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AFMC’s first lady shares military spouse perspective

  • Published
  • By Steven Przyzycki
  • Air Force Materiel Command

When Caroline Jones began dating a young Arnie Bunch during her senior year at Morristown East High School, Tennessee, she never dreamed of the life that was in store for her.

“It was 1979, and we were high school sweethearts,” said Caroline Bunch, spouse of Air Force Materiel Command Commander, Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, Jr. “He was a junior on the basketball team, and I was the head cheerleader in my senior year. My best friend Elaine Thompson arranged for us to meet at his house and play cards with his parents. We started going steady, and we’ve been together ever since.”

Gen. Bunch has often stated that the greatest bargain the Air Force gets is its military spouses, because they do so much for Airmen, without any compensation. As a 38-year military spouse, Caroline understands the sacrifice spouses make and how they play an integral role in the success of the military.

Caroline was born in Morristown, Tennessee, and she was raised in the house her parents built. She married Gen. Bunch in 1984, which began a whirlwind life as a military spouse that has included 20 assignments and 17 moves with multiple assignments at AFMC installations.

Having little prior knowledge of the Air Force or the military, she welcomed the lifestyle and dedicated herself to serving the Air Force and its families.

“I had two uncles who served, one in the Navy and one in the Air Force, but we never saw much of them because they lived far away,” said Caroline. “Arnie had great uncles who served in World War II.”

Serving others was not a new concept for Caroline as she had learned a lot from her civic-minded parents.

“My father was a pharmacist who owned an independent pharmacy, and he served on the school board and as a county commissioner,” she said. “My mother was a stay-at-home mom who took care of me and my brother, and she was very active as a Red Cross volunteer, especially at blood drives.”

Caroline began college in 1979, and Gen. Bunch began his studies at the United States Air Force Academy a year later.

“Arnie was a ‘whiz’ academically, and when he graduated high school, he had been offered a Navy ROTC scholarship in addition to acceptances to West Point and the Air Force Academy,” she said. “I told him that I didn’t think I could do the Navy lifestyle because of the long separations while he would be on a ship. Arnie was only 18, and he said he couldn’t imagine himself in a tank, so he chose the Air Force.”

In 1983, Caroline graduated with honors from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville with a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood Education and a certification in K-3 elementary education.

“My goal was to open my own day care facility or preschool,” said Caroline. “I had to put all of that on hold while I waited for Arnie to graduate. I didn’t want to be a distraction his last year, so I stayed in Morristown and worked days at a day care and evenings at my father’s pharmacy.”

Caroline said that one of the greatest challenges she faced as a military spouse was securing employment.

“When Arnie went to pilot training, it was a one year assignment,” she said. “No one was going to hire me to teach for only one year. In addition, getting certified to teach in new locations was always an issue. As a B-52 pilot, Arnie had to pull alert one weekend of every month which was especially difficult when we had children. We also couldn’t predict when he would get leave to visit our families. I wound up doing a lot of substitute teaching because it offered greater flexibility and allowed me to be there to support Arnie and the children.”

Caroline stresses that one of the key factors to her and Gen Bunch’s success was that they supported one another, relying on great cooperation and collaboration.

“We were young, and as a spouse, I needed to make sacrifices in order to help mold our futures,” she said. “You need to have serious sit down discussions about decisions in order to see how your lives will fit together.”

Caroline has seen support for Air Force families improve greatly through the years.

“Support for families is much better now with all of the agencies that do so much to improve our quality of life such as the Exceptional Family Member Program, Blue Star Family Program, Military Child Education Coalition, and the Department of Defense Education Activity’s Military Interstate Compact,” she said. “We have come a long way.”

She stressed that resiliency is very important to the success of Air Force families.

“You have to be resilient not just for yourself, but for your spouse and your children as well,” she said. “In the past, I think a lot of young spouses didn’t feel comfortable to speak up about issues that needed to be improved. It is better now, and that kind of feedback is very important.”

While it has not been without challenges, Caroline said that when her military spouse career comes to an end, there will be much that she will miss.

“Most of all, I will miss the people and the great traditions that exist in the Air Force,” she said. “The camaraderie that is enjoyed by spouses is a very special bond. I have also loved volunteering at the Red Cross, the thrift store, and at many squadron activities. All of the ceremonies, reveille, and retreat are always elegant, and I have enjoyed telling people about AFMC and the great work the command does.”

Though it is a challenge to predict what will come next, she said that it is her hope to keep busy with her two grandchildren, sons and their wives. She hopes to spend much more time with them in the future.
However, the Air Force will always maintain an important place in her heart.  “I have always enjoyed mentoring young spouses,” she said. “I remind them what Arnie says all the time, to start with the end in mind. Ultimately, I have found that the greatest reward is in helping others. I will miss them all.”