SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
The term ‘Brothers in Arms’ stems from a long-time comradery between service members as they face adversity together and learn to rely on each other like family. For the Baumgartner brothers, that phrase has taken on a more literal meaning that spans three separate generations.
Six brothers – Michael, Paul, Peter, James, Timothy and Caleb – decided to follow in their father, Ray Duane Baumgartner, and grandfather Roy Dean Baumgartner’s footsteps by serving their nation. Roy served in the United States Navy from 1945 to 1959 alongside five of his own brothers – James, Cecil, Ernest, Francis and Harry. Ray, Roy's son, served in the U.S. Navy from 1970 to 1979 with his brothers David and Phillip.
A news clipping from 1945 shows Roy Baumgartner and his five brothers in uniform during World War II, a nostalgic comparison to Roy's six grandsons shown beneath the clipping at Roy's funeral in June, 2017. Caleb, Tim, James, Peter, Michael and Paul Baumgartner decided to follow in their grandfather and father's footsteps by serving their nation, becoming both brothers in arms and brothers by blood. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Senior Master Sgt. Michael Baumgartner)
Four of the six brothers currently serving are members of the 310th Space Wing, which has units at Schriever, Buckley and Vandenberg Air Force Bases.
It all began with Senior Master Sgt. Michael ‘Mike’ Baumgartner, 310th Operations Support Squadron, who started his career at the 8th Space Warning Squadron, Buckley AFB, Colorado.
“I was motivated by a few factors [to join the Reserve],” Baumgartner said. “Most compelling at the time were gainful employment and education benefits; however, underlying these was clearly a desire to carry on the legacy of service my grandfather began and to take some responsibility for maintaining the ideals of personal liberty our constitution enacts and provides us. I believe entirely in this ‘great experiment’ that is our young country and believe it is worth any sacrifice to ensure it survives and thrives.”
Mike’s younger brother, Senior Airman Caleb Baumgartner, now serves at the 9th Combat Operations Squadron, Vandenberg Air Force Base, California and gives Mike the credit for recruiting him into the service.
“Mike is a great recruiter,” Caleb said. “He called me after I had spent quite a bit of time out of high school, jumping from job to job, and basically said two things; you aren’t doing anything with your life and you have programming experience. It just so happens that we (9th COS) need someone who is your level of nerd.”
Caleb joined the Air Force Reserve and eventually became certified as a conjunction analysis duty technician. He re-wrote most of the data handling processes for identifying and delivering important conjunction data messages to owners and operators of multi-billion-dollar satellite constellations around the world.
“While watching my brothers join and go on to become successful, I knew it wasn’t an ‘if’ – it’s the family business” Caleb said. “Why the Reserve? I didn’t want to leave California. I figured if I didn’t like it, I could just be a traditional reservist and suffer through it for a few years. It turned out to be quite the opposite and definitely one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
All nine Baumgartner siblings pose for a photo at their youngest brother, Stephen's, wedding. From left to right; Paul (1st born), Nathan (6th), James (5th), Rachel (3rd), Stephen (9th), Timothy (2nd), Caleb (8th), Peter (7th) and Michael (4th). (Courtesy Photo)
Tech. Sgt. Peter Baumgartner, 8th Space Warning Squadron, Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, joined the armed forces to do his part, he said, and to serve and protect the people of America. He wanted to continue the legacy of his father and brothers that joined before him.
“[Senior] Master Sgt. Baumgartner recruited the rest of us into the 310th,” Peter said. “He was passionate about what he was doing and truly enjoyed it.”
While their family history influenced the brothers’ drive to enlist, it also factors into their continued success in the military today.
“I believe that part of the reason for our success in our careers is due to our work ethic,” Peter said. “My dad taught all of us to do our dead level best, regardless of the position. The other part for me is my brothers pushing me to do better, as well as teaching me how to balance work/family life.”
Intelligence Specialist Chief Petty Officer Paul Baumgartner, the first-born of the Baumgartner brothers, joined later in life toward the end of 2001.
“I was working two full-time, dead-end jobs,” Paul said. “I had one small child and a second on the way. I wanted to find a career that was worthwhile, and Mike was already making a successful career of the Air Force Reserve. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 became a turning point for me. I began to talk to people that I knew retired from the military about their experiences. I had a deep desire to serve my country, but was leery of the affects that military service would have on my family.”
Paul spent several months researching the Air Force before he decided to contact his local recruiter regarding active duty enlistment. By that time, he was too close to his 27th birthday, the cutoff for active duty enlistment at the time. Understanding Paul’s concerns about family impact, the recruiter informed him that the Navy was pretty closely ranked with the Air Force in the area of family support.
“I contacted the Navy recruiter, who told me he could not take me on as active duty based on my car payment and number of dependents,” Paul said. “He referred me to the reserve – where I have been ever since.”
Now that the six brothers are serving in the military together, they use healthy competition as a means to motivate and encourage one another.
“There is definitely a little competition between us; probably more on my part having been, until recently, outranked by two of my younger brothers,” Paul said. “But overall, I think we have a stronger bond – being both biological brothers and brothers in arms. We have a second shared identity that brings us closer together; forming what we call the ‘Baum Squad.’ I think the shared understanding of military life gives us the ability to better encourage each other, and we take advantage of that ability.”
The entire ‘squad’ plans to make a career out of the military, stating they have had mostly positive experiences and want to continue their service.
“I’ve gained more than just a career in the military,” Paul said. “I’ve realized a sense of purpose, and made connections that would be impossible to replace elsewhere. I plan to stay until they push me out.”
According to Mike, he has learned that success in his own career can never be his main goal.
“If it is, then disappointment is guaranteed,” Mike said. “If I do my best to see the mission succeed and pour my efforts into helping develop my fellow Airmen, then their success becomes my success. I’ve discovered as a husband, father and reserve citizen Airman, the more you invest in others and their achievement, the greater your own personal gain.”
As the Baum Squad continues building their own legacy, a page has begun to turn on their past. In June 2017, the brothers received word that their grandfather had passed away. All six of them attended the funeral in uniform to be pallbearers for Roy and help lay him to rest.
Mike says it best when reflecting on the long history that he and his brothers have inherited.
"As a result of the influence and character of our grandfather and father, who served during World War II and the Vietnam Conflict, I think we are all motivated to remain faithful to the proud heritage, tradition of honor and legacy of valor left to us."
Intelligence Specialist Chief Petty Officer Paul Baumgartner hands a folded flag to his grandmother, Betty Lou Baumgartner, after acting as pallbearer alongside his five brothers at their grandfather Roy's funeral in June, 2017. (Courtesy Photo)