SOUTHWEST ASIA (10/28/13) - Members of the military commonly refer to each other as family.
They share experiences that most times can't be truly understood by those who haven't lived them. Often these experiences are forged in places far from home where mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children and other loved ones can be seen only on the screen of some electronic device, or not at all.
But for three members of the 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Group, the only thing standing between them and a family member is shift change.
Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Steven Buchwald, 386th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, is the lead production superintendent for the C-130 aircraft maintenance unit.
He, his son and his son-in-law are members of the Air National Guard's 107th Airlift Wing, deployed here together from Niagara Falls, N.Y.
Buchwald is responsible for the C-130 personnel and flying schedule. His son, Air Force Senior Airman Travis Buchwald, is a crew chief who ensures the aircraft are ready for flight and repairs them when necessary.
Senior Airman Hans Hock, the elder Buchwald's son-in-law, is an aircrew ground equipment mechanic in the 386th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron. He keeps the machinery and tools supporting the aircraft in working order.
For the senior Buchwald, deployments are nothing new; this is his 18th.
But being deployed with his family is a whole new experience, he said.
During four years on active duty as a crew chief, Steven was assigned to a base in England, and later to another in New Mexico. By the time he was in New Mexico, he had married his hometown sweetheart, and they'd already had their first of three children.
He began exploring the option of getting stationed closer to home, he said, and after his attempts were unsuccessful, the Lockport, N.Y., native, chose to join the Air National Guard and move back to his home state.
"I took mechanics in school. If you could tear it apart, I did," he said. "When I took the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, mechanics was my top score, and I was told I could pick any job. They told me I could work on airplanes, and that sounded cool, so that's what I did."
His time as a crew chief and his passion for his job made an impression on Travis, who frequently went to work with him. It was really no surprise to the elder Buchwald that his son is now a crew chief.
"It was basically something I grew up doing," the younger Buchwald said. "For as long as I can remember, I was out in the barn working on cars [and] anything else you can think of —four-wheel motorcycles, tractors. It just seemed right."
But for Hock, the elder Buchwald's son-in-law, the decision to join the military was not such a foregone conclusion. He met Milissa Buchwald during his freshman year in college. They began dating, and he had his first encounter with the military.
"She wasn't shy about telling everybody that her dad was in the military," Hock said. "The first time I went to her house, he did the dad thing. He came out in his uniform on the porch, and I was like, 'I am not getting out of the car.' That was a pretty scary thing."
However, Hock was not scared off. The pair kept dating and got married in 2010.
By then, Hock had graduated from college and was working odd jobs. His wife had begun a teaching career, he said, and he wanted something steadier so he could contribute more to his household. His father-in-law broached the subject of joining the military.
"I wasn't so sure," Hock said. "I didn't want to be away from home. I didn't want to do the whole back-and-forth thing. But then I looked into the Guard and Reserve side and I thought, 'This could actually be pretty nice.' I was talking to a recruiter for a couple months, and he assured me it would work out. It didn't work out the way he said, but it has worked out."
Now, almost three years later, he is on his first deployment, sharing the experience with his brother-in-law and father-in-law.
"I knew my brother-in-law was coming, and that was one of the biggest reasons I was going to do it, because there would be somebody here who I already knew," Hock said. "Then we found out just before we left that my father-in-law was going to come, too."
Steven, who is on his last deployment before he retires after 32 years of service, said he is especially proud to be here with his family.
"This is my last deployment. I'm retiring in December, and it's neat to be here with the two boys," he said. "[Travis's] first deployment was as a third-country-national escort, so this is his first deployment doing his real job. This is my last, and their first, hand-off."