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Military family deploys together, reunites in Kuwait

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Natalie Filzen
  • 386 AEW Public Affairs

ALI AL SALEM AIR BASE, Kuwait -- It is common for young adolescents to feel as if their parents or guardians cannot understand their trials and tribulations as typically generational, cultural and social norms have shifted in the time from when their parents or guardians underwent those same experiences.

For the Lopez Falcon family, however, mother, daughter and son all underwent a unique shared experience within a year of each other. This once-in-a-lifetime moment is one that not many embark on–enlisting in the United States Air Force.

While many of the challenges of basic military training and the military lifestyle have lasted over the years, there have been some progressions with certain practices as society has evolved. Although children may have parents or guardians who went through BMT decades ago, buildings, military training instructors and attitudes have changed. Yet, the Lopez-Falcon family has been able to share stories of MTIs, B.E.A.S.T. weeks, rituals and the atmosphere of a military training environment in the modern day era. This allowed them to bond over shared moments and similar contemplations.

“My mom always wanted to join,” said Senior Airman Jennifer Lopez Falcon, a customer support journeyman with the 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron. “But she had obstacles hit her way, so she had to push back her dream, to help my dad pursue his.”

When their mother, Joanna Lopez Falcon, an operations specialist with the 332th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron at an undisclosed location in Southeast Asia, first considered enlisting in the United States military, she was living in Puerto Rico with her husband. She had just gotten pregnant, and they had both recently lost their jobs due to the stock market crash. Her husband had already taken and passed the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery exams, so it was her husband who first enlisted, joining the United States Army and moving the entire family to North Carolina, then Georgia.

“[My husband] was deployed often and I didn't want to leave my kids,” said Joanna. “When I was 34 I wanted to join the U.S. Army since my oldest was already 14, but they said 32 was the cut off.”

As her oldest son became an adult, she suggested he join the Air National Guard as a consideration for part-time work.

“She's the one that helped me find where I'm stationed currently, because I was initially going to join the reserves,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ernesto Lopez Falcon, a force support services journeyman with the 386th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron. “But then she found the Georgia Air National Guard.”

Her daughter had a similar story when she enlisted in the Air National Guard right after high school.

“I did a lot of research when I was in high school with the different branches and what I could go into,” said Jennifer. “My mom pushed me towards the Guard. I'm glad she did because I wouldn't be here without her.”

As for Joanna’s story, it happened to be a little bit of fate. Her son’s Air National Guard recruiter had called the house looking for him, and she took a chance and asked what the cut off age was, thinking it was likely also 32. Instead, it was 40. Her son recounted the story.

“My mom just asked the question, ‘What's the age limit to join the military?’” Ernesto said. “When they responded with 40, she said, ‘Oh, I'm too old’. They had asked her how old she was, and she let them know she was coming up on 40. And he said, ‘We can still get you in.’ And they got her the day before her 40th birthday.”

Once she joined the Georgia Air National Guard and her daughter followed, the family became known on drill weekends as “the Falcon family.” They could be seen around the base having lunch together or visiting each other at their respective shops.

“When I'm home, I'm still the mother,” said Joanna. “But when we're in uniform, they are my wingmen, and they are respected as such, [calling each other by our rank and last name].”

While it is common in family businesses for parents to work with their children or extended family, it is less common in an institution such as the military.

“I cannot treat them differently, because you don't want to take advantage of the relationship,” said Joanna.

When the time came for the state to deploy Air National Guard members to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, all three were selected to go. Two of the three--brother and sister–were sent to Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait. When they have time, they will go to the gym and attend base events together.

Their mother, Joanna, was sent to an undisclosed location in Southeast Asia, however, she had a chance to stop at Ali Al Salem Air Base for a few days in April while in transit. AASAB is the busiest aerial port in the AOR supporting ongoing Operations Inherent Resolve and Freedom’s Sentinel with a yearly average of 400 monthly missions, delivering approximately 3,500 tons of cargo and 9,500 personnel. Given that AASAB is a hub for transient movement, she and her two children were able to reunite during their deployment.

They also have a little brother, aged 15, who also plans to enlist when he comes of age.