Maria served as Aircraft Structural Mechanic in the Air Force and deployed to Afghanistan twice. During her deployments she worked on F-15 fighter jets. After returning from Afghanistan, she was stationed in Albuquerque, New Mexico where she assumed greater leadership responsibilities after Air Force downsizing.
Interview conducted on October 18, 2015 over the phone
Present: Richard Hayden and Maria Reaves
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: What is your full name?
Maria Reaves: Maria Vanessa Reaves.
RH: What branch of the military did you serve in and what years?
MR: I served in the United States Air Force from 2004, about February 2004, to December 2013.
RH: OK. What was your rank when you got out?
RH: What was your MOS?
MR: I was an Aircraft Structural Mechanic.
RH: Aircraft Structural Mechanic. OK. What was your unit? Or some units?
MR: I had multiple units because I wasn’t just at one base. I think when I was in Florida it was the 16th MXS and then when we went over to Lakenheath, when I was in England, it was the 48th or something. It’s hard for me to remember. It was such a long time ago. And then I finished off in Albuquerque in Kirtland, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. So I did multiple, multiple different ones.
RH: What motivated you to join the military?
MR: It was actually just a spontaneous thing. I was eighteen at the time and I was living in Barstow California which, if anybody knows Barstow, California it’s just a pit stop town that they made that horror movie off of. I just decided one day after being out of high school for about a year or so that that would be not bad. There was really not much foresight. [laughs] I was young and it was like a “why not?” type thing.
RH: Why did you pick the branch of service that you did?
MR: Just, really, out of everybody’s perception of all of the branches and just a generalized of everybody. Supposedly the Air Force has the best way of life compared to the other branches apparently. My dad was actually in the Army for a while so I was on Army bases when I was growing up. But it was really nothing more than that. The Marines just did not appeal to me at all. The Army really didn’t appeal to me at all and being on a boat didn’t really appeal to me at all so I guess just by the power of deduction I chose the Air Force. [laughs]
RH: Why did you pick the MOS that you did?
MR: Oh gosh. That’s a funny story. So you take the ASVAB and my recruiter gave me some options. They gave me Nondestructive Inspections which is x-raying the plane, in a nutshell. They do more than that but just as a basic breakdown. They gave me E and E which is Environmental Electric – basically the electricians of the plane. And then they gave me this job, Structural Maintenance, which I didn’t really understand what it was. I couldn’t be a welder because I didn’t have depth perception, I still don’t, so I wouldn’t qualify for that job.
Really what it came down to was I didn’t super-understand all of the – they give you a description but I didn’t understand the job that much. Basically, for sheet metal the schooling was in Florida for five months. [laughs] So I said, “oh! Well, I could do Florida for five months.” And so that’s why I chose the job. Luckily I ended up really loving that job. I loved that job a lot so I ended up doing it for ten years.
RH: Good to go. How did your family feel about your decision?
MR: Really, really good. I guess in the Filipino culture – because I am Filipino – it’s kind of like a high. They look at you really good to go and join the US military. Any branch. If you’re Army or any branch at all, if you join the military they really like that and they basically want you to retire. Everybody was really on board with me joining.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Where were you on September 11th?
MR: I was in high school. That was my senior year of high school. I was in Barstow, California. It was on the news. We actually went to school that day and that’s where I was.
RH: Do you have any specific memories of that day?
MR: I don’t really. No, not anything very specific. I actually didn’t become super patriotic until after I joined the military and after I started working on F-15s and went to Afghanistan for my two tours. That’s when all of my patriotism and pride for America and being an American. That’s when that all kicked in. Prior to me joining, and even when I initially joined, it just was not really existent. Therefore that passion really wasn’t there for me yet, you know?
RH: Got it. I know that Barstow is on the other side of the country from New York but did it really affect people in Barstow at all?
MR: I don’t think so because the economy wasn’t really that great there anyways. It’s a small town, a one high school town, so it’s not like it was a booming, bustling, relied-on-tourism type place. Everybody that lived there lived there forever. I feel like it wasn’t really affected but nearby cities like Vegas, Las Vegas, was really affected because nobody was travelling anymore – and Los Angeles and stuff like that – just because everybody was really scared to leave and stuff, you know?
RH: OK. Good to go. Where did you go to boot camp?
MR: I went to boot camp in Texas.
RH: Where in Texas, exactly?
MR: San Antonio. Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, is where everybody goes.
RH: What was boot camp like?
MR: It was kind of disappointing in my opinion. For one I joined the military because I didn’t want to go to college. I didn’t want to pursue higher education or anything like that and I was kind of picturing boot camp in my mind as very physically demanding and that’s about it, you know? Basically, obstacle course and the Drill Sergeant in your face with a whistle first thing in the morning and stuff like that which did happen but there were academics to it still. They wanted you to know Air Force history and rank system and all of the stuff that you had to study for every day also to pass academic tests which I didn’t like. [laughs] I mean, I passed everything and I understand the importance of it now but it wasn’t as physically demanding as I thought it was going to be and that was kind of a letdown in my opinion. It was only six weeks back then so nothing too crazy. Gas chamber. You had the obstacle course week or whatever. They kind of just break you in.
RH: Alright. Good to go. What was your follow-up training like for Aircraft Structural Mechanic?
MR: That was really good. It was actually in Florida. It was for five months in the panhandle – Pensacola to be more specific. It was on a naval base as opposed to an Air Force base, actually. It went in blocks of a series because structural maintenance is so much on the airplanes. We repaired and replaced tubing assemblies. We repaired the planes if anything structural with stiffeners, rivets is all us. We have to do repairs on the plane. We do advanced composites so fiberglass, carbon fiber. All of that stuff is us as well with resins and things like that. We also paint the plane and do corrosion control on the plane. When I was working on F-15s in England we had a paint compartment and we would do full paint on those F-15s over there. So it was a really broad amount of work that you do.
Everything that you did in school is mostly academic. It wasn’t really hands-on. You get that once you get to your first duty assignment. It’s kind of just getting the basic knowledge of: what is a rivet? How do you shoot a rivet? How much strength does each rivet hold? You spray paint something but it’s just a piece of metal. It’s not really an airplane. You take all of your tests and progress through your blocks of training and once you pass everything then you’re good to go and you get your duty assignment.
RH: Perfect. Where was your first duty assignment?
MR: My first duty assignment was right down the street. I got stationed at Eglin, Florida – Eglin Air Force base in Fort Walton Beach. So I went to school in Pensacola and then I went down the street [laughs] to Fort Walton. So not too much of a drastic move there. I ended up working on C-130 refuelers which were my first planes that I got to work on and learn on.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Did you serve in Iraq, Afghanistan or both?
MR: I served in Afghanistan twice.
RH: Two times. OK. What were the dates of those deployments?
MR: So my first one was May 2007 to about September 2007. My second one was January 2009 to about May 2009.
RH: OK. Where were you stationed in the US for your first deployment?
MR: I wasn’t. I was at Lakenheath at that time so I was in the UK.
RH: So you were in Lakenheath. OK. In the weeks and months leading up to your deployment, what do you remember most about that time?
MR: Oh God. It’s such a blur. I was so young at that time. 2007? That was seven or more years ago. I don’t remember feeling nervous. I wasn’t nervous at all. I was pretty excited. We were a little apprehensive because we were, for Lakenheath specifically, we had been going to Al Uedid before then as a unit. This was going to be Lakenheath’s first time to Afghanistan. So that was an exciting thing that we were taking on. I was still very young. I was pretty cocky at that time about my job so I thought I was pretty much bad ass so I was ready to go, you know? Pretty excited about the whole thing, ready to go down there.
I feel like they only give you specific information as you’re going along. They don’t give you the big, whole thing. For me, that helps with the anxiety because it’s like, “this week you’re going to go and get your uniforms issued. Once you get your uniforms issued, you’re going to go and get all of your patches and name tags and everything sewn on them. Next you have to go get your vaccines.” All you had to focus on was certain tasks at certain times and by the end of it you were completely ready to go. I didn’t feel scared at all. I wasn’t super excited either but I wasn’t depressed about it or anything. I was ready to go.
RH: Let’s jump into your first deployment.
RH: So you deployed in May, 2007. Where in Afghanistan did you deploy to?
RH: Bagram. OK. What was the mission of your unit?
MR: Drop bombs, basically. I worked on F-15s so our mission was to be on alert for Marines and Army as they were outside and if they needed air support and help for us to drop bombs because that’s what F-15s do. If they need us to drop that package, we’re there. That was it, really.
RH: OK. So you were just a mechanic for the F-15s?
RH: Perfect. What do you remember most about deploying to Afghanistan for the first time?
MR: The main thing that I remember most, that was kind of a rough deployment because at first we orient onto the base. So we get shown our shop. We were talking to the base that we were relieving. I forget if it was Shady J at the time, Mountain Home. I don’t remember, exactly, which base we were relieving but we’re talking to them. We’re telling them, “OK.” We’re checking with the top.
So we take over from them and our first day after settling in, we get an alert call on the radio. We don’t really understand what that is. We knew we had to have three alert F-15s ready to go. They were already loaded. They were already greened up. They were ready to go on the line and when we get our first – they call it a scramble – over the radio, it’s not a drill. This is real world. Somebody out there needs help. It’s real Marines and we need to get out there. Basically, the planes launched and we took too long. Five Marines died that day, I felt, because we didn’t get out there in time. When any of our brothers out there are close to Bagram, they’re going to come back and bring their bodies onto Bagram and they’re going to have the first C-17 out back home. They’re going to take their bodies back.
They always do this thing called a fallen comrade ceremony. So when they bring their bodies back – I don’t know if they have to process them or what they do before they load them up onto the C-17s – they’ll alert the whole base via radio or e-mail. They’ll say, basically, “we’re about to load up these bodies to take them back home. You guys need to come outside and pay your respects as we’re loading these caskets onto the C-17s.” That was pretty shocking because that was a lesson we had to learn right when we got there. So our morale was pretty down right out the gate. I don’t know what was going on, really.
2007 was pretty, pretty rough. We dropped a lot of bombs that summer and it was a very active summer. We were doing those ceremonies, those fallen comrade ceremonies, about, what felt to me like three to five times a week. We were going out there saluting. The custom is, as the Humvee passes, you salute it and then you let your salute down as it passes you. So we were out there saluting caskets three to five times a week which is just, mentally, kind of draining. So it was a rough summer. We’re not out there, as far as Air Force mechanics, outside of the wire but it’s still the same mission and that was emotionally affecting, having to see that every day.
RH: Can you describe, maybe to someone who’s never worked on a flight line, what it’s like to scramble a jet?
MR: Oh, scramble a jet. OK. So my job basically is to kind of keep the plane. If there’s any discrepancies on that plane we do heavier field maintenance. There are certain guys out there that are called crew chiefs and they’re the guys that launch the plane. So you’ll see them out there right in front of the fighter plane because ours were F-15s so they’ll be right in front of the fighter plane. When they call a scramble, every maintainer – no matter if you’re the crew chief walking the plane or whatever – every maintainer works on these planes. We put our hands on these planes to make sure they’re greened up and ready to go. Our sweat and effort goes into making sure that these planes are capable to fly.
And so when they call a scramble, initially that triggers in your mind that our brothers – either Marines or Air Force or Army or whoever – is outside of this wire that we’re in and they’re out there and they need help now. That’s what it means. You hear it on the radio, you’re not required to go out there. I know as a maintainer that they’re not going to need my job right then. Those jets are already ready to go. But you go out there out of respect to watch these planes and make sure that they taxi and take off to go help our brothers that are out there. So that’s kind of the vibe in the air, you know? You go out there, you hear it, you bring your little emergency kit if, for some reason, something needs to be fixed right then but we have three of them. If one of them is something wrong with it mechanically, they’re not going to go. The other two are going to go. So you’re just basically going out there making sure to watch.
What I did after, a tradition for me, was I stayed outside after because I watched them go all the way into the horizon to where you couldn’t see the plane anymore. It was really quick because they’re F-15s so they go really fast. I was watching them leave the horizon until I couldn’t see them anymore and I would wait. Across the flight line from where we were, were the MEDEVAC helicopters. I would wait to see if a MEDEVAC was going to go up after. That’s what the atmosphere is like. Whenever you’re waiting on the flight line, when you hear that there’s a scramble and an alert jet is needed, that’s the atmosphere. It’s like hurry, hurry, hurry. Please get out there and help them.
RH: Alright. Good to go. On Bagram was it all Air Force aircraft or were other branches of the service launching aircraft as well?
MR: There were definitely other branches and services. We would see Chinooks all the time so Chinooks are old memories. Theirs were there also. I don’t know who else. I mean, there was even other international people there – the Polish Army, the Korean Army. There were others, not just us there.
RH: Did you interact with other militaries at all?
MR: I didn’t really personally interact with others that much. I think that just has to do with my own situational awareness. I was only trying to stay close to the people that I trusted. I wasn’t really going there to mingle, you know? I don’t know if that was a lack of trust or what that was but I didn’t really feel the need to do that. We did sometimes frequent the Korean DFAC. It was a dining facility that they had. The Koreans had their little camp on Bagram and, sometimes just to mix it up, “oh. Well, let’s go to the Korean dining facility today and see what they have,” you know? So sometimes we would go and frequent their dining facility as a little treat to ourselves. [laughs] But other than that, no.
RH: Alright. That’s cool. Aside from what you already mentioned, what are some of the notable events that occurred during this first deployment?
MR: During the first deployment? There was the first incident and after that a lot of the notable events for me were just us out of, I guess, if you’re in that camp for a really long time you kind of get island fever and all that. We were working twelve to fourteen hour days, six days a week so to make the time pass we would play pranks on each other or do silly things. Some of the other notable things I feel, in my brain, are all funny, silly things. For example, our first deployment, whenever we would work down there with the F-15s, all of the crew chiefs for the jets, if that specific jet would drop payloads, they would spray paint the bomb on the side of the plane. So at the end of the deployment you could visually see on the side of the plane how many bombs they had dropped throughout that deployment.
One day it was really, really windy and we did tie down the jets but at Lakenheath it was never winds that strong. It was very, very, very windy. One of the jets got loose [laughs] and it rolled back and there are these things called light-alls. They are huge pieces of equipment with just basically like stadium lighting on top. So if you’re doing maintenance in nighttime, that’s what you would use as your light source to be able to see what you’re doing. The light-all was parked behind the jet and as the jet rolls back, it smashes into it and basically it stops at a barricade and was just pinned there. So it was a big incident for us because whatever damage happened, as a sheet metal mechanic, we were the ones that were going to have to fix that. As a joke, the crew chief for that plane ended up spray painting a light-all [laughs] on the side of the plane because it took out the light-all. [laughs] So alongside all of the bombs that it dropped, it had one light-all stenciled on the side of that plane.
We ended up fixing it and it ended up getting fixed. Then they had to find an alternate way of securing the plane especially during high winds to make sure that they didn’t jump chocks and roll away. [laughs] So I thought that was pretty funny. Every time we saw that plane because, you know, when the planes go back, they’re not allowed to have all those bombs like that on the side of the planes. But then we go into our paint barn because we painted the plane. When we got back home and I was in corrosion, our planes had just come down and would roll in there for a touch up to get rid of all of that, I remember seeing that plane when we got back and it made me laugh because I remember that day. [laughs]
RH: I know that you’re on the other side of the phone so you can’t see me but I did have smile on my face throughout that whole story. It was pretty good. [laughs] Alright. Good to go. What were your interactions with the Afghans like?
MR: I mean, no. I went to the bazar which is like a market that they have. I think it was every Saturday or Sunday they would have the market and everybody would take turns because we’d have to have so much manning at the shop at all times and everybody was on the same schedule. We were just relieving each other. As soon as the other crew left we would do our shift and then they would turn around and come back and relieve us. And everybody only had one day off so we would only have so much time to be able to give to the guys to go to the bazar and shop for knickknacks. Basically that’s what you would do and it was Afghans there. I think I went maybe one time and I don’t know if it was a lack of not wanting to buy the knickknacks – I did buy some – but I don’t know why. I didn’t really, there were some that worked at the DFAC and stuff but I kept interaction at the minimal, you know? At the minimal needed.
And then there were children also. So we had a road that went all around the base. We had to go all the way to the other side and that’s where we worked. On the opposite side was where we slept. So I guess that’s the logistics of the entire base. The work area was way on the other side and then on the opposite side was the eating, sleeping, gym area. So every day as you go around Perimeter Road to either get to work or back home, sometimes there were children out there, outside of the fence that you could see running up to the fence. When we got there, at the briefings they quickly told us, “do not interact with the children and do not give them food. Do not give them candy. Do not do that.” So I didn’t.
RH: What do you remember most about the Airmen that you served with in Afghanistan on the first deployment?
MR: I remember, I feel like everybody deals with it in a different way. There’s a small handful of not just Airmen – I’m speaking of Airmen all around as NCOs, as Airmen, as part of the Air Force, even COs and higher ranking Airmen or whatever – there’s this handful of people in my personal experience, say one out of ten, handle the deployments very horribly. From the beginning to the end they’re just not happy people. Back home there’s always something. Their interactions with all of us, they’re just disconnected. They alienate themselves and all of that.
For the most part, as far as the young Airmen go, they worked. They did what they needed to do. Nobody complained that much when people were down because everybody would go through a cycle of being OK with everything, getting into a routine, then you’re fine with your routine and then all of a sudden you’re kind of over it and everybody’s morale is kind of down. At those times I feel like I felt responsible to kind of lift everybody’s spirits and kind of get everybody out of the funk and let’s do something different tonight even if we’re tired. It’s easy to just go to work and go home and sleep the whole time and then go back to work. It’s like an easy thing to do but it’s mentally not really beneficial to do that the whole time.
For the most part I feel like overall everybody was still able to laugh when we needed to laugh and joke around and play pranks on each other when we needed it and break up the monotony. If somebody else was down, then another person would pick up the responsibility of cheering everybody up, do you know what I mean? So it was good.
RH: Good to go. What was the most challenging period of the deployment: the beginning, the middle or the end?
MR: One hundred percent, the last month. Every time. The last month is always the hardest.
RH: Why is that?
MR: Well, the beginning is pretty much you’re kind of excited. It’s still new. It’s kind of going by rather quickly because you have time for settling in and making your room or your living quarters your own and this and that. So the beginning is all of that. In the middle you kind of settle into kind of a routine. You get into a good routine, “OK. I’m going to go to work today and then after I get off I’m going to go to the gym. Then we’re going to go eat and then we’re going to have game night on this day.” Everybody was in their routine. That last month most people are having issues with their girlfriends, with their husbands, their wife at home because personal stuff just starts to get backed up. It starts weighing heavy. You’re over the routine and you just want to get home. You just don’t want to do it anymore. And then the last month, for some reason time just goes by so slow. [laughs] I don’t know what it is. It’s always that last month. It’s just bad, really bad.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Did you have any transformative or significant events that informed this deployment, maybe aside from some of the ones that you already talked about?
MR: I feel like when I go on deployment, you kind of fall off the face of the Earth for a while. For the time that you’re gone, you’re disconnected from your normal reality. You go and you leave and before I left, my ex – my ex-husband – he had gotten kicked out of the military. He was working at Mildenhall and he had gotten kicked out and he left. He left. So it was just really bad because we had met in tech school, he went to Mildenhall and I was in Florida. We had gotten married and then they stationed me over there at Lakenheath. I liked it in Florida. [laughs] I had no problems in Florida. I liked it down there. So I get stationed over there because the Air Force decides to move me where he is and it was horrible. It was really, really horrible.
At the end of it all, instead of staying there with me, he told the military, “send all of my stuff and me back to New Jersey.” And I was just stuck there. This happened, him leaving and back to New Jersey happened in April and I deployed in May. And we weren’t divorced. It wasn’t like, “OK, you’re going to go back to New Jersey and this is the end of us.” We were still married, you know? I was kind of in the space of, “well, if this is what you feel like is best for you to grow as a person because obviously the military is not what you want to do, then I support you in that.” That’s how it was when he was leaving in April.
Throughout the deployment, that was my personal struggle that I was dealing with. Being on that deployment it was him. It was dealing with him, trying to be there as the supportive wife and motivate him but you can only do so much. I was still very young at that time and I wanted to be there for him even though, in reality, he left me in England after I moved there to be with him. By the end of the deployment I feel like I reached the end of my rope of clarity, whatever you want to call it, but I was over it. By the end of the deployment I was ready to file papers with him because all I was doing that whole deployment was sending him money every paycheck. That was a significant part of the ’07 deployment, coming to terms with leaving him.
RH: Before we move on to the post-deployment for this deployment, is there anything else form this deployment that I left out that is significant?
MR: I don’t think so. I mean, unless you want me to take it day by day. [laughs]
RH: [laughs] No. That’s alright.
MR: There was huge chunks of routine and monotony. But, no. It was good. It was a good deployment.
RH: Good to go. What was your immediate post-deployment experience like coming back from this deployment?
MR: Oh gosh. Immediate post-deployment was, like I said, I was very young at that time and since I had made the decision to leave my ex, my now ex, coming back home I was ready to party. I was ready because Bagram was a dry base. There’s no alcohol there at all and I was married prior to leaving and stuff like that so I was really young whenever I got back from this deployment in ’07. So when I got back my headspace was like, “let’s mingle. Let’s get to know everybody over here. Let’s have a good time in England.” So prior to leaving my headspace was maybe starting a family, being a wife. I hated England at that time, that first year before deploying and when I came back I had a different perspective. I really wanted to explore England. I just wanted to mingle with people, get know people and I really wanted to just party when I got back home. [laughs] It was immediate, let’s drink and have a good time.
RH: Alright. What was the work up like between the first and second deployment?
MR: Do you mean the time in-between?
RH: Yes. For the second time, did you deploy from Lakenheath for your second deployment?
RH: So what was the training and preparation like for that second deployment?
MR: Well, we had to do this training where you go for a couple days. I forget what it’s called – Combat Airman training or something like that. When you go out there I feel like it was almost like the Air Force wanted to be on the same page with the Army and the Marines even though we’re not infantry. We are airplane mechanics and our mission is to keep those airplanes in the air to either do, if it’s a cargo plane, to drop the cargo that it needs to do, if it’s a bomber to drop the bombs that it needs to drop and for that plane to do what its purpose is. That’s our mission, you know?
And all of a sudden the Air Force and the Army and the Marines, they wanted us to carry a weapon with us, fully loaded. But the Air Force, we’re not using that weapon in the capacity the Army and Marines are so they try to give us this little bit of, “oh, every year you need to qualify,” but that’s, in my opinion, not enough for us to be carrying those weapons around daily. [laughs] So that was part of the training to gear up and get ready to go. Then they wanted us to go with our SPs which is our Air Force cops to learn how to clear weapons and go on convoys which is, in my opinion again, unnecessary training because our purpose isn’t to go on convoys. It isn’t just. Of course that’s just generally speaking. That’s not to say that some Air Force guys don’t do that but that’s a specialized duty thing. In general we’re not doing that. We’re not clearing buildings and we’re not going on convoys. We’re mechanics [laughs] so I felt it was still. I felt like it was kind of silly for us to hold a weapon the whole time on base. I felt like it was unnecessary. If things were to hit the fan, it would hit the fan. I don’t think a magazine with thirty rounds in it is really going to do me much good. If shit hits the fan, it’s going to hit. We’re not trained to be able to do that kind of stuff. We’re just not. Our mission is to keep those planes up and running. [laughs] That’s when I would go to a Marine or Army guy and be like, “hey, help me! [laughs] I’m going to stick with you if you get me out of this situation.” Bunker down is what I would do. It was just funny when you asked about the training in ’09. It was funny.
RH: Alright. Good to go. So now let’s go back to where we were earlier. Leading up to the second deployment, what were the weeks and months like leading up to this deployment?
MR: The weeks and months leading up to that deployment were really something else because I left, I want to say I left January 3rd. It was very soon after the New Year. So the weeks and months leading up were like the holiday party. In my mind we’re trying to use those holiday times in the best way possible to spend with my close friends that I’ve made my family over there before we left on deployment. Basically at Lakenheath I felt like there was always a reason to drink. It was the holidays. People are leaving on deployment. People are coming back from deployment. It’s always kind of, you’re celebrating something. So in that year specifically, because it was the holidays and we were going on deployment and all of these things all wrapped up into one, there was a lot of that. It was nice.
One of my supervisors that I did have leading up to that deployment, he was going to be one of our head people. I’m not going to get specific with his name and things like that but as of the ’09 deployment I had been in the military for quite some time and I guess, you know, as they would say, “the longer you’re in, the smaller it gets.” So people start knowing each other as people start PCS’ing and moving around to different bases, you all start getting, you start knowing people that know people that know people.
Anyways, one of our higher ups that were going with us to this deployment, he was not feeling well. What this guy did was – it was kind of like a soap opera. He had his wife and kids – he was older so even his kids were older – and he had went to Korea prior to coming to the UK. In Korea is where he met one of my fellow girlfriends. So he ends up meeting her in Korea prior to the UK and they have this love affair. [laughs] They have this love affair. He tells her he’s going to leave his wife and his kids and family for her because he’s fallen in love with her. She’s kind of known, in my opinion, to not be the most – I don’t know, what is it? – monogamous person. And so after Korea he ends up going to the UK and she ends up going to Germany so they’re kind of right next door. They’re flying, visiting each other, back and forth to Germany the whole time.
We end up going on this deployment. Leading up to this deployment, he finds out she’s cheated on him. So this is becoming this whole, you know. It’s a really small Air Force at this time for me and it is a really small MOS. Because of your specific job, you only have so many people within that and everybody knows each other after you’ve been in for so many years. So leading up to that, as I’m running into him during our holiday parties or whatever, he’s wanting to confide in me just for the simple fact that I know her. [laughs] In my opinion it was kind of, I felt like it was my duty to kind of make sure he didn’t kind of go off the edge because that’s the kind of stuff where his headspace isn’t where it needs to be when we’re going to Afghanistan. He’s going to be one of the guys making the calls. So I felt like it was kind of my responsibility to keep his morale and his focus on the right things. And I swear every day, on that deployment – not every day but at least weekly – he’d come in and he’d be like angry and, “we were e-mailing today and I don’t know about your girl and,” bla, bla. It was hard for me because I would have to say, in a really tactful way, and not make him feel idiotic when in my mind I’m like, “I could have old you this before you even got with her that she was going to cheat on you.” [laughs] I don’t know why I laugh but it’s just really silly. That was the whole deployment.
At the end of it, his wife ended up forgiving him and chocking it up to a midlife crisis or whatever – a Korea fling. And she took him back. When we came back from deployment, she was right there alongside of him for the next holiday party. So that was the end of that story. [laughs]
RH: Alright. Good to go. Let’s jump into that second deployment. On that second deployment, were you stationed in Bagram again?
RH: What was the mission of your unit on that second deployment?
MR: Same mission. Drop bombs and air support.
RH: What are some of the notable events that occurred during the second deployment?
MR: During the second deployment, I mean, it was the same thing – different day, different season. The first deployment it was hot and the second deployment it was snow. We got mortared a couple times. So we were working alongside, I think it was Davis-Monthan. I forget which base was also there. We were usually there with F-15s and A-10s. They usually go together so it’ll be a bay of sheet metal guys with their A-10s and then a bay with their F-15 sheet metal guys and you all work out of the same shop. You don’t have a separate shop. So you get really close with those guys and I forget which base exactly it was that deployment.
Bagram is in the valley and surrounded by mountains so if any of the locals are in those mountains – because the lights of the flight line are on 24-7 in Bagram you can see it – if they’re around those mountains, they’ll see the base right in the center at the bottom of the valley. And what they did, supposedly, because they’re not really sophisticated in their agrarian things like that, they would supposedly take their mortars or their rockets or whatever they were going to shoot at the base and they aim them not very strategically and not with much precision, they would point them towards the base and they pack them in the snow. And apparently when springtime comes or whatever and the snow melts, it just randomly launches these mortars that they’ve aimed at the base. We did get attacks every now and then from this.
On one specific occasion during that deployment, one of those mortars actually hit the front steps of what we called B-hut. The B-hut is just a plywood little house with a hallway. You have a front door and a back door and you have a hallway and then you have four rooms on each side of the hallway so you have an eight room little rectangle thing. One of those mortars hit the front step area of the B-hut from our A tent counterpart of our sheet metal guys. In Afghanistan it’s all rocks. There’s no trees or grass or anything. All the rocks just propelled forward through the B-hut. All the rocks. You could see all the holes and everything. But luckily those guys were all either at the gym or at work or eating. None of the guys were home. That was lucky for them but they were so shaken up, some of them didn’t even go home after that for two weeks. They would just sleep at work. So I mean, it didn’t happen to us or to me personally but I could see the effects of that through them and it was tough to see because there was nothing you could really do to console them or make them feel safe, you know? It just has to run its course, I feel.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Was there much change at Bagram between your first deployment and your second deployment that maybe you noticed?
MR: I did. Yeah. There was more politics all of a sudden on Bagram which was really, I didn’t like it. All of a sudden most of the higher ups really cared about things that I felt were insignificant given the environment. The first deployment, as long as we were on our little camp we could wear our flip flops. When you wake up your little hut, the ones I was describing, there’s no bath or facilities in those huts. You have to walk to what we call a Cadillac which is basically a trailer with toilets in it and a sink. So when you’re in your hut and you’re waking up because you’ve got to go use the bathroom or you’re getting up to go for the day, for one this plywood hut is just completely dark. You go outside and since there’s all rocks, the reflection of the sun on the rocks is just blinding. You’re just trying to use the bathroom, right? You put your boots upside down and do all this other stuff so that spiders and stuff don’t get in there or whatever but, really, all you want to do is put your flip flops on – your flip flops that you shower in and do all that – and you really just want to go use the bathroom. They made a rule when we had gotten there the second time around that you could not wear your shower shoes to go use the restroom anymore. I thought that was such a silly thing.
Also, we had to salute officers on the way to and from going to the PX, going to chow. If you saw an officer you had to salute them. So if you’re going down this main road called Disney and you’re going from the camp to the PX, you’re saluting probably twenty times. For one I thought it was unsafe because now you’re identifying who your officers are to other people that are there because locals are there all the time and all this other stuff. I don’t know how they train them but it’s still kind of unnerving to me and I just felt it was unnecessary. Why would we have to do that all the time? And you could tell that even officers didn’t like it. If they were walking in uniform, not in their PT gear, if they were walking in their uniform to and from the PX, they would put their head down to avoid giving you eye contact to salute them. But it was just the silliest – so much more politics had happened from ’07 to ’09 that I felt was more of a distraction and I didn’t really understand why they were implementing those rules. I felt in the big scheme of things it was unnecessary. So that was a big change. But of course me being ranking now, I wouldn’t say that to my troops, [laughs] do you know what I mean? Because my troops, they are the ones complaining about it. I felt the same way but, of course, as a ranking person you’re supposed to be like, “well, I know it’s a difficult change. I know it was funner or whatever last time but this is what they want us to do so this is what we’re going to do.” But inside, [laughs] I was like, “this is silly.”
RH: Alright. Good to go. Did you have any more interactions with the Afghans on this deployment?
MR: No. I did not.
RH: OK. Now this question is for the first deployment and the second deployment, just in general. What were your interactions with the pilots like?
MR: I didn’t really have much interactions with the pilots. Pilots are considered OPSEC, I think, is what they are. The people that do their flight schedules, pilots, all of those people and actual maintenance people on the plane, there’s a very big divide, I feel, almost segregating the two groups. So there really wasn’t much interaction for me with them.
There is a thing over there and they will invite us to go to their OPSEC. They have their little camp area thing and they’ll invite us over there because our F-15s have cameras on them. The camera ends up recording all the missions and all of the payloads dropped and then, every now and then, what the OPSEC people will do is gather all those videos and they’ll kind of make this little smash up of all these videos of the F-15 dropping bombs.
So I went to one. I was like, “fine, I’ll go.” They have a little feeder room or whatever there. And I went over there to watch it and I honestly didn’t know how to feel about it, you know? Because, literally, you see these planes that I physically touch. I physically fix these planes. This is my job to fix these planes and I see, basically, what I feel is my plane and you can see they’re dropping a bomb on two or three people at most. It’s not like a bomb on a camp or a building or something. You can see on the infrared two or three people – a guy on a scooter or two or three people running and then all of a sudden you see the payload drop. For me, I didn’t know how to feel about that. All I can hope is that the intel was good but then I always think, you know, what if those families were under duress or something? What if Al Qaeda made them or blackmailed them in some way, putting their family as a hostage or something, to make them go deliver something or be a courier or whatever, you know? And we’re here just dropping a bomb on them. It kind of makes me emotionally conflicted.
RH: Alright. Good to go. So before we move on, is there anything else that’s significant about this second deployment that we didn’t address?
MR: No. The second deployment was not as active as ’07 mainly because of the season. Things are a lot higher tempo in the summer, than in the cold time. But, no, I don’t think so.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Let’s go ahead and let’s move onto coming home from that deployment. You got back from that deployment in, let me see, May of 2009, correct?
RH: And you got out in December 2013. So for those last four years, what were you doing?
MR: Well, I came back from deployment and reunited with, now, my kid’s dad and he was back in England at that time. He had gotten out and, basically, we ended up getting pregnant [laughs] in a nutshell. Very immediate post-deployment, post-2009 deployment. Prior to us getting pregnant, our plan was for me to get out also. That kind of put a halt to that really quick because we were prepared to get out of the military as just him and I but not him and I and a baby. So anyways, I ended up reenlisting and we got stationed in Albuquerque, New Mexico and I finished up four years there.
RH: Alright. Good to go. So let me ask you this. What are some of the challenges of motherhood in the military?
MR: Oh! The challenges. Oh gosh, there are so many challenges. For me, specifically, the whole time I was a mother in the military – I was pregnant the whole time for the rest of my time in Lakenheath. So for my specific job, we’re not allowed to do the job. As soon as you know that you’re pregnant, you must report that to your supervisors and they must pull you from doing any of the job because I worked with paint, thinner and all kinds of resins and stuff. You’re climbing up stands, you’re shooting rivets, you know? You just can’t do it. It puts the baby at risk. You’re not able to work.
So as far as support from my shop, from my coworkers, from all of them, the support was outstanding. That was not a challenge at all. But when I actually had the kids, it was in Albuquerque. The thing there that happened, I feel like it was a very specific thing that happened over there because we ended up, while I was in Albuquerque, the Air Force started downsizing. Basically we lost all of our rank. The basic hierarchy and chain of command, as far as I knew it from before this time, my rank would be as an E5 or an early E5 you would be in charge of major repairs and overseeing that. The actual people that run your shop would be the Tech Sergeant, your E6s, and then you’d have your Shop Chief as Master Sergeant and they’d have an assistant shop chief and in your flight office you’d have also a Master Sergeant or a Senior Master Sergeant and an officer.
When we downsized, that all went away. That all went away. Basically our shop lost all of our Tech Sergeants. We had one Tech Sergeant that ended up being our Shop Chief, no assistant, and all of us Staff Sergeants were left and everybody was pretty new as a Staff Sergeant. I had the most seniority as the Staff Sergeant there in our shop. And everybody else, all of us Staff Sergeants, had to learn how to do Tech Sergeant work. We had to learn how to run the shop [laughs] which was not what the norm was prior to that. We weren’t ready for that responsibility, you know? With that came a challenge because I ended up working, I was probably working about seventy hours a week. Working that much, you’re not seeing your kids that much. So that was the challenge of being the mom and doing the job that I love.
Now being stateside and having two kids – then he’s out of the military and he’s going to school and stuff – financially it was a burden because when both of us were over in England, it was almost as if you were making two, three, four incomes, do you know what I mean? Because if it’s just you by yourself, it’s almost as if you’re making two incomes because you’re getting supplemented. With Marina [Sassone], I worked a part-time job also. [laughs] I was pretty used to working a part-time job also. I was making almost three incomes and he was making almost two incomes so we were used to spending a certain type of way when we lived in England. Now we come back stateside and we have kids now. He’s not working because he’s going to school and he’s out of the military. Financially it just wasn’t there, you know? So it was a challenge. It was tough.
RH: You are actually the first mother that I’ve spoken to. Your first child was a little boy or a little girl?
MR: We have two boys.
RH: OK. So when your son was born, was he born in the military hospital in Albuquerque or where was he born exactly?
MR: [laughs] He was born at home.
RH: Oh! OK.
MR: We chose a birthing plan to do the water birth at home and followed through with that plan. His brother was also born the same way with our same midwife. [laughs] They were both born at home. [laughs]
RH: Alright. Good to go. So let’s talk a little bit about your life after the military. You talked about some of the challenges. How your military experience shaped your life since you got out?
MR: Oh my God. I feel like there’s been so much reflection coming out of the military. First off, leaving was really scary for me because, I don’t know if you can tell but I had a lot of pride in what I did. I really loved fixing the planes. I really loved that specific job. Then, being in Albuquerque, we had the challenge of working seventy hours a week or whatever but that taught me a lot. Us having to step up because we downsized and do additional duties, it really taught me a lot. It was challenging but after getting out, I could see everything that it taught me.
I turned thirty after getting out of the military and just interacting with other people in school and now interacting with new people, meeting new people that are my same age that have never been in the military – I live in Austin, Texas now so there’s San Antonio there – but there’s not really a lot of military people here. Sometimes I run into Army guys in Fort Hood but, for the most part, it’s all civilians here in Austin. Just comparing myself with them, there’s a big difference. A lot of them maybe worked at the same job they had from a long time ago. The progression is different in the military as it is in the civilian world and I think it’s because in the civilian world retirement is like sixty-something. Typically that’s retirement in the civilian world. In the military world, your retirement is at forty. So you have to do all of those the things that you would at sixty when you’re forty in a smaller amount of time. They have to progress you quicker because you’re retiring at forty.
So I feel like there’s just a really big difference there and a lot of my management and supervisory stuff that I learned while I was in Albuquerque, I didn’t realize the value of it because, for one, we always had kind of a bad attitude about that whole shift. How are we supposed to maintain these planes? They’re cutting our budget so we couldn’t buy tools or consumable items that we needed for our job. Everything was downsized. Improvising and working harder and working with the minimal amount of experience personnel-wise and equipment-wise really challenged us and we overcame it really good. We really did as a shop. In the beginning it was rough but towards the end we had all learned so much. And we were tight. We got through the challenge and we were good to go. Learning all that stuff, I feel like my post-military experience has been really good and I kind of feel that I’m advanced now because of it. I’m advanced compared to my peers because of it and I’m thankful for that.
RH: Good to go. Do you still communicate with anyone from any of your units?
MR: Yes, I do. Yes, I do. [laughs] I do still have some girlfriends from Lakenheath. Every now and then because facebook and social media, that makes it a lot easier to keep in contact with people. But most of it is coming from Albuquerque and most of it is coming from what I call my kids. So Albuquerque is a time in my career that I became more of a supervisory position. My main thing was to oversee. So I guess leaving the military, I felt like at the end I was basically considered crypto Staff Sergeant because I made rank. [laughs] I should have made Tech Sergeant in ten years. So I was in Staff and I didn’t care about making the rank. I didn’t care about studying for that and doing all that. I cared about giving as much knowledge of working on these planes and dealing with people that you don’t care to work with and those kinds of skills to my kids which were all of the new Airmen coming into the military going to Albuquerque.
So all of my kids – and I try to treat them all the same even though I did favor some over the others – I tried to bring them under my wing and pass that knowledge and that’s what I was going to leave the Air Force with. That became my mission especially the last year or two of me being Air Force was to mentor them and be there for them and try to teach them as much as I could – not just with the job but how to deal with each other because a lot of them didn’t get along with each other, you know? That’s one of the skills that you need to have even though you don’t get along with somebody. You’ve just got to learn how to be professional and put that aside while you’re at work. Since then since I got out, my kids have come and drove all the way here. From Albuquerque to here is a thirteen hour drive. [laughs] My kids have drove over here and they visited us about three times and I’ve only been out not even two years yet. On a long weekend sometimes they’ll just call and be like, “hey! We’re going to come over there.” And they’ll come and visit and they’ll catch up. They’ll basically come over here and they bitch a lot about how the shop is now and stuff like that. They vent. But yeah, we still keep in touch. [laughs]
RH: So I have a question about Afghanistan’s current state. The other day President Obama announced that there’s going to be troops in Afghanistan at least through 2017. In the time since you were there and the present they have reduced the number of troops. How do you feel about the reduction of US combat operations in Afghanistan?
MR: I feel like there’s no need for us to be out there, personally. That’s my personal thing. I don’t remember exactly what year it was, what he was saying we’re going to pull all the troops from Afghanistan. I remember it had to have been close to pretty fresh of me coming back from deployment and stuff like that. It’s easier to see how built up, especially between ’07 and ’09 in Bagram, they built these things that are called Taj Mahals. It’s basically like a real dormitory. At first I was telling you about the B-huts that were just like plywood little shacky things and they started developing the base more and more. I’m just thinking, “how much money is going into operating this specific base, just Bagram itself, in Afghanistan on a daily basis?” The lights are on all the time. Everything is happening all the time. They’re repaving the roads every day, they’re doing all this stuff, and if we’re going to say, “oh yeah, we’re going to pull the troops,” and stuff like that, I just felt like it was not going to happen by the time he said it initially. There’s no way! It’s operating. Everything is moving. It’s not looking like they’re drawing back, [laughs] do you know what I mean? It looks like we’re continuing to make it even more.
I guess there’s a reduction now but I don’t even feel like we need to be over there. I’m glad they got Osama but these are just my personal opinions about everything. They took Osama in front of all of his kids and all of his wives and where are his kids now? How do his kids feel about the US after seeing that? It’s like a rebirth of even more terrorists to come. They’re going to feel some type of way about that. They’re children now but they’re going to become adults later. So is it really cause for celebration? I don’t know. Yes, he needs to be not doing what he was doing but is it stopping terrorism? I don’t know. Probably not. When they say War on Terrorism, that’s never ending. [laughs] You can’t win a war on terrorism. That’s never going to stop. Americans terrorize each other in America so it’s a silly thing, in my opinion.
RH: Alright. Good to go. So I have a couple of spiritual questions for you. Has deploying affected you spiritually and, if so, how?
MR: It did. I mean, I don’t know if deploying, specifically, was the cause of that. My sister was the cause of that but there was the deployment of ’07 where, right prior to going on the deployment in ’07, I went to the States to visit my sister and that’s when I found God, right before the deployment. So on deployment in ’07 I was constantly praying daily, reading the Bible. It was a very routine thing to do. I even feel now that I do have my connection with Him. He’ll never leave and I know that I have a relationship with God.
After about a year from 2007, I just stopped. It wasn’t routine anymore. My connection with Him is still there and it’s still strong but I’m just not communicating with Him as often anymore. I’m not really reading a lot and doing all that but I don’t know if that has, if any of that cause and effect has any relation to the deployment, do you know what I mean? That’s just a personal thing and that’s just the timeline.
RH: Alright. Has deploying changed your perception of life and death and, if so, how?
MR: It hasn’t changed my perception of life and death. No. I feel the same before as whenever we were there and, even now, I feel like if it’s your time to go it’s going to be your time to go. That’s why I feel like I was very calm while I was there, even when they would call on the radio, “it’s time to bunker down because we are getting a mortar attack.” I was never scared. I was never. I put my gear on, I’d go in the bunker and we’d wait it out but I never felt scared because if it’s going to drop on us there’s nothing we can do about it, really. If you really think about it, what are you going to do? Even today, even without that, if I go in my car and get into an accident, I’m not seventy, eighty years old. I didn’t live a full life in that sense but it just happens. You just can only live your life full as best as you can every day and every day is going to be a struggle. Every day is going to be different. Some days you’re not going to have a good day but that’s OK. You can’t have good days all the time. I had that perspective before and I had it there and I have it now. That hasn’t changed.
RH: Alright. Good to go. I’m going to switch up the questions a little bit. What’s your happiest memory of the entire time you served?
MR: Oh my God. That’s a really hard [laughs] question. My happiest memory of the whole time I was in the military?
RH: Yeah, maybe two or three. Maybe your two or three most happiest.
MR: I don’t really know. I have really good feelings about the military overall but I can’t pinpoint specific times that were overwhelmingly happy. It’s difficult for me because there are so many times of being really happy and really proud.
One proud moment that I have that is really specific is being at Lakenheath. We actually had a lot of female sheet metal girls there. I was one of the most senior ranking female sheet metal girls there for a period of time. We started getting more and more and they were all kids so they were all lower ranking, brand new Airmen coming in. I felt like it was my responsibility to really mentor them even more than the guys and to talk to them in a certain way for them to understand. That’s a whole part of communication, it’s to change the way you talk to somebody for them to understand what you’re saying.
We had one girl come in and all the guys were always talking to me about her. It was kind of like high school in the shop and what you want is for everybody to feel comfortable – top down, down up – to talk to you and to feel comfortable enough talking with you, sharing information with you so you’ll be able to try to help out and help correct the problem. That was always my goal. All the guys were always like, it was maintenance shop type of talk – shop talk. They’re like, “hey, that new girl, she’s crazy.” They’re talking about her and they’re like, “she’s really promiscuous. She’s walking around the dorms all the time hitting on all the guys all the time. If she’s wanting to be with a guy or hook up with a guy, she’s not afraid to do that.” [laughs] So I’m like, “OK. So what does that have to do with work? It doesn’t really have anything to do with work.” These are rumors that are happening throughout time and she’s building a reputation for herself.
Then all of a sudden I start hearing something that is starting to concern me. They’re saying that, “oh, every time she works it gets on my nerves. I never want to work with her because she’ll do the work but she won’t ever clean up after herself.” And they felt like it was because she was a female, she would do all the work but she would never clean up all of her mess because she would make the guys clean it up. [laughs] And I’m like, “God. Well, you guys are the suckers letting her because you guys are cleaning up after her.” [laughs] “You’re letting her do this and you’re not standing up to her. You’re letting her push you around.” So basically, they’re telling on her. They’re coming to me and they’re telling on her.
So anyways, I have a private conversation with her because there is a term for what she’s doing in our shop talk and it’s called a Princess Airman. A Princess Airman is a female sheet metal girl that will do work and is too good. She’s a princess. She’s not going to clean up. [laughs] And that’s fine. That’s some of them and then there’s some – there’s another word for the females that are just not good at the job. There are guys and girls that are not good at it. You don’t really know what it is whenever you pick the job, right? You go in and you don’t really know what it is. Some people just don’t have the knack for it but females get a harder time. They get given a harder time if they’re not good at it. Well, not really. The guys get a hard time too. They’re just not good at it, you know? They’re always trying to get out of work and do all this other stuff. You see that kind of girl too or you can see the girl that’s like the guy’s girl.
I told her, “if you want the respect from these guys,” and that’s only up to her, if it’s important to her to have their respect. What if she doesn’t give a shit about their respect? “If you want to earn their respect,” I told her, this is just my my opinion, “it just sucks but you’re going to have to work ten times harder than them. You’ve got to be better than them, you have to work faster than them, you can’t ask them for help.” I was like, “you can’t do that. It’s OK to ask for help but you’ve got to be tough and you’ve got to clean up after yourself.” Basically they felt like she was doing sexual favors in order to get them to clean up her shit after she was done and that’s not cool! “If you want to go sleep around then that’s your thing but don’t bring that to work. If you want to have respect as a girl that knows how to work in that good of a job, there’s times when certain jobs are not finished by the end of your shift. If I’m not finished with my job then I’m going to look for the next person after that’s going to finish my job right. If you want to be that person that somebody’s like, ‘OK, I know that she’s going to hook this up and I’m not going to have to come back tomorrow and redo everything,’ you have to work ten times harder.” That’s just the long and short of it.
I feel like it really did, it triggered in her after we had a talk. After that all the guys were like, “man, I don’t know what you said to her but…” We didn’t even work on the same shift but it was always my responsibility, I felt, to mentor all these girls. All the girls would always talk to me and then all the guys would talk about them and I feel like my role a lot of times was to make that harmonious work environment. That was the main goal. Everybody needs to get along at work. She ended up excelling at the job. Every time I would see her come in after that she was always completely dirty from head to toe and do you know what? That was a positive thing. When you get somebody dirty like that, for us, it’s a positive thing. It’s like, “that person’s getting it.” They’re doing what they need to do because if you’re clean, people look down on you, you know? As a maintainer you don’t want to be clean because you’re not doing anything. So I would always see her busting ass, staying late, being dirty and she ended up excelling. So I kind of feel that I had a little bit to do with that but I probably can’t take any credit for that at all. [laughs]
RH: Alright. Cool. Good to go. I always ask this of everybody. What was the best DFAC in Afghanistan and what was the best DFAC stateside?
MR: Oh my God. Afghanistan. I don’t really know which one it was particularly there but all of the chow halls in Afghanistan were exceptional, [laughs] I feel. They always had fresh fruit and a very wide variety. First deployment we didn’t have a hot dining facility on the maintenance side so when we were on maintenance side we would have to travel all the way across to get hot food or we would just have to stick with cereal and a sandwich on the other side. But they ended up making a dining facility on maintenance side and it was crazy – eggs made to order. But I’m pretty easy to please. [laughs] I think that those dining facilities were honestly the best. They were so good, every single one of them on that were on Bagram.
Stateside the best one, in my opinion, is the flight line kitchen in Vegas. [laughs] There’s a little flight line kitchen at Nellis and it’s excellent. [laughs]
RH: Alright. Good to go. What are some of the funniest stories you have?
MR: Funniest stories. One of the funniest stories that I have is in Afghanistan. So one trip to Afghanistan that we had, I think it was ’09, I actually ended up having three females including myself. So you only ever bring ten. You bring ten guys with you and you have five working on morning shift and five working night shift. So for us to have three females out of ten, that’s a big ratio of females to sheet metal guys. OK, cool. We’ve got some hardcore chicks here. We’re going to hold it down for everybody and represent.
One of the chicks worked on the shift with me and everybody’s family is always sending them care packages. So you get the care package and the protocol for us was you receive a care package, you’re supposed to open the box because it’s usually a lot of shit. It’s not just a little care package, it’s like a big box of stuff. You open the care package and the person it was addressed to gets first pick obviously. They would open it and they’ll take out exactly the things that they want and take back with them back to their room or whatever and whatever’s left is community chest. [laughs] So everybody else gets to scrounge stuff and then whatever’s left in the box after people want to take stuff home gets put in the this big Rubbermaid closet for the whole time and people can just go in there and get stuff.
One time in a care package, me and my troop, we’re going through it and all of a sudden inside we see whitey tighties – men’s whitey tighties. And for some reason it was that time in the deployment where we needed a change and stuff so we were just like, “OK. We’re going to look at the whitey tighties. We’re going to keep our eye on it and we’re going to wait for the oncoming shift to come in and go through the box. [RH laughs] If the whitey tighties are still there, we’re going to take them home with us.”
So it’s all day and we’re like, “ooh. I wonder if we’re going to get these whitey tighties.” [laughs] We were waiting for the other shift to come and relieve us and we were like, “hey. There’s a care package over here. You guys go through it.” They go through it and me and her go look in there and we’re like, “score! Nobody wants them.” [RH laughs] “Let’s take them home.”
We go home and we take them because we were sharing a room. We take them home and we end up, for an hour, putting them on our heads, taking pictures, putting them everywhere. The last picture that we have, we were playing around with these things the whole time which is so weird but it’s what happens when you’re out there. It’s like the littlest thing. You just need to laugh. It’s almost like a sleepover. It’s me and her and we’re just doing stuff. Anyways, we have ski masks that we got issued because when we went there it was cold time. So we go issued these ski masks, we put the ski masks on and we put our long johns on and we just put these whitey tighties over long johns [RH laughs] and we were just, we had our M-16s and were pretending we were ninjas and stuff. Obviously it’s not live or anything. So we were taking those pictures and I still have those pictures to this day and they’re my favorite pictures from the deployment – the day we took these whitey tighties home and started playing them. We almost peed ourselves for like an hour just playing with whitey tighties. [laughs] It was fun.
RH: Cool. Any other good funny stories?
MR: That was probably the funniest story. We had plenty of pranks that deployment. One time on deployment, this was a separate deployment, we had this guy and he was with us. He was part of a sheet metal. I’m not going to say his name but he is known for being just a really crazy, random guy. In my opinion this guy wants attention all the time and he just does random stuff. I feel like it’s just for attention. He wants people to laugh at him but it’s very extreme. [laughs]
Do you know how I told you we have A-10 guys and we have F-15 guys and we all work in the same shop? We get there and he recognizes one of the guys from the A-10 space. I guess it’s a guy that he used to work with at another base. You find things to do. You’re making shelves for your room or whatever – you do stuff like that when you’re down there. So this guy, he ended up scrounging this locker and we’re sheet metal so we have all this metal and stuff like that so he’s restoring this locker that he wants to use for his personal items at work. And he’s working on it all day, restoring this locker, making a new door for it, doing all this stuff.
Here comes our guy and it’s so hard for me to not say his name. But here he comes. They’re separated all day and then he waits until the oncoming shift comes to work so that everybody is around to see him be crazy. So the guy is working on his locker and here comes crazy guy from our shop and he’s like, “hey! Bla, bla. You’ve been working on that locker all day, right?” And he was like, “yeah. I’m almost done. I just have to do this, this and this part.” And then he goes, “well you know what?” And he’s screaming because he wants everyone to look at him, and he goes, “it looks like shit!” And he pushes this locker over sideways and he pushes it on the floor and he steps on it and smushes it. And everybody’s laughing [laughs] because we’re a bunch of assholes, right? It’s funny because the guy was working on it all day. We know the guy’s not going to do nothing. He just stood there because they’re always pushing this guy around. He’s always messing with him because they know each other from their old base or whatever and he does this in front of everybody. There’s just so many stories of him from that specific deployment just being an ass like that but maybe I’m an ass at heart because I think all of it is funny, you know?
There’s one guy that works with us from – we’re all together on this deployment – he works on the opposite shift. He is known in our shop because he, for one, has been married four times so everyone always gives him a hard time about that and, for another, a big characteristic of his is he’s a cage fighter. Supposedly he’s this cage fighter and that’s what he does on his off time. And so crazy guy, our jokester, he keeps messing with him because from the beginning of the deployment our jokester guy announces, “I’m going to make the cage fighter guy punch me in the face.” And he wants him to punch him in the face for real just so that he can say that he had a cage fighter punch him in the face. So the whole time on deployment, he is antagonizing this guy to try to make him punch him in the face. It’s like so crazy. He’s so crazy.
So the guy comes into work, the cage fighter guy, and he’s about get on the computer to check his e-mail first thing. Everybody’s trying to do turnover and catch people up on stuff and crazy guy ends up pulling the chair from under him as he’s sitting down. The floors in our shop areas are always concrete. Always. There’s no rug or anything. He falls flat on his ass and you can hear his wrist hit the concrete. And the poor guy had to wear one of those things for his wrist the whole time. He was so mad at crazy guy because he was just doing it for laughs and now this guy can’t work out. It was really important for him to work out because he was a cage fighter and all this stuff. But he still didn’t punch him in the face! [laughs] I think if he would have punched him in the face – nobody would have – we would keep it in house. Nobody would say, “oh, so and so punched him in the face,” or rat him out or anything because he is asking to get punched in the face. [laughs] So it was crazy. That guy is nuts. Yeah, there’s a lot of stories from him. Too many to say.
RH: My last couple of questions. What, if anything, do you miss about the military?
MR: Oh man. I miss so much. Honestly, I really do feel like every shop that I worked at and all the guys that I worked with, I feel like they’re my brothers. The ones that I’m really close with I feel like are my brothers and the ones that I’m not really close with I feel like are my cousins. They’re still family and I would still be there for them if they needed something. I feel like, especially after going to Albuquerque, that I almost – I was actually the only female in that shop for a really long time. I felt that it was kind of my responsibility to almost be the glue of that shop. And I felt like the mom of that shop. I felt a really important role there to hold everybody together and to help communicate things top down and bottom up, both ways, to try and make everybody understand each other. I miss that a lot. Leaving the military now, I’m a student, and I feel sometimes like I’m just a student, you know what I mean? I don’t really feel that sense of importance and validity in my day to day now whereas when I was in I did really feel like I was doing something special. And so I miss that a lot.
And then making connections with all the people that you end up making connections with because you’re working with them all the time and this and that. So I do miss those things a lot. I don’t miss the pay [both laugh] but I do miss that.
RH: Alright. Good to go. If you could communicate something to young Airmen fighting the wars of the future, what would it be?
MR: Oh man. Oh man. One main thing would be have pride in your work no matter how insignificant you think it might be or how monotonous. Even if you don’t understand the importance of it, to really have pride in your work. If you have pride in your work then a lot of other things will follow that. And try your best to get along with different people even if you don’t understand them or if you think that you do your job better than they do or whatever it might be – that you might have animosity towards that person. Try to be a bigger person and get along with that person or ignore them. Just ignore them because it’s not worth an argument and it’s not worth your effort to prove right or wrong anything, really. So that would be a little advice that I would give new Airmen.
RH: Alright good to go. Your kids are young now so if you could communicate something about your experience that you would want to pass onto your children, what would it be?
MR: Oh wow. OK. I would say joining the military young, immediately, is great. I don’t feel like – because me and their dad are both veterans – that they are going to have any kind of undue pressure from us, in my opinion, to go to college immediately after high school. Personally I feel like that’s kind of setting them up not really in the best way because, at such a young age, they don’t know what they want yet. So we would probably really encourage our kids to at least do one enlistment in any branch – in the branch of their choice – just because I feel really strongly that if you’re doing four years , if you graduate high school at eighteen and you do four years, when you get out you’re only twenty-one. You have only just been able to legally drink alcohol and you’ve already gotten four years of military experience under your belt and it teaches you so much, you know? If anything, you’re trying to figure things out so while you’re trying to figure things out you can compound your time by having these experiences and meeting these people and learning the discipline that the military is going to teach you and then getting the benefit of getting your education paid for once you do figure things out, if they even want to go to college. So that’s what I would tell them. I would do it. I would encourage them. [laughs]
RH: Good to go. If you could communicate something to service members who are mothers in the military, what would it be?
MR: I would tell them thank you, you know? I would tell them thank you. That’s the main thing that I would tell them because I feel like for your child it’s easier for them to go. Your spouse, that’s the harder thing. I feel like to be a spouse in the military is so difficult. As a mom I have two boys. I would be proud of them to go and it would be easy for me to be. I feel like maybe sometimes I would be worried about them but not really because I should worry about them every day then, you know? If they get in a car, if they go in a car pool or something or any time they’re not around me I’m going to be worried about them so it’s not really. But the husband and wife relationship is harder.
But for all the mothers, I would thank them – thank them for supporting their child and joining the military.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Before I ask my last question, is there anything at all that I left out that you would like to address?
MR: Going back to the question about what you would say to new troops coming in. [laughs]
RH: OK, yeah. Go ahead.
MR: They need to have more respect. [laughs] I see a shift in the new kids in the way that I was brought up going in and I don’t like the change. They call it a kinder, gentler Air Force and I don’t appreciate it, you know? Because when you join the military it’s not like you’re in a democracy. You actually give up your rights to fight for the rights of Americans. That’s what it is. I feel like some of the kids now get that kind of confused and they think that they do have rights. You don’t. You do what you’re told to do and that’s it. Even throughout your whole career pretty much that’s really what it’s supposed to be. You do what you’re told to do and you’re good to go. [laughs] So I would tell them to be quiet and to listen more. [laughs]
RH: Alright. Perfect. My last question, during your entire military service, what specific accomplishment are you most proud of?
MR: I’m most proud of everything from Albuquerque. Yes, going to Afghanistan both times really is going to have a place in my heart all the time but I feel like you get called to go, if your bucket comes up, then it’s your time to go. It’s not like it’s a surprise. You had months, maybe even a year and a half or so to prepare for that so it’s not really challenging, I don’t feel. You go down there and you do what you’re told like always.
But Albuquerque was a very challenging time for me in many ways because we had kids, we were no longer getting paid what we were getting paid overseas and then all of a sudden the Air Force downsized. Air Force downsizing was a huge impact on us, especially our shop specifically. Overcoming all of that in a very professional way, getting over the stigma that I had for myself as being a female maintainer, it was all in my head. All of that working ten times as hard as all the guys and this and that, the guys always gave me respect. I didn’t have to be as hard as I was and I didn’t realize that until many years later in Albuquerque. That communication and having people’s respect and earning people’s respect – women or men – does not have to do with you being such a hard ass all the time. They are related but it’s not you have to be a hard ass for people to listen to you and respect you. Just overcoming all of that and I feel like I was really, really being part of our shop, getting through a lot of the things. Over there I never rolled over. If I felt like somebody was doing something wrong – because I was right in the middle – all of the higher ups would confide in me and all of the young troops would confide in me too and all of the new, nervous Staff Sergeants that didn’t know what they were doing as far as management, everyone would confide in me. I felt important and the way that I handled all of that. I would call people out no matter what their rank was. If I thought what they were doing was not morally right, I would let them know and I’m proud that I did that. I’m proud that I didn’t just not say anything. So I guess it’s kind of an overall thing. [laughs]
RH: Alright. Good to go. Is there anything else?
MR: No. This was a pretty interesting reflection of a lot of stuff. [laughs]
RH: Good! Well, thank you very much.