Today is Veteran’s Day and I am blessed to share with you words from someone who has inspired me greatly – my brother Tyler. Tyler is an officer in the United States Air Force and author of a new book “Leadership Yourself!” Tyler is the middle child in our large family and despite being a dorky kid who loved playing video games and drawing comics and illustrations, he has become someone worth emulating in so many ways. The only one of my siblings to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the first to complete a Bachelor’s degree, he has worked hard in life to serve God, family, and country. I love him, his wife, and their seven (soon to be eight) children. I believe his message will inspire you too.
The Unsung Heroes of the Military Family
On Veterans Day we honor and celebrate those who have served in the armed forces, and we do so appropriately. All military service requires some level of personal sacrifice and to some degree the risk to life itself, and we should applaud and express gratitude to all our veterans.
I am grateful to be a veteran, and grateful to still serve (going on 15 years). I love this country and our constitution, and have pledged to defend both to my last breath.
Every hardship of military life, the risk to life, time spent away, uncertainty of where we live, and so on, is shared by those closest to me – my family.
Several of my assignments have required extensively long hours away from home. I’ve been deployed, leaving entirely for months; we’ve moved several times, pulling our kids out of schools mid-year and away from their friends.
When I deployed, I was out of the home for six months. A six month sacrifice on my part. Mathematically, this could be reflected as a combined four years of sacrifice from my family.
For my youngest girls (at the time 1 and 3 years old) this absence was truly heart-wrenching.
During my time in the military I have worked with some of the best of men and women; heroes by every description. However, the heroes I deeply admire don’t receive parade or free dinners in their honor.
My heroes are my incredible wife, and my seven children. Not just by extension of my service, but because of the depth of their service and sacrifice.
My wife and children give up as much, if not (collectively) more than I do, and in this way they are my heroes. They are the ones who help me stay leveled and able to do the job.
The Essentials of a Successful Military Family
Becoming a successful family, despite the military challenge, comes down to commitment and interdependence. If commitment to the service becomes a competition with commitment to the family, then there are two masters, and sooner or later one of those, being left unserved, will fail.
Staying Committed to My Heroes During Deployment
Through our combined effort we managed to stay close in heart, despite the distance. During deployment, we did the following to stay committed and united as a family:
- I wrote letters, lots of letters. I wrote to my wife, of course, but I also wrote to each of my children, recognizing that each of them is unique and has different needs.
- Weekly dates. Each week my wife and I called each other on the phone and chatted as we went to a restaurant or walked around the city. We would send photos of the food we had, or interesting things we saw. In some ways, these dates were more informative than in-person dates and were easily the highlight of my time away.
- Facetime, or Skype calls were great (though buggy at times), and allowed me to watch the kids open Christmas presents and celebrate missed birthdays. This also allowed me to sit with each of the children and chat about what was on their mind.
- Sunday messages from Dad. Each Sunday I recorded a short video about some gospel principle on my mind and uploaded it to a shared drive as a way to continue the emphasis and importance of spiritual things in our home.
- Visits home. I was fortunate to get several short visits back home. These boosted our family’s love and togetherness, particularly for the littlest ones. Our 3-year old daughter smothered me the entire time.
- Long trips before and after. Both before I left and once I got back, we spent about a week together as a family, usually near the beach in Florida. Missed time can never be completely substituted this way, but it helped renew relationships.
Marriage and family success is in large part an exercise in teamwork: everyone has a role, everyone is needed, and everyone benefits. This is especially apparent within our military family, facing the challenges of uncertainty and absence.
Interdependence is a key principle of teamwork, heavily emphasized in military training and exercises. In essence, interdependence means I do my part and you do yours and together we survive and overcome the enemy. In a military unit this means one person carries the machine gun, one the radio, one the maps, one up front, one looking back, etc. etc. Everyone needs to perform their own role well and relies on everyone else to perform their roles, so the whole team can be effective.
That same principle in a family essential. I have to fill my role as father and husband and I am counting on my wife to fill hers as wife and mother and the children to fill theirs as students and helpers.
In that regard, my wife is a hero. She is a far better mother than I could ever be. She has comparatively more leadership experience than I do, leading seven very different little personalities through multiple challenges every day, for the last thirteen years. She helps drive the daily routine, focused on individual progress and service, including family prayers and scripture study.
She is a wonderful cook and ensures the physical needs of each child is being met. She gives her whole self to the success of our family and I am totally dependent on her for her unique contributions.
My wife is intelligent, educated, and quite capable of making a comfortable living in the world, but has chosen to use her talents to magnify the eight people immediately around her, and for that I consider myself among the most blessed of men on earth, nothing could be comparable to her real contribution. She is a hero, as true as any other I’ve met.
So, the next time you thank a veteran for their service, extend that thanks to their families who enabled them to serve. It is they who collectively sacrificed to defend our nation.
Tyler Warren is an artist and writer currently serving in the United States Air Force. He first joined the military in 2000 by enlisting in the Marine Corps. He has a BA in Economics and an MA of Innovative Leadership. Prior to becoming an instructor at Officer Training School, Tyler was the speechwriter to the Commander of Air Force Materiel Command. There he crafted strategic messaging for the 4-star Commander, Vice Commander, and Executive Director. He was honored to write speeches for the Air Force’s first female 4-star General Janet Wolfenbarger (now retired). Tyler enthusiastically volunteered for an assignment to Officer Training School where he served as a Flight Commander and Instructor. He directly trained approximately 150 newly commissioned Air Force Officers and presented leadership lessons to several thousand others. He just published a book sharing his insights on leadership called “Leadership Yourself.”
While assigned at OTS, Tyler deployed to Headquarters US Central Command. Tyler earned the prestigious Master Instructor Badge from Air Education and Training Command (AETC); an award given to only the top 5% of AETC instructors.
Tyler and his bride Andrea have seven children and reside in Alabama.