Tag Archives: U.S. Air Force

Women’s History Month: honoring female trailblazers

by Rich Lamance, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production
edited by Meredith March, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production

Female Airmen have come a long way in seven decades.

Air Force Week kicks off in New York City

While women were allowed to serve in just two official Army Air Corps women’s aviation units more than 70 years ago, they currently comprise nearly 20 percent of the active-duty Air Force.

Each day this month, AF.mil is celebrating female Air Force pioneers by showcasing a woman or women’s organization that made an impact on the service.

The series began with Col. Jeannie Leavitt, the Air Force’s first female fighter pilot and later the service’s first woman to graduate from the Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Last year, Leavitt became the Air Force’s first female combat wing commander.

Other profiles will include Gen. Janet Wolfenbarger, the Air Force’s first female four-star general, and Sheila Widnall, the first female Secretary of the Air Force.

To read all of profiles in the series, go to AF.mil’s Women’s History Month page.

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.

TBI and PTSD: ‘There is no shame in getting help’

by Tech. Sgt. Chuck Walker, 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
edited by Meredith March, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production

As high profile cases have emerged about National Football League players and other athletes sustaining brain injuries, and as the nation has watched veterans return home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder have become hot topics.

Allara2

Master Sgt. Jennifer Allara, an explosive ordnance disposal team leader at Dover Air Force Base, has experienced both.

In Sept. 2009, Allara’s EOD team at Provincial Reconstruction Farah, Afghanistan, was ambushed while out on patrol. A teammate, Staff Sgt. Bryan Berky, was killed by a sniper during the attack. For Allara, it was a wake-up call.

“We are trained to accept a certain amount of danger with our job,” she said. “I always thought in terms of me; what if something happens to me? What if we get blown up? I wasn’t thinking in terms of losing a team member in a turret.”

Upon her return from Afghanistan, Allara went to mental health and sought therapy when she began experiencing symptoms of TBI and PTSD. For her, it seemed to bring about more questions than answers.

Determined to heal, Allara recently began treatment at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md. She will undergo four weeks of analysis and leave the center with a care plan designed to meet her needs.

Allara hopes that her example will compel others to seek help if they are experiencing problems when they return from deployment.

“There is no shame in getting help,” she said. “There is no shame in recognizing what is going on with someone and being able to reach out and help. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your Airmen.”

For more on this story, click here.

Money matters: pledge to save

by Meredith March, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production

Let’s face it – money matters.

Military Saves Month GFX YT PINK USAF

We know that the state of our finances affects our work performance, relationships, and even our security clearances, so we want to keep our noses clean and avoid bad choices that will make us financially vulnerable. Regardless of age or rank, we share similar concerns: being able to afford the necessities, saving enough for emergencies and retirement, and feeling too restricted by a tight budget.

Saving can be intimidating, but it’s crucial … and possible.

Military Saves Week, which began Feb. 25 and ends March 2, addresses these concerns by encouraging military members and their families to take control of their finances, save for the future and reduce debt. The initiative is part of the Department of Defense Financial Readiness Campaign and cosponsored by the Consumer Federation of America. This year’s theme is “Set a goal. Make a plan. Save automatically.”

On the Military Saves website, service members can find tips on putting aside some cash, getting out of debt, saving for emergencies, planning for a major purchase, saving for retirement and more.

Pledge to save here.

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.