Air Force News Service
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. — In a special edition of CHIEFchat, the Air Force’s senior enlisted leader and his wife sat down with a group of Airmen and their dependents for a candid conversation about family life in the force.
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody joined his wife, retired Chief Master Sgt. Athena Cody, in the round-table talk, which covered a variety of topics of concern to service families, from deployments and child care to lingering challenges on the road to same-sex marriage equality.
The meeting allowed Airmen and their families to share their own stories directly with the service’s top enlisted Airman, and hear his families take on combining family life with a career in blue.
“Athena and I have been doing this for a long time and we’ve grown up in our Air Force,” said Cody, who met his wife when both served as air traffic controllers. “We started out very young together. (We had) a lot of growing up to do. The Air Force, I think, helped us do that.”
Cody recalled being at his first duty station at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, when the couple expanded their family with the birth of their son.
“We started out overseas, which created a little bit of a different dynamic for us because we didn’t have immediate family to fall right back on,” he said. “So we learned quickly to rely on each other for a lot. That doesn’t mean we did it right, but we understood pretty quickly (how important we are to each other).”
Athena Cody retired from the service as a chief master sergeant in January 2011. Addressing the con-cerns of young women who fill demanding roles as mothers and professionals in uniform, she offered unique insight as a senior enlisted veteran and the Air Force senior enlisted leader’s spouse.
“We try to be that super woman, trying to do it all, not asking for help,” she said of military mothers. “And what we do is we set the dynamic for the family. In doing so, we overwhelm ourselves and leave no space for ourselves. You have to let that super woman cape down and let someone help you.”
Moving away from home and familiar support systems can cause some civilian spouses to experience a heightened sense of dependency on the military member, Cody acknowledged; she called on military members to support their partners by purposefully connecting them to the military community.
“When you bring somebody into this (military) family … You, as the member, have a responsibility to make sure your family is connected so they know what programs are out there,” she said. “That doesn’t mean you tell them to go to the Airman and Family Readiness center, it means you go with them. It means you introduce them to (resources). You plug them back in, so they can find a level of independence again.”
Athena said the military member is responsible for making sure a care and communication plan is in place to support family members. One underutilized tool, she added, is the Air Force’s Key Spouses Program, which is designed to enhance readiness and establish a sense community among military families. The program connects spouses with community peers, commanders and community and aid agencies.
“Where it is in place and working, (the program) is fantastic,” she said. “I’ve had so much exposure to places where it is really functioning — it is really very powerful because not only do they know about all those military programs, this is a group of spouses who know how to tap into (a variety of programs and resources).”
After hearing from children and parents in the room, the chief said it is important to realize that every family situation is different and there is no single solution to the difficulties of military life.
He encour-aged families to make use of the resources the military community offers and to find solutions that work for them.
“What we did worked for us and our family. It will not work for everybody,” he said. ”This idea that everybody will fit into this sort of mold — it’s never going to be that way … The good thing about our military family is that we’ll always find a way to take care of each other.”
The discussion went beyond traditional families and highlighted Airmen in same-sex relationships, who have only recently gained the ability to share and live their relationships openly.
Cody expressed that while the opening of the military to same-sex spouses and partners has benefited service members worldwide already, work remains to be done in ensuring equal benefits and protections are made available to all Air Force families.
“Like everything, it took time to get to the right place, but I believe we are,” he said. “And as we’re working through (these changes), we need to make sure everything is adjusted so we’re not excluding anybody … We learn all the time.”
Among the obstacles toward full equality are legal complications and concerns involving the status of forces agreements (SOFAs) with host nations.
“We don’t want to put any of our service members or their families in a situation that is untenable or unresolvable,” Cody said. “We just have to work through those challenges, but I’m confident we’ll continue to do that and get to the right place.”
Cody said that growing diversity within the force is one of its core strengths into the future, as Airmen take on a variety of duties in a shrinking force structure. The willingness of Airmen to serve their country brings special demands, but there is also great appreciation for today’s Airmen and Air Force families who serve as volunteers around the world.
“Athena and I, more than anything, appreciate who you are and what you do (for) your families.” he said. “We appreciate what you do every single day, understanding that each of you serves in a different way. The situations are just a little bit different, just like in every family. But nonetheless, you do it; you step up to it, face the challenges and get it done.”
CHIEFchat is a recurring initiative, designed to give Airmen around the world a direct connection to the chief master sergeant of the Air Force.