GREAT FALLS — The holiday season is rooted in tradition and family. Similar characteristics of the United States Air Force. Active duty service members at Malmstrom Air Force Base rely heavily on their unit to navigate time away from family during the holidays.
The 841st Missile Security Forces Squadron is the gatekeeper for the nation's defense system. With enemies foreign and domestic, Malmstrom's Airmen come from a broad range of backgrounds, including Luke Fryling, a 19-year-old airman from Buffalo, New York.
"Everyday looks like, when we get an alarm, we respond to it to see what's going on."
Fryling's roots in Buffalo prepared him for the dark and sub-zero temperatures of the Montana winter. For the recent high school graduate, navigating a new lifestyle brought its challenges.
"It was tough at first adjusting to my new way of life and coming from a high school life to working… You get used it pretty quickly and you make new friends and things start looking up."
The 841st Missile Security Forces Squadron when deployed is stationed throughout missile sights across approximately 30,000 square miles in North Central Montana.
When its dark, cold, and windy, Luke keeps his family near to him, periodically making FaceTime calls.
The members of numerous flights all have similar reasons for joining the military, including Senior Airman Richard Sanders, who grew up near Ft. Hood, Texas.
"I joined later in life at 33 years old... My dad was in the army... I mainly joined because I wanted to be a positive role model to my nephew," he explained.
Pride spreads through Security Forces to Madison Warner, a Wisconsin native.
"I've always wanted to serve. My grandpa served and he talked about it and absolutely loved it. Being able to carry on a tradition that I know he would have been proud of is huge to me."
Those family relationships are pushed further into the distance when the nation calls on these airmen to deploy.
Come Thanksgiving on November 23rd, they will all be deployed to various locations sacrificing time with their friends and most importantly their family.
While most of us will be surrounded by loved ones, thinking of those who protect and serve can be a way to give thanks this season.
"I think that family gathering, knowing people are around, trying to forget about the things that are going on in the world today. What they sacrifice and enjoying what we have there for the moment. Without family and friends, where is that at?" explained Jackie Gittins, Director of Voices of Hope. "These are strong and courageous individuals. They'll never admit they might be feeling down this time of year. I think some people think, 'Well, they signed up for this.' Sure, they signed up for this, but did they really think that through, that I could be missing four or five Thanksgivings? I think supporting them mentally, is just as important as supporting them on the materialistic side."
In an August 2021, Department of Defense issued, Medical Surveillance Monthly Report, out of 456,293 Active Component U.S. Armed Forces members, 242,068 were diagnosed with an Adjustment disorder. According to Johns Hopkins Medical it defines it as:
Adjustment disorders are a reaction to an event. There is not a single direct cause between the stressful event and the reaction.
Though, not all are adjusting poorly and making it through the holidays is reliant on one another.
"We are all going through the same thing. It's hard being away from home and whatnot, but having each other, it makes it a lot easier. Having those people that are, in the same boat as you not having their family here. It's good to have those people to be around," explained Senior Airman Madison Nicely, "Even our presiding officers are supportive. They understand that we may be alone this time of year, and they want to spend time with their families. In my time here, they've always opened the door to us so we aren't alone."
Compassion that goes miles when our world is ridden with conflict.
"We’re being the change that we want to see in the world. We want to see positive role models so why we don’t take the personal responsibility to embody that," added Senior Airman Sanders. "The flight becomes your friends, your family, and it becomes the people you confide in. Your flight becomes everything to you."