Under a beautiful sky painted with bold broad strokes of a deep rich blue, a military band played patriotic music Sept. 7 and the audience, dressed in olive drab camouflage, sat in anticipation of what promised to be an historic event about to unfold.
The longest-serving airman in the history of the Air Force, retired Maj. Gen. Al Flowers Sr., was on the stage as his grandsons — Kendell Flowers, a cadet at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Ayden Flowers, a cadet at Texas A&M — pinned the first star on the uniform of his son, Al Flowers Jr., continuing an amazing legacy.
Although the historic significance of the event was not lost on those in attendance, it was business as usual for the Flowers family. Al Sr. has been present for every one of his son’s promotion ceremonies. But he has been present for his son in many other ways throughout his Air Force career.
During the ceremony, Brig. Gen. Al Flowers Jr. reflected on his 24-year career, thanking those who helped him along the way, including Air Force Medical Service leaders. But he acknowledged his father’s guidance as central to his development as an airman and a leader.
”I first want to recognize Maj. Gen. Alfred K. Flowers, aka dad,” he said, according to an Air Force news release. “The Air Force embodies Al Flowers and our family. I was born in Wilford Hall carrying a CAC in my hand … and I am proud to stand here as a member of a legacy and heritage to serve this great nation. I am the keeper of the family business, and I am minding the family store.”
The Flowers name is intertwined with the history of the U.S. Air Force. Al Flowers Sr. is not only recognized as the longest serving airman ever, faithfully completing 46 years on active duty, he also holds the title as the longest serving Black service member in all the Armed Forces — an unimaginable longevity service record that will most likely never be broken.
As a colonel, Al Flowers Jr. served as our nation’s very first command surgeon for Space Operations Command. Now, Flowers is the first Black airman to serve as chief of the Medical Service Corps and director of manpower, personnel and resources in the Office of the Air Force Surgeon General.
There have been a small number of father and son tandems who reached the pinnacle of serving in the general and flag officer ranks and achieved such prominence within our armed forces. Among them are Army Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and his son, Air Force Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr.; Army Gen. George Patton Jr. and Maj. Gen. General George Patton IV; Air Force Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. and Lt. Gen. Daniel James III. There are others.
Collectively, the Flowers’ distinguished service to our great nation spans a remarkable seven decades supporting 11 U.S. presidents. They have changed residences, moving from one assignment to the next, approximately 40 times. Much has changed during their years of service, including passage of the Civil Rights Act, the nation’s Bicentennial Celebration, many wars fought and drawn to a conclusion, and the standing up of the United States Space Force as our newest branch of the Armed Forces. But the one thing that has remained constant, is the Flowers’ family tradition of standing the watch.
Time-tested adages, such as “like father, like son” and “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” ring true with the Flowers family. They are a family of deep and abiding faith who put service before self and believe that hard work along with a positive attitude produces good results year after year. This is the Flowers’ family tried-and-true blueprint for success as renowned public servants. It is a winning recipe for all who aspire to serve at the highest levels.
Al Flowers Sr. dedicated his adult life to serving our nation and growing future leaders. His “general officer tree” has deep roots, many branches, and continues to harvest more and more “stars” with the passing of each season. The most recent harvest now includes the one who bears his name.
One of the hallmarks of his career was taking care of his airmen. Perhaps that’s because he started his Air Force career as an enlisted supply warehouseman at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. At the time of his retirement, he was deputy assistant Air Force secretary for budget.
Achieving general officer rank is not a birth right. Al Flowers Jr. earned his stars in his own boots. He chartered his own course while compiling a long list of notable accomplishments amidst a sterling military career, particularly as a commander on three separate tours. He has consistently risen to the top in each of his assignments and most recently, as a medical group commander, his unit was recognized as the very best in the Department of the Air Force.
He learned from his father how to take care of the airmen who in turn take care of the mission. This simple life lesson passed on from his father will continue to serve him well in the years ahead.
“Every assignment or challenge I have faced, I would think, ‘What would dad say or what would he do in this situation?’” said Al Flowers Jr., according to the Air Force release. “His guidance has been my ‘True North’ compass in many of the decisions I have made, and he still remains my confidant when I am faced with a tough decision. I am just blessed to have him as that resource. Sometimes I feel I am at an unfair advantage to have someone like my father with his legacy to call when I need advice.”
Al Flowers Sr. captured his life’s service in a beautifully written book entitled, “Reflections of a Servant Leader” that emphasizes the importance of being humble and taking great care of the enlisted force that is the backbone of our Armed Forces. It would be challenging to find a better guide.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Joseph Ward Jr. is a retired career financial management officer currently serving at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Air Force Times Editor Kent Miller.