ALI AL SALEM AIR BASE, Kuwait --
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.
When the time came for the state of Georgia to deploy Air National Guard members to the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility, a mother and two of her children were called upon to serve--brother and sister–were sent to Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, while their mother was sent to an undisclosed location in Southeast Asia.
Yet the origins of this truly unprecedented family affair started much earlier. For the Lopez Falcon family, mother, daughter and son all underwent a unique shared experience within a year of each other and experienced the trials and tribulations associated with military service without the typical differences in generational, cultural and social norms.
This once-in-a-lifetime moment is one that not many embark on–enlisting in the United States Air Force.
“My mom always wanted to join,” said U.S. Air Force 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 Jennifer’s mother, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Joanna Lopez Falcon, an operations specialist with the 332th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron, first considered enlisting, she was living in Puerto Rico with her husband. She was 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 first 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; 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.”
Not only can joining the Air National Guard go from a birthday wish to a reality, but it can also be an unique opportunity to serve in a variety of ways.
“Many people don’t realize that the Air National Guard can provide an excellent opportunity to serve your community, state, and nation even if you don’t join until your middle to late 30s,” said Col. Joseph Howell, 9th Air Force (Air Forces Central) Air National Guard advisor to the U.S. Air Forces Central commander.
Once Joanna joined the Georgia Air National Guard and her daughter followed, the family became known on drill weekends as “The Falcon Family” and were 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]. I cannot treat them differently, because you don't want to take advantage of the relationship.”
“It is not uncommon for a parent and child to both serve in the same Air National Guard unit,” said Howell. “This story is unique in that, not only do two children serve with their mother, there was an amazing opportunity for the family to meet up while mobilized and deployed overseas to support the mission in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.”
As luck would have it, when the time to re-deploy came, Joanna, had a chance to stop at Ali Al Salem Air Base for a few days while in transit and reunited with her two children during their deployment.
“Every day, thousands of Air National Guard members are deployed worldwide just like any other airman in the Air Force,” said Howell. “Having provided crucial service to the nation, these Total Force airmen then redeploy back to their civilian employers and loved ones.”
The sacrifices shared by this dynamic family of Airmen is nothing short of inspiring and quite literally spans the globe, as Joanna travels home to her youngest son, aged 15, who also plans to enlist when he comes of age.