PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
My first assignment (after training) took me far away from my biological family. Much to the dismay of the new grandparents, my husband and I moved to Japan right after our first child was born.
In Okinawa, we quickly met our new Air Force family. These coworkers, neighbors and chapel friends filled our lives with joy. Such fun we had exploring the island, scuba diving, traveling to Singapore, beach camping (in the pouring rain), prepping for typhoon parties and watching our babies grow up together.
Holidays were always celebrated with a big potluck and no one was left alone. We knew we were lucky to have this family's support but I didn't realize the full extent until one night on call at our hospital. As a pediatrician, I had the opportunity to care for a young child dying of a rare incurable infection. Over the days preceding, the medical team had tried everything to save her without success. While the medics exhausted option after option, the girl's Air Force family poured out their hearts to her parents and siblings. Her Air Force family filled the waiting room, with beverages, food, a prayer vigil, endless hugs and a shoulder to cry on. Every detail at the house with the siblings had been coordinated so the parents could focus on their beautiful daughter in her last days. During their darkest moments before and after her death, this family was surrounded by the love of their Air Force family.
Sixteen years later I recalled these memories as I assumed squadron command. I had three simple goals, one of which was that our squadron would be a true Air Force family. I was aware of the unit's long history of poor morale and that this "Air Force family" mindset would be challenging. Over time though I watched the unit come together caring for each other and having fun. Then one morning, we received horrible news -- one of our deployed staff sergeants had been critically wounded in an attack on her final convoy before she was slated to fly home.
Our team determined to do all that we could for her and her family. One of our deployed captains rushed to her side at the forward operating base, holding her hand while the surgeons and nurses worked to stabilize her until the transporting aircraft arrived. From Bagram to Landstuhl
to the aerovac crew to Walter Reed
, our team reached out to former coworkers to ensure that our staff sergeant's ride home was as comfortable as possible. In addition to providing excellent medical care, these Air Force family members stepped in to do little things -- washing and braiding her hair between surgeries, relaying mom's words of support to ease the intense pain when they had to lighten the sedation and ensuring she was never alone on her journey home.
While these two situations etched in my mind that the Air Force family is priceless, it doesn't have to take a terrible event to show us how lucky we are. Sometimes it just takes a break in our busy schedule, a moment to reflect on the blessings around us. These two situations do remind me though that being part of the Air Force family takes some effort on our part. To be successful, there are some "family rules" to live by. You may recognize some of these rules from your own home.
Live by the Air Force Core Values
(Integrity first, Service before self, and Excellence in all we do): Do your best. Always tell the truth. Do your chores. Share -- don't whine. Think of others before yourself. Keep your promises. Listen to your supervisors.
Create a Culture of Respect and Dignity: Listen before you speak (We have two ears and one mouth). Say please and thank you. Treat others how you want to be treated. Use kind words. Wait your turn. Keep your hands to yourself. Be the first to say I'm sorry. Always be grateful.
Embrace the Adventure: Laugh. Explore. Try new things. Dream big.
Be proud of yourself and know that you are an important part of an amazing Air Force family! Look for ways to make memories. Invest in your Air Force family and your future. Down the road, this family will be by your side long after you hang up the uniform for the last time. And in this busy holiday season, take a moment to thank your Air Force family, those both near and far.