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Honoring our history at Ramstein AB

By Maj. Tony Wickman
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

It isn’t every day, or even every week, that an Airman gets the opportunity to interact with living, breathing history. It’s even rarer when that history is part of a watershed moment that changed the face of the world.

At Ramstein Air Base, Germany, that is exactly what I was privileged to do. I got to interact with men who participated in Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy, as well as an aircraft that flew them.

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Murphy’s Law while your spouse is TDY

By Jenna Stone
Air Force spouse

blog2 copyMurphy’s law states that “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” For military spouses, that sometimes means “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong while your spouse is TDY.” Why does it seem like things wait until my husband is on a flight to go awry?

My husband is a firefighter with the San Antonio Fire Department, but he’s also an Air Force Reserve C-5 loadmaster at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. His position doesn’t deploy for months at a time, and I am very thankful for that. He does, however, go on temporary duty assignments from two to 10 days once or twice a month. These frequent TDYs seem to be when things around the house break and everyone gets sick.

His longest TDY was three weeks when he attended Survival, Evasion, Resistence and Escape, or SERE, training in Washington State. He left in May right when the school year was wrapping up. I work as a third grade teacher, and May can be one of the busiest times of the entire school year. There are so many things that need to get done before summer vacation can start, so this was a terrible time for him to leave.

About a week into his training, everything was going great. I was busy with things at school, taking care of our two young boys and keeping up with housework. It was then that I decided to tackle the yard work. I am a little ashamed to admit that, until this time, I had never mowed the lawn. I grew up in a house full of hardworking boys who took care of the lawn while I did chores inside of the house. Usually I would wait until my husband returned from his TDY, but the grass was beginning to resemble a jungle, so it had to be done.

I tried to start the mower, but nothing happened. I pulled the cord over and over, and still nothing. This should have been my clue to abandon the yard work, but I was determined to prove that I could take care of EVERYTHING while my husband was away. So, I walked to a neighbor’s house and asked him for a little help. He retired from the military, so he understood my plight. After a little mechanical magic, the mower started up and I got down to business.

I started at the edge of the lawn and pushed forward. It seemed really tough to push, but I powered through it. At the end of my first pass, I looked back to admire my work. To my dismay, I saw a big brown stripe right down the edge of my beautiful green lawn. The mower was on the lowest setting, and I had cut the grass too short nearly killing it. I stopped right away and asked my neighbor on the other side of the house for help. He chuckled a little at my brown stripe, but he helped me set the mower properly so I could finishin mowing the lawn.

The next night, I was outside chatting with some other neighbors when all of a sudden, water began spewing out of my lawn just like Old Faithful. I had no idea what to do! Luckily, my neighbors went over to the sprinkler system and shut it off. They dug down in the lawn a little to reveal a broken sprinkler line right by my brown stripe of grass. I have no idea how to fix a sprinkler system, so this problem was going to have to wait until my husband returned from his TDY.

A few days later, we had some high winds that were strong enough to break the ties anchoring my freshly planted tree in place. It had blown over and was nearly laying down on the lawn. I used some rope that I found in the garage to tie it upright again, but it didn’t quite work. My brother-in-law had to come over and fix it for me. Geez! The lawn and I do not get along!

The next thing to break in the house during his TDY was the front door. Somehow the weather stripping tore completely off of the bottom of the door leaving a gap for light and air to enter the house. I don’t know the first thing about weather stripping, so that would have to wait too. It wasn’t a huge deal, but just another annoyance that would have usually been taking care of by my husband.

While all of those things were very frustrating, they weren’t the worst thing that happened during my husband’s TDY. Our oldest son, Dylan, became extremely sick. He began vomiting, and he had a fever that over-the-counter medicines could not break. His fever would spike up during the night, getting as high as 104.5 degrees. He experienced a febrile seizure when he was young, so I would lay awake with him and watch him like a hawk. I didn’t sleep for days. The doctor drew blood, and it turned out to be a bacterial infection so they treated him with antibiotics. The first round of antibiotics didn’t work, and his high fever continued for several more days. After receiving a stronger antibiotic, he finally began to get better. During this seven-day fever, my mother-in-law came into town and helped me care for my younger son.

I’m not sure how I was able to close out the school year at work during these busy and frustrating three weeks, but somehow everything came together. I found extra minutes to grade papers during bath time and standing at the kitchen counter while making dinner. I finished up my end-of-year paperwork while the kids were enjoying a play date at a neighbor’s house. Another nice neighbor even cooked for the boys and me so I could get extra schoolwork finished.

There are a few things that I learned from this three-week TDY:

  1. Lawn work is not for me.
  2. I should probably learn more about the sprinkler system, and other things around the house so I know what to do when things break.
  3. I could not have gotten through this without the help of neighbors and family.

It’s so important to have a network of trusted friends and family to come to the rescue when things go wrong. Usually military spouses don’t have family in town so they are reliant on the neighbors around them. Get to know the people down the street. I have found that the best way to do this is to play with your kids out in the front yard. You will naturally run into the people living around you. It is an extra bonus when they have kids that your children can play with. Set up play dates and trade babysitting one another’s children. Be friendly and help out whenever you can. Your neighbors will return the favor if you need help.

Facebook can be an amazing tool when it comes to setting up a network of trusted neighbors. The women on my street have started a Facebook group for all of the wives in the neighborhood. It’s a great way to share information and make plans to get together. The extended “family” that I have down the street keeps me sane during those crazy TDYs.

PHOTO: (From left to right) Carter, Brian, Jenna and Dylan Stone pose for a photo during Dylan’s birthday party in Cibolo, Texas,  in November 2013.  (Courtesy photo)

Dual-military families

By Georganne Hassell
Air Force spouse

Even before my husband and I met, people called us by the same name: lieutenant. When you wear a single bar on your shoulder, there’s not much else to call you by anyway. My then-fellow lieutenant and now husband, Jonathan, was a pilot in the 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., when we met. I was a public affairs officer for the same wing, and each of us was living the dream we had worked toward for years. While Jonathan worked on his tactics as a new pilot, I tried to shed a shade of green working with reporters covering the military beat. In between his upgrade rides and my airshow travel, we had the opportunity to take a temporary duty assignment, or TDY, together to South Korea. Apparently, flying for 13 hours in coach class without annoying each other gave us enough confidence to think about a future together. Less than two weeks later we had no doubt — we would someday be called husband and wife.

The day after Jonathan and I decided we wanted to get married, I received an assignment to move from Virginia to California within four months. Sometimes orders come at the least convenient times, but we both knew that living in the same place was more of a luxury than a guarantee. We were unsuccessful in trying to turn off the assignment, and so a few months after our engagement I settled into life with a new duty Air Force Specialty Code at a recruiting squadron, while Jonathan continued flying at Joint Base Langley-Eustis. Just three weeks after I arrived at my new base, I received another set of orders — this time with Afghanistan as my new destination. These orders caught me even more off guard than my recent permanent change of station for two reasons: recruiting squadrons didn’t traditionally deploy Airmen, and I would be working again as a public affairs officer, which was the career field I was just moved out of so I could work in recruiting. As confused as I was about this recent turn of events, it left Jonathan with a clear mindset. He would volunteer to deploy to Afghanistan.

We didn’t take this decision lightly. My deployment was inevitable, and in truth I was glad to be back working as a PAO and even excited to deploy, but Jonathan would be stepping out of his hard-earned seat in a dual-engine fighter and into a dual-prop aircraft, which is not normally the path of choice for his career field.

Before we took off on our own separate paths to the desert, we got married. We chose to say our vows in the place that brought us together, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis’ base chapel. We welcomed family and friends to Virginia for our wedding ceremony, but asked just one request of them: not to talk about our upcoming deployments. You could read the unease in many of their eyes about a young couple getting married and then going to war, but we didn’t need to discuss it then. We wanted one day of being present and at peace.

I flew back to my recruiting squadron after the wedding and saw Jonathan three more times before I left for my deployment to Zabul province, Afghanistan. He deployed just a few weeks after me to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and our fourth meeting as husband and wife came not long after. Work brought me to his base a few times during our deployment, but even those visits were overshadowed by military protocol and mortar attacks. My deployment only lasted a few months, and though I traveled through Kandahar on my way out, Jonathan was only about halfway through his tour. War brings many burdens. Leaving my husband behind to complete his duty was just one of them.

Thankfully, Jonathan’s deployment ended safely. He returned to Joint Base Langley-Eustis and to his role as a fighter pilot while I continued working in the recruiting squadron. The difficult decision for me to leave the Air Force was made soon after my husband’s redeployment. We knew that the best choice for our family was to only have one of us on active duty, and since he had several more years to go on his service commitment, I would have to be the one to drop papers. My time as a military officer ended later that year, and though my service was brief, it gave me a strong sense of purpose and the honor of working with some truly fantastic people.

The transition to civilian life was not an easy one, especially because of the near-pulseless job market. I looked forward to continuing in the field of public relations and putting my communications skills to work, but opportunities were scarce. Freelancing as a writer and editor offered a good transition, but I did miss many aspects of the service: camaraderie, structure and a fast-paced workplace, to name a few. Luckily, I found a new mission with my current work in academe, but I don’t believe there’s anything that can compare with wearing the uniform every day. I’ve come to accept that my career path will continue to look very different from what I imagined when I first said the oath of office as a new college graduate.

Though life as a spouse challenged me greatly in terms of my career and will continue to do so in the future, I have been overwhelmingly blessed with support of my husband, his squadron and our military community. I have found my fellow spouses to be gracious and caring; I am honored to know them and proud to call them friends. Jonathan and I both knew the day would come when one of us would have to leave the service, and even though it came sooner than I hoped, I look forward to being a part of the Air Force community for years to come.

Military Appreciation Month: Spotlight on an Airman Week 5

Warrior of the Week: Senior Airman Kelly McGrathby the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Editor’s note: May is Military Appreciation Month, and we’ll highlight a different Airman and his or her job once per week for this month. We’re truly grateful for the hard work each Airman puts forth each day, and every job — big or small – contributes to the U.S. Air Force being the best Air Force in the world. Is there a military member you appreciate? Tell us in the comments below.

Meet the Transit Center at Manas Warrior of the Week: Senior Airman Kelly McGrath, a contracting officer from the 376th Expeditionary Contracting Squadron. McGrath is deployed from 92nd CONS at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., and is a self proclaimed “military brat” who hails from Livingston, Texas.

What do you do on a daily basis at the Transit Center at Manas?
I’m a contingency contracting officer for our one-person commodities flight. It’s my responsibility to oversee the government purchase card program for the transit center. I also support and procure entertainment contracts and procure all commodities as needed by our many customers.

What do you enjoy about being at the Transit Center at Manas?
What I enjoy most about TCM is that I’m in a completely different country and I get to experience a new culture. I also get the opportunity to meet new people. This is my first deployment, so I also like that I’m getting to be part of a very unique experience in helping to shut down the base here.

Why did you choose to serve in the military?
I was at a point in my life that I felt like I was just spinning my wheels and not getting anywhere fast. So, something drastic needed to change. I always knew the military was an option for me coming from an Air Force military family background, but I didn’t give it much consideration in the past. Initially, I thought I would never serve, but it’s funny how life goes. Now that I’m in the Air Force, I wish I would have decided to join sooner.

How do you feel about your contributions to the Transit Center at Manas mission and current operations in the AOR?
I feel like I’m making a daily impact on the mission through all of the purchases I make for my customers as well as the contractual and shipping issues that I work through on a daily basis. It’s been a very rewarding experience being a one-woman show for the commodities flight, and aiding my customers in meeting their purchasing requirements.

Time at the Transit Center at Manas:
4 months and 3 weeks

Time in Air Force:
3 years and 2 months

Greatest accomplishment:
Receiving the 2013 Air Mobility Command Contracting Airman of the Year Award.

Goals you want to achieve or meet while at the Transit Center at Manas:
I wanted to experience the local culture and make an impact by spending time at many of the local orphanages and the American Kant Corner School. I also would like to bench press 150 lbs. by the time I leave Manas. I’m current lifting 135 lbs. so I’m on my way.

Reading, sewing, quilting, arts and crafts, cooking/baking, exercising (weight lifting and boxing/kick-boxing), photography and traveling.

Your best habit:
My attention to detail.

Favorite quote:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

Favorite movies:
Beauty and the Beast, Wall-E, Star Wars, Star Trek, Wreck-It Ralph, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Twilight.

Who is your favorite mentor and what did you learn from him/her:
My parents. They’ve always supported me in everything I do and pushed me to better myself. They helped shape me into the person I am today. I couldn’t have asked for any two better role models and mentors in my life.

If you could spend one hour with any person, who would it be and why:
It would be my grandpa. He passed away when I was about 4 years old, so I didn’t get to really know him and have him be a part of my life. What little I remember of him he was a great loving grandpa and his time here was too short.

PHOTO: Senior Airman Kelly McGrath, 376th Expeditionary Contracting Squadron contingency contracting officer, writes a contract for a customer at Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, March 22, 2014. McGrath’s responsibilities include overseeing the Government Purchase Card program here and supporting and procuring all commodities need by customers as well as entertainment contracts for the Transit Center and Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman George Goslin/Released)

Six things only Airmen understand

By the Air Force Public Affairs Agency

Whether you were an aircraft mechanic who sported the Shade 509 fatigues during the 1960s or a new Airman who graduated from basic military training last week, there are common references only known to those who’ve been a part of the greatest Air Force in the world. Some have serious origins and some are just for fun — See which Air Force-isms made our list:

Airman SnuffyMaynard Smith AKA Airman Snuffy
Sometimes promoted to sergeant, this individual always seems to be in trouble and making poor decisions. Airman Snuffy is often used as an example by military training instructors to describe to new trainees unacceptable or poor behavior.

The fun part about this saying is that Airman Snuffy actually did exist. His real name was Maynard Smith, a tail gunner in WWII forced into the military by a judge after a run-in with the law. Being senior in age to most of his instructors, Smith took the first opportunity out of training to make rank by volunteering for aerial gunnery school. Smith’s first mission in war was on a B-17 that took heavy damage. The plane took over 3,500 bullet holes and caught fire multiple times during the mission. Smith single-handedly put out the fires, lightened the aircraft by throwing out supplies and rendered aid to the six wounded aircrew members on the flight.

His heroic actions earned him the Medal of Honor, making him the first enlisted recipient. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson arrived to present the Airman his medal, but Smith hadn’t been informed of the ceremony. He was later found scraping leftovers from breakfast trays after being placed on KP duty for disciplinary reasons. His often difficult personality forever branded future troublesome troops. More on the legend of Airman Snuffy here.
PHOTO: Maynard Smith aka “Airman Snuffy” chose to be an aerial gunner because it was the quickest way to make rank. (U.S. Air Force file photo)

Secret SquirrelAircrew members before Operation Desert Storm.
The term is thought to have been created during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 after seven B-52Gs from the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, took off for the world’s longest combat mission. The BUFFS were carrying a “black” weapon that was developed under strict secrecy in 1987. The aircrews called it “Secret Squirrel” after a cartoon character, but it was officially designated the AGM-86C conventional air-launched cruise missile (CALCM). The term secret squirrel is used today to describe information that is deemed too sensitive to be discussed outside secure areas, or even the secure areas themselves.
PHOTO: Aircrew members gather for a photo at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., before the mission that will fire the opening shots of OPERATION DESERT STORM, Jan. 16, 1991. (Courtesy photo)

“Shut up and color!”Keep calm and shut up and color
This endearing term has been long used by Air Force leaders and supervisors to help motivate their Airmen to put the mission first and get their tasks completed. This statement reminds them to focus on the bigger picture, and how they fit into the Air Force as a whole. It is not intended to offend, but rather to encourage Airmen to reevaluate themselves as leaders and followers. More info about this term’s meaning can be found here.

Best and brightest
This somewhat overused term can be found on many officer and enlisted performance reports to describe Airmen who are considered the true “cream of the crop” in the Air Force. These Airmen go above and beyond Air Force standards to become the service’s leading commanders, supervisors and leaders. They are selected for highly-competitive jobs as aide-de-camps for general officers, Air Force representatives with top companies through the Air Force Education With Industry Program, first sergeants or even military training instructors. The Air Force also recognizes its “best and brightest” every year with the service’s 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year Award. This award recognizes 12 outstanding enlisted personnel for superior leadership, job performance, community involvement and personal achievements. In short, this term helps identify Airmen who have excelled at their rank and in their career field. It signifies their commitment to joining the top tier of the Air Force and becoming one of the service’s future leaders.The 2013 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year. PHOTO:The 2013 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year attended a reception and awards dinner hosted by the Air Force Association during the 2013 Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition Sept. 16, 2013, in Washington D.C. The OAY award recognizes 12 outstanding enlisted personnel for superior leadership, job performance, community involvement, and personal achievements. (U.S. Air Force photo by Jim Varhegyi/Released)

Hurry up and waitAirmen process through a mock-deployment line during an exercise.
Wikipedia defines “hurry up and wait” as “any scenario where part of the time you are rushing and working very hard, and part of the time you are waiting around and prepared to work on demand and as needed.” It’s probably one of the most common phrases used by Airmen because it happens so frequently in the Air Force, such as in deployment lines, during exercises, and even at customer service offices. Airmen are frequently tasked to support functions and events where they are placed on “stand by” until they are needed or called upon.  This term is most often used to express frustration with lengthy processes and procedures.
PHOTO: Senior Airman Kalaya Irby, 30th Force Support Squadron customer service representative, assists Airmen to ensure the accuracy of their documents in preparation for future deployments. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Antoinette Lyons/Released)

Squadron mottos and chantsCadets at the Air Force Academy shout a squadron chant.
Almost every squadron in the Air Force has some type of motto or chant they use to distinguish themselves at Air Force functions like award dinners and promotion ceremonies. Squadron chants help Airmen come closer together as a unit and enhance esprit de corps. It gives them something to bond them together when they are around other units or organizations from other Air Force bases too. Here are some of our favorite chants:

– “MXS, simply the best! Tell them why. We make them fly!”
– “What’s your profession? Fly, fight, win!”
– “Engineers lead the way!”
– “Best of the best! FSS!”
– “Med Group! Best care…anywhere!”
– “Pull chocks! Maintainers rock!”

PHOTO: U.S. Air Force Academy Cadet 4th Classmen of Cadet Squadron 40 performs a squadron chant in front of waiting family members after the Acceptance Parade at the Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo by Mike Kaplan/Released)

A trainee is urged to move faster by an Air Force Military Training Instructor.Move with a purpose
Being in the Air Force is more than working a typical 9-to-5 job. It’s a privilege to serve and defend the nation, and “moving with a purpose” is seen as a way that each Airman takes pride in their work and service. Airmen first learn about this principle from their military training instructors at basic training. At this point, it’s more of a motivational phrase to get someone moving in the right direction. The term is often reinforced at technical school and by supervisors at each duty station to instill in each Airman to accomplish every action with the mission or goal in mind.
PHOTO: A trainee is encouraged to move faster by an Air Force military training instructor. (U.S. Air Force photo by Melinda Mueller/Released)

Can you think of some other Air Force-isms that didn’t make this list? Sound off in the comments below!