Remember your Air Force family

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Caryn Kirkpatrick
  • 49th Force Support Squadron
The holiday season is upon us and as such, it's the time of the year when movies and sitcoms tell us we should be happy. The picture portrayed is that holidays are only complete and joyous when the extended family gathers around sumptuous, festive dinner tables. Even famous television series' most dysfunctional families find quirky ways to unite with their loved ones. If we use this standard to gauge our happiness and holiday experience, we may be setting ourselves up for failure for two reasons...

First, as military members, our sacred duty to defend our great nation often keeps us from spending as much time with our families as we would like. Between deployments, temporary duty relocations, permanent change of stations, 24-hour operations, training, exercises, inspections and continuing education, finding time for loved ones is no easy task. The military lifestyle has no shortage of stressors which interfere with the idyllic holiday image.

Second, we must realize the Air Force is a cross-section of society. As such, many Airmen come from broken or non-traditional homes. This is a reality, that can't be avoided, and one in which is not inherently negative by any means. Our cross-section of personnel reflects the rich cultural diversity of our force. While the absence of traditional family dinners could be the cause of feeling blue, I submit a different perspective: Celebrate the adversities you overcame to get the point you are at today. Look around at the great Airmen who serve alongside you. They are your wingmen, so let them be your friends and family.

As the 49th Wing's Force Support Squadron commander, I have the unique privilege of seeing Airmen help each other overcome the complexity of holiday separation first hand. To illustrate, consider the holiday meals served at the Shifting Sands Dining Facility every year. The Airmen and their leadership research home-style recipes and bring to bear all of their talents, to ensure all Airmen have access to a delicious, nutritious meal, spent surrounded by people who care about their well-being. When you boil it down, that is the essence of the holidays, spending time in the company of people who care about you and to be there for those in need.

There are many ways to tell someone you are there for them, including sending care packages downrange, inviting them to your home, volunteering at a shelter or donating food and clothing. However, there is one more way that deserves a special mention. As electronic devices take over increasingly large portions of our lives, it is easy to send "fire-and-forget" e-mails or text messages. In the coming months, I challenge you to communicate with others by looking people in their eyes, asking them how they are, and taking the time to listen to their responses. You will be amazed at what you learn about your fellow wingmen.

Rarely in life will we encounter any situation that is as "picture perfect" as media or advertising would have us believe. If we can find the comfort in experiencing reality and rejoice in life's imperfections, our holidays will be truly great. While we can't pick our family members, friends are the family we do choose. I ask you to keep this phrase in mind during this year's holiday season. Look out for each other, and be a wingman to every Airman in the Air Force.