• Published
  • By Lt. Col. Carl Bottolfson
  • 21st Operations Group

Community is a term we hear brought up a lot during commander’s calls, public service announcements and in the media. It has different meanings and different significance to everyone. From the Air Force perspective, community normally includes the base populace or the Airmen within our squadrons. Essentially, it is any social group, like our neighbors or a group of people we share a close connection with and depend upon. As I have come to observe over my years on active duty, how we define and experience community is determined largely by the type of installation upon which we reside. Some postings facilitate stronger bonding. With others, we are scattered about town and rarely interact outside the workplace. How we define community, or how it is comprised, is not as important as the extent to which we are actively a part of one, and that our community supports our lives and the lives of our fellow Airmen and their families. But why is community important? As I saw first-hand, an individual’s community helps them navigate the darkest of times and shares in their achievements. It is a support mechanism that helps us build resilience tools and shapes who we ultimately become. It offers us opportunities to help others in their time of need and provides us a strong foundation from which we grow.

From the very beginning of our Air Force careers, we are immediately introduced to a version of community. However, it is normally our first duty station where we start seeing the broader impacts and benefits of community. Geographically-isolated bases and units where there is a clear sense of mission tend to form tighter communities out of necessity, out of a sense of shared purpose, or in some cases, adversity. Deployments are the obvious example of where a community forms for the service member and those at home. In the 21st Space Wing, we have those that deploy, but the wing is also unique in that we have many unaccompanied assignments in austere locations. These assignments are the most challenging. Not as much for the active duty member, but more so for their families, especially if the family is not close to a military installation. Without active measures by the community to include the family, they can easily be left out or unaware of community activities and support forums. It is important that we take extra steps to reach out to the families of those serving on an unaccompanied tour. I have seen families struggle too many times when the military community could have helped. Making the initial connection is the most difficult step. One such opportunity is the wing’s monthly Deployed Family and Community Dinner. This venue offers a wonderful chance to build new bonds and reaffirm the old. We often focus on the deployed, but as we have many families in the area with spouses stationed afar, this setting is truly intended for all.

This is not to say only military members and their families form our community. In Colorado, we depend greatly on the local community for support, and together we make this area greater. Colorado has a large number of former military residents, and it shows through the state’s hospitality and comradery with those that are serving, and those that have served. With less than one percent of the population currently serving, it will be imperative that we as leaders make a greater effort at reaching out to our comrades and ensure the military community lives on. Our special military community is perhaps our greatest strength, but it is something that must be nurtured so we can continue being the world’s greatest Air Force.