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Spouses make “emotional banking” deposits

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kelly Goonan
  • 94th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Two audience volunteers swatted at balloons representing the responsibilities faced by modern Air Force Reserve families, working together to keep any from hitting the floor of the hotel ballroom as a staff member added more inflatables to the mix.

The tandem juggling routine resonated with Lt. Col. Shelby Basler and her husband, Lt. Col. Matthew Basler, KC-135 Stratotanker pilots from Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana, who saw this demonstration in late November while attending Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program training.

"Being a parent and pilot brings unique challenges to the table,” Shelby Basler said. "It seems as though when one of us is at home, the other is away for training or mission requirements."

The balloon demonstration is featured near the start of each Yellow Ribbon weekend by representatives of the Reserve’s Psychological Health Advocacy Program. Yellow Ribbon promotes the well-being of reservists and their families by connecting them with resources before and after deployments.

The Baslers qualified to attend the Florida event with their two sons as Shelby had recently returned home from a deployment. The family is facing another extended separation as Matt has accepted an active-duty Air Force job in Texas that will keep the family apart until June.

The couple met during undergraduate pilot training. Following graduation in September 1999, Matt Basler went on to fly A-10 Thunderbolts fulltime for the Air Force Reserve as Shelby began a career flying refuelers as an active-duty Airman. Being trained on different airplanes made it unlikely they would be stationed at the same base.

They spent the first first four years of their marriage in separate states. Matt said it was difficult at times and it came to a point where they had decided that something needed to change for the sake of their marriage. Matt quit flying the A-10 and moved to Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, where Shelby was stationed. He worked as a full-time civilian employee there while serving part-time in the Air Force Reserve and completing a master’s degree with a new goal in mind: teaching.

Shelby made the next sacrifice, seeking an assignment at the Air Force Academy, where Matt had been hired as assistant professor in the Department of History after going on active duty.

“She gave up a lot of awesome career opportunities,” he said. “She did that for me. I wouldn’t have been able to get to the academy to teach unless it was through her.”

Matt’s career flourished during seven years at the school as Shelby became an Individual Mobilization Augmentee, serving as a reservist at an active-duty unit with the Special Operations Command, Pacific, was a stay-at-home mother and pursued a master’s degree.

“It’s no easy task to juggle so many titles and responsibilities but we always find a way to make it work,” she said.

During this time she became medically disqualified to fly. Medical requirements for pilots are stringent and it was very difficult for her to get back to being fully qualified, she said. After a four-year struggle to return to flight status, she prevailed and interviewed for work at various KC-135 bases. She was hired at several different units and chose the 434th Air Refueling Wing at Grissom, where Matt also found the opportunity to fly refuelers.

At that point, the pair had already put in 18 years of service. Moving to Grissom took them away from the active-duty Air Force support structure for the first time.

“We had to figure out how to juggle all of the responsibilities that come with parenthood,” Matt said. “Along with finding balance with our very much active roles as military pilots. All on our own.”

The transition to a Reserve lifestyle was more difficult than they anticipated. Relying on base personnel for guidance and following advice from their leadership, they found themselves attending training through Yellow Ribbon, which began in 2008 following a congressional mandate for the Department of Defense to assist reservists and National Guard members in maintaining resiliency as they transition between their military and civilian roles.

“We looked at each other and said ‘Wow, this is exactly what we needed!’,” Matt said. “Grissom has always pushed the Yellow Ribbon events but I thought to myself ‘I can’t afford to take off work to attend this.’”

MSgt. James Hoagland, the wing Yellow Ribbon representative, encouraged them to make the time to attend.

“The timing of this weekend fit perfectly into our schedules,” Shelby said. “Over the last 36 months, our boys have been apart from one of their parents for over 14 months due to either training or a deployment. We felt this opportunity would be the best way to bring our very tight-knit family together as a whole.”

The Baslers make their busy lives almost look easy said Emily Mastren, Shelby’s youngest sister, who stayed with the family before her sister deployed.

“Since Shelby and Matt are in the same career field, I think they’re better able to understand what it takes to make their lifestyle and careers work,” she said. “I can see that it’s really difficult on the boys,” Mastren said. “They try so hard on making such a strong family unit and they’re good at it. The kids are happy, healthy and active in sports.”

While at the Yellow Ribbon event, the colonels approached staff members to talk to their children.

“To ask those tough questions such as 'how do you feel about mom and dad deploying?' 'How are you dealing with all of this?'” Shelby said. “The people here are trained to gauge their responses in order to effectively offer advice and support that we might not have otherwise found back home in our civilian communities."

The pair said the information provided by Yellow Ribbon was extremely useful and that communication techniques taught in class really work.

"This program is absolutely worth it,” Shelby said. “My advice to other reservists is to give your employers plenty of advance notice, talk with your kids’ teachers, request their school work for the days they'll miss and get yourself and your family signed up. You’ll come back a better Airman, employee and stronger family."

The Baslers added a few days to the trip at their own expense for a vacation prior to Matt leaving for his new job at the Profession of Arms Center of Excellence in San Antonio. Shelby and their sons may not see him until they move to Texas after the school year ends.

“After almost 20 years together, two elements keep our marriage strong: mutual respect for one another and great communication,” Matt said. “We’re making huge deposits into our emotional bank accounts, which is something we learned about this weekend. We’re going to need that account to be strong in the coming months.”