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First sergeants deploy, discover family members

Air Force Master Sgts. Shawn and Lynnette Tolar, who serve as first sergeants for the 380th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron and 380th Expeditionary Communications Squadron, pose for a picture at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. The two deployed here in November and learned they are sixth cousins. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. April Lapetoda)

Air Force Master Sgts. Shawn and Lynnette Tolar, who serve as first sergeants for the 380th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron and 380th Expeditionary Communications Squadron, pose for a picture at an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. The two deployed here in November and learned they are sixth cousins. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. April Lapetoda)

SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) -- Sleep-deprived and weary from days of travel, in a blur of new names and faces, one of the first people most Airmen deploying to the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing meet is their respective unit’s first sergeant.

It’s during this time that diamond-wearing Master Sgts. Shawn and Lynnette Tolar enjoy the curious looks they receive in regard to the nature of their relationship.

“The number one question I’ve gotten since I’ve been here is about him,” Lynnette said. “’Is that your husband?’ ‘Brother?’ ‘Cousin?’ ‘Do you know him?’ ‘What’s your relationship?’”

The two have much more in common than just their last name.

Shawn serves as the first sergeant for the 380th Expeditionary Force Support Squadron while Lynnette serves as the first sergeant for the 380th Expeditionary Communications Squadron. Both deployed here in October and will return home in a few months. Both were selected as their home station’s respective group level’s First Sergeant of the Year for 2013.

Prior to arriving for their deployment here, the two first sergeants began hearing questions about their last name from the people they were deploying to replace. Though the two had never met nor heard of each other, Lynnette decided to look Shawn up on a social media website and send him a friend request.

“One minute you don’t know each other, then the guy you’re replacing asks if you know the other Tolar coming in,” Shawn said .“Then I got a Facebook request from her. I stalked her page for a little bit, then accepted the request.”

Once the two arrived here and began to discuss their individual family lineages, they learned they both had ties back to North Carolina.

Lynnette turned to an Internet family history site for help in digging up more of their ties.

“It turned out to be an easy process,” said Lynnette. “I knew my great-grandfather’s information, so I started with his name. Shawn had given me information on his family and I started putting in names, and started noticing familiar names, then matched it up.”

The two discovered they are sixth cousins.

“I think it’s cool to know that there’s another side to my family that I didn’t know existed,” Shawn. said “To come halfway around the world and both be first sergeants and find out that your cousin, who you didn’t know existed, is here is cool.”

Both are also passionate about their careers, especially so about being first sergeants.

“I don’t like cookie cutter, ‘I do it for my people’ reasons, but that’s exactly what it is,” said Lynnette, who has served in the Air Force for 23 years and has no plans to retire in the near future. “I knew I wanted to be a first sergeant, even back when I was in Basic Military Training.”

Shawn expressed similar feelings.

“To me, there’s nothing better than being able to help someone out,” he said. “When you’re able to help someone out who’s having a bad to worse day – being able to help out and make their day better is why I do this.”

The two also enjoy working as a team.

“It’s because we gang up on other first sergeants,” Lynnette said jokingly.

“There’s something about having a family member with you even if it’s only a sixth-generation cousin,” Shawn said. “It’s different from a friend, it’s that family relationship.”

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