First, a brief primer on the so-called “Tap Out” tradition in the U.S. Air Force:
At the conclusion of an airman’s graduation ceremony from basic training, he or she is ordered to stand at parade rest until a spouse or loved one makes physical contact — or, as they say, taps them out.
It’s a highly anticipated, joyful moment for airmen who have endured the rigors of eight weeks of basic training — and for their families seeing them for the first time since they transitioned from civilian to military life.
A video capturing one young Latter-day Saint family’s “Tap Out” moment is being distributed globally by MilitaryKind — a section of USA Today that shares inspiring stories of men and women serving in the U.S. armed forces.
Last July, Cristian Joubert graduated with honors from basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. He had been away from his wife, Sonja, and their toddler, Jemma, for eight weeks.
Needless to say, Sonja was eager to share a kiss and a hug with her airman.
So at the conclusion of the outdoor ceremony, she gathered Jemma up in her arms and hustled to Crisitian, who was dutifully standing at parade rest. Reaching him, the couple embraced — formally “tapping out” Christian from basic training.
Sonja was thrilled, but the reunion video reveals 1-year-old Jemma wasn’t quite sure what to make of the clean-shorn man in a crisp camouflage uniform reaching out for her.
“First of all, Jemma hadn’t seen me in eight weeks,” said Crisitian, laughing. “And second, before I joined the military, I had a beard. My face was framed in black whiskers. Now I had a shaven head and a shaven face…. I think Jemma thought: ‘This does not look like my dad.’”
But it didn’t take long for Jemma to warm up to her father. Video captures the little girl having fun sharing a slice of pizza with her dad a short time later during a family excursion to a nearby bowling alley.
A producer from MilitaryKind saw the Sonja’s Instagram video of the family “Tap Out” moment and reached out to the Jouberts.
“He asked if he could chat with us about our story and what that day was like for us after seeing each other for the first time in two months,” said Sonja.
The MilitaryKind Facebook video also shares the Jouberts unique Air Force experience — noting how prayer played a pivotal role in deciding to become a military family.
During their separation, Sonja stayed with family in Utah and Nebraska, who provided invaluable support. And the Jouberts also relied upon the Lord to make it through each day that they were apart.
“We really depended upon the Lord,” said Sonja. “We felt from the very beginning that this is what Heavenly Father wanted us to do. That really helped me during the hard, lonely, frustrating and dark moments when Cristian was gone.”
She remembers frequently being prompted to pray at seemingly random moments for her husband’s well-being.
Meanwhile, Cristian was determined to never stop being a priesthood holder even while transitioning from a civilian into an Air Force serviceman. Basic training offered him several spiritual experiences and opportunities for missionary work. He was able to minister to young airmen who were struggling with the demands of basic training and being away from loved ones.
“I remember praying so many nights and thanking Heavenly Father for helping me to remember how much the gospel means to me,” he said.
Each Sunday, he was allowed to attend Latter-day Saint Sabbath services. After attending sacrament meeting, he would often share priesthood blessings with fellow airmen in need.
Both Cristian and Sonja quickly came to appreciate the Church’s military relations missionary couples. The missionary couples are typically former military families who know well the challenges facing the people they are called to serve. Their charge is to share both love and plenty of practical advice for military families such as the Jouberts.
Sonja and Cristian recently relocated to Monterrey, California, for Cristian’s advanced military training. Already they are enjoying the fellowship of the local military relations missionaries and folks in their new ward.
They both agree that members can best serve military families in their wards and branches by investing in personal connections. Military life is often transient — and Latter-day Saints in uniform typically don’t stay in one ward for long periods of time.
“We usually have an expiration date in a ward,” said Sonja.
But fellowship even during brief durations, she added, can bring peace and joy to service members and their families.