One family’s ‘business’ to serve
OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- When people describe their job as a "family business," images of family diners or professions which require a specific trade may come to mind.
For the last 65 years one family hasn't been at the diner selling burgers and milk shakes, they've been lacing up their boots and deploying to remote locations around the world for their "family business."
"I was raised a military brat and it's just the way life is; the military in general is just a way of life for all of us," said Senior Airman Caleb Dunlap, 51st Maintenance Squadron flight line maintenance crew member.
While it's not uncommon for sons to follow in their father's footsteps, the Dunlap family has taken it a step further.
"My son Caleb is our fourth generation of our family in the Air Force," said Senior Master Sgt. Toby Dunlap, 7th Air Force chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense manager. "We've had a member of our family in the Air Force every day since its inception in 1947. My grandfather joined during World War II in the Army Air Corps, and retired in 72'. My father came in during the late 60s and served until Aug. 1, 1988, which is also the day I enlisted, so we've never had a break in service in the Air Force."
Although he represents the fourth generation of his family in the Air Force, Caleb isn't the newest Dunlap to don an Air Force uniform.
"I've been in for just about a year," said Second Lt. Sarah Dunlap, 7th Civil Engineer Squadron architectural engineer at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. "The Air Force is a higher calling, which is part of the reason why I joined. Its family tradition and a really an honor, because it's something that's, I wouldn't say expected but a place that we should all be."
The Dunlap's family tree of service also extends into other branches of the military.
"I have a brother that's in the Army right now who has served in Korea three times - twice while I was here - and my youngest son Sam is currently serving as a medic in the Army," Toby said. "I also have an uncle that retired as a colonel in the Air Force Reserves, and an uncle that was a medic in Vietnam in the Air Force."
Dunlap family members have circled the globe numerous times throughout their 65 years of service but outside of Toby and his brother, have rarely crossed paths while in the line of duty. So for Toby, who will be officially retiring Aug. 1, serving these past few months with Caleb at Osan has allowed them to catch up on father-son time.
"Right after I decided I was going to retire, I found out that Caleb was going to be here for my last two months," Toby said. "I wanted to make sure that he had a good start, which is something that I didn't have when I first came here as a young Airman. Just to have the opportunity to hang out with him is huge, because for the last five years I haven't really been able to see him. I sacrificed a lot of time with my family, so I got to make it up a little bit during these past two months."
Although two of his sons have served numerous tours in the Republic of Korea, the current patriarch of the family, retired Master Sgt. James Dunlap, Toby's father, was the first Dunlap to set foot on the peninsula.
"I first came to Korea in December of 1964 and left in March 1966, so it's been almost 50 years," James said. "Coming here wasn't anything I expected, it's amazing how different it is. Having spent a large part of my life in the Air Force, it's great to be able to honor the things Toby's done over the last 25 years."
With his father becoming the third Dunlap to retire in the senior NCO tier, the pressure's now on Caleb to do the same.
"My grandfather retired as a senior master sergeant," Toby said. "He was in the early group when senior master sergeant first became a rank. My father retired as a master, and now me as a senior."
"So the pressure's on me now to make chief," Caleb said.
James and Sarah recently joined Toby and Caleb at Osan to celebrate Toby's retirement, a moment the senior master sergeant will forever cherish.
"This event is probably the high point in my Air Force career and I've done a lot of great things, but this was the best," Toby said. "It's been really nice to come home after work and have dinner with my sister, my father and my son. That's a good way to round out your time in Korea. It doesn't really feel like I'm retiring though, because I've been part of the Air Force family my entire life. So for 43 years I've been doing this - 18 as a dependent and 25 as active duty - and I'll spend the rest of my life as a retiree."
Even though the active duty Air Force will be down one Dunlap, Sarah and Caleb are ready to assume the duties and responsibilities that come with the "family business."
"It's definitely a passing of the torch for us," Sarah said. "It's a very big deal for me, because the Air Force has never gone a day without a Dunlap. As one of us steps back, we will step up and continue to serve. That's just what we do."