 years old and while they could help, they couldn’t do everything. The unit with whom I deployed, the Chapel community, and our neighborhood fed my family for a month. They cleaned our house, they drove Vicki to her doctor appointments 30 miles away and the ladies who she trusted helped her to bathe.
I will never forget this experience. One reason we have stayed on active duty for so long is because the Air Force is a real family. We were not born into it and it was not thrust upon us. We made a choice to join and we made a choice to stay.
This is an example of a real community. One that cares, challenges and supports each other. This is the family you chose to join and we have accepted you into our lives as generations before have accepted us into their lives.
It is important to remember that like any other family, we are not perfect, but we are good. A good family is characterized by respect, forgiveness, everyone doing their part and supporting each other through the good times and the bad times. A family is what you make of it and the military is no different.
During this holiday season, many of us will celebrate the season with family and friends and I challenge you, please don’t forget your military family. Remember your military family members who can’t go “home,” who have to work, who are serving in harm’s way, who don’t have any place to go and those who feel lonely and forgotten.
When you reach out to them and let them know you care. Who knows, maybe 20 years from now, they will write about your caring friendship in an article to inspire new members in our military family.