All posts by cgere

Your momma wears combat boots

Col. Michael J. Underkofler
By Col. Michael Underkofler
514th Air Mobility Wing

On the small-town playground of my childhood, the comeback quip of last resort after being physically or verbally pummeled was “Well, your momma wears combat boots.”

It was the juvenile equivalent of today’s profane four-letter bombs, but with bigger consequences. If used, the surrounding crowd within earshot would in unison let out an “Aahhh, you’re going to get it.”

Not many dared to use this double-whammy epithet. First, after a rough and tumble fight, most didn’t have the chutzpa to disparage someone’s mother. Even the schoolyard bully recognized that this was not polite. By doing so, the user might get pummeled further and would probably get a mouth washing with a bar a soap when he got home.

Second, to ascribe warrior status to a real woman was something really unheard of too. After all, in most boys’ eyes in my hometown, mothers and grandmothers were doting, white pearl- and sensible shoe-wearing pecan pie bakers, certainly not warriors.

The only combat boot-wearing women my prepubescent friends knew, and possibly admired, were Hippolyta and Wonder Woman. The former was the warrior queen in Greek mythology whose magical belt was recovered by the uberman and demigod Hercules during his 12 labors.

The latter woman warrior was equally as proficient in hand-to-hand combat and was known to fight for just causes. For example, she joined other comic book heroes in the Justice League to help defeat the Axis powers.

Both Hippolyta and Wonder Woman were Amazons. Both were fictional. Therefore both were considered OK by my friends.

I always found my buddies’ youthful prohibition against real women wearing combat boots in stark contrast to my hometown’s and my families’ real history.

Ignorance is powerful, but education is even more so.

Women in my hometown were more than just pecan pie bakers. Since colonial times, they were leaders and advocates confronting wars and difficult issues head on. In 1774, a group of 51 women vowed to give up tea and boycott other British products in response to new taxes levied by Parliament.

At their tea party, these North Carolina women resolved to stand firm in their efforts “until such time that all acts which tend to enslave our native country shall be repealed.” They bravely signed a well-reasoned and well-structured document for the crown to see, choosing not to hide behind Indian costumes as others had done at the more famous Boston Tea Party.

In doing so, these women created the first instance of organized political action by women in the colonies. They didn’t stop there.

While not serving directly on the battlefield, many played key roles supporting the war for independence. The same was true throughout the colonies. But in some places, though, women were on the frontlines at gun emplacements, reloading canons and muskets, or tending the wounded.

Bravery didn’t die with those women. It continued generation after generation in both political activism and in combat. In reality, they were wearing combat boots even if not formally acknowledged.

It’s possible that some of the women in my family were involved in early American conflicts, but sadly that history is lost. I do, however, know and relish the service of recent family members.

A great aunt wore combat boots in World War II Europe. She earned a Bronze Star Medal long before women were officially allowed to serve in combat. Later, she transferred from the Army to the Air Force when the new air-centric service was founded. At her retirement, she was chief of her medical corps and the senior-ranking woman in the Air Force.

My mother wore her combat boots in the Cold War, working hard to provide top-flight medical care to injured servicemen and women, sometimes in really austere conditions.

Unfortunately, she served when women had to be discharged when they became pregnant. If allowed to serve longer, I’m sure she would have had as equally a distinguished career as my aunt.

Finally, my wife wore her combat boots in the air above and on the ground in the jungles of Central America, the deserts of Southwest Asia and in other places that can’t be mentioned.

She ended her career as an instructor at Air University helping the next generation of leaders understand the history of airpower and ponder its future applications.

Three combat boot-wearing women from three generations worked hard to defend and strengthen our country. As we like to say in our family, not all women wear pearls and sensible shoes to work, some wear dog tags and combat boots.

Just as I tell the stories of the women warriors in my family, I encourage you to tell the stories about yours, especially to your kids and grandkids. They will cherish them.

Every day women in our country put on combat boots and serve in the air, on the ground and on the seas. While we may define and redefine what it means to serve in combat, make no mistake, women have always served in harm’s way. The war today clearly demonstrates the vulnerability of all of us and the evolving nature of warfare. We couldn’t fight it as well as we have without the contributions of our women warriors.

Other women may not have formally served in the military, but nonetheless were not afraid to stand up to fight against injustice. Without their service, we would not have gained our independence, defeated tyranny in many wars, built the weapons of war and protected our homeland. Their stories are worth retelling too so future generations can become just as resolute to support just causes.

Throughout the year, tell the stories of women warriors and political activists, but tell them even more loudly during Women’s History Month. Let’s be proud to say on the playground of adulthood, “well, my momma wore combat boots”.

I know I am.

Never saw this coming: Lessons learned in trying times

Maj. Gen. A. J. StewartBy Maj. Gen. A. J. Stewart
Air Force Personnel Center Commander

I had the world by the tail: U.S. Air Force Academy graduate, Air Force pilot, six-time commander, 30-year Air Force career, and two stars; fit, healthy and strong. But subtle problems appeared out of nowhere: occasional vertigo, mild persistent headaches, cognitive challenges, having to stop during a hard run.

I went to see the flight surgeon and was immediately referred to a Neurologist. An MRI revealed a golf-ball sized tumor on the left temporal lobe of my brain and the doctor bluntly told me, “Your life will never be the same.” I was literally stunned.

Swelling was critical and I was admitted for surgery five days later. The surgeon briefed me on all that could go wrong, but the young Air Force captain performed expertly. He gets my vote if I ever need another surgery.

The tumor was successfully removed down to the microscopic level. The question remained “why did I have a tumor?” The news from the lab was not good: malignant growth from stage IV of the worst form of brain cancer.

It was time to fight.

After a few weeks of recovery from surgery, I felt like a million bucks. My fitness and strength were returning and I was back to full duty and physical activity. I, also, simultaneously started a six-week, aggressive anti-cancer radiation and chemotherapy treatment plan.

The doctors told me I would be fatigued, suffer nausea and lack energy from the treatment. To counter those potential symptoms, I got back in the weight room, back on my bike, back on the running trail, back on the golf course and back to full time duty as commander of the best organization in the Air Force – Air Force Personnel Center!

The negative side effects never showed up. My fitness, strength and health remained good but it was also the hundreds of e-mails, cards, letters and prayers from my family, friends, coworkers and even strangers that helped me keep my spirit up.

Last week, I completed my last of 30 radiation and 42 chemotherapy treatments and I still feel great! The next critical step is another MRI in a few weeks to see if the cancer has returned. I pray for good results.

I never saw any of this coming.

I have learned a few lessons along the way that may help others who find they are facing tremendous challenges.

Be fit, be strong, and be healthy every day. Fitness is not about just passing the Air Force Fitness Test or deploying, it is about saving your life. A well rested, strong body and a healthy diet can help you fight off tough challenges when they come.

Life is short and precious. If there are things you want to accomplish in life, get busy now. “One day” and “someday” may never come. Push yourself to do more, now. Tomorrow is not promised, so do not waste a day.

Be positive. Brain tumors can be fatal so there’s no room for defeatism; you have to fight a challenge like you intend to win. Leave negative thoughts behind and be ready to endure. Run your race like a winner. Attitude may be the number one component of success.

Be open and honest, up and down the chain. Our Air Force is a family. I have received the support of literally hundreds of kindred Airmen, with a big “A.” The Air Force has proven itself a family from our senior leadership to our youngest Airmen, including civilians and supporters. If folks know your challenges, they can help. My AFPC and A1 family have been magnificent. They have opened their arms and hearts, and carried me through the tough times.

Be a bouncer. Bad things sometimes happen. It is not a question of whether you will take a fall so, get over it. The question is will you bounce back. It is really up to you. Be tough minded – you are a warrior! Think like a winner and bounce.

Love your family. My wife, Areetha, has been the “wind beneath my wings” and my rock. She has been beside me every step of this journey and she insists I keep a positive attitude. She ran the Marine Corps Marathon last fall at age 50! She is 100% positive and endures. I thank God for having her as my wingman. My Mom, sisters and extended family have also been my cheering section. They are irreplaceable and I love them dearly.

This is a tough, unexpected fight and it is not over. Our most humble “THANK YOU!” from Areetha and me. We are overwhelmed with your support, words of encouragement and prayers.

I’ve cleared a few hurdles but the fight is still on. I intend to win.

Week in photos, March 16, 2012

St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow, but the week in photos is available today.
Look back on the week before forgetting it during your weekend festivities.
Have a good weekend, stay safe and enjoy!

Two Alaska Air National Guard HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters

Photo: Two Alaska Air National Guard HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters fly in formation over Alaska, March 14, 2012. The primary mission of the Pave Hawk helicopter is to conduct day or night personnel recovery operations into hostile environments to recover isolated personnel during war. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Sean Mitchell)

“Belle:” An ageless beauty

By Tech. Sgt. Nick Kurtz
Defense Media Activity

Master Sgt J.T. Lock, Senior Airman Zach Lopez and I travelled to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, to shoot some TV news stories at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. This piece is set in the restoration backshop, where a group made up almost entirely of volunteers is restoring what is perhaps the most famous plane in Air Force history.

This was an amazing trip and a fantastic learning experience for all of us. We wanted to try a different style of storytelling than we were used to, drawing inspiration from many of the wonderful videos we’ve seen on Vimeo. Two videos in particular that really inspired me for this piece were Coffer (by Lost & Found Films) and Shinya Kimura @ Chabott Engineering (by Henrik Hansen). Also, pretty much everything by the folks at California is a Place.

I hope you enjoy this piece, and I hope it sparks an interest for you in military history. I know working on it did for me. If you’d like to visit the Air Force Museum, you can take a virtual tour online at nationalmuseum.af.mil/virtualtour/index.asp

 

Video: As a retired aircraft mechanic, Roger has always loved airplanes. But he’s never met one like her. She’s a timeless symbol of World War II, and she’s come to him for help. She’s seen better days, and desperately needs his tender hands and passionate heart to help restore her to her former glory. This is the story of Roger Brigner, his love affair with “Belle,” and the lasting legacy their relationship will leave behind.

Week in Photos, Feb. 24, 2012

By Airman 1st Class Christopher Gere

Whether they man the gate, respond to an installation distress, or go outside the wire, Security Forces Airmen make sure they know how to get the job done. Thanks to their constant training, they can mix in with Soldiers and Marines to take the fight to the enemy. If you like this picture, you should like the rest in the Air Force Week in Photos.

Photo: U.S. Air Force Airmen assigned to the 169th Security Forces Squadron at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., respond to security threats to an aircraft during joint exercise Operation Rita February 2, 2012. Security forces members were transported by South Carolina Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawks to a destination near the alleged activity to begin their reconnaissance mission. Operation Rita was conducted to emphasize the importance of security forces members’ need to be familiar with Army aviation as well as loading and unloading from active helicopters. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Caycee Cook)