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Life in the Air Force Family - Beginning to End

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Maj. (Select) Steve Engler, 17th Test Squadron, Detachment 3, and his wife Gina. (Photo illustration courtesy of Gina Engler)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Maj. (Select) Steve Engler, 17th Test Squadron, Detachment 3, and his wife Gina. (Photo illustration courtesy of Gina Engler)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Everyone knows how a young troop is taken care of in the first couple years of his career. This article was written at the request of one of our fellow Airmen during the final few days of his service.

I recently had the fortunate and unfortunate opportunity to experience the last days with one of our own, who was given two weeks to live. I say unfortunate for obvious reasons; no one wants a friend or coworker to die. I also say fortunate, because I got to see a part of the Air Force that most seem to forget about in our daily struggles. My friend and co-worker was Capt. Steve Engler.

On Sept.18, Steve was told by his doctors that he had pancreatic cancer, and was given two weeks to live.

As a small geographically separated detachment for a squadron based in Colorado, many members of the 45th Space Wing and Patrick AFB/Cape Canaveral AFS community aren't even aware of our presence on the base. Regardless, word quickly spread, and I was truly amazed at what took place. The Air Force did what we hear about all the time - it took care of its own. I can't start to list the names of everyone, but so many organizations helped.

At a moment's notice, the base legal office dropped everything and went to the hospital to prepare his will. The Force Support Squadron was phenomenal; and both Casualty Affairs and Mortuary Affairs worked closely with the Engler family to ensure all of their affairs were in order before he passed.

Knowing his family would be well taken care of allowed him to rest easier and make the most of his final days.

In addition to outstanding support to get all the affairs in order, the base did its best to help to provide comfort and moral support to Steve and his family.

Steve had a line number for Major, but knew he would not live long enough to see the promotion. Several agencies on the base helped us orchestrate an early pin-on ceremony in the hospital, allowing Steve's family to appreciate fully his accomplishments as an Airman.

Steve expressed a desire to spend a few days at the beach with his family.

Before I knew it, two beach-side DV suites were reserved for the entire family. Then, through Operation Warmheart, the suites were paid! Through all of this, we put together a dinner schedule and people from all over Patrick and the Cape provided meals for the family!

By the end of those two weeks I sat down with Steve and asked, "What can I do to help?"

"Nothing," he responded simply.

He told me he was at peace, knowing his family would be taken care of. He was grateful for the weekend on the beach with his family and how the Air Force had taken care of him.

Then he asked me to help him with one last thing - to help write this "thank you" note.

He said, "Everyone knows how people new to the Air Force are taken care of, but not many know how the Air Force takes care of people leaving the Air Force."

His family also asked me to express their gratitude for the Wing support and work everyone did to make Steve comfortable at the end. They were so touched by the Air Force family that Steve's son is now considering joining our ranks and his sister-in-law has decided to enter the Air Force as a nurse.

Thank you to everyone who helped. To some it may not seem like much, but to Steve and his family, it meant everything! For me, I am proud to serve in a place where people really matter. He served 23 years in both the officer and enlisted ranks and left behind a wife, three kids and a huge Air Force family.

I hope he is eternally happy.

It is an honor to have served with him and with all of you who made such a difference in the past few weeks!