Born in the military: One family’s legacy of service

by Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton
379th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton)
(U.S. Air Force graphic/Senior Airman Benjamin Stratton)

7/26/2013 – SOUTHWEST ASIA — Military deployments are difficult for both the service member and the family members they leave behind. Being in a dual-military parent family doesn’t make it easier, but after nearly 50 years of combined service, the current Wakefields are continuing their family’s tradition.

“My great uncles served in the Army during WWII, my Dad was an Army mortar man, I’m an aircraft maintainer and now my son is an infantryman in the Marines,” said Chief Master Sgt. Gary Wakefield, the 7th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit chief deployed from Robins Air Force Base, Ga. “As soon as my youngest graduates high school, he’ll also join the Marines.”

For the Wakefields, the military has become a way of life that’s been passed down through the generations and as if by fate, the chief found himself a wife whose family also has a strong legacy of service.

“My Dad spent 23 years in the Air Force as basically a security police officer,” said Master Sgt. Dana Wakefield, assigned to the 94th Aeromedical Staging Squadron at Dobbins Air Reserve Base and working for the Air Force Reserve Management Group’s Training Management Branch at Robins AFB. “So I grew up in the life of the military child with father gone a lot and mom struggling to keep it all together.”

That sentiment is nothing new for (dual-) military families with at least one member gone every 20 months or less for various deployments, temporary duty assignments and unaccompanied one year “short” tours to places like Turkey and South Korea.

“I’m not going lie, it has been difficult at times leaving my family as often and as long as I have throughout my career,” the 25-year chief said. “But we pulled through it as a family and I believe these experiences have made us stronger.”

Not only was it hard for the chief, but those times dad was gone, were difficult for the family as well.

“All the deployments, unaccompanied tours and moving every two to four years does make you earn your pay check in very unexpected ways,” Dana said, who has served for nearly 23 years herself. “I thought it would be easier for me having grown up that way, but it has been just as hard, maybe harder as I struggle to balance being a mom and serve my country in uniform as well.”

Dana talked about how she’s felt during deployments, especially now both her husband and oldest son are deployed at the same time.

“In the past deployments, I have felt every dark emotion known to womankind,” she said. “You become needy in ways you can’t understand and you can’t explain. It is a strange situation because then they come back and while your new needs start to be filled, the deployment related needs stay unmet.”

Dana thinks this is why many spouses suffer from various forms of stress disorders and depression.

“You think all is fine when they come back and then another deployment comes and bam, you get it right in the kisser and it all comes flooding back and your fears return,” she said.

Deployments can be tough for military families, but Dana said the blessing is knowing they are coming home.

“While you are missing many areas of support from your spouse, your burden will lighten when they come home, especially if both of you work on the recovery after deployment,” she said. “Having my husband and my son deployed at the same time is very strange. I think I am over my initial fear and anxiety, though I do get very weak in the knees whether I am sitting down or standing up when I say, ‘They are both deployed.’ But then I focus on how very proud I am of both of them.”

Marine Pfc. Seth Wakefield, currently deployed to an undisclosed location in Africa, said it was his parents who really got him interested in the family business.

“I was always fascinated with the military and when Mom and Dad would sometimes come pick me up from school in their battle dress uniforms — I thought it was so cool,” Seth said. “I think anyone who has family in the military, even distant relatives, when you tell someone about it, you fill with pride.”

Seth is the older of the two Wakefield boys, who beat his younger brother, Gage, to the “Semper Fidelis” way of life.

But how do you go from growing up Air Force to joining the Marines?

“I wanted a challenge,” Gage said with a smile. “When I was little and my brother and I said we were going to be Marines, Mom would say, ‘Ok, if you want to make your mother cry.’ Now that we are older, she is happy with my choice, although she wishes I would be a linguist or Intel.”

Yet, like his brother, he plans to join the infantry.

“It gives me a sense of nationalism and pride,” said Gage. “I see from my parents that being in the military is a wonderful way of life that grants amazing opportunities for my future.”

Echoing his brother, Seth explained what it means to him to have such strong figures in the home.

“My Dad is an outstanding example for a young man to follow and I often times find myself in situations where I think of him and what he would do,” said Seth. “And just like any good Marine, I often find myself paving my own path right through the hardest route then thinking, ‘Shoot, I should have listened to him!’ No, but I’m thankful my Dad and Mom are such great examples of outstanding military personnel.”

That token holds true for how the chief and Dana feel of their son’s continued commitment to the family tradition of service.

“I’m proud of my boys,” the chief said. “What they’ve accomplished and plan to do with their lives — that commitment to service, like Dana and I have had, it is truly humbling to know your boys want to serve their country because you served.”

Dana added the military is their family business; it is passed down from father or mother to daughter or son.

“It is the way our family gives back to our community and our country,” she said. “I am very proud of the two patriots we have raised and my hopes for them are bright and shiny just like the stars on our flag. We have a great love of our country, and as my Mom would say, ‘Worts and all.'”

After more deployments, permanent changes of station, TDYs, etc., Dana and the chief said they couldn’t have done it without their family, friends and often times, complete strangers.

“I am grateful for the many Americans I meet almost every day who say, ‘Thank you for your service,'” Dana said.

Published by Benjamin W. Stratton

I'm a photojournalist traveling the world sharing what I experience along the way.

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