Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
I’m sure by now most people don’t need to be reminded that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
How could you have missed it? With all the ribbons, “Save the Ta-Tas” T-shirts, bracelets, earrings, shoe laces and other pink doodads, it’s fairly hard to forget.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a soapbox about the big business of breast cancer. Anything that brings attention to the importance of early detection and funds to research for innovative technologies and advanced treatments is a good thing, period.
What is often forgotten in the sea of pink are the individuals on the front lines who are actually fighting the disease. In the three months between the time football players stop wearing pink shoes and the Super Bowl, roughly 58,000 women and 500 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and they each have a story.
Three years ago, I had the distinct and life changing privilege of telling the story of Capt. Candice Adams Ismirle. Ismirle, a press operations officer at the Pentagon, was a vibrant and outgoing 29-year-old public affairs officer, co-worker and friend. In October 2010, she was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. Triple negative is a particularly aggressive and vile form of the disease, known for its ability to grow fast, avoid detection and spread to other parts of the body. When she and her husband, Maj. Ryan Ismirle, an F-15E pilot, agreed to open their entire lives to the prying eyes of my digital camera, I’m not sure that any of us could have predicted the ways it would change our lives.
Over the course of the next 18 months, I recorded their journey as she combated her disease. On a typical day of documenting, I would leave my house around 4 a.m. to make the hour-long trip in to Washington, D.C., and accompany her to a seemingly endless regiment of appointments and treatments. After waiting out the effects of the day’s dose of chemical medicine, I would pack up and head for home, usually getting to sleep around midnight.
That was the easy part. My role in this drama was utterly simple compared to Capt. Ismirle’s. While undergoing treatment, she wrote notes to the cancer that was attacking her body. The culmination of our efforts was a photo and video roadmap to fighting breast cancer titled “Pink Kisses; cancer MY way,” which can be seen here. I could describe to you about the heartbreak and hard times, of which there were plenty, but that’s just not Candice’s story. She chose to do something different, and purely remarkable. She was resilient in the situation she was dealt, and vowed to never allow herself to play the role of cancer’s victim. Whichever way her story ended, she made one modest promise; to celebrate the life she had.
In one of her notes she wrote, “You’re serious, nothing to take lightly, and I respect the gravity of you because you take life, but I choose to minimize you because you were never going to take mine… It’s important you know that I am not your victim. I choose to celebrate life, rather than simply survive it. Love, Candice.”
I have made a promise also, to genuinely care about every human captured in each frame I shoot and every line I write; usually my fellow Airmen. I never fully grasped the power of an image or responsibility that comes along with telling someone’s story before Pink Kisses.
That idea of caring for each other is a view shared by Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III and Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody. During a recent visit to Osan Air Base, South Korea, Welsh said, “Caring for each other is one of the Air Force’s three keys to success, along with common sense and communication. I know that all of you care a lot — you care about each other, your professions, your families — but think about the job. We have to fight and win the nation’s wars,” Welsh said. “We’ll never be good enough at that job so we have to get better all the time. Think about the people you work with, that you’re sitting beside, think about your family and theirs. We’ll never care enough about them — we have to care more.”
The first step, Welsh continued, is to learn about each other.
“Every Airman has a story,” he said. “Their stories are incredible, unique, uplifting, sad, inspirational, just incredible, and everybody in here has one. If you don’t know the story you can’t lead someone as well as you could otherwise. It’s really that’s simple. It’s all about understanding each other, because the better we know each other, the better we’ll take care of each other, the prouder we’ll be, and the better our Air Force will be. That’s the Air Force I think we all want to be part of.”
Last week, I received a painful message from a colleague. Ismirle’s cancer had returned and she was in surgery to remove a tumor from her brain. I immediately felt as helpless and vulnerable as she had appeared in many of my images.
Yesterday I booked a flight to D.C., I am headed back for round two. While I’m only an observer with a camera, I’m going to do the only thing I know how; help my wingman kick cancer’s ass, again.
PHOTO: Staff Sgt. Russ Scalf and Capt. Candice Adams Ismirle pose for a studio photo April 8, 2011, at Fort George G. Meade, Md. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Justin Pyle)
by Meredith March, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production
Air Force operations demand more fuel and energy than they have in the past, but in a struggling economy, leaders are obligated to stretch tax dollars as far as they will go. So, how does the Air Force resolve the two necessities without compromising training, force sustainment, humanitarian relief efforts, intelligence gathering and combat missions?
A recent Pentagon roundtable answered that question by announcing energy efficiency initiatives under the new Air Force Energy Strategic Plan. The plan is a road map for future energy consumption reductions.
“We will not accept the notion that one has to choose between energy efficiency and mission accomplishment,” said Dr. Jamie Morin, acting under secretary of the Air Force, during the meeting. “They can be complementary and reinforce the goals.”
Simplified, the four fuel-related goals mapped out in the Air Force Energy Strategic Plan include:
Improving resiliency: identify energy and water sources that might be vulnerable to disruptions, physical or cyber attacks, or price volatility, and ensure the Air Force can recover them and sustain the mission
Reducing demand: build more efficient platforms, more effectively utilize resources, and improve the range and endurance of Air Force platforms without sacrificing capability
Assuring supply: diversify the types of energy used for aviation and facility operations, ground vehicles and equipment, as well as secure the quantities necessary to perform Air Force missions
Fostering an energy aware culture: ensure Airmen value energy as a mission critical resource and make it a consideration in every action, whether in permanent or deployed environments
Airmen can read the entire Air Force Energy Strategic Plan and submit energy saving ideas on the Air Force Energy website.
By Brig. Gen. Joseph S. Ward Jr.
Commandant, Joint Forces Staff College
I often heard him refer to himself as “Airman Ordinary.” He did not feel special. He did not feel privileged. He was simply proud to serve. “Airman Ordinary” is anything but ordinary. He just completed more than 46 years of active duty service–the longest serving Airman ever, in our great Air Force history. He is a man that stands alone among Air Force giants. No one has ever served longer and perhaps no one ever will.
It was a rainy day in Washington DC on the morning of 16 Nov 2011. Traffic was particularly slow due to the slick road conditions and less than optimal visibility as my wife and I made our way to Bolling Air Force Base. Upon entering the Officers’ Club, one could feel the excitement. The atmosphere was alive with anticipation–this was not going to be an “ordinary” retirement ceremony.
Old friends were greeting one another. It was an Air Force family reunion of sorts. There were more “stars” in the room than one could possibly count. It was a day of historic proportions. It was a day to honor and recognize Major General Al Flowers for his extraordinary accomplishments and contributions to our Nation.
There was a special moment as we watched closely the passing of the flag–a long line of Airmen from the rank of Airman Basic all the way up to the rank of Major General. It looked like links of a chain joining all ranks in perfect unison. It represented teamwork in harmony as the flag slowly made its way forward. The last in line was General Flowers’s son, Lt. Col. Al Flowers, Jr., who ultimately rendered honors to his father. The Secretary of the Air Force resided as the officiator of the ceremony and was visibly emotional throughout holding back tears as he delivered his remarks. To be sure, Al Flowers is truly an American hero.
In the beginning
I first met General Flowers when he was a Major and I had just pinned on Captain. Our career paths continued to intertwine in the following 20 plus years, twice I had the distinct honor to have served for him at the Pentagon as my director supervisor.
So what can we learn from this remarkable Airman? What can we take from his sterling example as a servant leader to help make our Air Force even stronger?
Having spent some 13 years serving in the enlisted ranks gave General Flowers a deep and sincere appreciation for the enlisted force. He understood that they are the backbone of our armed forces. In every decision he made, he thought first and foremost on the potential impact to our enlisted corps.
Not only did he think of the enlisted in all of his decisions, he also took great care of his fellow Airmen. He lived the Air Force wingman concept.
I recall an event some 12 years ago when I needed to “pull an all-nighter” at the Pentagon. I was responsible for putting together the slide deck for a budget briefing to be given first thing the next morning and the briefing contained 30 primary slides with an additional 300 backup slides.
Leaving the 2-star’s office at around 1700 hours, then Colonel Flowers asked me if I would be able to accomplish the task prior to tomorrow’s meeting. I told the Colonel I would get it done but he needed to let me work without interruption. I had another officer to assist and we both went at the task with a sense of urgency.
Finally around 2100 hours, Colonel Flowers departed the office. It was soon midnight, and we heard someone at the door, it was Colonel Flowers still in uniform with two large bags filled with Kentucky Fried Chicken and all the “fixings.” It was the best chicken dinner I’ve ever eaten. Colonel Flowers stayed with us through the entire night…keeping the coffee pot filled and providing words of encouragement. General Flowers lived by the rule that “officers eat last.” He always took great care of others. By all measures, he was the consummate wingman. He embodies the true essence of servant leadership–it is part of his core.
In every speech I have heard him deliver, he always made it a point to give thanks. He is a man of faith–his strong belief in religion served as his foundation and his guiding light in all he did. His faith kept him on the right path as he has marched his way into the Air Force hall of fame.
He always emphasized the importance of developing and maintaining a positive mental attitude. It has often been said, “Attitudes cannot be taught but they can be caught.” General Flowers believes that a positive attitude is a force multiplier.
We don’t work in isolation; we are all part of a team. Each member of the team affects those around him and it is far better to be in the company of those whom are positive and upbeat. General Flowers always views the glass as half full.
This past year he was hampered by an ailing hip that required replacement. He will tell you that 35 years of playing basketball finally caught up with him. And for those of you who have worked in the Pentagon, you know the challenges of getting from one place to another. For those whom have not worked in the Pentagon, there are 17 miles of corridors and thousands of stairs.
General Flowers was visibly uncomfortable as he made his way back and forth to meetings throughout his busy schedule but I never once saw him have a “bad day.” He had some of the most demanding positions in the Department of Defense yet his attitude remained positive–he focused on his blessings. He loved to serve in our great Air Force and he made everyone around him feel good about the contributions they were making. He also had an unsurpassed work ethic.
Keys to Success
He has been asked repeatedly, “What is the secret to having been so successful for such a long period?” He always gave the same answer. “The secret to becoming the longest serving Airman is quite simple. The magic formula has two ingredients…begin early and stay late.” He combines country wit and humor with time-tested wisdom. He mentors many and always stresses the importance of performance as the ultimate key to success.
Entering the Air Force at age 17 and departing active duty at 63 years of age is certainly beginning early and staying late. Each and every day of active duty service, General Flowers began his day around 0400 to catch up on email and he would be at the office by 0600 to begin his duty hours. He normally departed by 1800 to encourage others to get home to their families but he continued to correspond well into the late hours. Along the way, he blazed new trails for the Financial Management career field.
He was the first Airman outside of the Special Operations community to hold the position of the Director of Resources and Planning for SOCOM. He was also the very first financial management Airman to serve as a Numbered Air Force Commander, a job he relished and was well suited for.
As the 2nd Air Force Commander, he was in charge of the thousands of newly accessed Airmen and most who were in some stage of training and education.
His office had a museum aura…filled with memorabilia from his 46 years of service. I once asked him what he valued the most. He quickly picked out two items and said anyone would be welcome to take the rest. The two items included a Technical Instructor hat encased in glass that was presented to him by the Lackland BMT community. The other item was a photo of him taking the first salute on the parade field at Lackland upon assuming command. It is a place he reveres. He will soon call San Antonio “home” as he transitions to retirement. It is the home of that sacred parade field where he began his march–it is the home to our heroes of the past and it’s the gateway for our future heroes to take the oath and begin their Air Force journey.
One of our Air Force core values is “service before self.” I cannot think of a better example to emulate. He surpassed the 40-year mark some six years ago. He could have retired at 100 percent of his basic pay in 2005. Instead, he continued on. For the past six years, he could have received more in his checkbook as a retiree than as an active duty Airman. He opted to take on incredibly demanding positions that required household moves during the past 3 holiday seasons. In total, he moved his family and household goods 28 times over the past 4 plus decades–that may be yet another record never to be matched.
He will tell you, it is not about you and me. He will tell you it is about those we have helped along the way–those we have mentored, those we have helped prepare to succeed us. He has helped bring out the very best in so many. He has encouraged countless legions of Airmen to do their best and to continue enjoying the ride.
I recall a meeting I had with him in 1999. I had just completed a tour as a squadron commander and then transitioned to the Pentagon. For me, it was like going from “hero to zero.” I struggled with my new role in sharing a cubicle with a Captain making PowerPoint slides day in and day out. My attitude was on the decline and I was tempted to take the 15-year retirement being offered at the time. Fortunately, General Flowers intervened and encouraged me to press on and finish the race. He thought I mattered…when it mattered and I am forever grateful for his mentorship and friendship.
There is an underlying theme worthy of mention in this fitting tribute to Airman Ordinary. The American dream is alive and achievable. Not all begin their respective military journeys with equal advantages. The military starting point does not discriminate–all begin the race on the same footing, all compete for promotion without prejudice. Everyone has a fair chance to climb the military pyramid of success and many start from humble beginnings. Some from having worked the tobacco fields of rural North Carolina. From harvesting tobacco for 25 cents a day to becoming a 2-star General in the world’s premiere Air and Space power–General Flowers’ story is a testament to what makes the American experience so very special. It has often rewarded so many in past and present generations who arrive early to work and leave late. Hard work and a positive attitude will continue to pay dividends to future generations.
I fear that he will solely be remembered for having been the longest serving Airman–it will be well documented in our professional military education material. But we must not focus just on his longevity record. Records are meant to be broken. Those of us that served with him must keep the spirit alive; we must continue to tell his story as he passes the torch. His simple and straight forward blue print for success is something we can all learn from: a strong work ethic coupled with an earnest desire towards self-improvement and a genuine concern for others while maintaining a positive attitude will yield great results! We must follow his lead in helping others reach their potential and thus bringing our Air Force to even greater heights of excellence. The positive difference he made in the lives of those who served with him are his legacy and his legacy will live on.
(Brig. Gen. Joseph S. Ward Jr. is the Commandant, Joint Forces Staff College,
National Defense University, Norfolk, Va.)
The first two weeks of the new year are behind us and you know what that means, picture time! Come check out all the great photos from the first Air Force week in photos of 2012. Like the awesome picture below of a pararescueman? You can view the entire set of our week in photos here. Photo: A U.S. Air Force pararescueman parachutes into the drop zone on Camp Atterbury, Ind., June 14, 2011, during a Precision Jumpmaster Course. The three-week course also included ground training at the Kentucky Air Guard Base in Louisville, Ky., and water jump training in Selfridge, Mich. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Phil Speck)
By Senior Airman Grovert Fuentes-Contreras
Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul
QALAT CITY, Afghanistan — It was a day like any other, but one I’ll never forget; it was beautiful, with the sun rising behind the New York City skyline. I was a seventh grader sitting in class waiting for my teacher to call attendance.
Nothing seemed different from the day prior. Children were in the corner rushing to finish last night’s homework as the teacher was walking in with her bag full of books in her right hand and coffee in her left.
“One of my students says he just saw a plane go in the twin towers,” says Michele Mortoral with worry in her voice as she is rushing into my class.
“Tell him to stop kidding around,” jokingly says Jane Lynch, my seventh grade teacher.
My classmates are rushing to the windows to see one of the twin towers on fire, with dark smoke rising into the beautiful blue sky. The sky is beginning to turn gray, as if it is about to rain. My friends are beginning to panic and the teachers are trying to calm us to the best of their ability. There is fear and worry in the room. I am staring out the window wondering; “Why is this happening…Did the pilot fall asleep…Isn’t there a co-pilot?”
We are starting to wonder where our families are. I’m worrying about where my father could be. He is a messenger and does trips between North Jersey and New York City daily. There are days where he has to go in and out of New York City about six times a day. My mother is at her restaurant taking orders, like every other morning.
The teachers at Lincoln School are working really hard trying to continue class to keep it off our minds, but there is no way that is possible. I switch classes, from homeroom to math class. Ms. Rachel Mullane is teaching in front of the class.
Some of my classmates are staring out the window, looking at one of the twin towers burning the sky with smoke like a lit cigar. Some of them are actually paying attention in class, not understanding how big and historical this is. The rest, like me, are sitting at our desks worrying about our families.
“There is the other one,” someone yells, while pointing out the window. His pointing finger freezes in mid-air while his arm slowly shifts from left to right. He is following the plane like a sniper following a target. The class is in complete shock and very quiet, just watching.
At 9:03 a.m., I am watching a Boeing 767 hit tower two in front of my eyes. I am 12-years-old and my eyes are completely dry and focused, but at least ten other pairs of eyes are tearing. My classmates begin to panic. They feel like running out of the classroom, but Mullane is blocking the classroom door so no one can leave class. Safety is a teacher’s responsibility so it’s understandable.
“Attention!” says a familiar voice over the loudspeaker, “We are under attack but we need to remain calm.”
The voice is Michael Ventolo, my principal and a very happy person, but in his tone, I know this is too serious to think of him as a happy person behind the microphone. Fear and worry have just thickened the air. I can smell it.
“Grovert Fuentes” says Mullane, “Your mother is downstairs. Pack your books, you can go home.” I am relieved to know that my mother is well and I can go home with my mother and little brothers. One of my brothers is five and in kindergarten, in the same school as me. My two-year-old brother is at home with the babysitter.
The look my mother has on her face, I have never seen before. She is a brave woman with lots of courage. Her face reassures me that this is a serious situation.
On the ride home, my mother is telling me how worried she is about my father. She can’t get in touch with him. She’s taking red lights and breaking the speed limit. We arrive home and continue calling my father, but no answer. The cell phone towers are down and we can’t get through. The calls that can get through are giving us the busy tone.
For the next few hours, my mother and I are glued to the television, waiting to hear details. At 9:37 a.m., we find out that the Pentagon is also hit. We do not know what to do, nor what to expect, but we do know that the president is about to come on TV and make a speech.
“Today we’ve had a national tragedy,” says the President of the United States, George W. Bush. “Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center in an apparent terrorist attack on our country.”
Finally, around 11 a.m., my father calls to tell us he is safe, and has just exited the Lincoln Tunnel, but is stuck in New York City. He is also telling us that traffic is frozen and many people are abandoning their vehicles to run through the tunnel, to the New Jersey side.
5 p.m. comes around and my father comes home. Our family is united and we are happy to see each other again.
A decade later, I am away from my family again.
I am a combat photographer standing on Afghan soil with plenty of Taliban around me. Some ask me why I volunteered for this deployment. On Feb. 21, 2010, shortly after my return from Iraq, U.S. Army Sgt. Marcos Antonio Gorra died in the line of combat. He was a hometown friend, who died on this same soil I stand on today. He died for freedom and for those towers.
I’ve been exposed to explosives, rockets, and gunfire, yet, I’m still glad to be where I am now; I’m defending what I saw 10 years ago and trying to keep the fight on their soil instead of ours.
Many ask me my reason for joining and I say, “My biggest reason is because of 9/11. It is a day that I will never forget.”
Photo: U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Grovert Fuentes-Contreras, a combat photographer assigned to Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, stands on top of Alexander’s Castle in Qalat City, Afghanistan, July 17, 2011. (Courtesy photo)