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First Lt. James Yau (left) and 2nd Lt. William Yau, both 742nd Missile Squadron deputy missile combat crew commanders, stand next to each other at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., July 28, 2017. William Yau has looked up to his older brother as a mentor his entire life, and has followed his footsteps through high school, college and now the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman J.T. Armstrong)


Second Lt. William Yau (left) and 1st Lt. James Yau, both 742nd Missile Squadron deputy missile combat crew commanders, stand near a Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile static display at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., July 28, 2017. The Yau brothers have pushed each other and supported one another through high school, college and now as missileers in the same squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Apryl Hall)

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. (AFNS) -- Dirt flies, muscles throb and lungs burn. The chase is on as he pushes himself to the limits. He is so close, yet feels so far away. Forcing every last ounce of energy out, he closes the gap on the familiar figure in front of him. Closer and closer, inch-by-inch as the distance diminishes every second. Closer and closer still…

Second Lt. William Yau, a 742nd Missile Squadron deputy missile combat crew commander, has been admiringly chasing his older brother James since they were young boys growing up in Troy, Michigan.

“We were always super close,” said James, a first lieutenant who is also a deputy MCCC assigned to the 742nd MS. “Ever since we were kids, we constantly hung out or did sports together. It was always a good time.”

From a young age, military service was part of who they were. Their grandfather served in the Taiwanese air force and their father in the Taiwanese army air corps. They often played toy soldiers and admitted serving in the Air Force was always in the back of their minds.

“For me, I always wanted to be the first guy in the family to serve in the U.S. Air Force,” James said. “I just wanted to give back and felt that drive to serve. We bled blue.”

James worked hard to attend his dream college, the University of Michigan, and joined ROTC to learn more about opportunities in the Air Force. Meanwhile, as a junior in high school, William focused on making all-state on the cross country team, something his older brother wasn’t able to accomplish during his time at Troy High School.

“He finally got it in his senior year,” James said, proudly. “He wanted it so bad!”

Following in James’ footsteps, William was accepted to the University of Michigan and quickly got involved in the ROTC program.

“For me, it was more so his guidance and mentorship that got me involved,” William said. “He told me there was an opportunity to pursue an education and make on impact on not only my life, but the world.”

While in college and ROTC together, James and William made sure to see each other every day and remained close. James even made it a point to keep an eye out for his brother, keeping them both on a path to success.

“He made sure I focused on academics and ROTC,” William said. “It was good to have him there.”

Time flew and soon James was headed to Vandenberg Air Force Base, California for his training to become a missile operator. Watching his older brother move on again, William worked hard to outdo him for a second time.

“He put his sole focus in ROTC and climbed all the way to the top of the chain of command,” James said. “He actually became the detachment commander, something I couldn’t do.”

Despite this accomplishment, William still looked up to his older brother and set his sights on the missileer career field.

“James’ guidance impacted how I set up my job choices,” William admitted. “When I got my 13N (Nuclear and Missile Operations) selection, I was really excited.”

By the time William reached Vandenberg AFB for his job training, James had already moved on to his first duty station at Minot AFB, North Dakota. But, for William, it still felt like his older brother was within grasp. He often called James for advice with school or questions about the operational career field.

“I was able to live vicariously through my little brother and guide him through Vandenberg (AFB),” James said. “In hindsight, I would have told the younger version of me how important this job is and how much responsibility I’d have. I was able to do that with Will.”

When the time came for William to get his first duty assignment, he hoped for Minot AFB.

“I wanted to have a family member nearby, and I also took into consideration our other family members,” William said. “If I was at Minot [AFB] too and our parents wanted to come visit us, they wouldn’t have to go to two different states.”

When James’ commander approached him asking if there would be issues working with his younger brother, James assured him they were close and it would be good for both of them. William was on his way to Minot AFB shortly after.

William, who has been on station for just over two months, now lives with his brother. When the two aren’t at missile alert facilities manning the 91st Missile Wing’s intercontinental ballistic missile fleet, they are out pushing each other on long runs, just like when they were kids.

“James is probably my best friend,” William said. “I’m always going to be observing him as time progresses, but I think it’s more about him providing guidance here and there and me making my own decisions.”

James said he is okay with that. In fact, he wants his younger brother to not only learn from him, but be better.

“Even though he’s walking through the same footsteps, looking back on him, I feel like he does everything better than I do,” James said. “It makes me feel really good and forces me to work a little bit harder. And hopefully he does something similar here where he’s able to outshine me by observing what I do.”

With a grin spread across his face, William agreed whole-heartedly.

“We definitely push each other in whatever we do,” he said. “He’s always been faster than me, but knowing I’m right there behind him pushes him a little bit harder. For me, it just gives me something to chase.”

And that’s what William continues to do; chase, push and strive for that day when there are no more distances between them. A day when they are side-by-side, stride-for-stride. As brothers who have made each other better every day of their lives.


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