Total Force Integration: on the flightline and the ball field

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Stephen J. Caruso
  • 514th Air Mobility Wing

For many Reserve Citizen Airmen of the 514th Air Mobility Wing, the concept of total force integration, or TFI, is a daily reality. The unit works alongside active duty Air Force personnel on the McGuire flightline to operate and maintain shared aircraft supporting joint missions around the world. And for one in particular, Staff Sgt. Caroline M. Abin, an avionics technician with the 514th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, TFI is about more than just working relationships with her local active duty counterparts.

In August, Abin tried out for and competed on the Air Force women’s softball team with 11 women from across all Air Force components, including active duty, Reserve and the Air National Guard. After a grueling 3-week tryout and training period, at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas, the team traveled to Fort Campbell, Ky., to compete against the Army and Navy in the Armed Forces Women’s Softball tournament from Aug. 9-13, 2021.

Originally from Freehold, N.J., Abin grew up playing softball from middle school through college. Spending most of her career at first base, she moved to the outfield due to her speed and ability to chase down fly balls.

At an early age, Abin was very attracted to the competitive aspect of softball. In high school, she traveled to tournaments up and down the East Coast and beyond to compete. But after college, she assumed she had left the game behind.

“When I graduated, I gave up competitive sports,” Abin said.

Since joining the military in 2016, Abin has been focused on growing her full-time Air Force Reserve career as an avionics technician, working on communications and navigation equipment on the C-17 Globemaster.

While working alongside active duty and sister services every day as a full-time Air Reserve Technician, competing on the same softball field would have seemed unlikely to Abin. Joining the Air Force, she was unaware of the opportunity to play competitive sports while wearing the uniform. But in the spring of 2021, she learned of the Air Force women’s softball team and decided to inquire about the upcoming Armed Forces tournament. Her chain of command was supportive of the prospect of having Abin represent the Air Force Reserve alongside active duty athletes in the joint competition. After emailing the coach in June, she received an invitation to an intensive weekend-long tryout in San Antonio the next month.

It was a terrific opportunity, Abin said, and she would not have gotten there without the support of the 514th AMXS leadership team funding the trip and allowing Abin to take the necessary leave from her civilian position in order to represent the unit.

She was selected for the team and quickly found herself wearing a new Air Force blue uniform, only this time with softball cleats instead of steel toed boots.

Her family was also firmly behind her, supporting her every step of the way, as they had throughout her playing career, Abin said.

“My parents support me big time,” Abin said. “They even went down to Fort Campbell to watch.”

When their flight was cancelled at the last minute, Rene and Carlos Abin quickly decided to make alternate travel arrangements. No strangers to long distance softball roadtrips, the Abin’s made the game time decision to travel from New Jersey to Kentucky by car.

“My parents drove all the way to Fort Campbell because their flight got cancelled that morning,” Abin said. “They drove 13 or 14 hours through the night to come see me. They’ve been doing that ever since I was 14, all through college. They traveled everywhere--Virginia, Ohio, Florida.”

Abin’s boyfriend, Senior Airman Angelo S. Bourdony, an active duty flying crew chief with the 305th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, also traveled to Kentucky to cheer her on. She was grateful his flying schedule allowed him to take leave, Abin said.

“Just having him out for three of the four days of the tournament was amazing,” Abin said.

For Abin, the support of leadership and family, as well as weeks of training in the Texas heat helped immensely when she finally got to play at Fort Campbell.

“It felt like everything paid off,” Abin said. “The three weeks of training was no joke. I felt like I was in college again.”

Abin was able to pick up right where she left off in competitive sports, and quickly remembered what she loved about being on a team.

“The tournament was intense and loud,” Abin said. “I missed that part of competitive softball.”

Unfortunately, the two-time defending champion Air Force team lost to the Navy in the championship. But Abin helped them secure a second place finish with a rout of the Army women’s team.

Most importantly, despite the fierce competition, the tournament provided a friendly environment of camaraderie and mutual support, Abin said.

“The Army stayed to watch the championship and congratulated us,” Abin said. “They watched the medal presentation. It was nice seeing females support females.”

As a Reserve Citizen Airman, it was an excellent opportunity to build relationships with her total force and joint service counterparts, Abin said.

“I knew nobody,” Abin said. “I feel like I have a lot of friends now in the military softball world.”

And if given the opportunity next year, she hopes to try out again and help the Air Force win back the championship from the Navy, Abin said.

“I’d definitely play again,” Abin said, grinning.