Framily gets it, keeps me together

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kali L. Gradishar
  • 460th Space Wing Public Affairs
A little background: This is my fourth assignment in eight years. The last two assignments were overseas, coupled with deployment and temporary duties across Western and Eastern Europe. After nearly four years overseas, I was ready to step foot on American soil, but the transition back to America and my home state has been surprisingly rough.

I count myself as lucky, though, because I have something that will keep me going until "fake it 'til you make it" becomes "actually making it."

I've got framily.

Eight years ago, I decided to change my life - to enlist. I made a decision that uprooted me from my home state of Colorado, and I traveled the world.

I was living the dream in every bit of the sense, young and carefree. The world was at my fingertips, and I sensed that I could accomplish anything, go anywhere, be anyone. Throw around any cliché about fulfillment, and I was that. From Washington to Germany to Turkey and back to Colorado, I spent nearly half a decade around the world from the people I care about most. I loved and lost, I traveled, I saw, I sacrificed, and then I loved more.

It was in the transition from Turkey back to my home state I made what seems to be my life's greatest realization thus far. Honestly, the transition sucked. What I needed, and what I'm thankful the Air Force enabled for me, was to be closer to the family I left eight years ago. I came back to my family. Then, my family left.

My realization. It floored me.

I saw so clearly that the people I knew were no longer the people who knew me. Maybe visits weren't enough. A week, two weeks or a month of leave. That wasn't enough time to allow them to know me - me as an adult, a supervisor, a grown woman, a homeowner, a deployer, an Airman. I wasn't the buoyant, impulsive teenager who left for San Antonio less than a decade ago. I had grown into something bigger, someone better, someone stronger. Maybe I didn't show them enough of me to get it or maybe they didn't try hard enough to see it.

My realization. It showed me. My family is important. But my "framily" keeps me together.

When I was six, I met the first member of my framily. She wore sweats. I wore dresses. Our differences are what keep us together.

When I was 22, I met another. I was warned. "She hugs," a fellow Airman told me. Good lord, she's not really going to hug me. ... Is she? Probably millions of hugs and foot squeezes later, she's still framily. She's also my first Air Force-issued framily member.

When I was 23, I learned about the security forces career field from an Airman who had spent too much time standing in the rain watching vital, but inanimate, objects. I saw that he had his own framily, a tight-knit group of security forces members who embraced their duties together. I admired this. I knew I wanted him on my team, too. That man became my framily. Then he became my family.

That same year, nervous as all hell for my first deployment on a team traveling from Iraq to Afghanistan to Pakistan, I met the latest addition to my framily. We both wear sweats. She was the only person who mentally prepared me for what I was about to witness: war-torn countries, corruption, poverty, sadness, death, sometimes triumph. "You'll be fine" wasn't what I was looking for. I wanted at least a morsel of an idea what to expect when I got my boots on the ground. She told me.

My realization enlightened me. I can't live without my framily. Restated: I would not survive without my framily. The Air Force didn't really provide my framily, but it put the pieces in place for us to find one another and stay together.

I came back to this state to be with my family, but my family isn't here. They left for the next chapter of their lives, just as I did eight years ago. I'm happy for them, but I wish we could have spent a little longer together to make up for all the missed holidays, birthdays and celebrations. I will never be able to make up for all the time I missed. My framily gets that. They feel it with their families, too.

It took me this long to realize that people who don't know my world, our world as service members, will never understand. They may not understand my instinct to protect, to heal, to get involved when others don't. They may not understand the things I've seen or heard or felt. The things I've said and the actions I've taken. The times I've yelled. The times I've taken the brunt of the yelling. 

My framily gets it. They know what it looks like when composure is lost, when composure is nearly lost and can only be gathered by quickly stepping away, and when keeping composure is all we have to hold to.

They have to get it. Because getting it, and getting it together, is how we keep it together. I wouldn't be where I am without my framily. I started my framily at 6 years old, but the Air Force has enabled my framily to grow in numbers and in strength. When I sense an avalanche of adversity coming my way, I can tell life to bring it on because standing behind me is a framily and family ready for anything.