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Striking a balance

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- In addition to its primary purpose of honoring those who have given their lives in the defense of our nation, Memorial Day weekend also marked the beginning of summer. It was a time for cookouts, vacations, trips to the beach, fishing and also time for our families. However, for many in the 28th Bomb Wing, times like this will be cut short as we head out the door on, or return from, an Air Expeditionary Force deployment.

For the 34th Bomb Squadron, our AEF deployments have evolved to a six-month cycle on a two to one dwell. This means for every six months deployed we will spend one year home and then deploy again for six months. This leads toward many questions on sustaining the health of our B-1 fleet and the Airmen who maintain and fly them. However, one question consistently rises to the top: how can an Airman balance time between family and squadron while facing such a rigorous operations tempo?

One of my first squadron commanders gave me some great advice on striking a balance between work and family: "If you are the one who needs to be there - you need to be there."

Sometimes the squadron will need your expertise and sometimes your family will need you. Furthermore, when you are at the squadron, focus on the squadron, and when you are with your family, focus on your family. Your fellow flight members, assistant or supervisor will function well until you return. In fact, how well things go when you are away is a testament to how well your team is trained and how well you have trained your replacement.

We will likely be at war for many years and can expect six-month AEF deployments to continue. There will be many times that your expertise and your squadron's mission will take time from your family. It is an unfortunate, but necessary, sacrifice that we must make to prevail. However, many times does not mean always. While you are deployed the priority is fairly clear, but there are still times when your family may need your help. The key in these situations is to talk it over with your supervisor, first sergeant or commander. If you can't be there, your squadron can help you ensure that your family is cared for.

While you are in garrison, especially during the six months following a deployment, you should be able to give your family more time. Of course, operational readiness inspections and exercises and unit compliance inspections, plus a plethora of other obligations will make demands on your time. In these situations, the solution is the same as during a deployment - communicate. You won't be able to make every soccer game, but if you plan ahead and communicate with your chain-of-command, you should be able to make the basketball league championship or a once-in-a-lifetime Little League game when your child pitches for the first time.

On the other hand, if your family expects you to make every game it is likely they will be disappointed. It is just as important to communicate with them about your Air Force commitments, as it is to talk with chain-of-command about personal commitments. Your family must know that they are the most important part of your life, but the oath you took to serve our nation will sometimes require you to be away when you may want nothing more than to be home.

Throughout your career, you will need to balance time between your duties as an Airman with your duties as a family member. Different times will demand a different balance; there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Through communication with your chain-of-command and your family, you can maintain an appropriate balance and prevent your family or your performance in the squadron from suffering. However, the ultimate responsibility rests with you. You alone will need to decide if you are "the one who needs to be there" and plan accordingly to ensure you are.