Pentagon Airman: Air Force Family Week

This is Family Week in the Air Force, part of the greater Year of the Air Force Family.

Families are important to the success of the Air Force mission. I know it’s especially true for me when I deployed earlier this year to Iraq and when I deployed to Afghanistan in 2007. Knowing my wife was taking care of the home, paying the mortgage and bills (which she normally does anyway), cutting the grass, and maintaining the cars during my absence was a big relief. Fortunately, we don’t have children so she didn’t have that added responsibility. Many spouses of deployed Airmen do.

In some ways, I felt guilty when I deployed. I believe deploying was harder for my wife, Lisa, than for me. She had to do everything. Setting aside the fact I was in a war zone, I only had to worry about work or try to anticipate the next time the “D-FAC” (dining facility) was going to have tacos or chocolate pudding. The other facets of life back home were … well, back home. They were thousands of miles from where I was … waiting for Lisa to do them.

For Airmen with families, this is a great time to thank family members for the sacrifices they make to support our careers. Thank you, Lisa.

Military Family of the Year

The Air Force’s military family of the year – the Ojala family from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. – was in Washington recently to attend the National Military Family Association’s Military Family of the Year ceremony.

Deployments have been a part of Ojala life. Since 9/11, Tech. Sgt. Thane Ojala has undergone six deployments. They speak from experience about coping with deployments. “Know your resources, such as key spouses,” said Master Sgt. Wayne Ojala, the superintendent of the Nellis’ Airman and Family Readiness Center.

“And take advantage of them,” added Tech. Sgt. Thane Ojala, a 99th Force Support Squadron food service accountant. “There are so many programs in place. You’re never in it alone.”

Even the Ojala children have advice for families when coping with deployments.

Don’t give up by looking at the negative, said 17-year-old Jari. “Look at the positive. Try new things.”

Katherine, 14, said writing has helped her cope with deployments. She added deployments do get easier.

Kalie, 13, said, “There are other families whose parents are gone. You’re never alone.”

Master Sergeant Ojala said if there was one word to describe his family it would be “resilient.”

“All of the kids have done a great job with deployments,” he said. He credited the children with helping him keep the household running and maintaining good spirits while his wife was deployed. The senior NCO said programs for deployed families at the Nellis AFRC helps him through the frequent separations from his wife. It’s also a way for the family to cope.

“Jari drags us to the gym pretty regularly,” Master Sergeant Ojala said. “It motivates me.”

(Pentagon Airman is written by Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.)

Families are foundation for our forces

Greetings! I am Technical Sergeant Phyllis Hanson, an 18-year-plus veteran, who is proudly assigned to Air Force Public Affairs Agency and the newest member of the Emerging Technology Division. I will be posting here on a regular basis and want to remind you that we all welcome your feedback.  Don’t forget to check out the Air Force on Facebook and  follow us on Twitter.

Family means everything to me. And when I recently read a poignant commentary, “Cherish your spouse,” written by General Stephen R. Lorenz, the Air Education and Training Command commander, it really struck a chord.

General Lorenz’ commentary sparked many thoughts in my mind about my own situation as well as thinking more about military members like me who are affected very deeply with deployments.familyfinal

Year of the Air Force Family (YOAFF) Week is kicking off November 1 and I’m excited to be a part of it. The Air Force has put together a great site, that I hope each and every Air Force member and their families will check out.

I am all too familiar with the painful struggles military members face — everything from making multiple moves, working long hours and the aforementioned deployments. It is especially hard on families, whether it’s the spouse, the children and the parents, and even friends.

On the YOAFF site there is a wealth of info – everything from YOAFF calendar of events; helpful resources; Air Force family articles and Health and Wellness, to support initiatives such as Air Force Cross Roads and Air Force Fit Factor. The site also has links on education, as well as Airman and Family Housing.

As outlined in August by Secretary Michael B. Donley and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz, July 2009 to July 2010 has been designated as “Year of the Air Force Family.” It is a year-long focus on Air Force programs highlighting the importance of, and commitment to, the entire Air Force family: all Airmen, married and single; spouses; children; Air Force civilians; extended families; and retirees.

During my most recent deployment (6 months) to Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, now named Transit Center at Manas, my fiance’ took care of my 8-year-old son, Gabriel. Talk about sacrifice and commitment! I just returned this July and immediately got orders to where I am today.

The deployment before that in 2007-08, I was stationed at Ali Base, Iraq, (during the holidays mind you) and my parents took care of my son. In 2005, a deployment took me to Camp Victory, Iraq and my former husband took care of Gabriel.

Gabriel was born just weeks after 9/11 and this wonderful and sometimes painful military life is all he knows. And while my brave, young son toughs out every situation, I realize how lucky I am to have a supportive and loving family who is always there for me.

I owe it all to my parents, fiance’ and even my former spouse. I would not be where I am today without their unconditional support and care. It really is all about the family.

Posted by Tech. Sgt. Phyllis Hanson.

Pentagon Airman: Schools in Afghanistan, patrolling in Iraq

News media focus is on how Afghanistan is deteriorating. Coverage has centered onthe latest attack in that troubled land and the number of soldiers killed – as if every U.S. casualty is a Soldier.

At the risk of being a Pollyanna and focusing only on the good, there are good things happening in Afghanistan. U.S. and coalition troops are making a difference. The Air Force Link Web site recently posted stories highlighting the good happening.


Afghan men and women celebrate the opening of the Bibi Khala Girls' School, in Afghanistan's Zabul Province, Oct. 19, 2009. The Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team provided the funds used to create the new school. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Timothy Taylor)

The Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team opened a school for girls in Qalat in south central Afghanistan. Staff Sgt. Angelique N. Smythe, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs, wrote about the school’s opening, Reconstruction team opens new girls’ school in Afghanistan.

The Bibi Khala Girls’ School has approximately 1,500 students. The PRT members built a new building with eight classrooms which will hold computer programming and biology classes, and contain chemistry laboratories. Lt. Col. Andy Veres, Zabul PRT commander, said Bibi Khala will be a “magnet school” for young women in the province.

Sergeant Smythe included a great quote from one of the interpreters about the effect the new school has on local Afghans.

“The teachers, principal, students and the governor were very excited,” said one interpreter. “The teachers couldn’t stop talking about this event. They were talking about the dark time of Taliban when they couldn’t go to school. Some of the teachers had tears in their eyes. Some of the girls asked if we were coming back that we bring more pencils, notebooks and things like that.”

The story also had a great quote from Ching Eikenberry about the importance of educating young Afghan women. She is the wife of U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, retired Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry.

“Why is education important? Because it is a key to another world,” she said. “You will be able to help your maleks [also malik, a tribal leader in Afghanistan], you may get a better job, you may get a better life and you may have an opportunity to travel around the world,” Ms. Eikenberry said. “But most importantly, you have the ability to help other people. When you’re educated, you have knowledge, you have confidence … and that brings the beauty out of you.”

The Zabul PRT also laid a foundation for a new high school for girls in Shajoy, Afghanistan. Tech. Sgt. Joseph Kapinos, U.S. Air Force Central combat camera team, wrote a story about the Oct. 26 event (American servicemembers in Afghanistan break ground for new high school). This is the first girls’ high school in Zabul province.

The Zabul governor said the ground breaking is momentous for his people.


Lt. Col. Andy Veres places one of the first rocks at a ground-breaking ceremony with Zabul's Provincial Governor Muhammad Ashraf Naseri Oct. 22, 2009, at Shajoy, Afghanistan. The placing of the rock symbolizes the beginning of constructions for the first high school in the province dedicated to educating females. Colonel Veres is the commander of the Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Angelita Lawrence)

“This is a very historical moment,” said Gov. Muhammad Ashraf Naseri. “This gives us an opportunity to educate all of our children, who are the future of Afghanistan. We Afghans are looking for a peaceful life, and education is how we will find it.”

The Zabul PRT civil affairs officer said this event shows a commitment by Zabul for the province’s future.

“The Taliban oppresses its people by keeping them primarily uneducated and illiterate,” said Army 1st Lt. Robert Smalls. “A town that has the opportunity to send its children, and especially its girls, to school, will shed some of that oppression off of them.

“Our hope is that this will further educate the people of this community, giving them the chance to make their community their own, free from any outside influences,” he added.

Shifting to Iraq, a new base security procedure is keeping servicemembers safe at Joint Base Balad. Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski wrote a great story at Airmen patrol outside to protect inside. Airmen from 532nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron conduct patrols outside the base to ensure the base’s safety.


Senior Airman Michael Emerson scans a field during a force protection patrol Oct. 17, 2009, outside Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Members of the 532nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron patrol to provide a security presence intended to deter anyone who would do harm to the people who live and work at the base. Airman Emerson is assigned to the 532nd ESFS. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller)

An Airman deployed from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., said the patrols also have an outside-the-wire effect on local Iraqis.

“They don’t want violence in their villages and homes, so if we’re friendly with them, they’re more likely to work with us,” said Tech. Sgt. Emmett Mack III, a squad leader. “We talk to the locals, and if they have needs that aren’t being met, we work with the Army teams who are handling that aspect of the mission. But our job helps them as well as us.”

A three-tour veteran of Iraq from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., said the patrols help create a relationship with local Iraqis.

“We don’t get mortared nearly as much as we used to,” said Senior Airman Brendan Cunniff. “A lot of that is because of these patrols. (Locals) see us every day and if people know you, they’re less likely to want to see you get hurt.”

(Pentagon Airman is written by Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.)

Air Force continues aid to Africa

While much of the media focuses on crucial war efforts in Afghanistan, many of the other great military missions in the world that are going strong and bringing hope and help to far reaching places such as Africa…AfricomCrest_HiRes

The 17th Air Force is part of  the U.S. Africa Command which has been providing humatarian support as well as military support for a decade since even before its establisment in 2007

The 17th AF, also known as Air Forces Africa, supports U.S. Africa Command via command and control of air forces to conduct sustained security engagement and operations as directed to promote air safety, security and development. For the foreseeable future, 17th AF will operate as a functional staff without assigned weapon systems.

To ward off pirates along the African coastlines the Air Force’s very own unmanned MQ-9 Reapers sit stealthily above ready to say “ahoy” the Air Force way — with Air and Space power. Recently, a delegation of Botswana Defense Force visited Airmen of the 17th Air Force to learn about leadership though enlisted development courses.MQ-9

The team met with future enlisted leaders as well as the “seasoned” ones at the Ramstein Airman Leadership School and Kisling NCO Academy at Vogelweh Base, in Germany, near where 17th AF, also known as Air Forces Africa, is headquartered at Ramstein Air Base. They received orientations on the Air Force’s Senior NCO Academy and Chief’s Leadership Course. See story here. 090922-F-5543F-001 

While Botswana military members took back new leadership tools, they left Airmen at  the school, with a positive and lasting impression regarding the true success of the bonds and changes for good. Below is a post by Senior Master Sgt. Jim Downey, 17th AF Logistics, Installation and Mission Support, or A4/7, who shares his thoughts on what he deems a “goose bump” experience. 

“(Recently) I had the honor of sitting on a Senior NCO-NCO panel, consisting of 17th AF professionals and five very inspirational and courageous Botswana leaders:  Maj. Jenamiso Mountain, 2nd Lt. Lesedi Kelesitse, Military Command Sergeant Major Mogakolodi Sebego, Warrant Officer I Seboloko Mosimanyana and Warrant Officer II Bernard Bimbo.

 The panel was brought together to discuss Professional Military Education and more than anything to exchange our personnel PME experiences, with the Botswana leaders.  The overall purpose of the Botswana Forces visit to 17th  was to learn more about how we develop our enlisted force.

 CMSgt Farrin, the 101st Air Refueling Wing Command Chief, (who was in the course of returning from a deployment with the 449th Air Expeditionary Group at Camp Le Monier, Djibouti and was invited to take part in the visit) suggested opening the one hour panel discussion with personal introductions.

 As the Botswana leaders went around the table introducing their selves, goose bumps began to form on my arms. In those introductions we learned that we were sitting with the first Command Sergeant Major of the Botswana Defense Force, Sergeant Major Sebego and even equally (if not more) impressive, we learned we were sitting with one (out of 30) of the first women in the Botswana Defense Force (20,000 strong): Lieutenant Kelesitse. Wow! It made me think about our AF’s equivalents, Chief Master Sgt. Paul Airey and Staff Sgt. Esther Blake. Then it made me think about other transformational firsts: The Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, The Tuskegee Airmen, The Women’s Armed Services Act of 1948 and President Harry S. Truman’s Executive Order 9981, which ended segregation in the armed services.

 I was “awed” by Lieutenant Kelesitse’s courage and Sergeant Major Sebego’s leadership in the face of the challenges that may come with breaking these barriers.

 I asked Major Mountain how they (Botswana Leaders) prepared to deal with the challenges of women in the BDF. Major Mountain’s answer was prompt and direct.

 “This change came from our government and our leadership embraced it and made everyone aware of the introduction of women into the BDF Officer core before it actually happened,” he said.

 All five of the Botswana leaders echoed Major Mountain’s response.  Warrant Office Bimbo, compared it to “Change Management” that we learn at our Senior NCO Academy.

 “Our leadership did the unfreezing stage well and now we are in the freezing stage,” he exclaimed proudly. I should mention that Warrant Officer Bimbo is a graduate of our USAF SNCOA.

 The 17th AF panel answered questions ranging from upgrade training and PME to our experience on the continent of Africa. Additionally, the Botswana delegation taught us that referring to someone from Botswana as a “Botswanian” is wrong.  People from Botswana are called Batswana, regardless of ethnicity. Furthermore, it was interesting to learn how the BDF is currently drafting a
Professional Military Education program that they [five present BDF leaders] feel will mirror our four-tiered process (ALS, NCOA, SNCOA and the Chief’s Course).

 Major Mountain shared with us that his BDF leadership was impressed with the U.S. enlisted core after working with them on several exercises.  He stated, that they [BDF leadership] were useed to dealing with Officers on these same positions/issues when dealing with other nations.

 The panel was one hour of a four-day Botswana familiarization event hosted here at Ramstein by our personnel directorate (A1).  Master Sgt. Deb Madden and her A1 team did an “Outstanding” job!  What I learned from this one hour will be shared with our Airmen for years to come. Thanks for the opportunity!”


To find out more on 17th AF and AFRICOM, you can interact with them on the 17th AF Facebook page and the AFRICOM Facebook page .

Career Intermission Pilot Program gives Airmen a break

THE PENTAGON – The Navy is breaking waves on a new Career Intermission Pilot Program (CIPP) and the Air Force is considering developing a program of its own by early 2010.

The program would permit RegAF Airmen to transfer to the Ready Reserve for up to three years, then return to active duty. This would allow Airmen to take up to a three year break from active duty to pursue an educational degree, care for family members, or for other personal reasons. Participants from the Active Components who have not received a critical skills retention bonus could participate incurring a service commitment of two months for each month of inactivation.

Section 533 of the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 (FY 09) authorized each service secretary to implement a CIPP allowing up to 20 enlisted and 20 officers from each service during each year from 2009 to 2012 to enter into the program. The program is designed to help retention and give airmen career flexibility enabling more work/life balance. The Navy is the lead agent for this initiative and began offering their pilot program in May 2009.

The Army is also considering implementing its program.