Teresa was born into an Air Force family. Her father served from 1978 to 1998 and her grandfather served during the Vietnam war. Her sister is currently in the Air Force. In her interview, Teresa describes what life was like growing up in the military and what it has been like watching her sister deploy.
Interview conducted on January 30, 2016 in Manhattan, New York.
Present: Richard Hayden, Teresa Sigler and Nicolette Hayden
Transcribed by Richard Hayden
Richard Hayden: What is your full name?
Teresa Sigler: Teresa Anna Sigler.
RH: What is your father’s full name?
TS: Darr Nelson Sigler but he goes by Neal Sigler.
RH: What branch of the military did your father serve in and what years?
TS: He served from 1978 to 1998 in the US Air Force.
RH: OK. What are some of the places you were stationed?
TS: I was born on Travis Air Force Base and after Travis, when I was five we were stationed over in Ramstein for six years. When I was eleven we moved over to Mountain Home Air Base in Idaho and then from there my dad retired when I was fourteen.
RH: Were you born on a military base?
TS: Yes. Travis.
RH: OK. Alright. Did your father deploy at all and if so, where?
TS: Yeah. He deployed a lot. His first deployment was to Ramstein at the beginning of the Gulf War and then we followed over for a permanent station there rather than deployment. From there he went to Turkey, Egypt, Kuwait. He was never in Iraq. He was in Kuwait a lot and then he was over in Bahrain and then he just did random deployments like to Spain. The ones that were during active wartime were to Kuwait and then I guess Turkey, Egypt because they were bordering it even though they weren’t actually in it. That was where he was stationed at but because he was maintenance for planes, would then go on missions to be the mechanic on the flight and later he was a crew chief so a lot of flight hours during that.
RH: Alright. Where were you on September 11th?
TS: On September 11th I was in my history class in eleventh grade. It was my favorite teacher ever. It was AP history and she was just such a rock star and such a staunch realist and pragmatist and feminist on top of it. Miss Johnson. She was awesome. We got the notification and then turned on the TV and saw it happening.
RH: What are some of your memories of that day?
TS: Honestly, what I take away from that day and the biggest thing that struck me was that I kept getting really upset because the news kept saying this was an accident. They kept centering it around, “oh, what an accident. How did this happen? Was the pilot drunk? Did something kilter off course?” We were just newly civilians at that time. My dad had just retired so I was still adjusting to being in a civilian school for the first time rather than a DOD ED school – DOD school. So it was like, “oh.” I just remember being really upset and really anxious because I was like, “I don’t think you really understand how planes work. Planes don’t accidentally do this. There is no human error in this, this wasn’t mechanical, there is no radar problem here. They have windows, you know? [laughs] I don’t think you understand how this is.”
I just remember all day kind of walking through, being just alone in a sea of everyone very convinced this is what it was and I was like, “that’s not what this is!” [laughs] That was the big memory of it, I guess.
RH: How did your family react?
TS: You know, we’re a military family. My mom, her dad was in the Air Force and then he had seven kids and all seven of them went into or married into the Air Force. Everyone was like, “are we getting called up? Is that it?” My dad had just retired. Do we have to go back in? So it was just a lot of, “alright. What’s going to happen to everybody? Is everyone going to get shipped out to this new thing?” Then all your cousins and aunts and uncles that are in currently and then all your friends. It’s like, “OK. Where is everyone going to go?,” because it’s very obvious what it was. I don’t know if other military veterans think of that, if they’re like, “oh. This is obviously what it is,” and what the next step is but that’s what it was for us.
RH: Alright. Good to go. So what are some of your earliest memories of military bases when you were growing up?
TS: Those are my normal. I was born on one. Not being on a military base was the hardest thing to adjust to. Not having to have your ID card with you at all times to get into anything was weird. Watching a movie and not standing up in a theater right away. That is seriously a kneejerk reaction that took me years, I’m really not kidding. As soon as the lights went out you were like, “alight.” Stand up. But it’s just that.
RH: For people who may not know, why do you have to stand up at the beginning of a movie on a military base?
TS: So when you’re watching a movie in a movie theater on a military base, you listen to the national anthem. You have to stand up before every start of the movie. It’s really nice. Everyone takes off their hats and everyone stands at attention. Usually people put their hands behind their back at the very least, if not their hands over their heart. Everyone sits all quiet. Sometimes I remember people would start singing it during it and it was like, “alright! Let’s go. Let’s watch Beauty and the Beast, guys. [RH and Nicolette Hayden laugh] This is going to be awesome!”
Nicolette Hayden: Wow! I had no idea.
TS: Yeah. The majority of my primary years of my childhood were on a foreign base so any American movies we wanted to go see, anything that wasn’t in German we had to see on the base so that’s where we lived. That’s where we did everything. We went to church, we went to social activities, school everything. It was on base.
So my earliest memories are – I remember my first house was military housing. The house I was born in was billeting. My parents, once they had me and my sister soon after, they got a two bedroom on base so they moved into that. I still remember the floor layout. I guess you just see everyone in uniform all the time. It’s just like a normal neighborhood except you have a fence and a gate that you have to go through and you have to show your ID to wherever you want to go into. But other than that I had the 1950s, go run, go play, get out of here, don’t come back until dark until it got too dangerous to do that at Ramstein. That was different. But yeah, that was just the normalcy of everyone’s in uniform.
RH: Alright. Good to go. When were you in Ramstein exactly?
TS: So we were there ’90 to ’96.
RH: Perfect. So you were there during Desert Storm, correct?
TS: Yes. We were there pretty much all of it. We got there right after it started and, again, these are my memories as a child so I’m not exactly staunch on the exact details like, “this day it started.” From my memory we got there a little bit after it started and then we were there after it ended.
We knew that our base was where everyone deployed out of in terms of it you were going to go run a bombing mission, all the bombers came from our base. We knew that. I remember before we were about to leave to get on the plane to go to Germany, we were in the temporary hotel on base before you leave. I just remember that there was a mission and we were watching AFN – that was our NBC – which is Armed Forces Network because, again, it was the only English-speaking channel really besides the BBC.
So before we were going to head out something had gone wrong and a bunch of servicemen – airmen – had gotten killed and it was on AFN network and I remember that they were scrolling down the page and I remember that this was one of my first memories and understanding of war. We knew we were in war and I always envisioned it as two lines of men in my mind – it was always men – standing up in two lines – that side, our side – pointing guns at each other. Alright, who’s left? Move forward! Do you know what I mean? I don’t know why but I thought it was like 1700 Revolutionary War tactics. [RH and NH laugh] But anyways, some servicemen had gotten killed and they were showing the names on there. I remember grabbing onto my sisters and coming in there like, “alright guys. Look for D-A-D.” Do you know what I mean? Because you want to make sure dad’s not in there. You don’t recognize that he would come across as Tech Sergeant, do you know what I mean? You understand that they could die and stuff like that. I was five at the time but I vividly remember hearing that.
But when we were over there it was during the height of it so the Blackhawk Down mission that’s infamous, those guys came from our base. We had the funeral there and I remember that. Just stuff like that. So you’re very aware that your dad and your friends’ dads and sometimes their moms would get on planes that can go down and aren’t these winged animals that could carry people. It’s like, “yeah, you’re done.” We just kind of had that understanding throughout it.
But other than that, our headquarters were bombed when we were on base, I think in ’92. It was a small bomb and only one person. I don’t think anyone died from it. I know one person got hurt from it pretty bad. But somehow they did that and all of a sudden the base changed in terms of how people were allowed to get on. All of a sudden they had dogs and mirrors everywhere every time we wanted to get in and off base. We originally lived off base in a village but then were living on base at that time so it was like we just never left base after that because it was such a hassle. It was like a forty minute queue to get in. Then it was like, if someone can get a bomb on base, it’s not even worth it. Forty minutes in line! [all laugh] Do you know what I mean? So the Marines are with us and it becomes the normalcy of we’re going to spend an hour and a half in the line waiting. It’s not worth it. [laughs]
RH: Crazy. Your dad deployed to Kuwait during Desert Storm, correct?
RH: Do you remember the night he left by any chance?
TS: He honestly deployed so much I don’t remember it. I just remember times and I know that sometimes we knew about it and sometimes we didn’t. There were definitely times where we would wake up the next day and my mom would be like, “your dad’s gone,” because they needed more mechanics on these things. Someone got sick so he got called up into it. It was stuff like that. So it was never like he got called up quickly because it was this intensely dangerous thing. It was like, “ah! Marty’s sick again.” Do you know what I mean?
RH: Yeah. [laughs]
NH: I’m next in the rotation –
TS: Yeah. And again, the normalcy that comes with it. I was like, “alright. Well, I guess I’ll see him in four months.” Or six. I think the longest he was gone was like nine months but we never went over a year. We were fortunate in that. Part of this is that I really can’t imagine what the kids went through with the second Gulf War because talking about people my age, my peers, that are in it and hearing their stories, I can’t imagine fucking imagine being that kid. I really can’t. Jesus. It was a war, yeah, but it was, you know? The stories are true. There are a lot of pictures of my dad in Kuwait playing ping pong and hanging out and there’s a lot of downtime with it. He’s in Turkey in a nice hotel, you know? Then there are moments where he has really sad stories and scary stories that go along with it but for the most part though, in-between that it was a fairly comfortable deployment compared to – no deployment is comfortable and whoever wants to be away in a foreign country? – but when looking at the next generation that came up it’s like, holy shit.
NH: Totally different.
RH: Do you have any family that deployed post-9/11?
TS: Oh yeah. My sister deployed. My cousins were there. They’re out doing that and that’s scary.
RH: Perfect. Do you know what? We’ll get to that a little later. Let me back up a little bit. How was life different when your dad was deployed versus when he was home?
TS: It wasn’t that different because my dad did the best job he could but, I’ll be honest, I think along with all that deployment and all that being gone – a couple months in, a couple months out – you want to blow off steam when you’re back home and not be doing that. He would be gone a lot, too, even when he wasn’t here. He would be gone hanging out with friends and buddies and stuff like that and doing that. I don’t know if it was too hard with us or too real. I don’t know, do you know what I mean? And he recognizes it. But it was nice. He was always fun. He was a fun dad so he always was that. He would try to be that and go on field trips with us and be fun and educational. I have a lot of great memories with him but it didn’t suddenly shift that it was a two parent household. It was still a one parent household and now fun dad’s here but not in charge. [all laugh] If you want to do anything you have to go ask head honcho over here. It was like don’t ask him. He doesn’t know what’s happening. He doesn’t know. [laughs]
It’s just a symptom of deployment lifestyle in the military. I have a lot of friends, this was kind of the same thing. When dad was home it was like, “cool. Fun dad’s here.” [laughs] Wee! A lot of pizza. It’s great. Watch all the bad movies.
RH: I hope this question is relevant. What are some of the concerns that you had while he was gone?
TS: I guess the number one is that he just won’t come back. It’s just very real when you see caskets and everyone’s off of school to go to a big funeral. It’s just like it’s part of it. It’s very at the front. That’s the number one thing. Everything else is crazy but if he’s home and didn’t die, you can deal with everything else. And again, I don’t know what this new generation would say in regards. For us that was OK because, honestly, our dads weren’t coming back with TBIs. The very extreme cases were nerve gas poisoning that they had received and those were rare. That was just what you heard. I didn’t know anybody. No one I knew knew anybody so that was our experience with it. That was my experience with it.
RH: How did your mom deal with all this?
TS: The very best she could. She dealt with it the very best she could. Tough lady. She grew up in the Air Force – like I said, my grandpa was in it – so she knew about it but she also lived in California. He did forty years so she came in in the last twenty and she literally stayed in California the whole time. She didn’t ever have to move around different bases so while she grew up on a military base, it was the same military base her whole entire life. My grandpa got into something with the flight school there. He worked with the pilots so he was part of that. So he just never left the base. They were like, “you’re great. You’re done. You’re not going anywhere.” [RH laughs] That was post-Vietnam so I think that there was a little more of a culture, at least in the Air Force, to not have people move around so much after war time. It was like, “do you want to stay here six, seven, ten years? Cool. [all laugh] Sounds good.”
RH: Did they meet on an Air Force base, your parents?
TS: Yes. They met at an NCO dance. [laughs] My dad asked my mom’s friend Linda to dance and she turned him down so he asked her. [all laugh] She didn’t know that he had just asked Linda. [all laugh]
RH: That’s funny.
TS: Super hilarious. Yeah, they totally met at an NCO dance. My dad has just joined. My mom was a dependent – my grandpa was still in at the time. He was just about to retire. When they met my mom was like twenty.
RH: Cool. You talked a little bit about Ramstein. You were pretty much on the base all the time. Did you ever get off base and speak with the locals?
TS: Oh yeah. For the first three years of that we lived in a village, Katzweiler. We lived there for three years and that was very cool. It was very awesome. It was just a once in a lifetime childhood, really. I’m living like a local because we’re getting paid like locals. We’re not Americans living abroad with an incredible amount of money to live a life different than how everyone else lives. It was very much, oh yeah, this is every day. Ah! Gas went up again. [all laugh] When I hear about other kids living abroad that aren’t military, it seems like that’s always their background with it. There’s some element of wealth to it or a lot of privilege with it. It’s very different from the military side of it so I was like, “pfft! No.” [laughs]
RH: Do you have any specific memories? Did you ever play with any German kids?
TS: Oh yeah, within our block in the neighborhood. So we lived right next to a big field where they grazed sheep in. It was this little tiny village that was adorable and it was perfect. Gosh. How do I describe it? Honestly, it was just magical. It was this big sheep field and then if you walk down on the tree line next to the field, you would walk down what we called the plum tree path because it was all these plum trees that lined this big, long path. Eventually you’d come across, in the field, this old medieval tower that we would go climb around. The locals had put a grate over the well but there was no guard rail at the top. But at the same time, it was like, “well, don’t be stupid. Don’t lean over the rail. Don’t lean over the edge. You’re going to fall, jerk.” [NH laughs]
So it was a lot of freedom living on that base but at the same time, it wasn’t that everyone was really happy to have us there. The locals very much viewed it – and I get it, I really do get it – we’re the occupying force there. If you break it down, that’s really what it is. That’s my view and I understand that people have other views towards it and that’s totally OK but I can see how they would see it like that and I agree with them. I don’t know. It’s so complicated. I still don’t even like giving that definitiveness to it because everything is still nuanced and got all these gray areas to it. But I can understand their frustration and maybe their not immediate friendliness towards us. And Americans are a little bit different culture than Germans are so that was hard for them to get used to the loud American kids. [all laugh]
RH: Did you experience any of that resentment firsthand?
TS: Oh yeah. And again, most of the kids were lovely but not all kids were lovely. We would get picked on to the point where we would get pushed around and smacked around and hit around, do you know what I mean? You get a gang of kids and they isolate you and they start hitting on you and kicking you and so it got to a point where we couldn’t go to any parks not on the base. After the headquarters got bombed, we couldn’t really go anywhere we wanted to on base. We had to have a little more, you had to have an adult with you. So that sort of freedom went away where it was like, “I’ll run to the commissary mom. It’s OK.” But it was just certain kids. I’m sure I would have had the same experience if I grew up in America but there are certain groups of kids that are assholes and that want to start shit and just be shitty kids. So it just so happens that I didn’t speak the language of these kids so I had no idea what they were saying [laughs] while they were doing that so who knows? Maybe I looked at them wrong. [laughs]
But the adults, I really do want to say that in the building we lived in, our landlords were the exceptional, amazing, kind Germans. They would invite us up for coffee all the time. They’d have us over for breakfast, meals, play with us outside. The husband, he would build us, every Christmas, wooden toys. He was a woodworker and would build these things. My sister got a carousel that he hooked up with a little tiny motor. He put a lot of love and attention into us. They were like our grandparents over there. The Beckers – Frau and Herr Becker. And then underneath us, we called her Frau Schwanz. I have no idea what her actual name is but that’s what we called her and she was lovely. She was like our great grandma. She was really elderly. We had to come to her and be like, “do you need anything?” But she was exceptional. While some were like, “hmm,” and, again, I’m sure that would have been my experience, probably, if I had lived in and American town or an American small village.
RH: What are some of your other happy memories of your time in Germany?
TS: The field trips were phenomenal. Phenomenal! Your field trips were to castles. Seriously. There’s nothing that beats that by the way. There’s nothing that beats, “so what are we going to do today? We’re going to run around a castle?” That’s exactly what I want to do at age eight. That’s exactly it. Thanks guys. [RH laughs] We went everywhere all over Europe because it was all so cheap and accessible. That’s what everyone does there. They travel within the different countries there so it’s easily accessible. Really, our field trips were something that we looked forward to and had mapped out every year because it was on the school calendars and set in stone. We’d go to these giant parks. The European parks are so different from the American parks. They’re like Central Park here but vaster. It’s acres upon acres of these lawns and you just go run wherever you want on there. You go nuts. But then also fun little amusement attractions. They’ve got the little amusement park here and it reminds me a lot of that. You can ride the carousel and do something like that or go see a hawk show. Things like that.
RH: Alright, cool. How did other kids, children of service members, what were some of the things that they went through when their parents deployed?
TS: With my friends we all just – we don’t talk about it. That’s the best way to describe it. That’s why this took me a while and I was on the fence because I was like we just don’t talk about military life as a dependent. You don’t complain about it. You’re not the one serving so it’s like what the fuck do you have to complain about? You’re on the cushy side of it. I didn’t know anyone personally who had something tragic happen to their dad or to their mom but it’s hard to compare. I’m sure we had some kids that were terrible kids but you don’t know what was going on at home and I’m sure it was the same thing but it’s different because you’re in the military and you’re on a base and you’re surrounded in a country where you don’t speak the language. The same normal, the same shit. Some parents are good parents, some parents are bad parents. They just are in the military while they are a family.
It’s so hard to explain because it’s also just a culture around it that is for a higher purpose, a bigger purpose than what you can imagine so you just have really have to let it go.
RH: So I know that you’re speaking now as a woman. When you were a kid, did you understand this as well or is it only now as you’re older looking back on it?
TS: Oh, the amount of – I don’t know how else to put it other than this and I don’t mean, maybe, it as harsh as this term may sound but that blind patriotism where there’s no other. You will absolutely always believe this and this is always the way it’s always supposed to be. Don’t question it, don’t talk about it. That is the path. That is the way to think. So it’s innate. It’s not something you’re conscious of. As a kid it’s just instinctual because that’s what you’re surrounded by. That’s what everyone’s doing. That’s what the adults are doing, that’s what the other kids are doing, that’s what your grandparents are telling you to do, that’s what your aunts and uncles are telling you to do, that’s what your cousins are doing. There was no other way to think. There was no other way to. Nothing else, if that makes sense.
RH: Yes. Completely. I know you talked about your friends but how did other families react to people in their family deploying?
TS: Quietly. [laughs] It is such a culture of stiff upper lips. Don’t show worry, don’t show concern. If there was a wife that was acting out about it, it was like, “what the fuck is her problem?” Get with the system honey because we don’t act like that. You deal with it internally and I don’t know what the adults would do, honestly. But for kids, we just absolutely, a hundred and ten percent, we don’t go there so it’s not a conscious thing and it was very weird to realize it as an adult in my twenties. There’s a different way to look at this, do you know what I mean? There are more sides to this. It was shocking because, truly, my grandparents – we didn’t know my dad’s parents. He doesn’t have much of a family. He was in the military when I was born and my whole family, all my friends, that’s just what it is. It’s very within yourself, if at all.
RH: What do you remember about some of the men and women that your father served with?
TS: They were a riot. [RH and NH laugh] His shop always had Rodney Dangerfield blaring in the background. Everything was a joke, do you know what I mean? It was very serious – his job was so serious because you’re trying to not let people fall out of the sky and die, when you think about it. It’s not like – and I’m not dissing the Navy or anything – but on a boat, you can still swim. Truly. If shit goes down on the boat, there is another option tentatively. On a plane, no. You’re not getting out of this one. [RH laughs] So it’s very stressful, very attention to detail. They would have to blow off and I see this now as an adult but as a kid I loved going to go visit my dad in the shop. It was a blast. They would see kids come in and I’m sure they would hide all the naughty pictures and stuff. You know it was there because once in a while they would miss something and it was like [turns hands upwards suggesting guilt], you know? [RH laughs]
And they wanted to show off what they were doing. They wanted to take you out. I’ve been inside the planes in the underbellies of it. I don’t want to get people in trouble that they do this but in the bays and ramps where we were at, they would take the kids and be like, “come onto the flight line!” You put the big head gear things on and you’re like, “yeah! Cool!” They would lift you up in it like, “no shit. It is smelly! Engine oil does smell.” [all laugh] Because they want to show off and planes are all those things. I recently went to an Air Force museum maybe four years ago with my sister Lauren who is in the Air Force and we were like, “this will be exciting.” We were so bored. We were just like, “we’ve got to get out of here. Duh. I’ve seen this.” Do you know what I mean? And we love museums. We love them but we were so bored. So bored. [RH laughs]
They were a fun, gregarious group of people. I’m sure it was like what any other mechanic would be like except they’re really attention to detail focused but also very goofy and silly and playful at the same time.
RH: You don’t have to mention any names if you don’t want but any specific memories of the people?
TS: It’s just, for me, I don’t have specific names because especially for Ramstein it was five to eleven so it was like the tall guy with the beard or the young looking guy with the big ears. But specific memories, we used to take hops. We had family stationed at different bases all throughout the world. My mom had seven siblings so we had seven families in different air bases at any given time because everyone was in or married into and then all my cousins were around in it. So I’m on air bases and – I don’t know if it’s with others but maybe – on air bases, you can take a hop to any other base that the cargo plane is heading on to. You just have to sit in jump seats on the side and you had to pay five bucks a head. So for our family, a family of five, a total of fifty bucks to go visit my aunt Sharon up in Mildenhall in England was a weekend that we would do every three weeks. So it was like, “come on! We’re going to go.” I hated those jump seats because, I’m not kidding, for a nine year-old it hits you on your legs in the worst stress position you’ll ever believe in your life and it was just three hours of, “I will survive through this. I will make it through this torture and I will come out a better person.”
Once in a while, if there wasn’t a whole bunch of cargo in the back, they would let us play – this sounds so bad – they would let us get out of the seats and kick a soccer ball around. You just had to be really careful not to get it into the divots because they would hook in the straps. I don’t know what to call them but if you go inside a cargo plane, there are these hooks everywhere to hook into the things to make sure the cargo doesn’t move anywhere with the netting. So you just had to be real careful not to break your ankle. So they would go nuts, “DON’T GO OVER THERE TOM! John, get over here. Teresa, stop it!”
One time they took us up into the cockpit. They took us up there because we were the only ones there and it’s such a no-no but they were like, “come up here.” So they let us. I’ll never forget that. I’ll never forget sitting in a C-130 sitting on the pilot’s lap holding the controller that’s on auto pilot but I don’t know that. [NH laughs] I’m seven going, “this is so amazing! I’m flying this hunker.” Really, to a kid my age it’s so much more ginormous and it’s already so ginormous of a plane. It was like, “I am piloting a skyscraper right now.” it was a so cool. So there was a lot of fun stuff like that. Getting in to see the cool back side of it and getting into the parts where it’s like, “can we go up there? That’s so cool!” [all laugh]
In Ramstein during the summer months, how the base housing was set up there was four apartment buildings. We were enlisted and there was a playground in the center. So during the summers it didn’t matter. You never have friends growing up so you just were friendly to everybody. Everyone was your friend and a fair game person to play with if they were not an asshole. So everyone would get into the center and play, play, play massive. You never have more fun playing war with a bunch of military personnel as your dads. [NH laughs] You have military tactics with the entire neighborhood going through. You’re putting on the gear for it and you’re like, “alright, check your six.” Do you know what I mean? “Yeah, I know Thompson’s around here.” [all laugh] So it was the same, I’m sure, as American kids in America but just on a different level. It’s not a better level or a lower level, it’s just a different one over here. Parallel but just different.
RH: OK. Good to go. You talked a lot about Ramstein but are there any other bases that you have memories of?
TS: Yeah. Ramstein was my favorite obviously but when we were in Mountain Home it was a nice base. We were teenagers there so I associate it with my angsty years of like, “this sucks.”
RH: And Mountain Home is in Idaho, correct?
RH: So it’s a little remote?
TS: Very. It was our first time back to the States for six years and, really, my first time back as an eleven year-old. I had a set idea of what I thought the States were like and then it was very different than that. But we still mostly stayed on base and then the town that was outside of it was a very small, small town so being back in the States was this very isolated small town in the mountain valley area, this dry desert area base, it was just like, “oh.”
NH: Welcome home!
TS: Yeah. My mom cried when we hit the tarmac. I’m not kidding because when they send you those videos – did you ever get those videos where they send you that this is the base you’re going to? Here’s the wonderful, rushing!
RH: No, I didn’t.
TS: They would send us videos and for my family too like, “this is the base you’re going to. Welcome to Mountain Home.” They showed us northern Idaho like Coeur d’Alene and where all the mountains and rivers and trees. We’re landing in this desert area and my mom just lost it. She was like, “I can’t. What the hell?” [laughs]
My dad had already been there so she had to move us all by herself. I want to at least make that known. My mom had to do everything by herself. My dad had to deal with the military side of it so he had to take care of it and he would always go before we went. He was already over there so she had to pack up three kids that were under the age of eleven and when we moved, I don’t know how she fucking did it. I really don’t how she did this. Three kids under the age of five that she had to move to a foreign country after living in the same state her for entire life and she had a month’s notice. “By the way, you, in thirty days, will be leaving California. You will actually be leaving the United States. You will be going to Ramstein for at least four years. [laughs] So pack up everything. Pack up the house, coordinate with the movers.” My dad was over there. He wasn’t coming back. It was like, “pack up your husband’s shit. He’s not coming back. Get everything in order because you’re going.”
NH: That’s amazing. For real.
TS: So the spouses really move the family. They are it. They move it, they do everything, they are it. She was it. And that’s with every family. As much as women now serve now, and more so with my dad’s generation than generations before, it was still rare. I don’t want to negate that. When I say men it’s only because that’s just what I saw. The wives, they did everything.
RH: Did the Air Force provide help or did the Air Force provide any guidance to families?
TS: Yes but – how can I say this nicely? – it’s military help and that’s the most bureaucratic, red tap-lined help you can possibly imagine. “Yes. Fill out these fifty sheets and we will definitely get back to you in four weeks,” even though you’re leaving in four weeks. So it’s just, yes, it provided help but it was never very clear. It was never all very supportive because I think that’s just military culture. It’s very much like, “do it yourself, soldier.” Do you know what I mean? And it travels across everything.
RH: OK. So you said he got out in ’98, correct?
RH: Where did you guys move afterwards?
TS: So we almost spent another year in Idaho and then we moved to Minnesota because of my mom’s parents. Before my grandpa went into the Air Force, he was originally from Wisconsin and my grandma was from Minnesota. They had been, after they retired out of California, moved back to Minnesota and set up a life there so we were thinking the family would set that as the home base, so to speak. So we moved back there to be with the family. Our family, I will say, is the number one most important thing to us. It is everything you protect before and above all else because it’s all you had as you moved around and as your cousins moved. My cousins are my siblings. They were your only constant.
RH: I know we came to talk about your dad. Would you be comfortable talking about your sister and maybe some of your cousins and the post-9/11 deployments.
TD: [nods in the affirmative]
RH: OK. Good. What’s your sister’s full name?
TS: My sister’s full name is Lauren Marie Sigler.
RH: Alright. What branch of the military is she in?
TS: Air Force.
RH: And what does she do?
TS: She works with computers and she’s had a couple different jobs with that.
RH: Has she deployed post-9/11?
TS: Yeah. She had a deployment out in Qatar and then she traveled around a few times.
RH: Did she deploy to Iraq, Afghanistan or both?
TS: My sister only deployed out to Qatar but then moved around. She doesn’t really say where she moved to outside of the base but I know she moved outside of the base. So I don’t know. I would be making it up as to where she was going to go.
RH: That’s fine.
TS: When she left though, we didn’t know. We knew that she was going to Qatar and then that she would be moved around and stuff like that going to individual sites to make sure that the field sites are working operationally with their computers and stuff like that. That’s what she was doing. She’s not a fighter. She’s just there to make sure that the damn computer turns on.
I do specifically remember having a moment where I just kind of lost it. All of a sudden it was my sister that was going. I’m the oldest so it’s just like that’s your baby that’s going. So it’s just this moment of where I was like – she’s so sweet. I’m on the phone with her and I’m like, “listen, if you get anything in your gut that says we shouldn’t be doing this, I’m not going to think shitty of you. You just turn around and walk away. You just turn around and walk away Lauren.” [all laugh] “Get back to where it’s safe.” I know that’s not possible or anything but it felt good to say it in the moment. I needed to say something because I can’t do anything. I can’t protect her in any way.
RH: How did your father feel about your sister going?
TS: He was proud. Yeah. If he had it his way, me and my other sister would be enlisted. We’d be making careers out of it. It’s a pride thing. He was like, “get ‘em! You’ve got it, Lauren!” He was really excited for her. Because again for him, except for the random moments of stress or life-threatening situations that were rare or the incredibly sad moments where he would have to pick up bodies and load them onto cargo planes after a bombing at a site – some of them were kids, some of them were – that kind of shit sticks with you. Then you go back to your hotel at the end of the night. It’s hard to compartmentalize, do you know what I mean? Or you just took down fires. You were going to get a sandwich, a falafel sandwich with these guys. It’s just the most random shit but it’s like, “how was that dangerous?” Or, “I didn’t think that trip was going to turn into that.”
RH: So while your sister was deployed, what are some of the things that you went through?
TS: I remember the only thing that made me not go crazy, truly it made me not, is that she could Skype and all of the sudden having the ability to see her. I remember because before, it was always letters or the random, occasional phone call that was distorted and quick. “I’ve got fifty guys behind me waiting and yelling at me like, ‘hurry up, Sigler!’” Do you know what I mean? So on her laptop, she is sitting in her building – they’re in little trailers out there. She’s like, “yeah, my roommate’s gone right now.” I’m like, “what is this?” [laughs] While on Skype she showed me around her barracks. I was like, “my God.” Being able to see her face and see that, oh good. She still has her face. She still has her same cheekbones. Her skin still looks the same. Her eyes still look the same. She’s still smiling and laughing at that thing. That made all the difference. The amount of worry that we used to have that we would just have to hold onto when dad or uncles would deploy. My female aunts that served didn’t ever deploy so if I make reference to that it’s that my female aunts also served but none of them were ever deployed because they all, after they had kids, got out of the military. But they were also married to military personnel. [laughs] So anyways, all of that. They all did it.
I just remember being able to see her face. Even if it was like, “alright, for a week I’m not going to be able to talk to you,” that’s fine. That is fine. You just Skype me later and send me an e-mail. That is cool. So technology had made it, at least on my side, incredibly much more bearable.
RH: How did your family deal with her deploying?
TS: You know, my mom dealt with it like she did with my dad’s deployment – you don’t talk about it except for the positive things. “I hope she’s enjoying this part of it. I hope she doesn’t eat something bad and get sick from it.” But you don’t talk about anything else that could be problematic with it. Truly, you don’t talk about it. You don’t talk about it. [laughs]
RH: Alright. Good to go. When she came back, were you able to go meet her?
TS: Oh yeah.
RH: What was that like?
TS: She was so much skinnier and I think it’s because you’re eating healthier out there and you’re able to make better choices [laughs] and you’re sweating so much. She was so skinny and it was just like, “ah.” But any time that my dad would come back, the physical, tangible, when you would hold onto somebody, that moment of – you can see them get off the plane and that’s whatever but it’s not until you are actually physically touching them that it’s like, “yes. Good. Good, good, good, good, good.” So that’s my favorite part.
RH: Alright. Good to go. And is she still in?
TS: Oh yeah. She’ll do the twenty. [laughs]
RH: Cool. Do you have any other family members that deployed after 9/11?
TS: My cousin Nick and he’s definitely more on the – he’s an MP. I haven’t seen him, honestly, since he’s come home.
RH: Is he Air Force as well?
TS: Yes. Blanket, we are all Air Force.
RH: OK [laughs]
TS: Nick wanted to go into the Army and it was like, “bet you do! [RH laughs] You’re not going to but that is a nice thought.” It’s not even – it’s like, “you will.” That’s what you do. [laughs] I’ve heard of others. I have a friend who grew up in the Marines and I guess that they’re like that too. It’s like, “oh, that’s nice [RH laughs] that you looked outside this branch but you will not.”
RH: Alright. So maybe we can get to some bigger picture questions. How has your father’s military experience shaped your life?
TS: It has definitely – and I had to be told this because I didn’t know this. It’s like a lot of being told this over many years. It’s like, “oh, I finally see this now.” It makes me definitely look at things more in a global aspect. That’s just the automatic thought of it rather than the local and centralized way to do things. It’s just, I look at things in the very broad aspect of it – big picture. I’ve been around a lot of different types of people throughout my entire life, people coming and going all the time, different groups always moving. Even when we were at base, we still moved to different houses and different towns throughout that. And then with your groups of friends, you have the same group of friends but then the next year it’s a different group of friends because either they’re getting moved or you’re getting moved so you don’t have long-term friendships that last over, honestly, nine months.
With that, it’s astonishing just how much civilians don’t know about it. They just have no idea. Literally, no ideas about what day to day military life is. You say commissary and they give you a blank look. It’s just like, “oh. You don’t even know what that means.” And it’s OK because I don’t get your references either. I don’t get a lot of pop culture references from the ‘90s, honestly, because we were overseas for it. So I don’t know. But yeah, it’s just different.
RH: OK. Good to go. Do you still communicate with any of the kids you grew up with? [TS shakes head in the negative] No?
TS: It’s not a part of it. It’s not a part of the culture unfortunately. I’d be keeping in contact with hundreds because it would be like, you have a best friend every year but they’re only for that year. And you know that. Truly, you know that going in as kids. You know that, your friend knows that, everybody knows that. The teachers know that. Everybody knows that this is not a long-term thing so that was a really hard thing, learning how to keep long-term friendships. It was a very hard thing. I’m still, actually, I really struggle with it. I really, truly struggle with it. If a friend doesn’t live near me then I’m just like, “OK. Good life.” [laughs] It’s hard to be like, “oh, I can call you?” To maintain a friendship and relationship, it’s very foreign to me. It’s still very hard. My whole family kind of struggles with it, even my cousins. No one has years of friendships. I do now and I have friendships from college but I don’t have friendships from high school.
RH: This is going to be a two part question.
RH: Has living through, number one, all of your father’s deployments and, number two, your sister’s deployments affected you spiritually and, if so, how?
TS: Yes. Absolutely. We were raised Catholic – heavy Irish Catholics. We went through it all, did the confirmation, got a different name in the church but I think seeing the broad view – because now my dad works for the VA – we are still very much a military family in the veteran aspects of it, taking care of veterans and civilians alike. It’s just a huge thing.
How I would say this is it’s definitely shaped for me personally is it made me, with both wars and the wars I have lived through because they are primarily with another group that is of a different religion than what we are and that dictates a lot of how the war is fought, is viewed in that country and it sort of makes you question religion within itself as whole because it’s something that you’re aware of. So it brings to the forefront this question of, is there a God? And for me that answer was no. So it very much led to the start of this. For me it’s a very good thing. I don’t view this as a sad thing at losing it because for me, it finally makes sense now because nothing used to make sense before. I was like, how can you tell me that this one God is this but millions of others, millions and billions of others, really, are going to believe the exact opposite in this. So it just has been, for me, always very confusing and I didn’t get it. I had this big world view of everything and then you go into Asia and that’s a whole different thing. You go into places. So it was all very confusing and very conflicting. I always felt very guilty about it until finally, for me, it made sense to come to the conclusion that there is no God and that there is no reason for anything. It’s all very random, actually, and very motivated by people rather than a higher power in it all. For me that has been the most liberating thing for me and my mental health and just how I find myself in the world and how I find people in the world. It’s like, OK. That makes sense to me now. That’s being honest.
RH: Alright. Good to go. I want to talk a little bit about the current state of Iraq. How do you feel about the rise of ISIS and the current direction that Iraq is taking?
TS: I really am of the mindset – and I recognize that there are others that maybe view it differently and I respect them and I’m not saying this is even right but this is how it makes sense and clicks along with me. When we were over in Germany, we were the occupying force. It felt like that amongst the village and that is amongst people that have some of the same cultural values as us as Americans and, for lack of words or a better understanding, look like us. So I can’t imagine then how any other results could have happened from us going into a country. It’s just Vietnam and I don’t know how we didn’t learn that lesson. It makes me very sad and very angry.
My experience in the military has given me a patriotism that is blind towards all of the people that serve it. Even if they were there for the money to pay for school or because – my grandpa went in because it was that or prison. He had stolen a car and he was eighteen and the judge in Wisconsin said, literally, “you can go into the military or I’m going to send you to prison.” From that has stemmed an entire generation of people that have these public service lives that are dedicated to the military. So it’s not a bad thing but it’s very much a complex thing. It’s a machine [laughs] that keeps people in there and keeps them there for a reason and it’s a little manipulative to do that.
You have people that are in there because they want to love and protect people but it will eventually turn into – even if they’re getting out of prison, so they don’t have to go to prison [laughs] – it turns into this, “I am here to protect the people I love. I am here to protect the country that I love.” Do you know what I mean? That is the real reason that everyone stays in. That’s the reason everyone shows up every day. Even if it is, “I don’t want to get kicked out or I don’t want to get put into whatever.” You’re still going there. For the most part everyone’s got to get back to that sense of camaraderie and brotherhood and sisterhood and cohesiveness. So it’s so insulting to me and such a slap in everyone that died or came back fucked up from it. It’s just like pissing on them. It’s pissing on them, pissing on their families, it’s pissing on it all – all the sacrifice.
And then I feel the guilt because I don’t know how many families in Iraq were destroyed because we were in there on top of it. How many kids were like, “oh, my dad’s in the military.” But he was in the Iraqi military, do you know what I mean? There’s a side to it. Everyone thinks they’re on the right side. Everyone does.
RH: Good to go. Thank you. Let me see. I have some later questions and I’m going to shift gears just a little bit. I touched on this earlier but what’s the happiest time of the entire time that your father served?
TS: The moments where it’s – and it’s probably true with any family – but it’s those little moments but within the military that are specific to the military. It’s the little moments that dad would take you to the shop or let you go to school – let you play hooky with him in his shop all day. [RH and NH laugh] It’s him going with us on field trips and my dad is such a nerd and such a history buff that we’d be going to all of these incredibly historic places throughout Europe. He would study up on it and then would basically take us away from the tour guide and give us his own tour of it. It was just so much more special because it’s your dad. He knows what you are specifically interested in and knows some of how this is your favorite stuff. Ramstein was my favorite just because when he was there, he was there a little bit more often than when we were in Idaho because in Idaho it was a base and he could go wherever. He could go on fishing trips all the time whereas if you’re going to go to the castle, bring your kids. [RH laughs]
We would go on these volks marches and those were my absolute favorites because they would be the whole day. You would just go on these long. Volks marches are these long hikes that are many, many miles and kilometers long and they are all day with different rest stops and resting points throughout it so that you can sit and take a break for an hour and then continue on your trek throughout it. And then finally towards the end you get a big medal for it because you walked all these many miles throughout the day and it’s through this gorgeous German countryside. But my dad and I, he would only take me on the really hard ones, the ones that would go up mountains – mountains to a nine year-old – but the really hard ones that were uphill and downhill, tricky terrain and stuff like that.
And the neighborhood war games. Truly, it sounds silly to say that but when we would play war it was so fun [all laugh] because all the dads were really into it too. They were really, really into it so it was just like you were on that level of adult and you were being treated like an adult. You were using adult terms to describe things – to flank someone or to counter. It was just like you were seen as someone who could handle that. I would say that we were never coddled with information. We were maybe not told shit but when our headquarters were bombed, we were told about that. We weren’t told, “what big loud thing? I don’t know.” It’s like, “yes, yes.” That’s why we are not going to wait forty minutes in line going in and out of base. [laughs]
But a lot of excellent, excellent memories and I think with any military service, at least with ours it was a bunch of fun, wonderful times interluded with kind of this bigger sense of anxiety that you didn’t talk about and that you didn’t display openly. When your dad was home in-between deployments, you were on your absolute best behavior. You never acted up so we were excellent kids, really excellent. That’s the other part of it. You can’t ever fuck up on base because if you fuck up on base, your dad is going to get in trouble. He could get kicked out. It was like, “you want to steal? Fine. Understand that you are going to get your dad kicked out of the military and then our entire family is going to have to do something very different with our lives. You’re not only going to get kicked out, you are going to be the only family in our group of seven within this that got kicked out and everyone will know because you did this!” So it was like, you do nothing! [all laugh] I was a very good kid growing up because I don’t think you understand the consequences of stealing a Snickers bar. It’s just very big consequences for not toeing the line and it’s very, very life altering consequences which, I think, is the essence of the military. You toe the line or else there will be very, very big consequences.
RH: [laugh] Good to go. What, if anything, do you miss about life in the military?
TS: Oh, everything. Everything. I miss it. I don’t know if it’s because it’s the thing I grew up with but everything I miss about it. I miss that all the buildings look the same on base. [RH laughs] I miss that the church looks the same as the theater, looks the same as the youth center. [laughs] I miss seeing people going to work in a uniform. In my later years as a female that’s attracted to males, I see a guy in blue, in dark blue and I’m like, “oh! That is handsome.” [NH laughs] “That is so charming.” [all laugh] Do you know what I mean? It’s like that dark Air Force blue. That’s on point. “That’s an excellent color for you.”
But it’s the knowledge that this will lead to this and that will lead to that and as much as there was no consistency, the consistency. The consistency and the inconsistency. Does that make sense? Do you know what I mean?
RH: Perfect sense, actually.
TS: It’s just like, it was a very hard, big transition. Even now, I’m thirty so now I’ve officially hit that tipping point. He got out right before I turned fifteen. I was fourteen but right before my fifteenth birthday. So it is exactly at that point now where I have half my life as a dependent in the military and now I’ve lived half my life as a civilian. It’s like these last fifteen years, I still don’t know how to fully do it in civilian life. [laughs] Because again, it’s all my family. My parents don’t know. My uncles and aunts don’t know. They’re like, “I don’t know. You’re on your own, kid, doing it as a civilian.”
NH: Figure it out.
TS: Yeah. Knock it out! [all laugh] We don’t know. Figuring out college? That was all me. My mom was like, “what the fuck is a grant? What do you mean? I don’t know.”
RH: Are there some things in the civilian world that are unquestionably better?
TS: I would say the freedom. While it’s also very scary, the freedom to think outside of the military which has also led to more of me finding answers. I don’t think that had I gone right into the military right at eighteen – and my sister’s done a really good job of it so maybe not. She went in when she was seventeen. She got that signed permission and she was like, “deuces.” [laughs] She’s done a good job of it but I think even with, and this sounds mean, but I’ve had more opportunity than Lauren has to view things in more of a quiet, calmer outside-of-the-picture-looking-at-it sort of way where she has been in it the whole time.
I was visiting her over Thanksgiving a couple of months ago and I think that this is the best way to describe how she and I are different in this. In Utah it’s a very conservative part of the country. We went to this coffee shop and they had this bumper sticker on there that said, “NOBAMA trades traitors for terrorists,” and it was in reference to Bowe Bergdahl. I remember looking at it and I was pissed off because I was like, “those assholes don’t get it.” Do you know what I mean? And then she came up and, truly, she was like, “he’s a traitor.” I just remember looking at her like, “that doesn’t even matter.” Because for me, Where she’s focused on him like, “no. He did this. He walked off. He did this and then created this,” whereas for me looking at this, that doesn’t even matter. I don’t even care that he did that. He could be Lauren. He could be Lauren who made a bad decision while on a deployment. If my Lauren was then with, because of a bad decision that she made had then fucked up a whole bunch of things for a lot of other people but then also fucked up her life for five years and then torture and isolation, how in the world do you not try to get my Lauren home? That’s a no-brainer to me whereas for her that’s different. She’s on the, “no. You don’t do that to your command.” Yeah, but everyone makes stupid fucking decisions. And yeah, everyone’s got their own right to think whatever they want about it but that’s the biggest thing that I can think of. That was over Thanksgiving and it really shocked me. I was like, “alright! We view this differently because that’s you.” [laughs]
RH: Alright. Now, I ask this question of everyone in one form or another. What was the food like in the military in the different places you were stationed?
TS: Excellent, excellent. For us, for the food for the kids growing up on military bases it consists of going out. And I think of this as the food I experienced was either the food my mom cooked or the food we went out to eat and then there was the food that would be cooked for us by the locals. So the local German food, when Frau and Herr Becker above us or Frau Scwanz below us would cook for us, that was amazing. My mom never makes anything like this for us ever and it’s delicious. But on the basics, I, to this day, every time I go on a military base I have to get a slice of Anthony’s pizza. I will not survive if I don’t. [NH laughs] There’s no way. We’re not leaving until I do. Good luck getting me to not go. It’s true. Anthony’s pizza to me and Burger King. I hate McDonald’s. I can’t do it. I love Burger King though because that’s what’s on military bases. There’s no McDonald’s. If we went out for fast food I have a high affinity towards that. That’s my go to. So the food was excellent and, again, it’s the one consistency that you have in your life so you hold on and grasp onto any sort of thing that can remain any bit of the same. That’s why we’re a bit of a packrat family and we have a really hard time. When my mom sold our living room furniture to get new ones, it was a moment. [RH and NH laughs] That was the only thing that ever stayed the same. We were moving to different billeting, different town or a different village. The only thing that stayed the same was the couch, the coffee table so now you’re changing that up on me? What are you doing to me, lady? You’re trying to kill me! [laughs]
So you hold on and you grasp on to certain things and the food is the same way like that. We used to go grab Burger king and then park near the flight line and watch planes come in and out and sit in the car. If we were going to go pick my dad up after work my mom would go a little bit early, treat us to a kid’s meal, sit on the flight line watching the planes going for a little while, listen to Simon and Garfunkel, honestly, and then go pick up dad because he got off his shift and he didn’t bring his bike this time. It’s just the little things like that that just are like, “ah, yeah. That’s home.” Home is not a place, home is a feeling. It fits.
RH: Did you ever eat MREs?
RH: What did you think?
TS: Disgusting! [laughs] Disgusting.
RH: [RH laughs] Yeah, they’re pretty horrible.
TS: They’re terrible. It was the same feeling when we ate astronaut food, the dehydrated food. It was like, “this is all so disgusting.” You don’t have peanut butter and jelly? No one can bring that? Of course not. We understand that now but we could not make sense of this. Yeah, disgusting.
RH: Alright. [laughs] What are some of the – and this can be all the way from your early childhood through your sister deploying – what are some of the funniest stories you have?
TS: I would say the funny comes from the people in your unit or the people in your shop and the jokes that would come along with it. My dad has got a ton of pictures. When they were in Kuwait, they called their camp Looney Town. It made everything a satirical or a farcical joke on Saddam or the current political situation. I would say a lot of the humor comes from, at least in my family, it’s very dry, very sarcastic, very slight turning on its hinges and it’s hilarious in a dark way. So there’s always laughter. There’s always laughing at the absurdity of stuff and the ridiculousness. We’re always laughing, we’re always cracking jokes. We’re always finding the humor in it.
RH: Cool. Alright. Last couple of questions. What are some of the common misconceptions that the average civilian American might have about military families and what they go through?
TS: I think they just honestly don’t know how much it is the same while being very different and that’s the most ambiguous way to describe it. I’m just not talented enough to put it in a way that’ll accurately depict this is the universal thing that everyone goes through because there is no universal feeling. Marine kids have a very different upbringing than the Army kids than the Air Force kids than the Navy kids than the Coast Guard kids. We all have very different upbringings and none of us can be put into – I can’t compare myself to the kids of this latest generation of veterans that are coming in just like I have no idea what my mom went through having her dad in Vietnam, do you know what I mean? This is only my centralized, very kernelized experience.
I think in the media it’s really depicted as at least – which is accurate – it’s very much depicted as, I don’t know how to say this, if it is talked about, it’s talked about like, “look at this great sacrifice that these families have made. Aren’t they the true heroes? Now let’s move on.” But you’re not getting into it. If you’re going to say that then actually get into what it is. Don’t just broad stroke it because then it’s making this myth into what it actually is. We have day to day lives just like you. When the car fucking breaks down it’s terrible. If you miss the school bus, that’s terrible. There might be a couple years where you go on and off base and they use mirrors and dogs to check your car every time you do that. But it’s all very normal at the same time. So day to day life, normalcy kind of shit. Except for little things like I didn’t know how to operate ERs and Urgent Cares when we got out. I had no idea that one would cost more than the other. I had no idea about insurance. My mom had no understanding of any of that because everything is socialized medicine [laughs] and education in the military so it was like, “what do you mean this ER trip is more than Urgent Care? Where the hell’s an Urgent Care? What is that?” [laughs]
We wear the same brands though. I still get people asking me if we would wear BDUs or camo to school every day as a school uniform. It was like, “we didn’t even have school uniforms.” I wore Mudd jeans and Dickies. I wore what everyone else was wearing.
And the housing is not bunkers. [laughs] They’re normal apartments. I was enlisted. I wasn’t an officer and that’s way nicer housing. That absolutely must be shared, that the housing is so far and far above. Even saying that, I recognize that the Air Force housing is different than Army housing than Navy than Marine housing. Every branch has their different allocation of funds and how they get distributed and, therefore, different lives are led by those that live in that. And Air Force – and it’s true – they put more funds to be allocated towards housing and the lives of their people that are in it so it’s very pleasant. We would never have roaches growing up. I have heard of friends that have come out of the Army or the Marines and they would have friggin’ roaches in their house. It was infested. It was crumbling down, the walls, do you know what I mean? It’s like, “we once broke a door in my closet and I had to contact billeting myself. It was really embarrassing.” [RH and NH laugh] They came the next day. [laughs]
RH: That’s a good one.
TS: Owning a house though. I should say that. Owning a house. My parents owned a house for the first time and it was a disaster. They had no idea how to do it, no idea how to do it. They had no idea how to fix anything because you never had to do any home repairs yourself. There were a lot of House Owning for Dummies books everywhere. No idea how to do it because we never had to fix anything. We never had to mow the damn lawn. We never had to fix anything. I broke the closet door once and billeting came over and fixed it. He can make a plane run but he cannot fix a hinge on a door. [laughs]
RH: If you could communicate something to kids or even siblings whose parents or siblings who will be deploying in the future, what would it be?
TS: You know, this is the hard part because I don’t know what to tell them because we were never told anything so I don’t have, “this was told to me and this helped me through it.” Honestly, I remember reading this question when I got the packet here and I was like, “I have no fucking clue what to tell them except for that I hope that you are able to better talk about this as you go through it rather than have to think about this in your early twenties and have to go through some pretty hard transitions and recognition in your life about how this is stuff is.” Because there’s no talking about it. There’s no – I don’t even want to say this because it’s so looked down on it in the military but I’m like, “no, you should say it anyways.” There’s no counseling for it. I remember I once went to a counselor and she had no fucking clue what I was talking about. I was like, “I don’t even know where to look for somebody that would understand this.” Except for if I needed somebody in that service I would go to someone in the VA but that’s not appropriate because they’re for veterans. They’re not for me. They don’t understand this.
So it’s the communication that you are alone and there’s nothing that’s going to change that in the immediate future. It’s only becoming more isolated, the military community. They’re only letting certain people in and they’re keeping them for longer so it’s not like a whole bunch of people are experiencing it throughout the Unites States and then spreading their stories. It’s only becoming more of this one, two, three percent of people that do it and so I don’t know what to say. Really, you’re not alone and I hope that we just get better in the future of creating more forums for you to not feel so alone. Whether it’s through the internet or whether it’s just through talking about it as a culture which seems to be the shift towards it, especially with this latest generation because I think that’s the whole reason everyone’s coming out especially so fucked up. No one understands what they’re getting into and no one is understanding how to deal with it once they get there and then they have no idea how to fucking deal with it when they get back. And then it’s just this absolute. There’s no beginning, middle or end to it that’s supporting you at all. That’s how I view it. I know that maybe there’s difference in there but that’s just how I find it.
RH: Now that you are a little bit older looking back on it, how has the memory of your experience changed? Looking back on it as an adult versus a child, do you view it the same or a little bit differently? Or how do you view it?
Let me put it like this. As an adult looking back on it now, how has your view changed, if at all?
TS: It’s gone through so many changes. It’s gone from any sort of stages of acceptance, I guess. You go through an anger and denial, do you know what I mean? All these different feelings that go along with it and acceptance and then the guilt that comes. [laughs] The guilt is all-encompassing in it. And that’s the blanket feeling over all of it. It’s the guilt that you even feel bad for feeling bad about some of it because you weren’t the one actually doing it and you know that there are so many other kids that had it way worse than you. While it offered so many opportunities and shaped me into a person that I can’t imagine not being, it was a lot of fire that you have to go through to get there. It’s just a lot of taking this blind experience in terms of having blinders on and only viewing it in one way and going like a bull at it and then having to step back from that suddenly in a very jarring way. There was no support when we became civilians and I don’t know if there needs to be but for us but maybe there should have been because it was a very hard transition. It wasn’t easy. It was very uncomfortable and difficult and financially difficult. All of it. Every part of it is difficult.
It was difficult for my dad. He went through so many civilian jobs before he finally – he kept getting fired from jobs and had no idea why. It messed with him so badly with his self-confidence and then it finally is just like, “you just need to be in the military again, dad. You don’t know, literally, how to interact in these office politics and in this way.” Whereas, in the military it is fucking cut and dry. You go through this, you meet those requirements, fantastic. You did your job, soldier. A and B. It’s not like, “well, he was kind of a shithead while doing it so we’re not going to give him the raise or the promotion.” Do you know what I mean? It’s like, “no, you hit the points on that test. You hit this right, you did that right, you got the thing.” And he just doesn’t understand anything to do anything outside of it so it’s just, it was a lot of hard transitions to figure out a new way of life within the country that you were supporting. [laughs] It was like, “you don’t understand this, actually.”
It was very much coming back to a country that was foreign to us, coming out of military life into civilian. But with that, I would never change my ability to – I love how I see things and that I think about things in certain ways. That’s created good areas for discussion and topics to be talked about within my family even. A lot of views have changed – global views and just personal views but it wasn’t easy. A lot of fire you have to go through to get to there. And as a family we’ve done that a lot but we’re at a really good place right now. My parents got divorced through this after my dad got out and then they got remarried. Do you know what I mean?
TS: A lot of marriages just, as soon as we left it, our whole family went upside down and turned and exploded in so many ways. Fifteen years later we are finally coming back together again and getting to a place that’s good and solid.
RH: OK. Interesting. Before I get to my last, I have two questions. Is there anything that I left out that you would like to address?
TS: It seems that my big thing to try to communicate through this is just that there are definitely kids that go through shit that I can’t even begin to imagine so mine is a very light story and I feel very guilty for even having the feelings that I do feel about it because I just can’t imagine. I can’t imagine.
RH: I know that veterans often connect and even myself now, I go and I meet another veteran and we have something in common. Have you ever connected with another person who was a child of a military member after the fact and did you find that you shared a lot?
TS: Yeah. There’s no system set up for that. I tried to look on online forums of get-togethers. There’s nothing, really. It’s really just not a support community that’s out there that’s viewed as a needed support community and if it is, it’s not very apparent on how to find it. And maybe part of me also just doesn’t want to search that deep for it, too. Who knows, do you know what I mean? Who knows what’s really playing into it?
So the connections that I have made have been random and serendipitous. Once I was in a tea shop and this girl said something about Ramstein and I literally turned around and was like, “were you in Ramstein?” [laughs] I don’t normally bug strangers. It’s not my thing. Honestly, normally I’m a very shy person that’s just learned to be outgoing because that’s the only way you’re going to survive. [laughs] You’ve got to talk to people. You’ve got to do it.
But I turned around and I was like, “were you at Ramstein?” And she looked to be about my age and I was like, “were you at Ramstein?” And she was like, “yes!” And I was like, “so was I! When were you there? Air Force, right?” And she was like, “yeah! Yeah! Oh my God. Oh my God!” We were there, both, in the early ‘90s. We talked about the parks. “Who was your teacher? Do you remember ever playing in that park with the two slides? One was bumpy, one was curvy? I know! That backside of it with the trees? Amazing fun!” It was incredible.
And then about four years ago we went back and visited Mountain Home when my sister first arrived to Hill in Utah. It’s only a four hour drive away and we went back and it was the first time I have ever gone back to a place of my childhood ever, ever, ever and it was such a mind fuck. [laughs] Oh my God. I’ve never, ever, ever gone back to any place that I’ve ever lived before. It was crazy. We went into the youth center where we used to hang out all the time in and there was a woman there who remembered us. Because she was retiring, she happened to be going through all of her stuff getting ready and she was like, “I remember you girls,” and then goes into this yearbook photo album and pulls out, swear to God, a polaroid of her and I playing air hockey in the late ‘90s. I’m like [makes surprised face]. It was just like, “holy cow!” It’s just those little moments of, “oh my God it was real,” because it almost feels like a movie afterwards. It feels like a distant memory of another life lived in another country in another state. And their jobs there. That’s when he was working on air refuelers and then that fucking movie with Harrison Ford came out where the air refueler blew up the damn plane and that was the big scary thing. It was like the same damn year. When he was in Ramstein, those were his plane mechanic years. He was a Crew Chief for the air refuelers in Mountain Home and then he was just a flight mechanic in Ramstein and that was with cargos and bombers. So it’s just different moments of your life. And then California was California and Minnesota was Minnesota, you know?
RH: Have you ever spoken with the German couple that you lived upstairs from? [TS shakes head in the negative] No?
TS: No. And that’s a very sad thing to me because they were like my grandparents. They really loved us. They really did. We still have those toys and that carousel still works. They made little puppets for us and we still have the puppets. It’s just, yeah. That makes me very sad.
I have a lot of very good friends too. You have first boyfriends, first loves and that’s all gone too. I don’t remember a lot of last names of people because I just met so many damn people. Honestly. It all becomes so much of a blur. It’s hard to remember names and, “which one was that? Who was that person?” It just very much starts blending together a little bit. I can’t imagine what it’s like for my mom, honestly, who grew up in it and had this cycle of people that would move in and around her all the damn time and then got married into it. Honestly, my mom’s a bit of a social wreck. She really has no friends. She has no way to make friends. She is an example what happens when you live it all your life and go right into it for your whole life. She just cannot make friends. She wants to but can’t.
RH: Alright. During your father’s service, what specific accomplishment did he do that you are most proud of?
TS: This is going to sound corny and I wish I had thought more on this question but this is really just off the top of my head. I think the thing I’m most proud of is that we have good memories of him. There are a lot of my friends who don’t have any good memories of their dad. A lot of my friends, while their dad was the fun dad when he would come home, there are those stories and, truly, their dads would come home and they would drink and be abusive and they’d be shitty. So the fact that my dad – while he’s not a saint or anything – he made an effort to come home, do the research on where he was going. He may not remember our birthdays ever, truly, love him to death. Can’t really spell our names correctly – again, love him to death. [NH laughs] Love him to death. It’s not that ability on his part but he knows our social security numbers by heart, do you know what I mean? [laughs] He knew our ID numbers on our ID cards by heart.
I’m just really proud of him that he just kept going. Even after going through those ten years in the civilian world of trying to find jobs and just having this horrible time and getting so defeated, of just like, “alright!” But you’ve still gotta keep going there bud so you’ve gotta figure out something that’s going to work for you. And then landing at the VA it was like, “alright. That’s the place for you. You’ve got to be in the government. You’ve got to be in that kind of environment.” His tenacity. I’m proud of that, to be the best he absolutely can be. He tried his hardest. He did a good job.
RH: And the last question. During your sister’s service, what specific accomplishment has she done that you are most proud of?
TS: I’m always so proud of her. She is such a rock star. Every award that she could ever be up for, she has gone for it and usually gotten it. A couple of times she hasn’t but she goes for those top accomplishments. She goes for those Airman awards. She’s trying to make Tech now. She made Staff. She’s trying to make Tech a little bit earlier in the game plan than what she should be in her career. She’s on the timeline. If she doesn’t make Tech it’s like, “yeah, most people don’t at this age with this amount in. That’s fine.” But she wants it. She’s going for it.
I would say that I’m really just proud of her to look at things, too, from an outside global view and not keeping the military blinders on that are comforting to wear and easy to wear. But she’s really taken a strong look of, “how can I take my career, my life in my hands while still being a good Airman and supporting my unit and supporting my guys?” But she’s also her own person so I’m real fucking proud of her.
RH: Good to go. Anything else?
TS: No. Again, it was a great childhood. I don’t want to say that it was bad. It was just very different and I’m not even doing a real good job of explaining this. Just to say that kids are out there now are doing a hell of a better job than any of us were. They’re doing stuff that I can’t even imagine. Just to say that. [laughs]
RH: I guess I have a very, very last question. You touched upon this a little bit but is your dad in a good place now?
TS: Yeah. We’re all getting in good places but my dad’s in a really good place now. He really loves the VA and really has found his niche. He loves it. He works in patient safety now. He’s got a job. He’s keeping people safe. It so much makes sense to him now and he’s got the structure of the government that he knows how to work within. He knows the bureaucratic red tape. He knows the military politics of it which are different than civilian politics.
RH: Alright. Good to go. Anything else before we wrap it up?
TS: No. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
RH: Thank you!