All posts by mmarch

Combat couple: how a cotton swab led to love

by Staff Sgt. Shaun Hostutler and Marine Sgt. Aaron Hostutler
edited by Meredith March, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production

(Editor’s note: Staff Sgt. Shaun Hostutler is a broadcaster and her husband, Marine Sgt. Aaron Hostutler, is a photojournalist. Shaun is on her first tour in Afghanistan as a combat correspondent. While the couple and their children have been separated by prior deployments, this is the first time Shaun has deployed while Aaron remained stateside. Shaun and Aaron have agreed to share their unique military experience with Air Force Live. In this installment, the couple relate how they met in a he-said/she-said format.)

Air Force Week kicks off in New York City

“You have some lint on your uniform.”

He picked a tiny piece of pink fuzz off my uniform. I knew his game. I was warned about the Marines. The rumor was they were always up to no good – especially when it came to girls.

“Here, you’ve got another one.”

“Thank you,” I snapped back and turned away. His sleeves were perfectly rolled. Mine were too, I assured myself.

“I should have never gotten that damn fleece blanket,” I thought. The pink fuzz clung to everything.

The line at the chow hall couldn’t move fast enough. I was determined to stay focused here. This was the Defense Information School – the beginning of my fresh start and the first step in my career as a military journalist. I would not be distracted by some pretty-boy Marine picking lint off my uniform while waiting in line at the chow hall.


I showed up at the Marine detachment at the Defense Information School not knowing what to expect. I made the decision to join the military when I was 18; I didn’t want to waste another day of my life, so I joined. All I knew about the Corps were the ditties they taught me in boot camp and that as a private first class, I was at the bottom of the totem pole.

Life at the schoolhouse wasn’t that bad. I was with Marines who had the same motivation – dangerously high and typical of a new Marine. Cammies were always perfect, cover sharp as hell, my room was spotless and PT was constant.

The best part about the school was that the only thing separating the Marine detachment from the Air Force detachment was a small basketball court and a smoke pit. Every morning, we’d strut outside for formation and PT, knowing the female Airmen could be watching. Little things like this caused major rivalries between the Marines and Airmen. It was the college experience most of us never had, crammed into a few months. I was having the time of my life. And then there was Salyers (Shaun).

I breezed through the line as quickly as I could; I wanted to avoid any conversation. I was terribly shy and constantly concerned about what other people thought of me. I was relieved when I lost sight of the Marine and his friend. I didn’t have the dim lights of the bar or the illusion of alcohol anymore. Now, all I had were the harsh fluorescents of a military dining facility and my personality. This caused me some anxiety.

I spotted a girlfriend at the back of the cafeteria, sitting at a table with two Marines.

I’d have to eat lunch with the lint-picker.

She was a challenge – had some pretty crazy pride in self and service. Her motivation was one of the things that attracted me the most.

But her smile struck me – and that laugh; I love that laugh. Despite the tightly-wound bun in her hair and tough exterior, I could see she was a free spirit. I just had to crack her shell.

“So what are you guys up to tonight?”

A guy did what he could.

“Really? That’s the best you’ve got?” I smirked to myself. Maybe I was being a little harsh. He was cute, and I couldn’t help but blush whenever his blue eyes met mine. I’m a sucker for terrible pickup lines anyhow; there’s something too endearing about them to resist.

“We’re actually going to the Commissary to get swabbed for the bone marrow drive,” I replied. “You should come,” I surprised myself by saying. “It’s for a good cause.” It was also a little test to see if these Marines had character.

We were new to the schoolhouse and restricted to base. Where else could we go? There were only a few places to hang out on the base: the PX, the bowling alley and the golf course. You didn’t take a girl you wanted to impress to the golf course right away – that was best left for things done after dark, and she wasn’t that kind of girl.

When we got there I saw my chance to impress her. The event volunteers were taking cotton swab samples from the saliva in people’s mouths. The samples would then be sent to labs and logged in a database to see if donors were a match for someone who needed marrow.

I figured what the hell? I can give up some spit to impress this girl.

I didn’t know if it worked, so I gave up and decided to help my buddy out. He hadn’t stopped talking about her since lunch.

After all that, lame pickup line and all, he took the high road at the last minute and decided to back off so his friend could make a move. I was disappointed. I noticed when Aaron was the only one of them to get swabbed that day; the friend didn’t even bother.

It would be two years after we left DINFOS before Aaron would learn that his attempt to impress me worked. That simple little cotton swab and a desire to impress would bring us together not once, but twice. The truth is, the cotton swab would be the cause for a number of events in our life together.

Read the first “Combat couple” entry.

The world’s greatest

by CMSAF James Cody
Exclusive for Air Force Live

I just spent several days traveling through bases in Afghanistan and Southwest Asia with our chief of staff. Our focus was meeting our great Airmen, learning more about what they do and thanking them for their service.

Seeing how the men and women of the United States Air Force are making a difference for combatant commanders was truly impressive. Words simply cannot convey how proud I am of what our Airmen are doing for our nation.

I met Airmen in an EOD squadron at an undisclosed location who built a unique bomb sweeping attachment for a tactical vehicle. The contraption they created works so well they’re going to provide instructions and plans for making it to other EOD units around the theater – and maybe around the world. This kind of innovation is what Airmen are known and respected for.

I met Airmen who are maintaining airplanes older than their grandparents. Their technical expertise and dedication to mission ensures our Air Force can project airpower anywhere in the theater, whenever called upon.

I met special operations Airmen who take the fight to the enemy in ways we cannot even discuss publicly. They deliver precise, lethal strikes on carefully selected targets every single day.

Some of these Airmen have been deployed six, seven, eight times. Some are on their very first deployment. All are an inspiration.

In his new Vision for the United States Air Force, our chief of staff discusses Airmen, mission and innovation – in that order. Airmen come first for a reason.

Airmen are what make the Air Force great. They are the reason we can accomplish the mission. All the latest, most lethal technology in the world would be useless without Airmen to operate, maintain and support it.

What I’ve seen over the past several days in no way surprised me. I know very well what goes on in our Air Force. However, getting close to the mission and the Airmen executing it never fails to inspire me.

We truly are the world’s greatest Air Force, powered by Airmen, fueled by innovation.

– CMSAF Jim Cody

Show (your heart) some love

by the Military Health System
edited by Meredith March, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production

February is American Heart Month, so show your heart some love by keeping it healthy.

Heart disease and stroke are the number one killers worldwide. They claim 17.5 million lives each year – the equivalent of more than one death every two seconds. Heart disease is a term that includes several more specific heart conditions. The most common heart condition in the United States is coronary heart disease, which can lead to heart attack.

Risk factors for heart disease and stroke include high blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels; smoking; inadequate intake of fruits and vegetables; obesity and physical inactivity. Together, these major risk factors account for approximately 80 percent of deaths from heart disease and stroke.

The only way to know your level of risk is to be assessed by a healthcare professional, who will check your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, waist measurement and BMI. Once you know your overall risk, agree with your healthcare professional on a plan for specific actions you should take to reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke.

More information on heart health is available here.

F-22 pilot-physician takes safety to new heights

by Staff Sgt. Kirsten Wicker, 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
edited by Meredith March, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production

(This feature is part of the “Through Airmen’s Eyes” series on These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Powerful thrust, paired with unparalleled agility, propels the F-22 Raptor through the sky in ways unfathomable to earlier generations of pilots. Flight in the fighter jet also exposes the human body to altitudes and G-forces rarely experienced by other pilots.

The medical community’s firsthand knowledge of these unique conditions is limited because flight surgeons can’t accompany a pilot in the single-seat F-22. While a doctor can’t ride tandem in the Raptor, the Air Force can put qualified physicians in the driver’s seat through the Pilot-Physician Program.

Lt. Col. (Dr.) Jay Flottmann, a former flight surgeon and now fully qualified
F-22 pilot and 325th Fighter Wing chief of flight safety, took on the challenge and is helping the fighter community ensure the safety of the F-22s.

Flottmann is one of 11 pilot-physicians in the Air Force, making him a member of an exclusive band of knowledgeable experts who are becoming more valuable as new technology offers new tasks for the human body.

While some have come before him in various other aircraft, Flottmann is the first pilot-physician to tackle the Raptor. His journey began with a calling for medicine.

“Once I graduated from medical school, I was commissioned as a captain in the medical corps and was assigned to Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., to begin post-graduate training,” Flottmann said. “While at Keesler (AFB), I decided that I wanted to be a flight surgeon, not knowing what that was.”

The doctor went to Brooks Air Force Base, Texas, to attend the Aerospace Medicine Primary Course. There, he and some classmates received an orientation flight in a T-37 Tweet, a small economical twin-engine jet trainer.

“Prior to that time, I couldn’t tell you what a T-37 was from a T-38 (Talon), and I couldn’t really tell you what any airplane in the Air Force inventory looked or sounded like,” Flottmann said.

After that ride, he was hooked.

“I could not believe that people get paid to fly airplanes,” he said. “It was the most fun thing I had done, and I was amazed at how awesome the experience was.”

The doctor is in: A long way to the cockpit

Flottman began asking whether there was a program that would allow him to be a pilot and a doctor. While pilots have been known to attend medical school, there didn’t seem to be an established way for an Air Force doctor to attend pilot training.

Meanwhile, Flottmann was selected to be the flight surgeon for the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nev. Near the end of his tour with the Thunderbirds, Flottmann learned about a flight surgeon in Alaska who successfully entered the pilot program.

“So here’s a guy who cracked the nut,” Flottmann said. “Now that it had been done, I told my commander at that time I wanted to do the exact same thing, and he helped me put together an application for pilot training.”

Flottmann was accepted into the program and went to Moody AFB, Ga., to begin pilot training in the T-6 Texan. At the end of his training, he was the only student in his graduating class to be awarded a slot for the F-15C Eagle, his first choice. Despite this success, Flottmann began putting together an application to be considered for the official pilot-physician specialty code.

“While I was at Laughlin AFB, Texas, I finished the application process and started working an exception to policy to go back to the medical corps in the Air Force specialty code pilot-physician career rating, because the medical corps owns that duty code and it required a competitive category transfer,” he said. “My AFSC was changed and that’s about the same time that the F-22 began to experience a rash of physiologic problems.”

New solutions for new problems: fixing the F-22

In 2009, leaders realized they needed somebody with medical and operational flying knowledge to assist with the problems of the new jet. The program director of the Pilot-Physician Program recommended Flottmann for the job.

“Many people didn’t know about this program or this job, and many still don’t know about it,” Flottmann said. “When I first arrived at Tyndall (AFB), Fla., as part of the F-22 program, most weren’t even sure what to do with someone like me. So, I deployed for six months. When I came back in November 2010, that’s when I began to train in the F-22.”

In May 2011, a stand-down grounded the F-22 because of its technical difficulties. With the jets off the flightline, the pilot-physician became involved in the safety investigations.

“I was brought on board as a pilot and medical member, and we started a comprehensive and thorough deep-dive investigation,” Flottmann said.

His team conducted exhaustive interviews and performed extensive research to understand what were, at the time, unexplained physiological incidents.

As a result, Flottmann’s team advised senior Air Force leaders on how to study the incidents and mitigate risks. They also helped keep current information on the investigation flowing to the F-22 community, U.S. Navy and NASA researchers who partnered with the Air Force and interested members of Congress and the media.

“We introduced the idea of flying with a pulse oximeter and incorporating it into the helmet — something unique to the F-22,” Flottmann said. “No other aircraft has that feature. We developed an incident response protocol and identified a problem with the upper pressure garment, which was functioning differently in an F-22.”

Trained as a pilot and as a qualified medical professional, Flottmann was able to evaluate the occupational medical environment, studying the human factors involved with piloting the multi-million dollar airframe.

“We found verifiable and tangible issues and we addressed them,” Flottmann said. “Some things I even experienced while flying the F-22, and I did the research to discover what was going on physiologically.”

Looking into the future

The fighter community continues to become more technologically advanced and more capable. The need for speed and height, meanwhile, has pushed the envelope of technology and pilots’ physical limitations.

“Man has introduced some (new) variables on human physiology, and we are more thoroughly examining the effects of those variables and seeking to alleviate them while maintaining the high-performance of the fighter itself,” Flottmann said.

Flottmann thrives in the pilot’s seat and his success is now reflected in the restructured Air Force Instruction 11-405, which now allows qualified flight surgeons to apply for pilot training. Capt. William Smith, from the 325th Medical Group, is following in Flottmann’s footsteps. Smith was recently selected as the first flight surgeon to attend pilot training through this official channel.

“Right here at Tyndall (AFB) we are engaged and active in growing the program, so getting people like Captain Smith in the program is important for its viability,” Flottmann said. “We are thrilled for him and who knows if he will come back to fly the F-22 like I do. The sky’s the limit.”

Combat couple: staff sergeant reflects on trading drink orders for deployment orders

by Staff Sgt. Shaun Hostutler
edited by Meredith March, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production

(Editor’s note: Staff Sgt. Shaun Hostutler is a broadcaster and her husband, Marine Sgt. Aaron Hostutler, is a photojournalist. Shaun is on her first tour in Afghanistan as a combat correspondent. While the couple and their children have been separated by prior deployments, this is the first time Shaun has deployed while Aaron remained stateside. Shaun and Aaron have agreed to share this unique military experience with Air Force Live.)

It all started with a Q-tip.

Well, actually, the Q-tip is the beginning of something else (we’ll save that story for later). I suppose the best way to start this story would be to share how I came to be a member of the world’s finest Air Force in the first place.

That’s why you’re here after all, isn’t it?

When I first started out in the Air Force, I was determined to stay focused. After dropping out of college and moving home to Austin (I couldn’t pay for tuition on my own after a year and a half at Baylor), I had spent a few years bartending. While the job was fun, it was just that – a job. I had always promised myself I wouldn’t settle into a job; I would establish a career in a field that I had genuine passion for. I wanted to be a journalist.

In bartending, there was free booze but no benefits and no health insurance. I had barely enough money to pay bills, feed my dog, buy some ramen noodles and send the rest to family who needed it. And sometimes, there was barely enough for the ramen noodles.

I can’t tell you how creative cooking can get when you’ve got next to nothing in the fridge and your power is cut off.

After two years of cleaning crusted puke and urine from bathroom stalls, being grabbed at by frat boys who couldn’t hold their liquor or control their bladders, and having to force a flirtatious smile all the while (because a sour face makes no money), I was convinced that I had failed. Some friends had graduated from college, others were starting careers. They were moving forward and I was going nowhere.

How would I find a way to finish school, land the perfect job, do what I love, make a good living, and establish world peace before I turned 21? My standards were high and unrealistic at times, but I held onto them.

I determined the easiest way to get to a combat zone and begin my career as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist – without having to pour coffee for some editor while scraping together enough money to live – would be to enlist in the military. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

I went to the first recruiting office I could find. I grew up an Army brat and figured, why the hell not? The Army office was closed that day, but the Air Force recruiter was in his office. From what I hear, it’s usually the other way around. I have never regretted walking into that office.

The life that the Air Force promised seemed to be so much more.

They emphasized education, encouraged independent thinking, and rewarded hard work. Not only did I find that I would be able to deploy, but I could also guarantee a job as a news broadcaster if I could pass a voice audition. I jumped at the chance. Maybe I wouldn’t be the next Eddie Adams right away, but I could go for being the next Christiane Amanpour or Lisa Ling. A few short weeks later, I was on a blue bus, on my way to basic training at what was then called Lackland Air Force Base – the “Gateway to the Air Force” – in San Antonio, Texas.

When I first enlisted, I had no idea how hard it would be to volunteer for a combat deployment. My military training instructor at basic nearly spit his coffee in my face, laughing when I asked during the second week of training how soon would it be before I could get an assignment to Afghanistan. I had to get in country before the war was over, because I knew that even though the war had reached its seven year mark and the nation was preparing to send in a surge, it could end at any moment and I’d miss my chance.

It would be five years before I would finally deploy.

It seemed to me that I was always in the right place at the wrong time. No matter how often I raised my hand to go, there was always a roadblock. I think it was fate’s sense of humor. It wouldn’t be until I stopped waving my hand like a six-year-old with a pressing question that I’d actually be able to go.

I thought it was never going to happen.

I guess that brings us to where we are now. Five years passed. In the time it took for me to finally get orders to Afghanistan, I was promoted, got married, moved across the world, was promoted again, had a baby, was tasked for two deployments that were canceled, had another baby, and returned to the States.

Just as my husband and I were getting settled in at my third duty station and looking to buy a house, he received orders to Afghanistan. And I was staying home with the kids. I wanted to be happy for him. Secretly, I was annoyed.

But life has a funny way of working things out. After all, I am writing to you from Afghanistan. Must be that funny sense of humor fate has again. Call it luck or pure coincidence, but this time his orders were canceled and mine finally stuck. I call it fate. It’s hard not to, when it was something as small as a Q-tip that got us to where we are now.

But like I said, that’s a story for another day.