SOUTHWEST ASIA --
It’s very common to hear service members thank their families for the emotional support while they are deployed.
It’s with this support service members have found it possible to make it through missed anniversaries, birthdays and other monumental occurrences.
For Chief Master Sgt. Ralph Chandler, 385th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron Det. 2 chief, it was no different, but on his most recent deployment, that support was a little closer than normal.
As a child, joining the military was always something that weighed on his mind, especially with his family history of making the service commitment and his great uncles who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving during WWII.
“Growing up knowing that story and having a strong connection to it was always in my mind, as well as my dad who was a 30-year U.S. Army Guardsman and retired as a Sgt. 1st Class,” Ralph said.
So after attending college for a few years, he found himself not feeling fulfilled and decided to follow in his family’s footsteps and joined the active duty Air Force.
“I was an aircraft armament systems specialist,” he explained. “I was a weapons loader on F-15s, and soon after F-117s.”
It was during this time he and his wife, Teresa, would start their family.
While stationed at Holloman Air Force Base their family grew, Sarah and Alana were introduced to the Air Force family.
But, he would face a tough decision shortly after the birth of his middle child, Alana.
“It was the decision of do I stay in and take these orders to Kunsan Air Base, or do I get out and go to the Guard,” he said.
With a family background in the guard, he recalled how it was a good atmosphere for he and his brothers and decided it would be a good way forward for he and his family.
In 1994 he would sign with the Ohio Air National Guard in Springfield, and would retrain as a machinist and welder.
This allowed them to move back to their hometown of Norwalk, Ohio, where his youngest daughter, Madison, would be born.
After a few years at Springfield he then transferred to an Air National Guard unit in Mansfield, his current duty station, and would deploy shortly there after.
Deployments would become somewhat frequent for Chandler. One deployment in particular would stand out more for his youngest daughter, Staff Sgt. Madison Chandler, 779th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron aviation resource manager.
She recalled in 2012 when she was a sophomore in high school as being one of the most difficult.
“My sister, Alana, was a senior and we got to play varsity volleyball together,” she said. “Not having our dad there was really tough, because he was our number one supporter.”
While this time was one that she remembers vividly, it didn’t steer her away from wanting to follow in her father’s footsteps.
In the fall of her senior year she approached her dad with a statement that caught him off guard.
“She said, ‘Dad, I think I want to join the Guard,’” Ralph explained.
Without hesitation, he offered to take her to base to speak with other Guardsmen in the career field she was thinking about joining, aviation resource management.
“I met my co-workers, and I remember just feeling excited and knew that was what I wanted to do,” Madison said.
Still in her senior year, she enlisted, and in July of 2014 she would be off to basic training.
“That was a wake up call to the realization of what I got myself in to,” she said with a laugh. “I knew it was going to be a challenge, but I knew I was capable of doing it.”
After basic she would immediately head to tech school in November of 2014.
“He came down to watch me graduate,” she said as she looked at her Dad. “Along with my sister Alana, they surprised me and when I got to see them that was the best surprise ever.”
After a few years of going to school full time and working in the Guard part time, Madison would be notified of her first deployment.
Little did she know her dad could very well be deploying at the same time.
Ralph had been in an accident and was uncertain about his ability to deploy, but once he was cleared he prepared for ‘another’ deployment.
“At first it really didn’t sink in,” Ralph said. “I was like, ‘alright, it’s another deployment and Madison is going to be coming over with me’.”
For Madison this provided a little bit of insight on what to expect since her dad would already be at the location for a while before she arrived.
“I was excited, I knew I wouldn’t feel homesick with him here,” she explained.
With roughly half of his deployment down, it really started to sink in that Madison was about to be there with him.
“It honestly didn’t hit me until I was here and holy moly my daughter is going to be here pretty soon,” he explained. “It really gave me something to look forward to.”
The days dwindled until the day of her arrival.
“Greeting her as she stepped off that plane was pretty amazing,” he said with a grin.
Joining the Guard provided a chance for them to work together and ultimately serve down range together, which brought that family support to the deployed location.
With the possibility of this being Chief Chandler’s last deployment, it was all the more special knowing he was here for his daughter’s first.
The proud family tradition of service for the Chandlers will be in steadfast hands with Madison.