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Family affair: Wing members continue legacies

Anthony Jacob Gardner is following in his father’s footsteps by joining the 123rd Airlift Wing. 2nd Lt. Anthony Dale Gardner is a former enlisted medic and now a nurse in the 123rd Medical Group. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. D. Clare, Kentucky Air National Guard)

Anthony Jacob Gardner is following in his father’s footsteps by joining the 123rd Airlift Wing. 2nd Lt. Anthony Dale Gardner is a former enlisted medic and now a nurse in the 123rd Medical Group. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. D. Clare, Kentucky Air National Guard)

KENTUCKY AIR NATIONAL GUARD, LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- When 2nd Lt. Anthony Dale Gardner's son, Anthony Jacob Gardner, asked his father about following his footsteps into the military, the elder Gardner was hesitant at best.

"I gave him every downside I could think of. I wanted him to make an informed decision for himself," said Lieutenant Gardner, a nurse with the 123rd Medical Group here.

The lieutenant had taken the long way to joining the Kentucky Air National Guard. He'd met his wife as a medic in the Army years before his son was born. He then served 10 years as a Soldier before joining the 123rd Airlift Wing, ultimately earning a commission two full decades after his initial enlistment.

When his son finally committed, the father was overwhelmed with pride -- as were his grandfathers, who served during the Vietnam and Korean War eras; his mother; and everyone else in the family.

"My son grew up with me in the Guard. He's seen me in the military since birth," said Lieutenant Gardner. "He's seen what you can do in the Guard. He knows the benefits and the opportunity to serve the country and state. There's a sense of pride when you see dad go off every month in uniform. I think children want to be a part of that."

Already, the elder Gardner has seen changes in his son. He says he is more focused and making plans for the future. In addition to receiving educational benefits that will help him achieve his degree, the 18-year-old will use his Air Guard training as a medic to decide if he wants to follow his father's path into military medicine.

"It's my chance to make sure nursing is the field I want to go into," said Airman Basic Gardner. "I have always felt like everyone should serve, even if for a single enlistment. It gives you a sense of duty. I see it as an opportunity to help people and carry on a tradition in our family."

The Gardners aren't alone.

Airman 1st Class Tia Tongate is 20 years old. She has a full-time job at as an information manager in the Kentucky Air Guard while she studies social and behavioral sciences at a community college in preparation for a four-year degree at the University of Kentucky.

She has highly focused career goals and has nearly saved up enough to handle a down payment on her first home. She's been to Germany, Paris and Puerto Rico. She feels more mature than her fellow students and better prepared for life's challenges -- all thanks to a family tradition.

Like Airman Gardner, Airman Tongate grew up in the military. Her father, Master Sgt. James Tongate, is a loadmaster in the Kentucky Air Guard. Her cousin, Tech. Sgt. Charles Lambert, has more than 20 years of service in ground maintenance.

"My dad told me it was a really good experience. It's like family out there, and people take care of you," Airman Tongate said. "It's like going from one family to another. (My dad) likes to help people and he told me about the places he went. I wanted to join for the benefits, but also for my dad."

"My heart raced that she would follow in my footsteps," Sergeant Tongate recalls of the younger Tongate's enlistment. "She's my only daughter. There were a lot of things on my mind when (former wing commander Brig. Gen. Mark) Kraus swore her in. I had to sit down. It was overwhelming.

"I raise my children with the same values we have in the Air Force -- integrity, service before self and excellence," said the father of three.

Sons Noah, 11, and Caleb, 8, are still too young to sign up, but the sergeant said future enlistments are possible.

"It's instilled in them," he said. "They have different personalities, but it's possible all four of us would be in at the same time."

According to Col. Greg Nelson, 123rd Airlift Wing commander, the experience and upbringing of family members typically make them good candidates for military service.

"We know the product we're getting, and the family members understand the positive experience of serving in the organization," said Colonel Nelson, whose own son, Benjamin, served in the wing. "If their parent or sibling is successful already, we're dealing with a known quantity in the prospective member.

"It says a lot if a parent is willing to encourage their child to serve. It says a lot about the wing and the Kentucky Air National Guard."

Few family stories in the unit are as steeped in tradition as the Holaday's. Master Sergeants Tim and Steven "Doc" Holaday have six decades of combined service -- 54 in the Kentucky Air Guard.

The brothers are second-generation Airmen. Their father and uncle, twins, enlisted in the Army Air Corps and celebrated the Air Force's initial birthday together in basic training.

Both younger Holadays transferred off active duty to the Kentucky Air National Guard through the Palace Chase program and have served their home state together since 1983.

"The friends you have here, you're never going to make outside of the Guard," said Sergeant Steven Holaday. "In the military you are aware that these are they guys who may pull you home at night if the worst happens. If you look at it that way, we're all part of the same family, really."