The tradition continues

Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson, 49th Medical Operations Squadron commander, gives the oath of enlistment to her son, Airman Darrius Stevenson at the Military Entrance Processing Station on 18 Oct. 2016, in El Paso, Texas. Airman Stevenson graduated from Air Force Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base on Dec. 9, 2016.  Airman Stevenson is currently receiving his Cyber Space Operation training at Keesler Air Force Base. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson)

Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson, 49th Medical Operations Squadron commander, gives the oath of enlistment to her son, Airman Darrius Stevenson at the Military Entrance Processing Station on 18 Oct. 2016, in El Paso, Texas. Airman Stevenson graduated from Air Force Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base on Dec. 9, 2016. Airman Stevenson is currently receiving his Cyber Space Operation training at Keesler Air Force Base. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson)

Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson, 49th Medical Operations Squadron commander, poses with her son, Airman Darrius Stevenson and her husband, Mr. Darrell Stevenson, as Darrius took the oath of enlistment at the Military Entrance Processing Station on 18 Oct. 2016, in El Paso, Texas. Airman Stevenson graduated from Air Force Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base on Dec. 9, 2016. Airman Stevenson is currently receiving his Cyber Space Operation training at Keesler Air Force Base. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson)

Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson, 49th Medical Operations Squadron commander, poses with her son, Airman Darrius Stevenson and her husband, Mr. Darrell Stevenson, as Darrius took the oath of enlistment at the Military Entrance Processing Station on 18 Oct. 2016, in El Paso, Texas. Airman Stevenson graduated from Air Force Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base on Dec. 9, 2016. Airman Stevenson is currently receiving his Cyber Space Operation training at Keesler Air Force Base. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson)

Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson, 49th Medical Operations Squadron commander, poses with her son, Airman Darrius Stevenson. Airman Stevenson graduated from Air Force Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base on Dec. 9, 2016. Airman Stevenson is currently receiving his Cyber Space Operation training at Keesler Air Force Base. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson)

Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson, 49th Medical Operations Squadron commander, poses with her son, Airman Darrius Stevenson. Airman Stevenson graduated from Air Force Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base on Dec. 9, 2016. Airman Stevenson is currently receiving his Cyber Space Operation training at Keesler Air Force Base. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson)

Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson, 49th Medical Operations Squadron commander, poses with her father, Chief Master Sergeant (Ret.) Bill Eng, and her son, Airman Darrius Stevenson. Airman Stevenson graduated from Air Force Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base on Dec. 9, 2016. Airman Stevenson is currently receiving his Cyber Space Operation training at Keesler Air Force Base. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson)

Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson, 49th Medical Operations Squadron commander, poses with her father, Chief Master Sergeant (Ret.) Bill Eng, and her son, Airman Darrius Stevenson. Airman Stevenson graduated from Air Force Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base on Dec. 9, 2016. Airman Stevenson is currently receiving his Cyber Space Operation training at Keesler Air Force Base. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson)

Airman Darrius Stevenson, currently receiving his Cyber Space Operation training at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, graduated from Air Force Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base on Dec. 9, 2016. Airman Stevenson is the son of Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson, current 49th Medical Operations Commander at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson)

Airman Darrius Stevenson, currently receiving his Cyber Space Operation training at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, graduated from Air Force Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base on Dec. 9, 2016. Airman Stevenson is the son of Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson, current 49th Medical Operations Commander at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. (Photo courtesy of Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson)

HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

It is 5:00 a.m.

He’s a long way from home.

It’s the first time he’s ever been away from his family. He’s a young man on his own, in a world he’s never experienced before. But he’s still hundreds of miles from home.

He’s a long way from home…away from his family

But he’s not alone. This is his legacy.

He’s a long way from home.

Soft, tender, familiar voices have been replaced by a gravelly, raspy, new one that cries out,

“FALL IN!”

Trainee Darrius Stevenson-- the Air Force’s newest hopeful-- has been around the military his whole life, but this is the first time he’s experiencing it in its pure, most elemental form.

As the orders from the Military Training Instructors boom in the air like thunder, one question spins in his mind.

That generations of trainees before him have uttered in horror:

“What have I gotten myself into?”

It is 6:00 a.m.

In the early hours of a mild autumn morning she wakes before dawn, puts on a pot of coffee, gets her two children up to ready them for school and puts on her uniform.

It’s a routine that has repeated itself for many years, but today is different...her nest is one bird shy.

For Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson, it’s a bittersweet day.

It is 9:20 a.m.

The rhythmic sound of boots on concrete are heard. A collection of fresh faced young men move together as one, looking like a great wave of tan and green.

A cry of “FLIGHT, HALT!!” echoes, staying in the air for what seems like forever, until another cry cancels it out…

“RIGHT…HACE!”

And then another…

“PRESENT…HARMS!!”

Trainee Stevenson and his band of brothers respond quickly, a machine gun like snap of arms follows, rendering the courtesy, and a token of respect. The salute.

His eyes looking straight ahead. He’s alone in plain sight. It’s what he wanted to do, yet he still feels secluded.

Being away from his family was harsh and unwelcome, but if his family could do it, so could he. It’s coded in his DNA…

A legacy…

Most families have legacies.

Sometimes the family legacy is working at the family hardware store. Other times it’s the family grocery store. For some, however, it’s answering your nation’s call.

For trainee Stevenson, the fourth generation to serve his country, comes from a proud tradition that goes back to 1942.

His great-grandfather, Ping Goon Eng, was enlisted in the United States Army.  Despite his desire to serve, his enlistment was short due to a severe language barrier.  His grandfather, William S. Eng, is a retired Chief Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force, his step-grandfather, Gary Drugley, who retired as an Army Colonel, his fraternal great aunt Laura Peoples, a retired Navy Captain, his father, Darrell L. Stevenson, a 15 year Navy veteran, and of course, Mother Bird.

Even with such a rich legacy of military service, Darrius only really began to consider the Air Force as he trekked across Europe as his mother was stationed at Ramstein, Air Base, Germany.

“Getting to travel across Europe really opened my eyes, he said. To the massive opportunities.”

It is 10:20 a.m.

She sits in her office, sifting through her emails. As commander of the 49th Medical Operations Squadron, her days mainly consist of answering dozens of emails, attending meetings, and checking on the Airmen under her leadership.

But today is different…her nest is one bird shy.

As she goes through her emails, she leans back in her chair, she thinks about that bird, the one she hated to let go, but ultimately knew she had to...that day was Tuesday, October 18, 2016…

The week leading up to that had been emotional for her, and though she’s had the honor and privilege of re-enlisting many Airmen, this oath she’s administering this day is the most personal.

She is the Mother Bird, Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson… and she is swearing into the Air Force her son…Darrius.

As she reflects on that day, Lt. Col. Stevenson thinks it wasn’t that big of a deal outside of her family, but time has given her a new perspective on that day’s significance.

“I realized it’s a day worth bragging about,” she said. “I’ve known or heard many parents who are/were officers that administered the enlisted or officer oath to their kids. The female officer demographics are only 20.6% of the officer ranks, so how often does a female officer get to swear in their child?”  

It is 12:00 p.m.

The Snake Pit. A frightening place to be. Where no trainee wants to end up, but Darrius has no choice, he is a chow runner, or the trainee designated to announce to the MTIs his flight is ready to eat.

He approaches the Snake Pit, the rectangular table in front of the dining facility, where all of the MTIs sit to eat.

You are exposed 100% to their wrath.

They ask what he wants.

“Sir, Trainee Stevenson reports as ordered.”

With a little more volume and impatience in their voices, they bark,

“What do you want?”

He responds with the phrase he has grown to master three times a day, over eight weeks, over 160 times:

“Sir, Flight Cody has entered the dining facility from the west side.”

“Sit, eat, and get out.”

It is 2:30 p.m.

The day goes along. More emails. More meetings. More phone calls. A quiet moment interjects itself. Her thoughts go to that bird and to that week he was preparing his wings.

She cried a lot that week.

“I was so ready and excited for him to begin his life and become a man,” Lt. Col. Stevenson said.

“However, that week, reality hit me. My first child is leaving.”

She held her composure, surprising herself and without a quiver in her voice she administered the oath to Darrius.

It is 9:00 p.m.

The day has gone by fast. It’s all gone by fast. He readies his uniform for the next day. The sleeves are creased, pants are creased and hat is ready.

He thinks about what he’s been through…

“I’ve never been away from family, but they and family friends sent me letters and cards, which inspired me,” he said. “And I had a great MTI team, made many friends, and never have I had so many people that I could rely on.”

That day he left the nest…

“That day was extremely special for myself and my family, he said. I could tell how happy and proud my mother was to get that opportunity.”

And what lies ahead…

“My current plan is to be the best Airman I can be, he said. Live by our Air Force core values and give 100% in all I do.”

His evening chores done, the chit chat and laughs with new friends ebbed, he tumbles into bed.

Taps plays…

It is 7:00 a.m.

In the early hours of a mild autumn morning she wakes, puts on a pot of coffee, gets her two children up to ready them for the day and puts on her uniform.

It’s a routine that has repeated itself for many years, but today is different...her nest is one bird shy.

For Lt. Col. Bonnie Stevenson, it’s a proud day.

“I’ve never felt more proud of my son, than at that very moment, aside from the first moment I laid eyes on him 20 years ago,” Lt. Col Stevenson said at the time she swore him in.

The tears of pride and sadness of that day have been replaced by tears of pride and joy.

It is 9:00 a.m.

The rows and rows of Airmen seem to stretch as far as the eye can see. They are now part of something bigger than them. Something that branches out like a family tree. They make their way down the huge parade field, proud that they have made it into an exclusive club, brothers and sisters in blue.

Airman Darrius Stevenson is graduating.

In the stands are his parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, close family friends, mother bird’s AF family, and Darrius’ recruiter.  The mother bird, who weeks earlier couldn’t bear with letting him go, but knowing she had to, sees him now, the fourth generation to wear the uniform, as the bird who has sprouted his wings.  Mother bird is comforted knowing that the Air Force will take good care of him as will the Air Force family he will make during his time in service….just as the Air Force has done for her and her family.

It is 9:45 a.m., and it’s over.

Lt. Col. Stevenson hugs Airman Stevenson, like she did when she first laid eyes on him 20 years ago.

The legacy continues…