YOUNGSTOWN AIR RESERVE STATION, Ohio --
With big brown eyes, a little girl gazes up at her father and listens intently as he recounts his adventures in the Air Force and where they have taken him. Year after year she listens to stories of rewards, joys, sacrifices, pain and personal growth from not only her military parents but her grandparents as well.
“For me, growing up in a military family was like being a movie star,” said Senior Airman Christina Russo, a public affairs specialist assigned to the 910th Airlift Wing public affairs office. “I’d always hear stories of my dad flying or my mom working side-by-side with the wing commander in the command section. My friends’ parents weren’t in the military, so when I’d tell them what my parents did, they were so impressed. It definitely made me feel like one special kid!”
As an adult, Christina not only hears Air Force stories, she is creating her own. She swore into the Air Force Reserve on Oct. 21, 2017, in the building her mom worked in for years. She is now assigned to Youngstown Air Reserve Station, the base her parents served at, and a place that already felt like a second childhood home.
“We were filled with pride and excitement hearing she wanted to serve at Youngstown Air Reserve Station,” said Anna Marie Russo, Christina’s mom, with a prideful smile. “It was the height of excitement.”
Christina was sworn into the AFR by Lt. Col. Wendy Strainic, the 910th Airlift Wing’s wing executive officer and a longtime family friend who served with Russo’s parents.
“It is always surreal seeing coworkers' children swearing-in,” said Strainic. “It’s heartwarming when someone brings their child to you for that special first oath. I was honored.”
Growing up part of the 910th family, Christina fondly remembers many of the people she met and all the times she got to visit the base.
“I have so many memories of the 910th as a child,” said Christina. “I always loved going to family day events out at the base, or when we’d get to welcome my mom home from a temporary duty. I truly enjoyed every memory.”
Anna Marie Russo saw her daughter’s clear interest in joining the military from a young age.
“It did not come as a surprise to us that Christina might one day enlist,” said Anna Marie Russo. “When she was about eight years old she began attending the many three-day long summer Joint Services Youth camps YARS offered. We can remember picking her up from summer camp, and she couldn’t stop telling us about how much she loved the smell of the tents they slept in.”
Building a legacy at the same duty station as her parents brings a different dynamic to Christina’s experience at YARS.
“Every time someone walks by me they don’t even have to read my name tape because they automatically know that I am Carmen and Anna Marie’s daughter,” said Christina laughingly. “People even say I sound exactly like my mom and that I have my parents' work ethic.”
A statement Strainic wholeheartedly agrees with.
“Christina absolutely has her mother’s work ethic,” said Strainic. “Dependable, problem-solving, professional. It goes much deeper than that though. It’s to the point where I literally fight the urge to call her Anna Marie more than I care to admit!”
Many Reserve Citizen Airmen who knew Christina’s parents during their time of service thought extremely highly of them, increasing her determination to make her parents proud.
“It definitely makes me feel like a rockstar sometimes knowing that I am welcomed with open arms because of my parents' legacy, but at the same time I have to forge my own path,” said Christina. “And in doing so making sure I make my parents proud and fulfill the dreams and aspirations that I wish to obtain during my Air Force career.”
Entering the PA career field wasn’t Christina’s first choice. Her parents encouraged her to do it, and at first she stubbornly didn’t want to listen to her parents.
“I wanted to enter a career field of my own choosing,” said Christina, with spunk in her voice.
But in early 2017, Christina went on a singing trip to South Korea with her classmates from Youngstown State University and came to the realization that PA might actually be her calling.
“While I was in South Korea, I was the girl behind the camera taking pictures and documenting all the memories from the trip,” said Christina. “I realized then that I preferred to be the one behind the camera. I came home and told my parents, ‘Yup, you guys were right.’”
As to not give her parents all the credit, she decided to join PA after reflecting on her personal experiences. In high school, she had a tough time connecting with peers and often felt overlooked. This experience inspired Christina to make other people feel heard and let their stories shine.
“I want to be a voice for those who don’t always get the spotlight,” said Christina. “We are telling peoples' stories, and that’s an awesome thing to be able to do for someone.”
Christina’s parents could not be more proud when they hear how their daughter is described by their friends still working at YARS.
“Much of what we hear people say makes us prouder than ever to be her parents,” said Anna Marie Russo. “They have spoken about her integrity, respect, depth of commitment, good work ethic, passion for her job and making good use of her God-given talents.”
The Russo family's legacy at the 910th extended by one in May when Christina Russo’s sister Victoria joined the Air Force Reserve.
“The 910th is a family of families who have also continued their family name at the 910th,” said Anna Marie Russo. “We are just one of many. Our hope is that we have and Christina along with her sister Victoria will continue to contribute to what has made the 910th as great as it is today.”
Growing up in a military family has given Christina a place to call home ever since she was a little girl, and as an Airman she wants to do all she can to give back just as her parents and grandparents did.
“Even though so many people at the base know me, I still have to work hard to uphold the Air Force core values,” said Christina. “The individuals at the base do a great job in making sure that even though they know my parents, they don’t give me a free ride. I have to 100% earn my keep.”
The little girl who heard countless adventures as a military child is now forging a path of her own.