Skip to comments.Roots in military run deep in local Guard unit
Posted on 11/12/2007 8:17:41 AM PST by SandRat
When military leaders describe the bond between those who serve, they often speak in terms of brotherhood and family.
But for several members of Tucson's 162nd Fighter Wing, the family connection is more than symbolic.
A handful of Air National Guardsmen serving in the unit based at Tucson International Airport are following in the footsteps of fathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins, and siblings, with many of them performing jobs similar to those of their forebears.
While members of the unit say it's not unusual for children to follow their parents into the military, it's not common to have them nearly replicate Mom or Dad's career.
For the families, service with the fighter wing has become a matter of personal pride one family has continuously served in the unit for nearly as long as it has been around.
For others, serving alongside family affords everyone the opportunity to perform a job they love while sharing time with loved ones.
"You can't beat it," said 45-year-old Chief Master Sgt. Larry Cruce. "He works 100 yards from me and he works 200 yards from me," he said while pointing to his two sons, Staff Sgts. Joshua and Mark Cruce.
With parents serving in the Guard full time, children of the 162nd grow up around the unit, swimming at the base's pool and playing on teams coached by Guard members.
That may be one reason why younger generations continue to serve in the fighter wing which has 1,100 full-time Guardsmen working to train foreign pilots to fly the F-16 fighter jet.
"It was my home," said Master Sgt. Alex Leyvas, 44, who grew up watching his father serve with the wing. "I really know no different than the 162nd."
Leyvas' father, retired Master Sgt. Albert Leyvas, 68, joined the unit in 1959 after serving in the Marines. He arrived three years after the fighter wing was formed.
During high school, Alex landed a part-time job at the base, cleaning the buildings and sweeping the floors.
After he graduated from Sunnyside High School and attended a community college in Phoenix, Alex returned and got a job with the 162nd. He now inspects the F-16s to make sure the jets don't have flaws in their frames.
The Leyvas legacy didn't end there, though.
Alex's son, Senior Airman Alex Leyvas Jr., grew up on the base like his father. When the time came, he enlisted, too.
The youngest Leyvas, who maintains the radar, flight-control and other avionics equipment on the jets, said that between his family connections, the opportunity for an education and the chance to serve his country, choosing the 162nd was easy.
"All the cards just fell into place," the 22-year-old said.
Among the three generations, the Leyvas family has served for nearly as long as the unit itself, outlasting unit commanders.
The years of experience for the Leyvas and Cruce families as well as other families who serve with the fighter wing mean a deep well of knowledge about the F-16 and what it takes to keep it flying, said the eldest Cruce, a San Manuel native who served in the Air Force before joining the unit.
The tight-knit community also can mean it doesn't take long before family members learn about mistakes, said Cruce's 25-year-old son, Joshua.
Joshua is a crew chief for an F-16, meaning he's responsible for the safety and integrity of the jet. His father oversees the maintenance schedules for all the jets on the flight line, meaning he's essentially Joshua's boss.
"If I get written up, it goes across his desk," he said.
His 24-year-old brother, Mark, helps manage supplies needed to maintain the jets.
But interactions between relatives at the unit are almost never negative and often can be beneficial, Alex Leyvas said.
He recalled inspecting an A-7 attack jet while his father was working at the base as the supervisor of the sheet-metal shop, which handles the structural repairs of the jets.
Alex was walking on top of the jet with a black light to check for damage to the aircraft when the extension cord connected to the light got caught, sending the light crashing into one of the jet's wings.
The light snapped in half and put a hole in the wing. Shocked, Alex got down and ran to his supervisor to tell him what happened.
The first question out of the supervisor's mouth wasn't how the hole got there, but rather, "Is your dad still here?" Alex said.
At first, he thought the question was aimed at getting him in trouble. But he soon realized the supervisor wanted to get the wing fixed quickly and quietly.
"Thank God my dad can fix it," Alex remembers thinking.
If anything, having family members in your unit serves as motivation to do your best work, the youngest Leyvas said.
"People are always asking about your family," he said. "You just want to keep that family name in good graces."
His father said that with the legacy of service comes the unspoken expectation that family members will serve honorably.
"I don't think we preach it, it just happens," he said. As to whether further generations of Cruces and Leyvases will serve at the 162nd, both families said that they won't force it on future children.
But given the opportunities, the tradition and the family atmosphere, the service might come as naturally as it did to previous generations, they say.
"Growing up here, it feels comfortable," the youngest Leyvas said. "It just really felt like a good decision."
View photos of veterans submitted by readers at go.azstarnet.com/veterans.
● Contact reporter Aaron Mackey at 573-4138 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.