SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, SC –
Robert Holmstrom joined the U.S. Army in 1972 during the Vietnam War. His military career began as an active enlisted Soldier, though he was later commissioned as an armor officer and eventually selected for flight school. He served in the Army Reserve for eight years from 1990 to 1999 until recalled to active duty in 1995 for Operation Joint Guardian in support of operations in Bosnia. Years later, he rejoined active duty. His final tour of military service was in 2010 for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. He retired after 23 years of active service in 2012.
Throughout his service, Robert instilled Army values in his three young sons, inspiring them and directing a path toward lives of service. All three joined the military, and today, his oldest is U.S. Army Central, G-1 Director, Col. Joel Holmstrom at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina.
From an early age, Joel had been no stranger to the notion of hard work and helping others.
Influenced by his father, Joel applied for a Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) Scholarship to attend the Michigan Technology University. At the
end of ROTC for commissioning, Joel requested the Armor branch to honor his father's service. Ultimately, he became an Adjutant General's Corps
officer. Joel compares the AG Corps to a human resources department of a business corporation.
"I enjoy serving people, and the AG Corps is about helping other people
daily. Our strategy is people first, and mission always," he said.
“Whether it's fixing pay issues, awards, or orders, whatever the issue may
be, you're in the people business.”
When thinking of selfless service, one often think of the military
or serving our nation. However, service starts at home.
Robert received praise for his health regimen during routine medical care,
but in November 2020, his health rapidly changed. He was diagnosed with
Goodpasture syndrome, a rare autoimmune illness that causes the immune
system to attack the lungs, kidneys, or both. Robert and his wife Debbie
traveled a hundred miles to see a kidney biopsy specialist, but the biopsy
couldn’t fully identify the extent of Robert's kidney damage. As a result,
he was placed on dialysis and then medically evacuated to Detroit's Henry
Ford Hospital. At the same time, Debbie made an emotional call to their
three children about their father’s current condition.
The Holmstrom family was never big on expressing their feelings verbally to
one another. Instead, they showed it through action. The question on
everyone's minds: was anyone a suitable match?
"I didn't want to ask anybody. But right away, Joel and my other sons
mentioned they'd be willing to do a transplant if they're compatible," said
At the time, Joel was stationed near a hospital the family trusted to
perform the transplant. He reviewed Army regulations concerning organ
donations by Soldiers on active duty, and as a healthy donor, found no
opposition to his plan. After getting all the facts, Joel informed his chain of command.
The U.S. Army Central leadership understood putting people first includes a service
Following the surgery, medical professionals were intrigued; usually, it
takes a few hours to a day for a transplant to function correctly. However,
the kidney was working within minutes.
"We must be a good match," Robert said of his and Joel's kidneys.
With a smile brimming on Joel’s face he looked toward his father and said,
"I did something to make my fathers' life more comfortable, and I would do
anything for him."
A proud moment for the Holmstrom family brought full circle: Joel stepped
up even though he was not asked. His selfless, lifesaving gesture to his
father brought out the words and emotions not often expressed aloud in the
"Everything he said about me being proud of him, many things that he didn't have time to mention or wouldn't even know," said Robert. "I'm grateful to him, and, of course, I love him."