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Ups and downs are a common theme in our AF lives

  • Published
  • By Col. James Hodges
  • 6th Mission Support Group commander
This Spring has been a whirlwind of activity with the normal ups and downs of life.

School is out for families with children, which brings family fun vacation time. However, that can also add extra stress for parents with kids being around the house or needing to find additional childcare. There are transitions in the workplace with people transferring out to other bases and in from other locations. It is often sad for members of the unit to see valued teammates depart, but there are always new people arriving with fresh ideas and new energy.

The common theme is there are always ups and downs, exciting moments and downers, like a roller coaster, or as they see in some cultures, they call it the yin and yang of life. Sometimes there are more downs than ups and when several downs occur in a row, it takes real STRENGTH to keep moving ahead with a positive attitude. I'd like to relate such a time in my life with which some can identify, and show that by tapping the strength and hope we often don't even know we have in us and by leaning on our friends, family, and wingmen, we can get through our temporary downs.

In 1981, my grandfather died of cancer at the age of 64 near his home in the Ozark Mountains in northern Arkansas. Losing this strong and loved paternal figure was a blow for our close family. With a 400-acre farm to manage, my grandmother needed help. My father left the security of his job in the ministry and our nice home in Colorado and moved my family back to an old rickety farm house in Arkansas to run the family farm. The income from the farm was not enough to raise a family, so my dad also worked as a construction contractor. Simply put, we were dirt poor and times were tough in the Hodges' household. There were many times I heard my mother and father talking and worrying about how they would make ends meet.

To make matters worse, in the Spring of 1982, our family farm was hit by a category F4 tornado that decimated the entire farm, house, barn, storage buildings, fences, vehicles and some of our cattle. Our lives were literally saved from the storm by seeking shelter inside a cellar--a dark and creepy underground structure outside of the house that looked like something from a cold-war survival movie.

The opening sequence of the movie "Twister" appeared eerily accurate to me. The winds nearly blew the cellar door off of its hinges, leaving us vulnerable to the wind gusts and debris. However, at just the right time, a tree blew over and slammed the cellar door shut, keeping us safe throughout the rest of the storm.

Once the winds subsided, we found ourselves trapped in the cellar. Fortunately, my father was able to pry the door open enough so I, a skinny little 13 year-old, could crawl out and remove enough limbs for the rest of my family to escape. I was overwhelmed by what I saw when I emerged from the cellar. Our world was literally turned upside down and the formerly beautiful, green farm looked like a warzone, accentuated by the sickly green hue of the post-storm sky.

The hours, days, weeks, months, and years that followed the event were extremely tough on our family as we made a temporary home in what had been a storehouse for cattle feed (practically a barn), then an old trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. We undertook the hard work of cleaning up debris, rebuilding the farm and our lives, within the meager income of a poor farmer and contractor. Oh, did I mention later the same year I contracted pneumonia? There were many other challenges after this event that are too numerous to list in this article. Needless to say, it wasn't a very pleasant era for the Hodges family.

I share this story to show that even though life threw a succession of very hard and depressing times at my family over the period of several years, we managed to draw strength and hope from our family, friends and our faith. It was not easy, and it took years to get our lives back on track. However, after emerging from that dark time, we found we were stronger and more confident at tackling the problems life threw our way. I managed to do well in school, earned an appointment to the United States Air Force Academy, and now almost three decades later, I'm blessed to lead the 6th Mission Support Group and influence the lives of thousands of people. I encourage each of you to share your stories of strength and resiliency with our younger Airmen to show them that life will throw challenges their way. However, those times will pass and with the help of family, friends, and a hope for the future, they can emerge even stronger and more confident than before.