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Chief & Julie Umfleet: Growing Together

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Colin Hollowell
  • 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
In 1997, the U.S. Air Force gained a future Chief, but a good Chief isn’t recruited; they are grown.

No leader has ever climbed up the ranks alone. It takes numerous mentors, an immeasurable amount of growth, and support from family; whether it be your family at home or your Air Force family.

In August 1997, Chief Master Sgt. Mark Umfleet, 317th Airlift Wing command chief, married his wife, Julie, less than a month before his Air Force journey began.

“We were high school sweethearts,” said Mark. “We met when we were 16 in our small hometown in Missouri.”

Shortly after the wedding, Mark spent the next six-months completing basic military training, followed by his technical school immediately after.

“He came back in March 1998 and from there we headed off to our first base, Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho,” said Julie Umfleet. “Both of us being born and raised in a small town made it feel like an adventure, it was exciting going off on our own for the first time and figuring that out on our own; just the two of us.”

Julie and Mark navigated the early stages of their marriage while also starting their Air Force journey.

“Early on I didn’t know of all the resources that were available to military spouses and how to utilize them,” said Julie. “Throughout Mark’s career I’ve seen other spouses who reminded me of my earlier self and I want to do my best to be there for them and be an advocate for them. I want to pay it forward.”

Having experience with being a new Air Force spouse, Julie had some insight that she used to help people in similar situations.

“One thing that I believe Julie does incredibly well is connecting with individuals and then linking them up with agencies and resources they didn’t know existed beforehand,” said Mark. “She takes the time and opportunity to get to know them and their family dynamics and then helps to connect them with a network and community of people, it has been incredible to see that growth within her,”

Mark commended Julie for her ability to grow but a successful team is judged on two aspects; their ability to improve independently and together.

“In the last 23 years it’s important to mention that Mark and I have, and continue to make an ongoing effort to grow as a team,” said Julie.

The Umfleet family has been successful in their ability to grow individually and together because they hold each other accountable.

When the Air Force calls Mark’s name for a remote tour or a deployment, he and his family choose to see it as an opportunity rather than a time of misfortune.

“You’re going to have challenges; especially when you are deployed or TDY,” Mark said.

During a six-month deployment two years ago, Mark missed the opportunity to watch his son graduate from Air Force basic military training.

“You can’t change the time away from each other but you can use those moments as a chance to grow individually and as a family,” Mark said.

Julie and Mark hold each other accountable during those times apart by setting individual goals and checking in periodically for progress reports.

“I always recommend this to people when they deploy,” said Mark. “Set some goals as a family, such as saving money for a family trip when you get back, reading a book a week or even start learning a new language.”

Not only does this provide an opportunity to grow personally, but Julie and their children have also found this as a helpful tool to create checkpoints that ease the time Mark isn’t able to be home with them.

“It’s been a very helpful tool that I use to countdown those days until Mark comes home,” said Julie. “It helps keep our minds busy in a productive manner so that we all continue to grow rather than fixating on the negatives.”

Mark explained that it’s important to remember that even though our civilian spouses and family members don’t raise their right hand, they also serve in a different way.

“Although it is true that I am wearing the uniform and Julie is not, we are both equally serving,” said Mark. “There are significant sacrifices that we both have to make that need to be acknowledged.”

Mark continued, “We ask our spouses to often put their own careers on hold, to routinely move every 2-4 years and in each of those moves, we ask our spouses and children to start all over again with new jobs, schools, making friends, etc. This takes an incredible amount of resiliency on the part of our families.”

Julie and Mark have met some of their closest friends because of the mutual sacrifices they have had to endure and share with their peers.

“In the military, your friends become your family,” said Julie. “We’ve never been stationed very close to family so those friendships become so much more when you have those friends that share and understand these struggles.”

No two Airmen are alike, the same can be said about families. It’s important to remember that families are the backbone of maintaining a healthy and capable fighting force.

“You hear this phrase a lot, we recruit Airmen but we retain families,” said Mark. “But it’s so true if we want to retain our Airmen then we have to equally retain their families. We do this by integrating families into our squadrons and providing our military families with quality options in housing, child care, schools and health care, as well as employment and/or education opportunities for our spouses who are seeking work.”