Taking care of your Air Force family

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. John Lyons
  • 35th Fighter Squadron commander
Last July brought an end to the Year of the Air Force Family -- a year devoted to providing Airmen, their families and local communities information regarding the variety and scope of programs offered by the Air Force.

This year-long dedication centering on our families and the communities we live in was the first time in my career that I'd witnessed such attention that was external to the Air Force mission: Fly, Fight, and Win. During my permanent change-of-station trip to Kunsan, I had to time reflect on how long overdue this Year of the Air Force Family really was. Having recently left my family for the remote assignment, thoughts of this proclaimed year of commitment reminded me of just how important my Air Force family was to me. In formulating my commander's vision statement, I chose my words carefully, so as to stress how important balance is in our lives -- a balance that focuses not only on the mission but also on taking care of our families.

The equilibrium that I emphasize during every newcomer's interview is no easy task for our Airmen. Regardless of career field, we all have a strong desire to succeed while serving our country -- it runs in our blood. Furthermore, it's a proven fact that professional military education, advanced academics degrees, awards and decorations all have a direct impact on promotion opportunities. As a result, time becomes an ultimate premium as our Airmen constantly strive to better themselves, both on and off duty. Lastly, the recent force shaping decisions and Department of Defense budget cuts have forced many Air Force organizations to do more with fewer resources. However, despite these challenges, Airmen continue to work harder, almost always finding a way to make it happen -- it's what we do! However, hard work and determination to build a successful Air Force career can be totally consuming if we don't maintain a balance in our lives.

Now for the family perspective -- many of our Airmen are married and have children, what about them? As we continue to do whatever it takes to get the job done at work, our families often begin to see less and less of us at home. In addition, I think we'd all agree that life in the military can be very dynamic on the home front -- a typical 20-year career is often accompanied by as many as 10 PCS moves. Every time we relocate, our spouses and children are expected to drop their current lives and adapt to new environments, new jobs, new schools, and eventually, new friends. To cut to the chase, life in the Air Force for a dependent is no cake walk, especially if the Air Force member has to deploy or serve on a remote assignment overseas. Single-man or woman rules for our dependents is extremely challenging no matter how strong our spouses are or how much support they have surrounding them.

So what does this all mean? To me it's very simple -- each and every day, we owe it to our families to ensure there remains balance in our lives. Here, this can be difficult, as we all tend to work long hours in this unaccompanied setting. Despite the time difference, it is absolutely essential that we find a way to stay in touch with our loved ones back home. Whether it be via Skype, e-mail or a letter just to let our families know how much they mean to us and how much we appreciate their sacrifice -- it goes a long way. Further, if or when you go home on your mid-tour, try to find a way to leave "the Kun" behind and maximize the quality of the time you spend with your spouse and children. Work e-mail while on leave can be a huge distraction for your family -- trust me, they know when you are only paying half-attention to them.

Another very rewarding way I've found to find balance is through volunteering. Whether we help out at school or coach youth sports, our time means the world to children. Remember, kids are only young once -- Kenny Chesney said it best, "Don't Blink!"

To sum it up, the sacrifices of my Air Force Family have made my career possible. Not a day goes by where I don't think about this, and to a fault, I don't express my appreciation enough. Furthermore, I've witnessed too many successful leaders throughout the last 19 years -- both senior and junior in rank -- who have developed incredibly successful Air Force careers, tragically at the expense of their families because they failed to maintain proper balance. Whether you serve for only a single enlistment or retire with four stars, despite the impressive collection of "wood" on the walls, when your career comes to a close - if you're lucky your Air Force family will still be by your side -- make sure you take care of them along the way!