WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio --
Family ties. Just the mention of those words revives memories for many in the audience. It also dates us. Don’t worry. This will not be a breakdown of the 80s as I’m pretty sure you’ve recently had your share from Stranger Things and Cobra Kai. More than a TV show, the phrase family ties describes the essence of the Air Force Reserve’s niche in fostering lifelong relationships while successfully executing our mission.
An event in 2002 at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey illustrates this point. Our nation had just embarked on Operation Enduring Freedom to address the terrorist networks behind the 9/11 attacks. As part of the effort, the 445th Airlift Wing was tasked to participate in a C-141 aircrew stage to transport detainees to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. Shortly after arriving at Incirlik, we learned the next portion of our mission would be delayed nearly a week. Multiple aircrews, maintainers and stage management personnel from our unit were on-site, so the next several days saw plenty of mission planning and downtime together as a group. A highlight of the trip was Sunday, Feb. 3 in conjunction with Super Bowl XXXVI. We planned to watch the Super Bowl together, but to add another dimension to the experience, Lt. Col. (major at the time) Kurt Greenlee drew up a game-related questionnaire with dozens of categories from who would turn the ball over first, to what the score would be at the end of each quarter, to whether an unruly fan would run across the field. We bought food and headed in-mass to the rec room. We arrived to find just one person sitting there minding his own business when WHOOOSH, the Wright-Patt crowd floods into the room. We included him in our version of football jeopardy to ensure he had a good time too, so it was all good. Coincidentally, that turned out to be Brady’s first Super Bowl win.
Why share this story? Fast forward 19 years to last month. I was heading home for the day when I noticed a force support squadron sign at the entrance to a parking lot where several folks were handing out Super Bowl tailgating bags. One of the items inside was a Super Bowl predictions questionnaire, very similar to Kurt’s (minus the unruly fan question). I texted a picture of it to my family as somewhere along the way our kids replicated Kurt’s idea, adding to the fun on Super Bowl night in our home for years. They quickly responded, citing the great memories.
Just prior to the Super Bowl kick-off, I also texted the picture to several members who were at Incirlik in 2002 to get their reaction, wondering if it was still fresh in their minds. It was. In no time, I heard back from each of them, all immediately recalling the occasion and its significance to them. Several subsequent exchanges only served to further reinforce that the shared memories and sense of accomplishment associated with that mission were still treasured, and if we ever needed help, each was still just a phone call away.
Countless stories like this help define the service of 445th Airlift Wing members. Our journey is characterized by a camaraderie rarely found anywhere else. Our shared experiences define our relationships. We grow together and encounter the highs and lows together. We have celebrated collective mission achievements and grieved with the families of Maj. LeRoy Homer and Maj. Dan Witt upon their sudden passing. We love and support each other through challenging times because that’s what families do.
It is no coincidence that these solid family ties have consistently translated into inspirational teamwork and flawless mission execution when called upon by our nation to provide real-time contingency, humanitarian relief, natural disaster, and now pandemic response.
As Simon Sinek points out in Together is Better, “A team is not a group of people who work together. A team is a group of people who trust each other.”
Our unit’s trademark cohesiveness is a driving force within each of our 12 squadrons and links our mission support, maintenance and operations groups together in daily collaboration. It propelled the success of our strategic airlift stage operations after 9/11 and enables us to thrive in crisis environments today. Strong family ties are a defining strength of the Air Force Reserve, and nowhere are they displayed more starkly than here.
Whether you are new to this unit or are about to retire, never underestimate the key role you play in mission success as well as the profound impact you have on the lives of others, and rest assured that you will always be considered a valued member of the 445th Airlift Wing family.