Keeping it in the family

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Nestor Cruz
  • 944th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Hollywood has given us the Corleone Brothers in “The Godfather,” Jake and Elwood in “The Blues Brothers” and the Earp Brothers in “Tombstone.” But the Air Force has a pair of cousins whose bond rivals the bond of actual blood brothers.

Tech. Sgt. Chris “Scotty” Saenz, 944th Logistics Readiness Squadron NCO-in-charge of operations, recently reconnected with his cousin during his annual tour here at Aviano Air Base, Italy. It’s been five years since the two saw each other; prior to that, it was approximately 20 years.

“Five years ago, I told my immediate family I was heading to Italy and it was my mom who put two and two together and said, ‘I think your cousin Carlos is somewhere in Italy, too. I’ll ask his mom,’” Saenz recalls. “It was on Facebook so everything happened pretty quickly. She came back to me saying, ‘Oh yeah, I did find out he IS in Italy, some place called Aviano.’ And I said, ‘That’s where I am!’ Literally two minutes later, she messaged me back with a phone number. I gave Carlos a call and said, ‘Hey what’s up? This is Scotty. I’m here on base.’”

Saenz’s cousin, Master Sgt. Carlos Ornelas, 31st Communications Squadron radio frequency transmissions systems section chief, remembers the excitement he felt upon hearing his younger cousin was in Italy.

“I hadn’t seen this kid since he was very little, maybe 10 years old, so I was pretty excited to see him,” Ornelas said. “As soon as he called me, I was like ‘I gotta see this kid.’ It was funny because I showed up and I didn’t even recognize him. He was much bigger than I remember. I mean, last time I saw him he was my son’s size.”

Ornelas invited his cousin to his home in Sacile where they enjoyed a family barbecue and Saenz taught his nieces how to play guitar.

“I remember vividly when (Saenz) was nine years old, he used to sing Bon Jovi songs all the time,” said Ornelas. “He was always the singer, the rocker. I never heard from him again and lo and behold, he’s here and he actually plays the guitar and he’s a big musician now.”

Thankfully, social media helped the two cousins stay in touch over the years since their reunion. Before returning to Aviano for this year’s annual tour, Saenz contacted Ornelas, giving him enough “heads up” for his arrival.

“Once we were reunited, we kept that connection going via Facebook,” Ornelas said. “He asked if I was still here and I said ‘sure enough.’ He told me he would be here in a couple weeks and we were ready to hang out again.

“Last time sucked because when he found out I was here, he had less than a week left and I thought ‘Oh man, if only I had found out sooner,’’’ he added.

Even though the two cousins have reunited briefly this time around -- Saenz is here temporarily for annual tour and Ornelas is preparing for a permanent change of station -- they understand this is the nature of military life.

“I’m sure everybody in the military can definitely relate and say they haven’t been home in 2, 5 or 20 years and we all understand that sacrifice,” Saenz said. “So it’s pretty awesome when you finally get to see someone familiar from back home. When I was younger, Carlos was that cool, older cousin who drove a Camaro.”

Both cousins feel strong bonds with their blood family as well as their Air Force family.

“The Air Force is my family,” Ornelas said. “(Being in the Air Force) gives me a chance to serve others and make a difference. We’re both serving and doing something bigger than both of us. I love seeing my family members making a difference for the United States. Five years ago, Scotty just put on technical sergeant and I was really proud of him.”

Saenz feels especially blessed for having his cousin among his mentors in his Air Force career.

“As one grows up, you want to have mentors and pick up their positive qualities,” Saenz said. “I think it’s awesome having Carlos around. I’m sure I’m not the only one in our Air Force he’s influencing.

“And I know all of our other cousins look up to him as well. We just had our grandfather’s 80th birthday and when everybody heard I was coming here, they all spoke highly of him,” he continued. “It’s great seeing him just killing it in his Air Force career. Besides being a great Airman and great family member, he’s a great dad, too. He’s got a great personality everyone in our family has always loved and always swarmed around. His success just matches his personality. When people think of the Air Force now, they say ‘Oh Carlos is doing awesome in the military.’”