SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
The Quevy family was learning to be resilient long before it was considered a buzz word in the U.S. Air Force.
Like a rubber band, resilience is being able to bounce back when life stretches an individual beyond their comfort zone. And like most situations, people do not understand their ability to bounce back until they are faced with a scenario expanding the normal threshold.
And if there were ever a family who experience the gamut of being stretched physically, emotionally, mentally, socially, or spiritually, Master Sgt. Alan Quevy, and his wife Cherry, during more than 20 years in the Air Force. Master Sgt. Quevy is assigned to the 97th Logistics Readiness Squadron, Altus Air Force Base, Okla., and Cherry is a civil servant working with the 82nd Training Wing at Sheppard AFB, Texas.
"It hasn't always been easy, nor has it always been fun, but ultimately, it made us realize how strong I really am," Cherry said. "I never realized I was that strong. I always thought, 'Oh my gosh, I could never go through that,' or 'I could never,' with deployments and the military life as a spouse. Not only did I have to go through it, I survived it. I have learned I can do more than what I originally thought. I, rather we, can step up to the plate."
The high school sweethearts were destined to be together. Both from military families, their fathers were assigned to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., at around the same time in the early 1990s. Cherry's family traversed 7,909 miles from Japan and Alan's family closed the gap of 4,462 from England. They came from across the world and met in the middle.
"We're from military families and both of our dads were stationed at Eglin around the same time," Alan said. "We ended up being the two new kids in school."
They hit it off immediately, becoming inseparable friends dating nearly the entirety of high school. Between their junior and senior year, their first son was born, saddling them with their first real challenges as a young couple.
"We faced a lot of challenges," he said. "Maturity was a big one for me. I was a young guy and had the dreams of wanting to go to the (National Football League)."
With a baby already in the house, the young couple accelerated their future marriage plans and tied the knot while in the last half of their senior year. Taking the early struggles in stride, Alan was recruited to play college football in Tennessee.
"We went through a lot of growing pains," he said. "We went to school for a year with our son. That was fun."
The struggles of being full-time students, working full time, and playing football for the college proved to be more than the young couple could handle. Since he was on full scholarship, the school dictated everything for him when it came to work, school, and training for the gridiron. This wasn't meant to be as they struggled to makes ends meet.
"As a man I couldn't stand the thought of not being able to provide for my family," he said. "A man is suppose to be able to provide for his family."
An Easy Decision
Having grown up military brats, they looked to the Air Force as a way to re-invent and establish themselves as a family.
"I've seen a good life in the military," he said. "We talked about it. We prayed about it, and we sat down decided one day this college thing is not going to work for us right now."
Dec. 5, 1995, the Quevys embarked on a new direction in their lives. He tearfully said goodbye to wife and son, and shipped off to Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio, Texas. This would be the first time he was away from either his wife or his son for more than a single day.
"I was starting a career and I would be able to hand my wife money that we could take care of our family with," he said. "I knew my family had health care, my family was going to have housing, and at that point, I really felt like a man."
During the six weeks of the Air Force Basic Military Training, one of the hardest things Cherry experienced, as well as the best, was waiting on the letters to arrive in the mail.
"Every single day, I would go to the mailbox," Cherry said. "It was hard because he wouldn't just write me, he would write A.J. too."
She said she would be fine reading the letters written for her. However, she would have to read the letters meant for their son out loud to him. They contained explanations of why he was gone for now and what he was doing. The letters would also contain an explanation of what their life would be like when he was done and how much he missed them. They experienced some hard nights at home away from Alan while in training. On most nights, their young son longed for his father to come home.
"I couldn't get through the letters, and A.J. would always ask me, 'mommy, are you gonna cry again,'" she said. "Those were long hard nights, but we knew at the end of that tunnel there was light. Dependents have to learn resilience alongside the military member."
Once it was time for Alan to graduate, it was difficult to contain the unbridled anxious excitement of their two-year-old son, dressed in a military uniform too, when they arrived at Lackland. Cherry saw how proud her husband was the first time she laid eyes on him during the basic training graduation.
"He was so proud of what he was doing," she said. "When he handed me those checks he said, 'Buy whatever we need to buy. Go get some clothes, get some shoes, whatever.' At that point, I've never been so proud of him that it humbled me."
In the days before direct deposit, he handed his wife his first military pay checks.
"I felt good because I could provide for my family," he said. "I was taking care of them. It was the first time I was seeing the results of my hard work paying off. It was for my family. "
And off they went. After six more weeks of technical training, the Quevys were bound for their first duty station in Clovis, N.M. After only 13 months and the birth of their daughter, they took off for an overseas assignment in Japan.
"It was good for both of us because we had to learn how to grow up," Cherry said. "What was difficult for me was the lonely times, when he was at work, or deployed, and you don't really know anyone yet. It was real lonely in the beginning."
Seven deployments and 20 years later, the Quevys have learned to be resilient. In the early days, technology was not as readily available and internet access wasn't in nearly every corner of the globe. Phone calls during deployments were strictly enforced 15 minutes. Real-time video chatting was a dream for the future, not now.
"(Being deployed for the first time) was a whole new experience," Alan said. "Leaving the family in a foreign country where only those on base spoke English was hard.”
"I think it is harder on the spouse than it is the military member," he said. "You cry and begin to miss the (family) when you first get on the plane. But, once you're there, you get so busy with the things you have to focus on doing your job, I think it's a lot easier."
While in each deployed location, Quevy fell into a routine between mission, meals, morale calls and downtime. Cherry was back at the house playing the role of both mom and dad, the compassionate one, the disciplinarian, the task master and the decision maker. Whether they were together or apart, at home or abroad, the Quevy family adapted to their environment through each challenge they faced.
"At any base, you kind of do become a family within the Air Force family," Cherry said. "It goes to show the importance of being supportive of one another. If it weren't for that, I don't think I would've built such a resilience so quickly."
As the months on the calendar were turned throughout the years, the master sergeant has missed a third of his children's young life to this point because of his military service, but he says he wouldn't change it for the world. The master sergeant has collected more than five years of days away from his family in a deployed environment, facing impossible situations against impossible odds.
"People have to realize this is service," he said. "Wearing this uniform means we are servants to this country. No matter where we get sent, that's what were' doing, serving the American people.”
"Life in the military isn't easy. You're going to experience good things, you're gonna experience bad things. There are times when you are going to have to do something that you don't know what the result is going to be, or how it's going to turn out. You have to have faith that you are doing the right thing, that what you're doing is going to have an impact."
During those times at home, Cherry experienced good things and bad things as well.
"It's a conspiracy. Everything falls apart while you’re gone," she said. "The cars break, the house falls apart, everything seems to come all at once when you guys leave. But when you come back, it's all fine."
"I learned as a military spouse how to really be able to bounce back from things you didn't think you would ever have to deal with, the loneliness, not knowing where to go or who to talk to," Cherry said. "Back then, we didn't have the Wingman concept. We all did what we had to do to help each other out."
The Air Force established the Wingman program to encourage Airmen and their families to look out for each other and to intervene when signs of stress are observed. The term Wingman stems from a time-honored tradition within our Air Force flying community that essentially says a lead pilot will never lose his/her Wingman. It's a promise, a pledge, a commitment between Airmen who fly. The Air Force wants to cultivate and instill this same culture of commitment between all Airmen and Air Force civilians in all career fields and specialties via the Wingman program.
Through that definition of the wingman concept, the Quevys would reach out to friends and family during times of need to make sure they were able to make it day in and day out. She explained that someone from her church once told her, "no matter what happens, no matter what you're going through, no matter how frustrated you are, don't ever let him know it." This statement didn't make sense to her and she immediately questioned its validity. Their explanation was, "he'll be able to do what he needs to do to get home safely if he thinks everything is okay at home. But if he's worried about you and the kids, then he will not be able to focus on his job and possibly get hurt."
"When someone told me that for the first time, it was the best advice someone could give me for that moment," she said. "There were times when I wanted to unload on him and tell him everything is falling apart and he needed to get home, but I would always tell him everything is fine and that we missed him."
Faith and Family
The master sergeant feels it's important for Airmen and their families to know their strengths and weaknesses. It's especially important during those hard times to know the ceiling on the stress any one individual can tolerate.
"No matter how strong we are, or we think we are, everyone has limits," he said. "Do not be afraid or prideful to reach out for help. Once someone loses control, they can't get it back. There is always the potential for things to happen that can shake us down to our core."
The core of the Quevys is in their faith in God. Not having the power to control anything from afar, Alan had to learn quickly to let go and let God.
"That's where my faith really grew," he said. "I was on the other side of the planet and there was nothing I can do, as much as I wanted to. I had to regularly pray and trust God would take care of it. There's no other way to do it. It's what kept me through the times in the deployment I wouldn't tell her about."
"Faith is what has brought our family through all of this," Cherry said. "We teach our children to pray for daddy. We ask God to protect him and send him home to us every night before we go to bed. We did our part, now we have to trust God."
The Quevys are potentially looking at the end of a 20-year career in the Air Force, and have no idea what the next 20 years will hold. One thing is for sure, they will lean on the confidence of knowing they can handle whatever is thrown at them because they've learned to be resilient, before being resilient was cool.
A ‘Thank you’ Gesture
This is the reason Brig. Gen. Patrick Doherty, 82nd Training Wing commander, stood Cherry up in front of a crowd of Sheppard leaders and thanked her for her service to this country as a spouse.
"I appreciate the general coining her for her service as a spouse," the master sergeant said. "I wouldn't have been able to do everything I've done without my wife being there. I've always known that through the ups and downs of my career, the good days and bad days, and through my bad decisions, I knew if my wife was there, I was okay.
"It truly recognized her service to this country, because no one will ever really know the things she's had to endure and everything she has sacrificed. It's a thankless job."
Cherry was surprised by the general's actions during the meeting, and was a little embarrassed to put on a pedestal at the same time. Once she had the coin, she was thankful for the recognition.
"I've been coined many times as a civil service employee, the coin he gave me is probably the most meaningful and important coin that I've ever received," said Cherry, a member of the Sheppard Key Spouse program. "It wasn't given to me for doing a great job as a civil service employee, but it was given to me for doing a great job in supporting my husband and serving our country. I will cherish that coin over any other coin I've ever received. Twenty years later, and I'm actually appreciated."
"We've lived the Air force dream to travel the world," she continued. "The military has been great to us in that aspect. I'm a proud military spouse and we are a proud military family."
And the Quevy family wouldn't hesitate to do it all over again if they could.