Adopting the Family Name

  • Published
  • By Col. William A. Spangenthal
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing
 Although most of us celebrated the New Year Jan. 1, the Chinese New Year began Jan. 31. I know this because my wife Alisa and I traveled to China two years ago to adopt our youngest son Hudson.

Chen Fu Xing (Hudson) was living in a poor rural area and was being raised by a foster family. We arrived Feb. 2012 and spent two weeks traveling to many locations before finally completing all our adoption paperwork and returning home. As you can imagine, Hudson's transition from his old family to his new family was not always easy and required substantial patience from all of us. Even at his young age, we could see glimpses of how his foster family and their culture had positively influenced his development in many ways.

Now, two years later, Hudson is thriving with us and has clearly adopted Spangenthal traits that make us very proud. This transition got me thinking about all the new Airmen that arrive at Altus AFB. Today's American Airmen are incredibly diverse representing different gender, races, religions, cultures and societal backgrounds. In many ways, we could not be more different, and that is an incredible thing! However, this varied diversity sometimes causes confusion for our Airmen as they have difficulty transitioning into their new family while still holding onto incompatible remnants of their previous life.

When we take the oath of office as Airmen, we are literally set apart from all other members of society. We represent the one percent of the United States' population that has answered a call to military service. We do this selflessly and honorably. We hold ourselves to an extremely high standard and enforce a strict set of core values: Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence In All We Do. Our success depends upon these core values as they are the building blocks in developing every Airman and ultimately our Air Force family.

These core values are absolute and non-negotiable. They are inherent to the name we wear proudly every day, U.S. Air Force. Still, there are two names on our uniform.

My other pocket proudly displays Spangenthal. That name reminds me of a proud heritage passed on from my parents. I recall the many lessons learned growing up in a military family and the messages they instilled in me: strength, perseverance, forgiveness, the value of a dollar, family first and more. I cannot imagine letting them down and tarnishing our family name.

I would encourage all our Airmen to reflect on the U.S. Air Force name as well. It too has a proud heritage with heroes who have fought and died for our country.

We have a legacy that spans back to the Civil War when Airmen took to the skies on reconnaissance missions in balloons and the Wright Brothers who launched us into fixed wing aviation. We've bravely fought in two World Wars and many others protecting our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines from all airborne threats while also attacking strategic targets in depth. Our Air Force name must not and cannot be tarnished. Its legacy is too precious and we owe it to our fallen Airmen and our Nation to provide our very best.

Let me circle back to family. Retired Chief Master Sgt. Jim Dowell used to remind Airmen, "you joined the Air Force, we didn't join you." In short, Chief Dowell was simply stating that we want the best of everything they bring into the Air Force from their previous lives. Yet, they must leave behind behaviors and attitudes that are incompatible with our Core Values and would ultimately shame our family name. He is 100 percent correct.

Every one of us brings strengths and weaknesses from our past. Our job is to build upon those strengths and leave behind those weaknesses. This is a New Year. You have added the Air Force to your Family. It is absolutely the best Air Force in the world. Now, I challenge you to "Adopt the Family Name" and do everything you can to make it even better, your Nation is counting on you.