Like father, like son: Wearing the uniform together

Master Sgt. Nicholas Hovingh, the 37th Aircraft Maintenance Unit noncommissioned officer in charge of weapons loading, and his son, James, stand in uniform together in Box Elder, S.D., in 2017. James took his oath of enlistment at the Central States Fair in Rapid City in front of thousands of people on Aug. 23, 2018, to serve on active duty with his father. (Courtesy photo)

By Airman 1st Class Nicolas Z. Erwin,

28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs (Published September 13, 2018)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. — Each flag was an inch by half-inch isosceles triangle – the 50 chalk-white stars crossed over a field of blue and rows of red. Eighteen distinct flags pressed into 18 individual hands, dripping with sweat from the humidity of the recent rain and the awareness of their lives being altered forever.

One man looked before the assemblage of soon-to-be Airmen. With 70 words, they would join the one percent. One man looked at his son, and only one word came to mind – pride.

“James asked me once if it was possible for me to remain in [the Air Force] until he graduated basic military training,” said Master Sgt. Nicholas Hovingh, the 37th Aircraft Maintenance Unit noncommissioned officer in charge of weapons loading, adding he had been on the fence about retiring before his son asked. “I said I would.”

Every person has their reasons to enlist when they do; maybe it was to receive education or to see the world. James’s reason: to serve with his father.

“I enlisted to follow in my father’s footsteps,” said James Hovingh, Nicholas’s son. “I want to do my part for the country, plus … [the military] is second nature at this point.”

James grew up in the military; his father has served over 22 years on active duty. With his decades of experience, Nicholas is there to support his son as he embarks on his journey into the military service.

“The best advice I give him is to listen and do as you’re told,” Nicholas explained. “The Air Force is not hard. The Air Force gives you everything you need to excel at your job. Do what is expected of you, and you will exceed.”

Prior to enlisting, James went through junior reserve officer training during high school and then the delayed
entry program.

“I think I’m ready,” James said. “For the past four years, I’ve been mentally and physically preparing for the military. I just want to start and move on with it. The only hesitation I have is knowing what job to choose. There are so many, it’s hard to pick just one.”

Though James has few pressing career aspirations, he has set one in stone.

“The bare minimum: outrank him in the end,” James said, grinning at his father.

The first step to outranking his father starts with enlisting.

James took his oath of enlistment at the Central States Fair in Rapid City in front of thousands of people on Aug. 23. Even though a downpour of rain had turned the ground into foot-deep mud, James’ attention was not on his physical discomfort; instead, he honed in on the flag held in his left pocket – a gift that meant more than its size.

“It’s more than just a flag,” James described. “It represents who came before me, and the people I am going to protect.”

After 22 years of service devoted to protecting and serving his nation, friends and family, the last thing Nicholas was expecting was to have one of his children follow in
his footsteps.

“I always mention it as an option … but everyone has to make their own decisions,” Nicholas said.

With one word, his father communicated all his pride, confidence and belief of his son’s choice in joining the military by answering the question: “Is he ready?”

“Absolutely.”

James made the choice to stand by his father, in uniform, and protect all those he cares for, and in the words of his father, he is absolutely ready.