Life's lessons lead to appreciation of family, friends

FORT DIX, N.J. -- Life has a funny way of teaching you its various lessons. 

For me, from events that took place in July, I learned a great deal about the importance of my family and what they mean to me and my military career. 

My life lessons began in late June during a lunch break from working during the Eagle Flag exercise the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center holds at nearby Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst. During that break, I called my father to see how he was that day and coincidentally I called at the right time -- if you could call it a right time. 

I asked, "How's everything today?" His reply was, "Not so good." 

My dad told me that it looked like my uncle had died -- my mother's brother. He said Uncle Jim Jeske suffered a heart attack and didn't make it. 

Naturally, I immediately knew my mother was in shambles and that was proven when I talked to her. That was one of the toughest discussions I'd ever had with my mom as an adult. She and her brother were pretty close. 

I told my mom and my dad that I would be home as soon as possible. My family and I were already planning to take leave later that week anyway, but this moved things up a bit. 

Within a day, we were on the road thanks to the great people I work with and the support of the McGuire Air Force Base family support center. Everyone understood, provided help, and let me take care of things from there. Just like any family would do. 

It took two days and more than 1,200 miles, but we got there in time for the funeral and for me to do what I could to comfort my mother. The funeral was quite somber. All of Uncle Jim's friends were there as well as many, many family members. 

Uncle Jim worked at a rest home in my hometown and was admired for the care he gave to people who resided there. It wasn't something I really realized until his funeral. 

The next few weeks were for healing. At my own recently purchased home in Michigan, my wife and I hosted a party for all the extended family from the area and that was quite a few people. We hoped it would help bring the family closer together and I think it worked. People who didn't spend a lot of time together over the years -- even though they live close by one another -- had a good time. 

Afterwards, just as soon as I was getting comfortable working and enjoying my new house, it was time for me to leave. I flew back here to New Jersey, spent a few days, and then went on a temporary duty assignment to McChord Air Force Base, Wash. My wife stayed back at the Michigan house to enjoy it for a couple more weeks. 

While TDY, I came across a lot of people I hadn't seen in a while. There were two former commanders I'd worked for at home station and deployed and others who were past friends with whom I had a chance to reconnect. 

One of those commanders was always a leader by example for principles he called the "four Fs" -- family, flying, fitness and fun. I'm sure he's not the only one to have used that principle, but "family" kept resounding with me the whole time I was TDY. I wasn't sure why, but I guess it's because everyone I talked to asked how the family was and I had to repeat my story again and again. 

After a great time working at Air Mobility Rodeo 2007 at McChord, I flew back home and then drove my family back to New Jersey. I think from the whole time the adventure started, I covered something like 6,000 miles by air and land during July. 

The day after I returned, a longtime friend from my unit held his retirement. It was another sad, but good day for him anyway. Not so much for me because it means my friend is moving away. To me it was witnessing another great Airman finish a distinguished career -- only this time it was also a great friend and we're already making plans for future fishing and hunting trips. 

From my uncle's passing to my friend's retirement, not to mention all the travel, July 2007 and life itself taught me that things can change fast and you have to keep moving with the changes. We have to appreciate the moments we have on this Earth and with those whom we spend our time -- our friends and families. 

It's no question for those of us in the military that we have two families - our personal and our military families. We need both to blend and to work together to be successful.
I've always appreciated my families -- there's no doubt about that. 

So as a thank you of sorts -- to my military and personal families -- let me tell you I am so very appreciative of what you do and what you give every day.  Without you, I and all others who serve could not be the best in the world that we are today.