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Class of 2023 graduate ready to define his path in “family business”

Cadet Flowers swearing in at a commissioning ceremony.Second Lt. Alfred K. Flowers III receives the oath of office from his grandfather, retired Maj. Gen. Alfred K. Flowers, and his father, Brig. Gen. Alfred K. Flowers Jr. ,at his commissioning ceremony May 31, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Trevor Cokley)

By Randy Roughton
U.S. Air Force Academy Strategic Communications

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo.- Newly commissioned 2nd Lt. Alfred K. Flowers III’s, who goes by Kendell, most prized graduation gift was a small, rectangular piece of wood resembling what might rest on any officer’s desk. He was gifted the name plate from his father, Brig. Gen. Alfred K. Flowers Jr., after his graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy June 1.

After his commissioning in 1997, Brig. Gen. Flowers received the name plate from his father, retired Maj. Gen. Alfred K. Flowers, who served 46 years, the longest of any Airman in service history.

“The name plate has always been motivation, in a sense, a symbol of what’s coming my way,” 2nd Lt. Flowers said. “But it means so much more now after going through these four years and having the experiences that I’ve had. I am grateful and thankful to come from this. In terms of symbolism, it’s passing down the torch to the next generation for myself and my younger brother.”

Entering the business

From 2nd Lt. Flowers’ grandfather to his father, the family has always considered the Air Force “a family business.” Both generals also met their wives in the Air Force, and Lieutenant Flowers’ younger brother Ayden is pursuing a commissioning pre-med program as a Texas A&M University ROTC cadet.

When 2nd Lt. Flowers was commissioned the night before the Academy graduation, his father and grandfather gave him the oath of office, his mother and grandmother pinned on his bars, and ROTC Cadet Ayden Flowers gave his brother his first salute.

Cadet Flowers receives shoulder boards at a commissioning ceremony.Second Lt. Alfred K. Flowers III’s grandmother, Ida, (left) and his mother, Liza, (right) pin on his bars at his commissioning ceremony May 31, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Trevor Cokley)

“I’m still seeing the same kid wearing the heritage brown bomber jacket we gave him,” Maj. Gen. Flowers said. “The same boy always had aspirations of being an Air Force pilot.”

Lieutenant Flowers’ cadet squadron air officer commanding did not know of the family business when he decided to make him squadron commander. But a fellow commander soon informed him of where the cadet acquired his professional qualities.

“Right after I picked Kendell for squadron commander, I remember thinking what an impressive young man he was,” Lt. Col. Nicholas E. Conover said. “He had what I was looking for–a balance between academic smarts and people smarts.”

Not a mystery

The brothers’ biggest role models were their father and grandfather who made it a point to avoid pushing the military as a career on them. But the generals quickly learned the examples they set were enough. Along with their parents and grandparents’ examples and guidance, life on Air Force bases, watching their father at work, and observing how both generals treated their people helped both boys know where they wanted their lives to go.

“We saw the Air Force as a family business, and they saw it, too,” Maj. Gen. Flowers said. “The military was not a mystery to them.”

The simple task of putting on his uniform name tag one morning about a week before graduation caused Brig. Gen. Flowers to ponder his son’s joining the family business, he said.

“I was putting on my uniform the other day, thinking the one thing that bonds us is that name tag,” Brig. Gen. Flowers said. “It costs only $6 at clothing sales. But Kendell will represent our family’s trials, triumphs, tribulations, and our values. That is the intrinsic value of that blue name tag.”

Once he was a cadet, 2nd Lt. Flowers relied on the many lessons he learned from his father and grandfather, especially when he became his squadron’s first sergeant, and later, its commander.

“As Cadet Squadron 2 commander, he would call me about the decisions he was considering for his staff,” Brig. Gen. Flowers said. “I would tell him that you’re the commander. You make the decision, and you own it. If you end up making the wrong decision, you own that, too.”

But his father’s greatest leadership lesson came down to one piece of advice.

“We are very much in the people business,” Brig. Gen. Flowers said. “I challenge anyone to out-care me. You never will but try hard.”

Cadet Flowers receives hugs from family during a ceremony.Second Lt. Alfred K. Flowers III embraces his grandfather, retired Maj. Gen. Alfred K. Flowers, and his father, Brig. Gen. Alfred K. Flowers Jr., at his commissioning ceremony May 31, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Trevor Cokley)

His own task

Second Lt. Flowers graduated with a bachelor’s in management. For at least the next year, he will participate in Academy Admissions outreach in Nashville, Tenn., until his slot opens for specialized undergraduate pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas.

As much as the Flowers legacy means to its newest Air Force officer, 2nd Lt. Flowers knows he’s responsible for carving out his own name.

“The big thing with my father is he’s always trying to make his own path,” 2nd Lt. Flowers said. “He even makes sure that Jr. is on the end of his name on everything. When they gave me my Academy name tag on my door, it didn’t have III on it. As soon as he saw it, he told me to go downstairs and get it changed. Our names define us, but we always want to define our own paths.”

See photos of the Class of 2023 graduation.