Senior leaders talk commitment

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Nicole Sikorski
  • 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Being a 24/7 Airman sometimes requires service members to make personal sacrifice. According to senior leaders at Ramstein Air Base, in a career where being away is common, making deliberate time for your loved ones is paramount in upholding balance and happiness in a partnership.

Four senior leaders and their spouses gathered at the Ramstein Community Center, Jan. 22, 2015, to speak about how to make marriage withstand the test of time.

Maj. Gen. Timothy M. Zadalis, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa vice commander and his wife Carol, Brig. Gen. Jon T. Thomas, 86th Airlift Wing commander and his wife Leah, Chief Master Sgt. James Davis, USAFE-AFAFRICA command chief and his wife Pat, Chief Master Sgt. Phillip Easton, 86th AW command chief and his wife Yolanda, all attended the panel to speak with Airmen and their families about what has gotten them through more than 20 years of marriage in total.

"What I really appreciated about the forum was that there was a chance for (experienced couples) to talk about (lessons they have learned) with more than 25 years of marriage (each)," said Easton. "My wife and I jumped at the opportunity to provide the advice we can... All four couples (agreed) that our marriages aren't perfect, and there is no such thing... You just have to continue to work at it."

Yolanda continued to explain what techniques have helped a continued effort to maintain a strong relationship.

"One thing that has worked for us is organization and being deliberate," said Yolanda. "I think sometimes when you're newly married you think 'spontaneous'--you think everything should be spontaneous... As you get busier and your life gets busier with your children and your jobs, that spontaneity may not always happen the way it used to."

Along with organization and time management, both Thomas and his wife Leah, spoke about the importance of making their children a top priority.

"We always make sure our kids feel successful," said Leah. "We make sure they have their own identities wherever they move... As far as balance with our family, it is always (important to schedule things and let 'Ty' know) what's going on with the kid's sports and making sure we stick to that, so he (can plan in advance). With that, he can balance his family and his work."

In addition to making all of their busy schedules flow, Thomas spoke about the importance of taking advantage of down time when possible.

"There are times when it's not quite so busy," said Thomas. "It's perfectly reasonable for you to expect the Air Force to ease off a little bit, and for you to get a little bit more time with your family because (eventually) there is going to be a surge time."

According to leaders, not only is time management important in strengthening life at home--flexibility is also key.

After giving a background on each of their marriages, leaders answered questions and gave advice to Airmen on how to deal with adversity.

The biggest pointers that the experienced couples offered were that above all else it takes three things: communication, commitment and compromise.

"Communication is key," said Pat. "You have to be committed. You have to be committed to the person, to the marriage and to the family... Lastly, would be compromise. I know we would all like to have our way--me included. We have made it 26 years and plan to make it more, because I learned to compromise. He's a great compromiser, but I wasn't, so I had to learn that everything can't always go my way... We have to do what's best for us, not just me."

Easton further added his experience with learning to compromise to build a stronger relationship.

"If there is one thing that I've learned in these 25 years," explained Easton. "It is all about compromise. It took me ten years to realize I can't change her. The first ten years I tried to change her... There are things that I do to aggravate her, and (there are) things that she does that aggravate me, even to this day... The only person you can change is yourself. You can compromise and not allow those things to aggravate (you,) and change (you)."

According to Maj. Janelle Quinn, 86th Medical Group practice manager, it was a great opportunity to hear leaders speak about relatable experiences in their marriages and their perspectives on putting family first. 

"Serving in the United States Air Force has been one of the greatest achievements of my life," she said. "While I get misty-eyed thinking about all that has been good, I cannot help but reflect that my career has not been a crystal stair.  It's had tacks in it, and splinters, and boards torn up.  However, I'd be willing to do it all over again if I could serve under a leader who understands that we should put our people and their families first.  When we do that, our people are better prepared to focus on the mission.

While I'm technically no longer a newlywed, the takeaway for individuals working to keep their marriage strong is to ensure we keep our family as our first priority."

All of the couples agreed that compromise was the biggest lesson in their relationships.

"Falling in love is easy," said Carol. "Staying in love takes work."