Tag Archives: life

Saying goodbye to my best friend

by Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Larlee
436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

There are some experiences in life that are just miserable. Having to say goodbye to our family dog of 10 years provided me with one of my worst days.

Cheyenne was a rat terrier mix we adopted from a pound when she was about 2-years-old. My wife and I often wondered how she even got to a pound in the first place. She was a well-behaved dog that was always affectionate. We often thought she may have been abused, because she was always jumpy and disliked quick movements and people coming up quietly behind her. She never once bit us or our children. She was equally comfortable running around in the backyard or snoozing in her bed during a family movie marathon. In short, she was the perfect pet.

This is a courtesy photo of Cheyenne given to us by Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Larlee.

She had been slowing down recently, but we just thought it was because she was getting old. The end arrived much too quickly. One day I received a frantic text from my wife that there something wrong with our dog. The scene I came home to wasn’t good. Cheyenne was lying on her side and shivering like she was cold. She did not even have the energy to walk. I didn’t even think, I scooped her up and drove her to the veterinarian’s office as quickly as I could.

When I got to the office, they found that her body temperature was 9 degrees cooler than it should be. After warming her up, they took her in for X-rays.

After what seemed like an eternity, the veterinarian technician returned. I could read from her face that she did not have good news. Cheyenne had a huge tumor on her spleen and it was causing her to bleed internally. They could attempt to remove it by surgery, but it would cause our dog a lot of pain and there was no guarantee she would live through the procedure.

The technician proceeded to talk to me about Cheyenne’s quality of life versus quantity of life. I was in shock, but I could read the writing on the wall. It would be unfair and selfish to try to extend my pet’s life a few months because I didn’t want to lose her yet. A slap in the face to the many years of companionship and love she had given us over the years. The logical part of me understood this and made my decision to euthanize her quickly. The emotional part of me was crumbling, and I felt like I was giving up on my friend.

We hastily gathered my family at the veterinarian’s office and said a tearful goodbye to our faithful pet. A trooper to the end, she refused to lie down and received our hugs, kisses and pets standing up with her tail wagging. Doing this must have taxed her greatly. The technician inserted some liquid into the dog’s IV, and in what seemed like seconds, she was gone.

Pet ownership is a weird part of the human experience. At the most you can expect about 15 years with a dog or a cat. Barring you suffering an accident or sudden illness, you are going to outlive your pet. But even with how painful the last few weeks have been for me, the happy times with Cheyenne more than balance out the ledger.

Reflecting back on her life it is hard not to think about how intertwined she became with a good portion of my career.

During her ten years with my family, Cheyenne traveled to four bases. A southern dog her whole life, at 8-years-old she was forced to spend three years in Alaska. I have to admit it was kind of funny watching her try to go to the bathroom in the snow for the first time. The shock of the cold snow caused her to jump into the air out of her squat and glare at the ground like it had just bit her. She quickly adapted, like she did with every challenge. She was probably the happiest member of the family to be leaving Alaska at the end of my assignment there.

While video conferencing with the family during deployments, she could always be seen walking around in the background and would sometimes perk up if she heard my voice from the computer speakers at home. She was always the most hilarious part of a homecoming. She would hop wildly around on her back legs and about take me out at the knees in her excitement.

As military members, we perform a difficult job in a stressful environment. Family and animals provide the anchor that keeps us connected to a more normal style of life. A hug, smile or a wag of the tail is a priceless gift when you come home from an especially bad day.

Cheyenne did her job as an anchor perfectly, and she will be missed.

PHOTO: Cheyenne, a rat terrier mix, brought many happy years to the Larlee Family. (Courtesy photo)

Plan ahead: it’s our duty

by Airman 1st Class Alexander W. Riedel, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production

Last year, I dealt with the deaths of two people close to me.

Air Force Week kicks off in New York City

In September, my father passed away unexpectedly at the age of 59, due to an illness. The man I thought to be indestructible suddenly was gone.

Almost exactly two months later, a long-time friend also passed away in the hospital, when complications occurred during a routine surgery. Only a few weeks before, the young athlete had celebrated his 25th birthday.

All I wanted during that time was to retreat and deal with my grief. However, my family was left not just with the emotional pain, but also the dreadful duties of arranging funeral proceedings and disposing of my father’s personal belongings. Needless to say, I didn’t like the tasks at hand.

Although he lived in a clean household, my father’s many financial and legal documents were only haphazardly filed in rows of unmarked binders, threatening to come tumbling off the shelf in an avalanche of paper. His bank information was hidden in a random cabinet, and nothing was labeled or sorted in any distinguishable order or system.

After I returned to my own apartment, I quickly realized my own passing wouldn’t make it much easier for my survivors. While I consider myself to be a tidy person, my apartment is still full of individualized organization that sometimes even makes my wife wonder where I filed the last utility bill.

My friend’s passing especially sent the frightening message that while death at any age is tragic to family and friends, it can happen to anybody, at any time.

I invite you to consider this: If you were to die, how long would it take people to find the things that matter among the unnecessary clutter we often accumulate in life? Are your important documents easily accessible, and does somebody know where to find them?

Luckily, a few simply steps can make a big difference to those left behind.

Why your will will matter

According to the Air Force Legal Assistance website, a last will and testament is a legal document you use to dispose of your property at your death. It may also name people to do important jobs, such as a personal representative or executor of your estate, a trustee if you have established a trust and guardians for minor children.

One of the worst things about my dad’s passing was that he did not leave instructions or wishes. For my family, this meant we had to discuss thoroughly how and where my dad would have liked to have been buried, what to do with his car, furniture and the rest of his possessions.

If my father had had a will, a lot of those questions would’ve been answered for us and the “next steps” would have been expedited.

The most important part about creating a will is simply starting one. Luckily, a will does not take effect until your death and can be discarded and renewed anytime a change in life occurs.

Almost as important as creating and maintaining a will, however, is also making it accessible and safe, keeping it in a fireproof box, for example. As my experience with my father’s bank information showed, documentation does no good unless somebody knows where to find it when it matters.

‘The uninsured life is not worth leaving’

While I was aware that a funeral costs money, the many small expenditures connected to a burial were a surprise to me. From the casket to the headstone, from coffee for funeral attendees to burial plot fees — unexpected expenses quickly rack up.

Life insurance could have alleviated this problem. It is intended to replace the initial loss of income, pay estate taxes, debts and cover funeral costs to the family. Unfortunately, my father did not have a policy, leaving those costs to be covered by his hardly accessible bank account, his remaining paycheck and the rest by his family.

Every active-duty service member, of course, is eligible for the Service Member’s Group Life Insurance, a term life insurance. That means it does not build cash value over time and only provides coverage for the assigned term only. This is an excellent way to protect against premature death on a strictly temporary basis — an example being military duty.

A variety of cash value insurance is available to provide a lasting insurance asset in the form of a cash accumulation account. For military members, it is important to check whether such policies have a “war clause,” preventing their beneficiaries to collect if the service member is killed in war or on duty.

Service members should also make sure that their SGLI is updated regularly to reflect the desired beneficiaries.

Privacy in life, access after death

In addition, there are more private issues to deal with. As I scoured my dad’s house for photos, letters, important documents and memorabilia important to my memory of him, I realized many were digital photos saved on hard drives and his pass-coded computer.

This left many of his photos and favorite music, email accounts and social media, for example, nearly inaccessible and his computer as a vault to the information contained inside.

Consider preparing a list of passwords to your computer and online accounts, so others can access your digital documents even when they don’t share your computer on a regular basis.

Naturally, such a listing should be kept in a safe place, a sealed envelope and safe deposit box; but make sure the bank does not seal or limit access to it after your death.

Talking it over

Finally, more important than legal preparation may be the open conversation with those closest to you. While speaking about your own death may seem callous, it can make it easier for your family to meet your wishes.

Will your family know whether you wanted to be cremated or not, for example? Where you would like to be buried or what you would like your headstone to look like?

I’m not suggesting we live in fear of death every day — but you never know what life has in store for you. After all, not one of us is indestructible.

Instead, I suggest that as Airmen we have a duty not only to our service, but also to our next of kin, our loved ones — those who have already enough to deal with after we’re gone. It’s better to prepare now, before it’s too late.

If you haven’t already, strive to get your things in order and plan ahead for those you love.

For more information on how to establish a will and what Airmen should do to prepare, visit the U.S. Air Force Legal Assistance website, where you can also locate contact information for your local legal office.

Fighting the bad guys, taking great pictures

By Staff Sgt. Nadine Y. Barclay
438th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

SSgt. Nadine Barclay
SSgt. Nadine Barclay

Traditionally, women in our country bore children and stayed home to raise them while the men left home to defend our nation against her enemies.

Times have definitely changed; today both men and women in the armed forces sacrifice greatly for just causes. We live in a world where life, love and the pursuit of happiness are common themes among Americans.

In keeping with this motto, many people say that their lives really started the day they arrived in the U.S. to pursue a new life or the day that they met their soul mate; for me it was actually a little different. My life started a couple years after getting married when at age 20 I became a mother and again at age 24.

During the month of April we take time to reflect on the reason most of us wake up every morning and willingly put our lives on the line. It is designated as a Department of Defense-wide observance, the Month of the Military Child.

As a U.S. Air Force photojournalist and the mother of two beautiful girls I have the distinct honor of doing both; defending my country and pursuing my version of happiness and count myself lucky to have the freedom to do so. But it has not been easy.

Before my oldest daughter, Avah, now five, was even two, I was called to serve on my first deployment at the same time my husband, a USAF crew chief, went on his remote tour to a base in southern Korea. On opposite ends of the world we were required to function as parents and as Airmen.

The day I left my daughter for the first time she was one and a half. It felt like the life was sucked right out of me and remained gone until the day I returned home to her four months later.

This time while serving in Afghanistan on a slightly longer deployment as an advisor to Afghan air force public affairs airmen, I have been placed into a slightly less difficult situation.

My daughters, Avah and Sophia, age one, are now with the only other person that I trust with my life and theirs. His name is daddy, and he is acting as both mommy and daddy; the prince charming that my daughters need him to be in my absence.

He has taken on the unique challenges that come with being a male mommy. The daily tasks that are usually performed by myself are now met with “I don’t like this food” or “my mommy does it different.”

My daughters don’t totally understand why I chose to serve and that it is sometimes necessary for me to be gone, however they adjusted like champs to the drastic change.

Never-the-less, at 4 foot 11 inches, I’ve never been compared to any super hero other then Mighty Mouse, the legendary super hero that fights evil despite his small size, until recently when my daughter compared me to the pink ‘Mighty Morphin Power Ranger’.

She said that I was “fighting the bad guys” and “teaching people how to take great pictures.”

I often get notifications from my daughter’s teacher explaining how I am never far from conversation in a classroom filled with four and five year-old girls that see me as a real life super hero.

The fact that my daughter brags to her friends and truly believes that I wear a pink leather outfit under this multi-cam uniform makes me laugh and inspires the hope and strength that I need to continue to move forward in helping enhance the capabilities of Afghanistan.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to travel on a humanitarian mission in southern Afghanistan and saw firsthand that I was lucky.

Using a popular video chat system, I sat and explained some of the privileges and freedoms we enjoy to my daughters. It is easy to take many of these things for granted.

Of course my conversation was met with more questions than a five and one year-old could understand, but I was pleased to hear that although I’ve missed a birthday, the holidays, the tooth fairy’s first visit and the Easter Bunny so far that I was still a prized mommy.

A statement that was reiterated by, ” don’t worry mommy, it’s ok that you’re gone but remember when you’re done doing your job we are all going to Disney World like you promised when you left.”

I have accomplished many things in my life, yet to me none mean more to me then my two greatest ones who wait anxiously for my return home. So although April is the designated month for military children, they should be rewarded and cherished for the sacrifices they make year-round on behalf of our nation’s defense.

Are you a servant-leader?

By Chief Master Sgt. Gregory Warren
62nd Airlift Wing command chief

Chief Master Sergeant Gregory WarrenThe phrase “servant leader” was brought into the mainstream back in 1970 in an essay published by Mr. Robert Greenleaf. In this writing, he defines a servant-leader as someone who “is a servant first.” Servant leadership isn’t about positions and titles. Instead, it is an attitude that says people and relationships are important, valuable and essential to mission success.

What does it mean to me? It’s very simple. Putting the needs of your fellow Airmen first. Is this convenient? No. Is it rewarding? Absolutely! There is nothing more satisfying than to see someone you’ve worked with succeed. That is what personally drives me in the capacity I serve.

We often talk about getting to know one another and being good Wingmen to each other. For those in supervisory positions, we emphasize getting eyeball-to-eyeball with your Airmen, daily if possible, to identify when something might not be quite right with them.

For the servant-leader this isn’t a chore, it is an imperative embedded in their DNA; they genuinely care about others and know that mission success absolutely depends on individual successes of those around them.

In my opinion, some great examples of servant-leaders throughout history may be Jesus, Ghandi, Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King Jr. These leaders absolutely put the needs of others before their own and, because of it, are considered some of the greatest, most beloved leaders to have ever lived.

An unknown author once said, “A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.”

John C. Maxwell, famous leadership mentor and pastor said this, “True leadership must be for the benefit of the followers, not to enrich the leader.”

These two quotes are at the heart of servant-leadership and define your leaders here on McChord Field.

In closing, I’ll say that leadership to me isn’t about the number of stripes on your sleeve or the shape or color of the rank on your shoulders; it is about serving others. No matter what capacity you serve in. I believe that success isn’t defined by how much you personally achieve but on how much those you influence achieve. Does this define you as a leader?

Photo: Chief Master Sgt. Gregory Warren is the 62nd Airlift Wing command chief at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

Left behind

By Senior Airman Alexandria Mosness
20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

A 4-year old girl with shoulder-length, light-brown hair and big brown eyes sat on the edge of the countertop with her legs dangling over the side, swinging back and forth. A strong man three times her size with hardworking hands touched her gently, and looked at her with tears streaming down his weathered face. “Mommy is not coming back. Mommy is in heaven with Grandpa,” he told her as his voice cracked. The brave little girl reached her tiny hand up to his sad face and wiped away his tears, as she said, “Don’t worry Daddy, it will be okay.”

But it was not okay; her mother, my aunt, had committed suicide only days earlier.Suicide prevention

Everyone has heard about suicide, but many people may not think it will affect them. But I guarantee if you ask around, it hits closer to home than you might think.

Yet, we still believe it won’t be someone we love. I didn’t think I would ever hear the news that my aunt Maria, who was only in her mid-30s, would take her own life.

I was a freshman in high school when I turned around at lunch one day with a smile still fresh on my face from a joke I overhead, when I saw my father’s pain-stricken face. I knew right then something was very wrong.

From then on the moments are a blur. When I look back, all I sense is a heavy dread and pain, a pain that tears deeply each time I look at my little cousin Olivia. Although Maria committed suicide about 8 years ago, it still breaks my heart to think about the life she missed out on.

She, like many people who commit suicide, dealt with depression. The one thing I wish I could have shown her was her funeral and all the people who sat in the pews crying. I wish she would have been able to see her 4-year-old daughter walk down the aisle of the big church, side-by-side with the coffin, and lay a rose on top of her mother’s lifeless body. I wish she would have felt the love of those who cared for her dearly, and those that might have been able to pull her off of that edge.

But my wishes are just that… wishes.

What I don’t want is for you to be the one wishing. Once a loved one takes his or her life, we have no control. We are the survivors, and we are the ones who must keep going.

From the time I began high school and throughout my military career, I have been inundated with computer-based training modules, classes and countless Airmen days on the topic of suicide.

But even with all of this knowledge and available resources, the Air Force battles this issue. Some might not think it can happen to them or someone they know,

So, what can we do to help those in need?

Many may think it is cliché, but I always smile at everyone. I always think especially since I am a survivor, what if that one act brings them back. Maybe it is not that simple, but kindness does go a long way.

We are always told to be good wingmen. This goes hand-in-hand with improving our resiliency. When you see your co-worker down or acting different, pull him or her aside. See what is wrong. A lot of times, all people need is someone to talk to.

If someone comes and tells you of a plan to hurt him or herself, don’t laugh it off. The person is reaching out to you. Listen and then help find the assistance he or she may need.

Social media is huge these days. We may take what our friends say online as a joke or not take them seriously, but if you start noticing a trend or something that makes you raise your eyebrows, do something about it. Heck, it might not be anything, but how would you feel if you found out later that person had harmed him or herselves? You truly can save lives.

There will always be challenges in this world, but if we all take that extra step and treat people like valued human-beings, maybe we can stop losing our Air Force family to this dreadful thing.

I know that if we had seen the warning signs, my little cousin would not be walking around on Easter grasping a picture of her mother because she missed her, but instead holding her hand and celebrating the joyous moments in life.

Photo: (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Corey Hook)