Military Family Appreciation Month: Taking care of each other

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Keith Holcomb
  • 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
Each family is different and military families are no exception, but there’s something unique about service and family life coming together and sometimes clashing with each other.

November is Military Family Appreciation Month, honoring the sacrifices of military families across the globe. Air Force families come from all of the service’s components -- active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserves – and all have a role in keeping our military and country strong.

Tech. Sgt. Robert McGraw, 14th Flying Training Wing NCO in charge of religious affairs, was previously a vehicle mechanic and worked with multiple units for roughly over a decade.

“Pretty much my whole military career is all they know,” said McGraw, when referring to his children. “I deployed every other year out of vehicle maintenance, so that was a different experience for my family and difficult to get used to when I was gone consistently for six or seven months.”

McGraw said friends, co-workers and their families were a big part of their life. The military brought him and his family numerous friends from going through difficult times and long months away from each other.

During his many deployments, friends met with his wife and kids to take their mind off of the distance and McGraw was able to call almost every day to check in with his wife and kids as well, making the days and weeks better, McGraw recalled.

He said the hard part can be the deployments. For his wife and kids they were hard and they had gotten used to it more, but as for himself, McGraw said each deployment was harder because he’d miss more memories each time.

To help ease the burden during deployments, service members have different ways to communicate back to their loved ones based on the location they are stationed. Some locations have a few telephones in a small building or tent area and other places have computers and buildings with Wi-Fi to enable all kinds of communication.

“Communication was always key,” McGraw said. “Even if you had nothing to say it was always good to check in and see how everyone was doing. Care packages also helped a lot in the deployed locations. I missed all of my son’s big milestones and that was rough. The one thing that helped through that was the communication and photos.”

He explained aside from having his co-workers, the Airman & Family Readiness Center and the Child Development Centers were and are a few of the resources Air Force families have to help take care of children and give stay at home parent’s opportunities to take time for themselves, especially when spouses are deployed. McGraw said his wife and him have used the AFRC and CDC many times to take breaks from parenting full time.

The ‘Give Parents a Break Program,’ available at the AFRC, is one of those programs offered to eligible parents, giving them a break from child care for four hours a month for three months.

McGraw explained how missing some moments of them growing up is a part of sacrifice during service and he said he knows retiring and receiving the benefits and consistent paychecks after 20 faithful years of service is what keeps him motivated.

Though the time away was difficult he said his families’ opportunities to travel a lot compared to a civilian family was great. They were able to experience cultures and places most people don’t get to see, especially throughout his time stationed in Germany.

Col. Derek Stuart, 14th Operations Group commander and experienced airlift pilot had recognized the same perk. He acknowledged the travel was an amazing opportunity.

“I have now moved 12 times and every single one has been a unique experience for me and my family, Stuart said. “I think the most unique experiences in the military with my family were the overseas assignments … to travel, to see different cultures … it was absolutely incredible and would have never been possible if I wasn’t in the Air Force.

“Being an airlift pilot my time away (has) varied,” Stuart continued. “It varied where I’d be flying around the world. … The spouse groups were full of mostly wives with spouses that traveled all the time so they used the programs offered around the base and they would work together in the spouse programs and that had the best benefit for my family.”

Stuart said he and his family have thoroughly enjoyed military life. He also said it hasn’t been easy, it’s hard to move and leave friends, but his son wants to be an Air Force pilot, his oldest daughter wants to stay involved with the Air Force in her own way and his youngest daughter is still in school traveling with Stuart.

“Military kids are the most resilient kids I’ve ever met,” Stuart said. “The ability to leave a group of friends and show up at new base and make friends as quickly as they do is an art. I’ve been amazed at how my kids adapt to new situations.”

When Stuart and his family had orders from Japan to Alabama, his oldest daughter was a cheerleader wanting to cheer in her next high school in Alabama. The school would not let her tryout through any means other than a physical tryout, but Stuart and his wife couldn’t fly there with her for the tryout.

“We flew our 15 year old daughter from Japan to Alabama by herself,” Stuart said. “Friends had to pick her up to and from tryouts all week and she ended up being selected to be a cheerleader, but I’ll never forget how thankful I was to the other military family for the help.”

For Stuart he insisted he was not the one who was able to balance the time away, the children and the work, he gives the credit to his wife being there through it all.

“My service obviously has a huge effect on my family,” Stuart said. “My wife, Tenice, has been my rock through it all. It’s easy to get tied up into work and she is always there to remind me of the other things outside the office I need to take care of … I love that my family keeps me grounded.”