Family business: Sisters’ journey to the top of the Air Force ranks

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Tyler J. Bolken
  • 944th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Cohesion and camaraderie are cultural norms in the military. This bond, brought on by service, is not always easy to describe to family and friends on the outside. There are exceptions to this.

Two sisters, Chin Cox and Chi Swanson, have made military life their “family business.” The two have committed to careers in the Air Force, which has seen them rise through the ranks to both becoming chief master sergeants.

The family business started in Taiwan, where the sisters’ father was stationed early in his Air Force career.

Swanson and Cox spent their adolescent years overseas between Taiwan, Japan, and England, growing up in the Air Force. Both say the thought of joining the Air Force was never far from their minds, as they witnessed how good the military was to their family and their way of life.

“I always knew I was going to join the Air Force,” said Swanson, who is active duty and currently the superintendent of the medical operations division and the aerospace medical service functional manager in the Office of the Command Surgeon Headquarters United States Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

Cox spoke of the impact their father had on her decision to follow in his footsteps.

“He was a huge influence in letting me know the military was an option after high school,” she said.

Cox is currently the senior enlisted leader to the Office of the Joint Staff Surgeon at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.

Cox, eldest of the two by four years, enlisted in 1991. Swanson enlisted four years later in 1995.

When it comes to their age, Swanson says many people have asked if they were twins over the years.

“I either look young enough to be four years younger or she looks old enough to be four years older,” said Cox.

When they are confused for one another, Cox said it makes her proud knowing it is because of the favorable impression her sister left on them.

Throughout their careers, Swanson and Cox both mentioned how nice it has been to lean on each other.

“That girl is my best friend,” said Cox. “We are both strong personalities. On the leadership side we keep each other in check.”

The two discussed how invaluable their sisterly bond has been as they have been able to be sounding boards for one another through the hardships and variety of experiences a career in the Air Force can present.

“My big sister is one of my greatest role models,” said Swanson. “She is very disciplined, sometimes she has to reel me in.”

With each sister having served more 20 years in the same career field, they have surprisingly never been deployed or stationed together.

The only times they have been in the same location in uniform was for each of their promotions to chief master sergeant. Cox was promoted at Luke Air Force Base, on August 1, 2015 and Swanson was promoted at Ramstein AB, on October 1, 2017.

Reaching chief master sergeant was never necessarily part of the plan for Swanson and Cox. Between their drive and motivation, the Air Force clearly saw it differently.

“Dad retired as a senior master sergeant,” said Cox. “We thought if we got master sergeant, we did well.”

Their father passed away before either of them reached chief master sergeant, invigorating a deeper sense of responsibility as each felt they had to carry on the legacy of their father and family.

“We agreed we would do our best,” said Cox. “Then chief selection came and blew our minds.”

“She makes me stronger,” said Swanson. “When I see her do it, I know I can too.”

As the two sisters serve in the latter parts of their careers, they have started to think about what will be next.

“I think Chin and I will always be in business together,” said Swanson. “Even on the civilian side.”

Cox looks forward to hopefully being in the same city after their careers are complete.

As far as the family business continuing in the Air Force, Swanson and Cox have raised the bar and shown that with grit, persistence, and support – two sisters, together, can make it to the top in the Air Force.