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Legacies

Not every commissioned officer can remember the first person who ever saluted him, but Maj. Mike Kozdras can. After the July 1996 commissioning ceremony at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, Tenn., Mike exited the base auditorium where he met his young -- After dropping his salute, Mike reached into the pocket of his dress blues and pulled out the silver dollar his father had given him before the ceremony. Traditionally, new officers present a silver dollar to the first enlisted member to salute them. Being that this person was his brother, Mike coolly flipped the coin to Dave while their father snapped a photo.
For more than 400 years, men and women have generously enlisted in the National Guard to defend their country, their state, and their families. When the next generation of war took to the skies, the next generation of Guardsmen followed and enlisted in the newly created Air National Guard. While those who have served might consider all servicemembers their brothers at arms, there are many, like the Kosdras's, who stand shoulder to shoulder with their actual brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers.
Recently, three more Airmen have continued the legacies of their families by becoming newly commissioned lieutenants in the Florida Air National Guard. As fortune would have it for these three, their fathers were the ones to read their oaths.
"I think it is such a neat opportunity to serve your country and fellow man alongside your family members," 2nd Lt. Jackie Branyon said.
Jackie Branyon is following in the footsteps of the chief of staff of the FLANG, Brig. Gen. Bob Branyon. She said her father inspired her not only to join the Air National Guard, but to always do her best to achieve mission success. For right now, that means civil engineering at the 202nd REDHORSE and preparing for her first deployment, but Jackie Branyon said she hopes to maybe make general herself someday.
Bob Branyon said he loved his nine years of service on active duty, but joined the FLANG to continue flying fighters instead of landing behind a desk. During his military career, he has logged more than 3,300 flying hours piloting the F-4 Phantom, the F-5 Tiger II, the F-16 Fighting Falcon, and the F-15 Eagle.
Like his daughter, Bob Branyon said it was his father, a tank gunner and driver in the Korean War and member of the Alabama Army National Guard, who inspired him to serve. The former commander of the 125th Fighter Wing in Jacksonville, Fla., was promoted to brigadier general and assumed his current position at FLANG headquarters in January 2011. As far as legacies go, Bob Branyon said his honor was serving as a leader to equip and enable future generations of Airmen.
"The cool thing about children of FLANG members joining the FLANG is that you know what you're going to get in that new Airman," Bob Branyon said. "If the parents have strong values and a good work ethic, the new Airmen will likely also have those traits, and that's a benefit to the unit."
Now at the state headquarters in St. Augustine, Fla., Bob Branyon works alongside Brig. Gen. Joe Balskus, the adjutant general for air and commander of the FLANG. With a career that extends into five decades, Joe Balskus has held numerous leadership roles including associate professor at the military college of South Carolina, state support group commander, and a former chief of staff for air.
While he himself was the first generation to join the ranks of the ANG, the general has one son serving active duty in the Air Force, and a daughter who was recently commissioned as an intelligence officer in the FLANG. Joe Balskus said as commander, he enjoys seeing legacy families serving together, and is thrilled to have children who love this country and desire to serve.
"As the son of a World War II veteran, I learned at an early age the value of service and how it is so important to respect the flag and our constitution," Joe Balskus said. "Today, the sons and daughters of those in uniform are being taught these same values and when you see them raise their hands and take our oath of office, it's a wonderful thing."
Joe Balskus was lucky enough to see his own daughter raise her hand two years ago when she asked him about becoming a FLANG officer. The recently promoted 1st Lt. Brittany Balskus said it was a natural decision for her having been raised in such a patriotic family. She said her whole life she watched her father serve his state and country, and sees the same dedication in her brother since his graduation from the Air Force Academy in 2004.
For the past six months, Brittany Balskus has been working with the 125FW Communications Flight. She said this amazing group of hard working individuals dedicated many long hours in preparation for the wing's Unit Compliant Inspection in October 2011. That groundwork and preparation clearly paid off when the communication flight was named "Best Seen to Date" and the wing earned an overall 99.42 compliance rating.
"When my dad came out to congratulate everyone, it felt good to be recognized as an officer who was on a great team," Brittany Balskus said, "a team that made him proud."
Another FLANG officer who said he is proud to serve alongside his family is Col. Alan Rutherford, the FLANG director of staff. While the colonel was the first of his family to join the ANG 37 years ago, he was certainly not the last. Everyone in the household of four has or still is serving their country and various states. Mrs. Brenda Rutherford is a veteran of the North Dakota ANG; their son, 2nd Lt. Adam Rutherford, is an air liaison officer at the 193rd Special Operations Wing in Harrisburg, Penn.; and their daughter, 2nd Lt. Lara Rutherford, is an intelligence officer at the 125FW in Jacksonville, Fla.
After all his time in service, Alan Rutherford said he has accomplished all the goals he set for himself, but being able to share the uniform with his family fills him with pride. To him, he said, family legacies in the ANG are a key part of connection to the community, and they continue the heritage of service. Al Rutherford retired from service in April 2012.
"He has devoted his life to serving the Air National Guard," Lara Rutherford said. "I feel a great responsibility to not only our nation and the state of Florida, but to my father to continue his legacy of integrity, service before self, and excellence."
Lara Rutherford was commissioned in March 2012 after nearly six years of service as an aircraft rescue firefighter. Both she and her older brother Adam enlisted as airmen and were later commissioned to second lieutenants. She said she hopes to always lead from the front, relying on strong professional mentors and the examples set by her family.
"I believe that we derive great personal and professional pride from serving alongside our family members," Lara Rutherford said. "This family dynamic and true sense of ownership is one of the unique aspects of the ANG that significantly contributes to our success as Airmen."
While the ANG offers a unique ability for multiple generations of the same family to put on the uniform and serve together the practice is actually quite common. Many generations of families have raised their hands and joined the ranks of not only their peers, but also their brothers, sisters, cousins and parents. Stories like those told here prove even further that the Nation Guard, as a whole, is a family by service and by blood.
So whether a father reads his daughter's oath or a brother is the first to salute his brother, the honor of family legacies is a benefit to the service, the state, and the nation.