JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --
Over the past year, the world and the Air Force discovered just how much can be accomplished virtually. Everyday meetings, major life events such as promotions and weddings have all transitioned to digital spaces. More than a year later, the COVID-19 virus continues to ravage our world and the pandemic has personally affected a great many in some way.
However, virtual connections do have their limitations, and for one Air Force District of Washington member, events over the past year made it feel all the more important for her family to be physically present for her promotion ceremony.
Col Chelsea Bartoe, who now serves as Judge Advocate General Corps Investigations, Inquiries, and Relief division chief in the Military Justice and Discipline domain at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, brought her promotion ceremony hundreds of miles to Minnesota in order for her family to participate. The family has been through a lot over the past year as her father, Bruce Van Beusekom, contracted the COVID-19 virus and fell ill in October.
“I flew back to Minnesota at the worst of his Covid experience,” Bartoe said. “He was hospitalized starting October 1, came home for a couple of days, was re-hospitalized and remained in rehab until after Thanksgiving.”
Shortly after Bartoe arrived in Minnesota, her father, Bruce, was admitted to the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator. During his hospitalization, the family spoke to him over video chats when they were able to.
“We didn’t know if we would see him again and every time we hung up on a FaceTime call that would go through your head, ‘Ok was that it and what did I say to him? If that’s the end was that ok?’” Bartoe said. “It was just a really hard time.”
Throughout his hospitalization, her father asked for updates about her promotion. As a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army National Guard, he understood how hard Bartoe worked over the years and didn’t want to miss it.
“So much had happened in the hospital that he didn’t know about and he was worried he’d miss my promotion,” Bartoe said.
Eventually, her father recovered enough to return home, though due to lingering effects from the COVID-19 virus, he was unable to travel.
Much of Bartoe’s family had not witnessed one of her promotions over 17 years serving with the JAG Corps in the Air Force.
“It wasn’t an event I wanted my family to miss,” Bartoe said “It was important to them to see it live, and command understood that, which I really appreciated.”
The day of the actual promotion ceremony turned out to be a blustery 20-degrees near a lake in Minneapolis, Minnesota March 1, 2021. The ceremony was a family affair, which included Bartoe’s two brothers, parents Twyla and Bruce, and others attending the event outside to keep the ceremony as safe as possible.
Her husband, Lt. Col. Zach Bartoe was the presiding officer, and her father administered the oath of office. Her children, Noah, 10, and Brooklyn, 8, pinned the rank on her coat, her husband pinned her hat, and her parents pinned the new, colonel-rank epaulets on her blues shirt.
“I think really the best moment of the whole [event] was having my dad there. It meant so much to us considering his prior military experience,” Bartoe said. “It’s been a very challenging year so for him to actually be there was just a fantastic moment.”
Bartoe thanked her leadership for supporting her vision and recognizing the rigor of earning such rank -- the third highest of field grade officers. Currently less than about 2 percent of the Air Force wears the silver eagle denoting the title.
“We didn’t always think that day would look how it did,” Bartoe said. “Everything felt perfect about it, and it was a great way to transition to the next rank.”