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A Shared Calling

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jodi Snyder
  • 171st Air Refueling Wing

FINDLAY TOWNSHIP, Pa.--   At the Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s 171st Air Refueling Wing, a long history of service among families is interwoven into the daily life of the unit’s culture and mission.

“The 171st has been built and sustained by the numerous families that have chosen to call the 171st their ‘other home.’  We have everything from husband and wife teams to aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and cousins in the unit,” said Col. Raymond Hyland Jr., Vice Commander of the 171st ARW.  “The pride they have in their family members translates to pride in the 171st and we are better because of it.”

One of these military families is the Hutsler Family, which began with the enlistment of the father who then positively influenced his children’s lives with his military service.  The first of his children to also join the military were his twin daughters, followed by his son, another daughter and lastly, his wife. 

For 1st Lt. Brittany Stephenson, formerly 1st Lt. Hutsler and the youngest of the family, the 171st ARW is a place that was an integral part of her childhood. 

“I’ve been coming to the base since take your child to work day,” said Stephenson.

Fond memories of spending time with a parent at work is special, but one might wonder what kind of pressure is placed on a child to also join the military when growing up in a military household.  Capt. Gary Hustler Jr. reports he did not feel pressured at all.  He just thought having a dad coming home from work in a military uniform was a cool part of his childhood.

“The stories he would tell and seeing my dad take care of other people is why I wanted to do it. I wanted to be able to help other people,” said Gary Hutsler.

Beyond serving to help others, there is also a drive for many service members to have a positive influence, which is how Maj. Alecia Hutsler explained her call to service.  Hutsler and her twin sister, who is now out of the service, enlisted together right out of high school when they were 18 years old and describes her call to her service as a realization.  

“A realization that you’re not the most important thing in the world.  There are more important things out there and you can have an impact in a positive manner.  It’s something we grew up with,” said Alecia Hutsler. 

Growing up in a household filled with military service must have some type of effect beyond the drive to a call of duty.  “We grew up being kids but also knowing what’s important.  We grew up really knowing how to respect people and each other and striving for more,” said Stephenson.

The list of family members serving in the military for the Hutsler family does not stop there.  Three of the siblings’ spouses are serving or have served as well as their uncles.  These siblings’ mother, Maj. Pauline Hutsler also joined the unit, but she was the last of the family to join the service. 

“I always felt like I needed to be the one that stayed behind and hold down the fort while everyone else got to go and do what they wanted, which was great, but then there was that part of me that thought ‘oh my gosh’ I wish I could do that too,” said Pauline Hutsler.    

Having family in the unit is not the only thing that makes the guard so appealing.  “You have people who watch you grow up as a child and now you work with them.  Being in the guard you have more than just your family that are looking out for you,” said Stephenson.

The family atmosphere the guard promotes creates a cohesive environment filled with teamwork.  Although helping and supporting people through service is an important part of joining the military for many service members, it’s also about the willingness to sacrifice.

“You do have to sacrifice when you’re in the military. That’s just what happens,” said Alecia Hutsler.

Sacrifice is something all military members do.  It is in the history of guardsmen since early days with a legacy of valor and a history of honor.  But we do not accomplish this alone.  It is done with the support of community members like friends and neighbors but most importantly, family.