Military Offers Opportunities Of A Lifetime
January 4, 2012
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- For the Formica family, commitment is a two-way street.
Just as Diane Formica committed to support her husband, Richard, in his career as an Army officer, he, in turn, committed to support her passion for teaching in the classroom.
Now, just a few days shy of their 29th wedding anniversary, this three-star general and his wife are still very much in love with each other, with the military family they have raised and with the idea of working together as an Army command team.
"Being stationed at Fort Hood (Texas) early in our marriage was a pivotal assignment for us," said Lt. Gen. Richard Formica, commander of the Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command.
"It was a formative family and career assignment that really forged together this notion of a command team that worked there and has worked for us ever since. What we do is a family event. Just as she committed to being my spouse, I was committed to her."
In the year that they have been stationed at Redstone Arsenal, this command couple has made a name for themselves in support of Survivor Outreach Services, Army Community Service and other Arsenal organizations. While Formica leads an organization known for its work in space and missile defense technologies, he is also encouraging his employees to get involved in their communities. While Diane Formica supports her husband's work and volunteers in the community, she is also continuing her love for teaching at Country Day School.
In Formica's nearly 35 years of service, Redstone Arsenal has turned out to be one of their best assignments. It's a city that loves its military, supports its families, and values its children, education and quality of life amenities.
"This is a patriotic town. It's easy to love America in Huntsville, Ala.," the lieutenant general said. "There is a natural connection here between the military and the community. I've been surprised and pleased with the quality of the community, the level of support for the military, and the interaction between the community and the post."
The Formicas have been especially surprised with the support the Arsenal receives from the local community. They were impressed with the size of both the parade and the crowd at the 2011 Veterans Day Parade, where Formica was the reviewing officer. They are in awe of a community that just dedicated a first-class Veterans Memorial in downtown Huntsville on Veterans Day.
"This is one special town. People here really turn out to support the military," Formica said.
Army good to families
Through the course of Formica's career, the family has lived in some 14 different communities. Together they raised four successful children -- Jeff, 27, who lives with his wife and two children in Virginia; Jonathan, 26, who lives with his wife and three children in California; James, 24, who lives with his wife in Dallas; and Michelle, 22, a 2011 college graduate who is working in a local retail store and planning her June wedding to a Marine corporal who is deployed to Afghanistan.
"The Army has been very, very good to us," Formica said. "I have concluded that I came into the Army to meet Diane and raise this family. I believe in providence, not coincidence.
"We have raised four children in the Army. With the Army's help, we've raised a family through all the hardships of service and all the challenges of being an Army family. But it's not about how challenging it is. It's about how good it's been for us."
The Formica couple met when Diane, who was raised in an Army family, was attending the University of Kentucky. Her brother, an Army captain, was taking the advanced officers course in Oklahoma and needed a babysitter for his two children during a few weeks in the summer. Diane drove to Oklahoma to babysit, and met her future husband at a softball game.
"I was talking to her brother about who we could fix her up with while she was there. I didn't even think about fixing her up with me. But when I met her, I fell in love at first sight. That was in June and we were engaged by September," Formica recalled.
For Diane, her future husband made a good first impression.
"He had a sense of humor and he was very much a gentleman," she said.
"We just hit it off from the first," Formica said. "Not only was she beautiful, but our relationship just get better and better. I was smitten. I was literally smitten."
During the fall, Diane finished college while Formica took an assignment at West Point. The two wrote letters to each other, talked on the phone and had a few visits. They began their journey as a married Army couple on Jan. 8, 1983.
Rules for happy marriage
From the beginning, the couple had some specific rules that many happily married couples follow. Open and frequent communication was a must. Celebrating birthdays and other special family dates was also a requirement, even if the actual celebration had to be moved to accommodate a schedule. Being together -- and not geographically separated by assignments -- was a top priority.
"Early on, we decided we would go wherever we had to go as long as we could go as a family," Diane said. "We would go as a family and make the best of every assignment. It was important for us to be together."
Their first assignment -- together at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point -- left the family with two young children, a dog and a station wagon. Their next assignment -- that pivotal one at Fort Hood -- produced two more children, and found Diane pursuing her passion as a teacher with a part-time job as the director of the children's ministry at a local Methodist church and volunteering in the military community. Fort Hood set the pace for the Formica's military journey as they went from assignment to assignment. Throughout that career, Army Community Service and family readiness groups were areas where Diane enjoyed volunteering.
"I always tried to show to young families that you have to be yourself and have to do things you enjoy doing or that you want to do for the right reasons," Diane said.
"I always felt that volunteering in the community was important, but I didn't have to do everything. I could pick and choose what I wanted to do, and where I could do the most. Everybody's got a niche. I found time for things where I felt I could make a difference."
Formica shared that same message with the Soldier leadership that worked for him.
"I would tell them that the Army is a family and whatever you choose to do as part of that family we would take," he said. "What a spouse chose to do or not to do did not affect how I treated a Soldier or how I felt about a Soldier."
With the right mix of communication, attitude, support and spousal commitment, Diane was able to work outside the home as a teacher, raise her children, be active with her husband's unit and attend social events. It was a busy time for the family, but one they found rewarding.
To better manage their household, the couple spent time every Sunday going over the family calendar for the week. They also made it important to have special times with just the two of them and they maintained balance between professional, family and volunteer obligations.
"I've always felt very balanced," Formica said. "Even if I don't appear to be balanced, as long as I can achieve those things that are important to me and my family then I believe I am in balance. And the most important thing to us, as a couple, was investing in each other's lives."
Building resilient families
Now, as a senior military couple, they want to be role models for other military couples who want to make a difference for their fellow Soldiers and their families.
"This is now our opportunity to give back. The Army has been good to us and we want to give back," Formica said.
The couple would like to encourage other military families to stay strong, and to find ways to bind themselves to each other through values and hopes and dreams.
"Our families need to stay strong because the essence of life is in our families," Formica said. "Strong families share joy and endure hardships better together. There are lots of challenges in the military life. There's the challenge and stress of long deployments. There are worries about the Soldier's safety and welfare. All of these are best endured by strong families. When tragedy strikes, our experience has been that strong families of faith tend to endure better."
Diane said Army Community Service and the Army Family Team Building initiative along with Army chaplain's Strong Bonds and family readiness groups continue to provide programs to build and solidify a Soldier's family unit. These programs got exceptionally strong during the past 10 years when families needed help to endure multiple deployments. But now as the war in Iraq ends and the war in Afghanistan begins to wind down, Army family programs will once again need to shift to help families become more dependent on each other, the Formicas said.
"How do you build ready families that can sustain themselves and not be dependent on support? Families have come to feel entitled to programs to help families endure multiple deployments," Formica said. "But as deployment stresses back off and budgets tighten, families will need to become resilient families that can take care of themselves and be less reliant on programs."
Challenges of military life
The Formica couple acknowledged that military life does bring its challenges and difficult times. During their frequent moves, their children have gone to both good schools and not so good schools, and they have lived in great communities and not so great communities. They have lived overseas in a remote area of Germany where they were among the few who spoke English, and they have endured Formica's multiple absences, including a 2004-05 deployment to Iraq during which he missed the high school graduation of his second oldest son.
"We always felt that no matter where we were the life lessons our children were learning were always important," Diane said. "Finding a church was always first for us when we moved somewhere new. Each child was also allowed one extracurricular activity. Before a move, we would research where we were going, and what was going to be exciting about the new place and what we were going to do there. We made it a positive experience. And although it was difficult at times, we knew each place would offer many wonderful opportunities. For the most part, the children did fine."
Their youngest, Michelle, once wrote a school paper about how proud she is of being a military kid. "It made me who I am," she wrote. And Formica likes to tell the story of their move from Oklahoma to Virginia, when Michelle had to attend a new school for the first time without any of her older brothers.
"She was entering her junior year in high school and it was a little traumatic because she didn't have any of her brothers with her," he said. "We got her a car so she could drive herself and then we did a recon the day before school started so that she would know how to get there and where to park. The first day she walked into a school of 4,000 kids and she didn't know anybody. Three weeks later she was a social butterfly."
"It's pretty easy to raise independent kids in the military," Diane added.
One of the down sides of frequent moves was the sacrifices Diane had to make with her teaching career. Different states would require different teaching certifications. But somehow, Diane would find a way back into the classroom.
"It's my passion," she said. "I love teaching. I love being with children. It's very rewarding for me. I love especially teaching kindergarten, first and second grades. And I could always count on Richard to come and read to my kids and participate in my classroom."
Being a mentor to children has always tugged at Formica's heart. His own loss has made him especially dedicated to the Arsenal's Survivor Outreach Services, which provides services to the families of fallen Soldiers.
"I have an intense personal connection with SOS," he said. "My dad died when I was a little boy. I know the pain of losing a parent at an early age.
"When we had the first few unit casualties experienced in 2003 we were both touched with the whole idea of reaching out to families who had lost Soldiers. When we got here, we saw an opportunity to help support a community activity by providing senior level involvement."
"We just don't want to ever forget these families," Diane added.
As time goes on, the loss never lessens.
"The true test of time will come 10 years from now when we'll still remember them because 10 years from now they still will have lost their Soldier," Formica said.
The Formicas are encouraging Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command employees to also find ways to help those in need.
"We want this command to reach outside itself. We want to be a good tenant and a good neighbor to this community," Formica said.
"During this past year, I've asked: What can we as a command do for this community? And our employees have responded with warmth and lots of ideas. This is good for our command and for the people in the command."
Formica believes it is important for leadership to encourage their employees to have balance in their lives -- and that means balance between career, personal life and volunteerism.
"We need to develop a generation of the work force that view themselves as public servants. Selfless service doesn't only apply to Soldiers, but also to our great civil servants," he said. "Our employees already show that they serve. As leaders, we need to focus on providing the Army the capabilities it needs and on supporting the public service of our civilian work force."
As Redstone Arsenal changes, it is hoped its civilian work force will become an example of what civil service means to the rest of the Army and the nation.
"Redstone Arsenal ought to be a shining light for what it means to be a Department of the Army civilian. We need to develop our civilians to be leaders both here and throughout the Army," Formica said. "We are blessed with great DA civilians focused on providing capabilities and doing great things for the Soldier every day. We want other installations to look at Redstone Arsenal and say 'That's what it means to be a DA civilian. This is what it means to be part of the Army family.'"