Blood ties: Misawa siblings serve side-by-side

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- Seldom are intimate memories shared with those who aren’t blood relatives; when you spend two decades or more with the same handful of people, there’s a connection built that’s hard to break. For two Misawa Airmen, they have that family dynamic halfway across the globe.

“It’s nice having a piece of family here,” said Senior Airman Amber Slavik, a 35th Medical Support Squadron medical logistics technician. “Having those inside jokes and being with me growing up, my brother and I can goof off and just be ourselves when we’re together.”

The sentiments echo almost verbatim by her elder brother, Airman 1st Class Anthony Kovacs, Jr., a 14th Fighter Squadron crew chief.

“A sibling is someone who knows you better than anyone else and a friend you share inside jokes with from your childhood… that’s who Amber is for me,” explained Kovacs, his voice trailing off as he recollects. “Having family with you really does make a difference.”

They’re originally from Amherst, Ohio. A small town not far from both Cleveland and Sandusky and a stone’s throw from Lake Erie. Despite their current relationship, the two weren’t always close growing up, but living 6,000 miles from home has given them an outlet to bond and grow as siblings and Airmen.

“With Anthony joining, it definitely gave us a common interest,” professed Slavik. “Being here brought us closer together. We’ll reach out to each other and go out to dinner, it’s nice being able to see him.”

Geography isn’t the only factor playing into their sibling bond, having a military lifestyle to share is another means of laying a solid foundation for them.

“When she joined before I did, she was in Colorado and I didn’t see her aside from the times she’d come home,” Kovacs admitted. “It’s nice to see her again and see how she’s grown since being away.”

Although Kovacs, 27, is the elder sibling to his 22-year-old sister, Slavik joined right out of high school. She wanted the education benefits and to see the world. Kovacs initially went the college route, later deciding the Air Force lifestyle could give him more direction and purpose in life. Although she’s almost six years his junior, Slavik uses her experience as an opportunity to switch roles and mentor her older brother.

“It’s a little weird outranking my brother,” she confessed. “I mentor him if he has any questions. I’m in a role where I have to be the example, but usually he’s the example.”

Even though they’re from completely different career fields, Slavik has the chance to mentor him now as adults. She works a desk job in the medical group ordering and overseeing equipment, whereas he works long hours turning wrenches on F-16 Fighting Falcons. Through the differences, there’s common ground that provide quality mentoring moments. Slavik says despite all that, there’s no escaping her adolescence with Kovacs.

“I did really dumb things when I was little and he still holds it over my head,” Slavik joked. “He’s still my big brother.”

Not only is the assignment beneficial for both siblings, but their family back home gets peace of mind as well.

“AJ [Kovaks] has his sister to help guide him in a new country,” said their mom, Sheri Slavik. “It’s always nice to have a familiar face to help ease into the unknown. It’s also nice to know they have each other… family.”

Having any kind of support group is crucial for maintaining good mental health. Whether it’s family or not, wingmen can make or break an assignment and having good company can make all the difference.

“Being able to travel is nice, but you do miss friends and family,” Kovacs said. “Occasionally when I just need someone to talk to, Amber [Slavik] is here. We’ve just been able to reconnect and talk more.”

Kovacs and Slavik will continue to strengthen that unbreakable family tie, creating more fond memories while at Misawa and as they both progress with their careers through the Air Force.