Family: The foundation of Warrior Hearts

  • Published
  • By Air Mobility Command Public Affairs

America’s Airmen enter a Warrior Heart culture when they take their oath, but it’s the families who are the foundation of Warrior mentality.

During the 2023 Airlift/Tanker Association Conference in Grapevine, Texas, Gen. Mike Minihan, Air Mobility Command commander, acknowledged this fighting courage with a story of his own spouse, Ashley Minihan, after her father’s passing. While in the funeral procession, Minihan received a call notifying him of a sudden deployment tasking in just two days.

“Three hours after I received that phone call, Ashley was standing next to her newly-widowed mother, holding our five week old, standing next to our six year old and nine year old,” Minihan said. “I’m getting in the car, and there’re tears on both of our faces, but the expression on her face was one of strength and support for me during that time when I needed her most. When I think of Warrior Heart, when I think of will to win, I think of my bride Ashley.”

Over three days, A/TA featured 10 keynote speakers and six spouse-specific seminars that explored what it takes to build Warrior Hearts not just in Airmen, but in the spouses that back America’s defenders.

“We develop Warrior Hearts because we have to,” said Lizann Lightfoot, military spouse, advocate and author. “Being a warrior is not a quality that people are born with. It’s something that develops from the challenges you face, the trauma you live through. And sometimes, military life is traumatic.”

Lightfoot has been married to her Marine for 15 years. Somewhere in between seven deployments, six duty stations, giving birth during a Category 3 hurricane while her husband was deployed, and standing by her spouse while he recovered from combat injuries, her Warrior Heart was forged. Now, she is ow on a mission to share that culture with others.

“This concept of Warrior Heart seems obvious for service members,” said Lightfoot.

She explained that, at first glance, a Warrior Heart is associated with overthrowing empires, leading armies and firing weapons. But after over 15 years of military life, Lightfoot argues that the concept of Warrior Heart should be expanded beyond the battlefield.

“Can you think of a military spouse who has faced a challenge with bold determination?” Lightfoot asked. “Is there a military spouse you would describe as strong and fiercely independent? Can you picture a military spouse who has inspired you with their confidence in a stressful situation? Those are the people with warrior hearts.”

For Total Force mobility warriors and spouses, resources are available to assist in the military life rollercoaster. Military OneSource and are two easily accessible options with a wide variety of tools to build Warrior Hearts.

Michelle Aldana, a Program Analyst for Military Community Support Programs, provided a demo of these sites to 46 spouses in attendance at A/TA. Resources include spouse employment options, career coaches, confidential counseling, education support, childcare, financial consulting, health and wellness coaching, document translation, and other military family concerns and focus areas.

“It’s hard, but if you know where your resources are, if you know where to access it, and we share that, the better off we’re all going to be,” said Aldana. “It’s a lot easier to teach a swim lesson than it is to pull someone out of the water.”

While many resources exist to support military families, Ashley acknowledges that the trick is getting this information out to spouses. Her goal was to use A/TA as a way to give spouses the knowledge and access they need to easily develop Warrior Heart in themselves and their Airmen.

“This year we made a change,” said Ashley. “We got spouses access to military briefings and held spouse specific seminars, all with the intention of building Warrior Heart culture.”

Ashley expressed pride in the inclusion of spouses at this year’s conference. It is another small step in continuing the positive change she’s seen over the years, change that recognizes the crucial role spouses and families play in Warrior Heart culture.