When Airman 1st Class Christopher Kirchner received orders in June of 2008 to Hill Air Force Base after completing technical training at Sheppard AFB, Texas, he was unaware that his estranged biological father, Mark Albertson, was moving from Tennessee to Perry, Utah, at the same time. Kirchner's mother, however, was informed of both events independently by both of them and she knew it would be a perfect opportunity for the two to finally meet.
"I had received several e-mails from Mark before I went to basic training," recalled Kirchner, who is now an aerospace ground equipment mechanic with the 388th Equipment Maintenance Squadron here. "I wrote him back one time, and that was before I went to basic (training) to let him know I'd try to get in contact with him after that."
Kirchner had lived his life without knowledge of his biological father until prior to his decision to join the Air Force. He learned soon after that he now shared a common trait with Albertson -- military service -- as Albertson served in the intelligence field in the Army with Kirchner's mother, who was a mail clerk in the Army. Their commitment to military service would help build the bridge between the father and son and allow them to meet on common ground.
"Mark and his wife, Denise, had arrived in Utah around the springtime (in 2008) and my wife and I had arrived here a few months after that, so we were all still unfamiliar with the area when we decided to meet in August," said Kirchner.
Deciding where they should meet posed a few challenges. Their unfamiliarity with the area discouraged them from traveling too far. They also wanted to meet at a place where they both would feel comfortable. The Hill Aerospace Museum seemed to fit the needs of their situation.
Albertson attributed the decision to meet at the museum to his wife. "She was instrumental in helping chose a place easy enough for us to both find and that would hold everyone's interest so that the sometimes awkward silences were not so difficult to get used to."
"It was a better place to meet than anywhere else," said Kirchner. "It gave us something to talk about since I had a vested interest in being in the military and he did as well."
"It was a long time coming, and the museum couldn't have been a better place to meet," said Albertson. "So much to see there, so much to take in, it sort of took the 'pressure off' the meeting and let us share experiences we both had involving the things we were seeing."
After the formal introductions, the father and son were able to focus on the static displays around them and share military experiences.
"We walked around and he showed me a plane on display outside of the museum that is like the ones he jumped out of," said Kirchner. He learned that Albertson competed recreationally in world military skydiving.
That reunion not only informed Kirchner of Albertson's military service history and what type of person his father is, but it also helped Kirchner understand himself more as well.
"I was able to learn more about my life -- like character traits and genetics -- from learning about his life. It helps to know why I develop the way I do and whether I am more prone to certain conditions," he said.
As for character traits, Kirchner said he was pleasantly surprised to find out that Albertson and his family are good people.
"They turned out to be the happiest, most accepting family. When we went to their house to visit I would see pictures of me and my wife on their computer screensavers. We also started attending their church."
Albertson is the deacon chairman at the North Hills Christian Fellowship church in Tremonton. Kirchner said he is glad to have had the opportunity to see his father's fledgling church grow from having half the seats filled to seeing the whole congregation filled.
"On holidays, people can be crowded to the door," he said.
"We are a pretty small church, and I am quite happy that Chris and his family often travel all the way from Hill Air Force Base to go to church with us," said Albertson.
Albertson was likewise impressed with Kirchner's character, as well. "He looked in good shape, he acted like he was well adjusted, had adjusted well to a military environment, he had his new wife with him -- he had grown up so much, matured so much, in comparison to the stories I had heard about his childhood. The Air Force had definitely been a tremendously positive influence on him."
Being assigned to Hill AFB, Kirchner's first official Air Force order, had been serendipitously changed at the last minute from an assignment to Royal Air Force Lakenheath in England, and resulted in the unexpected growth in the Airman's family which now includes Albertson and his family. It also provided closure for the father and son's pasts and optimism for their future.
"Having my dad out here is like having my family around me, whereas most Airmen are isolated from their families when they are assigned to their first base. We were placed where I could meet my new family," said Kirchner.
"He has a giving, caring and just attitude that is basically what I think would be in a good person. It makes me think that maybe those traits are inside of me, too," he added. "I feel really lucky that I met him."