BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan --
Past and present military members often bond through a shared sense of purpose, sacrifice and commitment to the mission. They create lasting friendships that can build into a family dynamic—and that dynamic can be even more amazing when they’re actually blood relatives.
James, Jeffrey and Matthew Sattler have all served in the Air Force and share the experience of deploying and sacrificing their time with family for something they believed in. While each one was proud to deploy and be part of something bigger, they each left knowing they would miss the birth of a child—a life-changing family event, and a time when bonding is incredibly important.
The eldest Sattler brother, Jeffrey, was deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm when he missed his first child’s birth.
Jeffrey starting dating his Kelda, now his wife, during his senior year of high school. He had enlisted in the Army Reserve in San Antonio, Texas, completed his basic training during the summer between his junior and senior year of high school, and then completed his advanced individual training after graduation.
Midway through college he married Kelda and joined an ROTC program. After commissioning, he was stationed in Germany as a tank platoon leader in 1987. He stayed through the fall of the Berlin wall and the reunification of East and West Berlin.
After being married for five years, they decided to start a family. In the summer of 1990, they found out Kelda was pregnant. Jeffrey recalls assuring Kelda that they would never take tanks out of Germany, and there would be no reason for him to leave.
“It was right after Halloween when I heard that the 1st AD was being deployed to Operation Desert Shield,” Jeffrey said. “I wasn’t sure what it all meant but I quickly realized it probably meant I was going to Saudi Arabia and leaving my wife to have her first baby in a foreign country.”
Communication was primarily limited to letters during that time—no video chats or emails to stay connected with his pregnant wife. The way he found out he was a father was a bit unconventional.
“I remember getting a radio message from the battalion commander that he wanted to see me about some paperwork,” Jeffrey said. “I was so upset and didn’t know why it couldn’t wait until the morning. When I got to the TOC, the commander made up some story about me making errors on paperwork and then continued with, ‘That’s just not what I expect from the father of a brand new baby boy!’”
Jeffrey said he was completely speechless and didn’t know how to react.
“I was so focused on the mission I was doing that I was surprised to find out Kelda had given birth to a beautiful 10-pound baby boy,” he said.
Although he missed the birth of his son, he made a sacrifice for the mission. Jeffrey eventually transitioned to become an Air Force as a judge advocate officer and retired as a colonel.
Matthew, the second eldest Sattler brother, went on his first deployment to the U.S. Central Command Joint Operations Center as the joint operations center executive officer while his wife Sara was pregnant with their fourth child.
Although this was a stateside deployment, he was geographically separated from his family and missed the birth of his fourth child.
“My main concern during the deployment was how my wife would be able to manage three kids, two under the age of five and one in high school, while she was pregnant,” Matthew said. “I knew she was up to the challenge, but that didn’t make things any easier on me.”
Matthew recalled his biggest struggle was not being able to help solve problems from afar.
“It was constantly worrying about my family back home,” Matthew said. “We would try to talk on the phone as much as possible, but I worked the night shift throughout my deployment. For me the most important thing was going to be seeing my wife and kids again because I know they had missed me as much as I did them.”
Although the separation was difficult, they had built a strong support system to help alleviate the stress.
“The whole time I was anxious, scared and a little bit angry… I had so many emotions,” Sara said. “It was a significant challenge to overcome the day-to-day grind, but our church friends really stepped up to help in any way they could.”
Lt. Col. James Sattler, who is currently deployed as the deputy chief of plans and programs for the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing headquartered at Bagram Airfield, said the struggle to find a balance is still ongoing.
“Immediately upon learning about the deployment, my concerns were of my wife and how hard this would be for her physically and emotionally,” James said. “My heart sank at the thought that I would not be there to help during the pregnancy and the delivery. But, I also knew that we had built such an amazing support network of friends, family and co-workers that in my absence would look after my family.”
As the deputy chief of plans and programs at the 455th AEW, James provides advice and coordination for plans and programs affecting the wing, including coordinating all airfield use and requests for Bagram, Kandahar and Jalalabad Airfields, and running base and airfield exercises. He also manages the wings operations security program. Prior to deploying to Afghanistan in October, he was serving as an engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.
“I still feel guilty for not being there to help my wife Jean Marie with things as simple as chores and daily challenges associated with raising three kids while being pregnant,” James said. “I found that it helped to use the USO reading program in order to record myself reading books to my kids and sending those back home so they could have a little piece of their father while I’m gone.”
His youngest son, Eli, was born in February. James said he is looking forward to holding and rocking his baby boy and catch up on bonding time with all of his kids.
“The entire time before the deployment I just wanted to reassure my husband,” Jean Marie said. “He always puts us first, and I could tell he was worried about how to take care of us from afar. I think that the distance throughout all of these trials has ultimately served to strengthen our communication and devotion to each other.”
Although each of the Sattler brothers sacrificed pivotal family events to fulfill their missions, they all spoke proudly about their deployments and the impacts they had in protecting their friends and family back home.
“I honestly believe that the families that stay home are the unsung heroes of the story,” James said. “They are equally part of the mission and are sacrificing for something bigger than themselves as well. Members of my family have been serving for generations and maybe someday my children will take an oath and volunteer to serve their country.”
The 455th Air Expeditionary Wing is the Air Force’s premier counterterrorism wing in Afghanistan. The wing supports Operation Freedom’s Sentinel and the NATO Resolute Support mission, and provides decisive airpower throughout the region.