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The meaning of being an "Air Force family"

When Pepper Barrera gave birth Dec. 1 to Christian, the baby’s father, Tech. Sgt. Enrique Barrera, 45th Security Forces Squadron, was serving in Iraq where he will be until March. Still, Pepper said the support she received from his squadron, her friends and neighbors helped pull her through. “Unless you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to understand the idea of the ‘Air Force Family.’ I’ve been though it, and I know it’s true,” she said. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chris Calkins)

When Pepper Barrera gave birth Dec. 1 to Christian, the baby’s father, Tech. Sgt. Enrique Barrera, 45th Security Forces Squadron, was serving in Iraq where he will be until March. Still, Pepper said the support she received from his squadron, her friends and neighbors helped pull her through. “Unless you’ve experienced it, it’s hard to understand the idea of the ‘Air Force Family.’ I’ve been though it, and I know it’s true,” she said. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chris Calkins)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Pepper Barrera readily admits both she and her husband, Tech. Sgt. Enrique Barrera of the 45th Security Forces Squadron, knew there was a pretty good chance he would be deployed when their first baby was born.

It turns out they were right. But it doesn't make it any easier.

Not that either one of them are complaining.

"We've been married 12 and a half years and he's been in the Air Force all that time," said Pepper, as she cradled Christian, born Dec. 1.

"The day Christian was born, my sister, Candy, called my husband in Iraq and told him he was the new father of a healthy baby boy," said Pepper, who has known her husband since grade-school days back in San Antonio, Texas.

"I talked with him a little bit later and he told me then he wanted to take the next flight out of there and come home. But we both knew that wouldn't happen. We both know we're not the only couple in this situation, and we're certainly not looking for any sympathy.

"He loves his job and I love who he is, what he's doing and how he's serving his country. I'm so very proud of him," she said.

But she still wishes he was here.

"What do I miss most about him not being here? Little things. Everything," she said. "We're best friends. We do everything together ... we fish...we play softball ... lots of softball.

"When he's gone it's just different. But I've become more independent over the years. Being married to a military man for 12-plus years makes you that way," she said.

"We'll be just fine; our first family Christmas will be celebrated in March," she said, when he's scheduled to come home from his current and most recent six-month deployment.
Her husband is assigned to the 407th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, Ali Air Base, Iraq, the U.S. Air Force's only major airfield in southern Iraq.

Sergeant Barrera said he agreed with his wife that his first thoughts were wanting to "catch the first thing flying out of here" and come home.

"But I knew I had to quickly change focus, get my head in the game and do my job to the best of my ability. We're in a time of war here.

"This was my time to go; we both knew that. And my mind was able to be put somewhat at ease because I knew she had a terrific support system back home taking care of her," he said. "I just can't wait to see and kiss and hold my wife and new son."

Pepper concurred that without the help she received, this would have been a most difficult experience.

"Unless you've experienced it, it's hard to understand the idea of the 'Air Force Family.' I've been through it and I know it's true," she said.

"I don't what I would've done without my extended family: Chief Master Sergeant (Michael) Lintz, Master Sergeant (Erika) Barnes and Tech. Sergeant (Carla) John-son, along with so many other members of his squadron--my friends and neighbors. They all went way out of their way to make sure everything was taken care of for me both before and after the delivery.

"I'd come home from work late some nights and someone would be waiting with the dinner they made for me. They took care of me like family," she said with a knowing smile.