A Four-Star Family, Part III
Despite the high-profile responsibilities of General Bruce Carlson, his wife Vicki Carlson says, “We live our lifestyle as if he is a nobody.” Both are down-to-earth people who are humble about the opportunities Bruce has had throughout his career and his current responsibilities as Commander of the Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. AFMC buys, sells and maintains all equipment for the Air Force or as the official Air Force website reads,
AFMC conducts research, development, test and evaluation, and provides acquisition management services and logistics support necessary to keep Air Force weapon systems ready for war.
General Carlson’s current command and the previous command of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana (2002-2005) have been “interesting and challenging” positions for her husband, Vicki says. But, she adds, “Just like any other career, you just progress in your job and more things are given to you.”
Over these years as his duties have increased, Vicki’s official participation as a “four-star spouse” has also increased, and it is a position with which she is not always entirely comfortable. Still, she presents herself well in social settings and with people. She says, she is “working hard to be extroverted.”
Military life encompasses a variety of social occasions including traditional formal military balls to informal Friday night gatherings. At Barksdale, the 8th Air Force held a military ball which included a parade of troops in uniform, and the entire community was invited to this very formal affair. At Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, the AFMC hosts the International Ball, and invites the foreign men and women who have come with their families to Dayton, Ohio, to come in their country’s attire.
Expectations also exist for informal social gatherings in military life. Vicki says,
At one point Bruce was told if he didn’t go to the bar and drink at the bar, he wouldn’t go anywhere. We didn’t do that. Bruce didn’t do that.
Some commanders require social participation. They see that as being team players. We have done enough of it to survive, but we never were party animals. We did what we had to do, but we never did any more than that. Our Air Force family was important to us in that we would have good friends we would go and do things with but it was never every Friday night. When we did go, we were not the long stayers.
Social connections and relationships do aid the work, such as when four-star spouses are invited to participate with their husbands at CORONA, a few days of meetings “when four stars do business at the four-star level.” There, she and other spouses receive briefings on people issues and housing issues and updates on air lifts to bring home the wounded, but they also buoy each other up over common concerns.
In 2007, Vicki and other four-star spouses were invited to the amputee clinic at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In the Summer of 2007, she toured San Antonino Military Medical Center (Brooke Army Medical Center) to visit burn victims. In both places, she witnessed the realities of the recovery for the wounded.
Never had we visited with so many young kids there. I asked a nurse, ‘What have you seen that has changed in the last few years of this war?’
She said, “There are far more of our wounded that have more limbs gone because the enemy has perfected bigger and more severe bombs to do more damage.
The wounds she saw were horrific, but when she spoke with some of the wounded, who were relearning simple tasks like buttoning a button or zipping a zipper, their determination to heal overwhelmed her.
I am in awe of these valiant, strong, amazing young men and women who serve for our freedom.
I look at it in two ways: I look at it as if this individual is my child and how hard that would be with the longevity of those handicaps. Many of these victims are twenty-something. Think about that. How do you face the rest of your life?
Walking in and seeing these young men and women, it makes me absolutely in awe of the selfless service that our military members are willing to give. You can find people who are for or against the war. But these young men and women have a willingness to do their job in the face of the fact that they could be wounded.
Many have a determination to get their bodies back so they can continue to serve their county, and that brings tears to my eyes. These young men love what they are doing more than anything else.
We, in the Air Force, are realizing we have to take care of these wounded and their families long term. And the Air Force has come up with a lot of programs to help.
Vicki’s position as the wife of a four-star general gives her a unique perspective with visits such as those, and occasionally in visits to other countries. She only travels with her husband when her presence is needed in an official duty. The Air Force Materiel Command buys and sells parts and airplanes throughout the world, and recently she accompanied her husband on a trip to South America when he visited airplane manufacturing facilities there.
I think traveling around with Bruce has helped me see the influence that Bruce has—because of his position, not necessarily because of himself—on decision making and cause and effect in the Air Force. That broadened my understanding of the intelligence and abilities and capabilities that he has.
From that vantage point by his side, she sees his leadership in action and appreciates what he has given in service to the country.
A Four Star-Family, Part III is the third in a series of posts from an interview with Vicki Carlson. Read Part I here. Read Part II here. TJ will share the conclusion of the Carlson’s story next Wednesday, October 15, at tjhirst.com.