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Chief, son serve through holidays together in Afghanistan

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Passing the turkey, watching football, unwrapping gifts, and sitting around a fireplace while sipping hot chocolate with family and friends might be traditions out of the question for most deployed military members this holiday season. Fortunately, though far from home, a father and son get to spend the season together for the first time in three years.

Nearly 7,000 miles away from their hometown of Meadville, Pa., Chief Master Sgt. John Amato and his son, Senior Airman Joe Amato, are serving together under the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.

"I think this time of year is hardest for those away from home, but having a family member deployed with you makes a huge difference," said Chief Amato, 451st Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron superintendent. "Down the road, a long time from now, we'll always be able to look back at how we were both deployed to KAF for the holidays in 2010."

Despite the relentless mission, little hope for snow, and tons of dirt typical to the region, the pair is still able to relish in the thought that a deployment brought them together for this time of year. This is the first time the two Amatos have had a chance to share the season since the younger Amato joined the Air Force in 2006.

"It's been a while ... either I've been deployed or he's been deployed," said Airman Amato who is on his third deployment. "We spend time together when we can. We try to go to breakfast or dinner a couple times a week."

Some days, it gets difficult for them to have some quality time together because the mission always comes first. As a senior enlisted member, Chief Amato has plenty of work cut out for himself as he maintains structure within his squadron, while also getting involved at a flight-level to see what his Airmen are experiencing on a daily basis. However, Chief Amato, who is deployed from Youngstown Air Reserve Base, Ohio, claims his schedule is more flexible than his son's.

Airman Amato stays busy by directly supporting more than 60 missions since his arrival here in the middle of August. Chief Amato was the first of the two to be notified in February of his deployment to Kandahar, arriving in Afghanistan at the beginning of July.

"I was actually supposed to be going somewhere else first," said Airman Amato, who is deployed from Tinker Air Force Base. "And then I found out in May that I was coming here. I was excited and I called my dad that night to let him know. I was glad to know that there was going to be someone there I would know."

The younger Amato joined the military four years ago because he was undecided about college at the time; he joined the Air Force to follow in his father's footsteps. His father first joined the Army in 1981, and later crossed into the Air Force Reserves and has been proudly serving with them since 1995.

"He's the third generation of our family in the Air Force because his grandfather was also in the Air Force," said the chief about his son. "I'm sure he gets quite a bit of razzing about his dad being a chief, but I'm proud to tell everyone that my son's deployed with me. We keep it professional when we're together here, too. He'll call me 'chief' just like he used to call me 'coach' in high school," said Chief Amato, who is a history teacher and also a football and wrestling coach aside from his duties as a Reservist.

What will they miss the most this year?

"Tradition and family," said Chief Amato. "It's hard on those at home because we're away, but I'm glad my son and I get to spend it together this year even though we're so far away. This is a rewarding experience."

The Amatos typically spend the holidays upholding their Italian heritage. Airman Amato said they go to his grandmother's house on Christmas Eve for some linguini with clam sauce because it's Italian tradition to eat fish instead of meat on that day. Christmas morning is celebrated with an early morning run with his father, opening gifts, going to church, and topping it off with a lasagna feast in the company of family and loved ones.

Mission pending, they might get to do that together next year ... the traditional way.