Commentary Search

What does the Air Force family mean to you?

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Cynthia Gunderson
  • 321st Missile Squadron commander
When the three words "Air Force family" are spoken, they mean something very different to each person who hears them. To a person who has never served in the Air Force or military, they might think it is just a way of getting people to buy into a concept bigger than themselves. When new Airmen are going through boot camp or a commissioning source, it is likely they don't yet understand the strength behind those three little words and the family they joined.

These words signify an extension of the family that raised me. Our Air Force family is one that sticks together through thick and thin, a family that supports each other unconditionally, and a family that can accomplish amazing things, even when it seems the odds are stacked against us.

In a month where preparation is the primary focus, whether we are preparing for the winter months or preparing to execute the wing's daily mission, it is important for us to reflect on how the Air Force family can act as a backstop when we find ourselves caught off guard by life's challenges. I have seen, on countless occasions, our Air Force family put its arms around Airmen and their family, lift them up and provide essential aide during hard times.

While stationed at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., I witnessed the devastating events of the 2011 Minot flood that affected 1,178 Airmen and their families and 11,000 North Dakota residents. After 81 days from the first mandatory evacuation, residents were finally allowed back into their flood-ravaged homes. From May 31 to July 18, 2011, thousands of Airmen lived through the uncertainty of what to prepare for next. Words cannot explain how difficult it was for these Airmen to navigate during this timeframe due to changing information on expected flood levels, multiple mandatory evacuations and numerous opinions on how best to prepare a home for flood waters, all on top of the normal daily stresses we experience.

In order to illustrate the magnitude of the situation at hand, I offer the difficult circumstances of my duty section at the time of the flood. When the second mandatory evacuation took place June 20, and later June 22, we had seven of 18 Airmen living in the flood zone, three of which were away on temporary assignments.

The flood zone in 2011 spanned homes from Minot proper to the neighboring city of Burlington, N.D. Access to our Airmen's homes was severely limited due to closures and congestion, roadways were crowded by the masses of people attempting to save their personal belongings and the construction crews building mountainous dykes in an attempt to save the town from further damage. Of the seven homes, six took on water up to the rafters and were subsequently categorized as complete losses.

Amazingly, our Air Force family was able to completely move and store the personal belongings of all seven Airmen and their families before the final evacuation sirens sounded and access was cut off. We found temporary homes for the seven families where they could endure the crisis in relative comfort. Base-wide, our Air Force family contributed extraordinary time and effort to fill more than 250,000 sandbags, transport the 406,000 pounds of sandbags, and raise more than $175,000 for the displaced Airmen and their families. All of these incredible feats were accomplished while maintaining unwavering focus on the wing's nuclear mission.

After the flood water receded and our Airmen were allowed to return to their homes, our Air Force family's focus turned to rebuilding and aiding in any way possible. Our family formed teams that focused on removing debris and completely gutting homes down to the studs. All six of the homes labeled a complete loss were made ready for contract personnel to sanitize prior to rebuilding the homes. These efforts ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of dollars for our Airmen.

The Minot Flood was a disaster for the record books for many reasons. I choose this incident because it shows how well our family took care of one another, no matter the time, place or circumstance. No one ever expects, or wants, to go through hard times, but in cases like this, it is unavoidable. During these times, it is important that we pull together as a family and take care of each other.

A great leader once said, "During difficult times, it is always about faith, family, and friends.

I ask you this, what does the "Air Force family" mean to you?