Dohertys named top AF couple
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on December 1, 2011 1:46 PM
Just weeks after he was wounded in Afghanistan, Staff Sgt. Ben Seekell and his family got a visit from 4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Patrick Doherty and his wife, Dee Dee. The colonel characterized the scene that unfolded at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as "the epitome of resilience" and Mrs. Doherty said she is still moved by just how strong the Seekells have been in the face of adversity.
He could have made a phone call.
He could have sent a note.
He certainly didn't have to drive to Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
There were exercises and an inspection to prepare for.
There were hundreds of airmen to gear up for war.
But when 4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Patrick Doherty learned that one of the men he is charged with leading was working tirelessly to get back to his unit -- just weeks after losing a leg when an Improvised Explosive Device went off under his feet in Afghanistan -- he felt compelled to meet the young man face to face.
And with his wife, Dee Dee, by his side, he said he witnessed something that cannot be measured by military awards or decorations.
"That was special," Doherty said. "And it was awe- inspiring."
Doherty paces back and forth in front of the countless men and women he is about to send across the world.
He knows it will be more than half a year before they see their family members again -- before they touch back down on the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base flight line.
So he tells them just how much their service means to their country -- how he will ensure their loved ones are taken care of while they're gone.
"You just understand how much people are sacrificing ... to be in this life," the colonel said. "That's what's special about the 4th Fighter Wing. That's what's always been special about the 4th Fighter Wing."
As of last week, the Dohertys became the most recent recipients of the Gen. and Mrs. Jerome O'Malley Award -- an Air Force honor that recognizes the wing commander and spouse team whose contributions to the nation, the Air Force, and the local community best exemplify the highest ideals and positive leadership of a military couple in a key Air Force position.
But for the colonel and his wife, the award speaks not to their achievements, but to those of the communities both inside and outside the Seymour Johnson gates.
"It's not really about us," Mrs. Doherty said, looking over at her husband. "There is no way we could do it on our own, and that, I think, is what's so great about having the commanders and leaders that are underneath Pat -- and the spouses who are willing to step up and take on those roles to help out. Without those people, (what we do) wouldn't work."
The colonel smiled.
"We've been extremely blessed with the people who are around us," he said. "We've got ... the finest people of our country wearing the uniform here."
So they intend to share what they both characterize as the wing's latest achievement with those who helped them earn it.
And they will never forget that a plaque or trophy means little when compared with the mission they are responsible for overseeing -- and the people who carry it out.
"Awards are nice, but at this point in our career ... that's really not the important thing. The important thing is making sure people are successful -- that they're reaching their potential," Doherty said. "The awards are rewards, but in my mind, the real honor is making sure (the airmen) are trained -- firing them up and letting them know how important (they are)."
Mrs. Doherty thinks back to the first military spouse that touched her heart.
"She just treated me like family," she said.
And she hopes that drawing from her own experiences -- and memories of how her role models did things -- will help her as she continues, for the next several months, the work that comes with being the first lady of one of the most significant fighter wings in the world.
"It hasn't always been easy. You know, we've had assignments that weren't always easy, but I've always leaned on my faith when we went through tough times," she said. "We've been through a lot of different things and our kids have, too. So you can look back on how things affected them and maybe, maybe help someone by giving them an example of how you handled it -- whether they use it or not. That's what neat about (the Air Force). It is, in a sense, the old looking after the young."