Surviving the loss of an Air Force family member
By Col. Deanna M. Burt, 460th Operations Group commander
/ Published April 23, 2014
BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Recently, Team Buckley lost a member of our Air Force family, Senior Airman Michael S. Snyder of the 460th Space Communications Squadron. It is never easy to lose someone, especially a wingman, but our efforts to honor the fallen and take care of the family they leave behind, brings us together as an Air Force family and in doing so, helps us manage the grief we feel with loss.
This sense of Air Force family makes us unique as a profession and makes serving in the military much more than just a "job." As part of honoring his memory, I'd like to share a little about Snyder, my thoughts on the importance of our Air Force values, and how that sets us apart from other professions.
Michael S. Snyder, was born February 6, 1991 in Bloomington, Ill. to Stacy and Sandra Snyder. He was an easygoing, fun-loving child who always had a smile on his face to compliment his distinctive laugh. Michael joined our Air Force family on May 24, 2011 at the Chicago Military Entrance Processing Station, with dreams of working in the avionics and electronics field. The Air Force granted his wish and sent him to Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. where he earned his 3D1X2 Cyber Transport Technician specialty and finished as a distinguished graduate.
Snyder arrived at Buckley AFB, his first duty station, on April 22, 2012. He hit the ground running and made countless contributions to his Air Force family both on and off duty. Michael was the consummate professional and expert at his job who was always the first to volunteer and help after hours. On April 9, 2014 his life was tragically cut short when he was struck by an SUV while riding his motorcycle on a beautiful Colorado evening.
What sets the military apart from other professions is that this tragic event resulted in much more than the loss of a coworker--we lost a member of our Air Force family. It is for this reason that when these tragedies occur; we roll up our sleeves, organize resources and quickly engage with precision and efficiency to take care of our own.
In the case of Snyder, the "we" involved the entire Team Buckley family - from the unit, to experts in the 460th Force Support Squadron, to senior leadership from across the base. Everyone was "all in" and took on duties and tasks ensuring we quickly took care of our fallen wingman and his family.
We quickly assigned Airmen to represent the Air Force in key positions which included an escort officer, a family assistance representative and a summary court officer. This team of professionals managed all personal affairs of the fallen to include ensuring the dignified transfer of remains, handling all financial support and ensuring every possible family need was met.
In Michael's case, the Team Buckley family flawlessly executed the processes described above. Through expert guidance from Araceli Searles, 460th Space Wing mortuary affairs officer, Buckley Airmen were able to take care of Michael and his family. Heroes that stepped up to take on these critical roles included John DeWitt, Milan Christi, Dale Ruybal, Chaplain Gary Coburn, military family life counselors, Barbara Atwell, Lt. Col. Hew Wells, Master Sgt. Brandy Sharp, Senior Master Sgt. Brian Lavigne, 1st Lt. Brian Thorn, 2nd Lt. Josh Huckabee, Senior Master Sgt. Phil Weingart and the entire 460th SCS.
The support and teamwork of our Air Force family was eye watering and heart felt. Snyder's memorial on April 14 and final salute on April 15 were fitting tributes to honor our fallen family member. I share this so we may never forget the importance of our Air Force family and the values we hold dear. In times of great struggle or loss, we turn to each other and fully support the time-honored tradition to take care of our own.
I have never been more proud to serve and call myself an Air Force family member after seeing how Team Buckley responded and handled the loss of Snyder with the utmost professionalism and care. It is a privilege to wake each day, put on my uniform, and like all Air Force family members, pull my share of the load and serve with honor. My hope is that each of you feels the same.