I love getting inquiries to photograph military families. I think its the diversity that a military family brings; each one unique, full of stories about adventure and traveling, sacrifice and bravery, new found strength, grace and unwavering courage. I’m thankful to live in a community where military families are abundant and I’m so blessed that they relate to my photography and ask me to capture the important moments in their lives.
Back in January, Jenn contacted me about photographing her husband’s last flight in the F-15. I later learned that the appropriate name for it would be “Fini Flight”. We communicated via email for a while until I met her at the visitor’s center on base to get my pass. Meeting clients for the first time is somewhat of a “blind date”…you know they are interested in what you have to offer and based on correspondence they seem like your “type”. I always get a little nervous about meeting my clients for the first time because I never know what will happen: could they have been famous in another life and I not know, will they love me, what if they totally reject me, will we connect, will our personalities mesh, what if…??!
Well…meeting Jenn, Hayden, & Myla was so refreshing…I’d say we hit it off instantly. Jenn has impeccable style, she is such a sweetheart and is totally in love with her husband, Philip, aka Slag. Rumor is…she’s a top-notch cook and based on the banana pudding and pulled pork I sampled, that is 100% true. Not to mention her kiddos have this beautiful red hair that totally enamored me. Didn’t you know that I have this thing for red heads? Sounds like a great “first date” right? It only gets better!
The next day Philip’s Fini Flight was scheduled. As with all military arrivals, you just never know what will happen with the schedule so you can never know what to expect. The weather forecast was pretty extreme for February, high of 75 and low of 48. Tag on a chance for severe thunderstorms and a chance of tornados and that makes for an interesting day. Nonetheless, we were prepared. A bit frazzled, Jenn texted me to let me know the time had been changed to 12:45 pm, but may flex some due to the weather. I met her family at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base at 11:30 and followed them to the squadron.
Preparations were being made for the celebration, pulled pork, chips, banana pudding…all of it made with love. With the weather rolling in, we were racing against the clock, hoping they would land before it started lightening so that we could celebrate on the flight line in full force. The minutes crept by. Finally it was time. We grabbed our earplugs and loaded into the van. Slag was close!
Friends and family gathered at the flight line to cheer him on and congratulate him on his successful Air Force Career of more than 10 years. Having traveled to the West Coast of California, the Gulf Coast of Florida and now Eastern Carolina, the Gunn Family is heading to Texas later in March and could not be happier about it! But first, a farewell celebration.
Everyone was all smiles as the F-15 approached. Hayden & Myla waved, anticipating their “super soaker” moment. Jenn waved, a smile beaming on her face, she was so proud of her man.
The applause from the crowd, the bursts of water, the hugs, laughter, kisses and tears were more than I could bear. My heart was overflowing with love for this family I had just met….yesterday. I was so proud to be their photographer, honored to have met Philip & Jenn, thankful for their dedication to our country. I will never know what these military families deal with on a day to day basis, instead I get to reap the benefits of living in a free nation where men & women like them sacrifice so much each and every day.
As I left the squadron, the rain beating down on my skin, the sun came out. It was clear to me. Aren’t these moments we each live for; the bittersweet moments that come with saying goodbye as happy chapters of our life close while emotion and adventure fills our hearts when we dare to try new things and explore uncharted territory? Perhaps these are the moments where my heart and the hearts of military families collide. The mystery of the unknown, crazy unforgettable memories, lessons to learn, mistakes to make, exotic flavors to taste, places to travel, faces to meet….ahhhh the adventure of life.
Until next time,