Military Service, Random Musings, Veteran

Memories: Leaving on a jet plane

2/26/2022

It is February of 2022.

Just a short two days ago, my youngest son turned twenty-one years old.  Time is moving so quickly.

We had a big discussion about his future, and how he felt.  He was saying that he did not feel like he had accomplished anything yet.  I had to remind him that he is only twenty-one years old, and nobody has any expectations about where he should be at this point.

Then he said something that has stuck with me the past few days.  He stated that I had already accomplished so many things even when I was his age.

The perspective of a parent is sometimes blind to how we were at those same ages. 

What he said was true because I remember my late teens and early twenties, very vividly.  I lived through a lot in that short period of time, but there were also a lot of positive memories to slightly overshadow the bad that happened.

As I sit here, reminiscing through the Spotify playlist filled with the music from that period of my timeline, I know that the experiences that I had, for better or worse, are what made me who I am today.

Since this will be slightly lengthy and cover several years, I will break these down into several parts.

March 1st, 2022

Memories:

Part one – First plane ride

I was nineteen years old when my parents dropped me off at the airport on that warm day, May 5th, 1990.  It would be the first time I ever flew on a plane, as well as, the first time I had ever left my home state, on my own.  I was headed off to San Antonio, Texas to attend the US Air Force’s Basic Military Training.  I had enlisted at the age of seventeen, graduated from high school at eighteen, and did a delayed enlistment.

The reasoning behind my decision to join the military was three-fold.  One, I wanted a way out of where and who I lived with, my parents.   Second, I wanted an adventure, to travel, and a career.  Lastly, I wanted to be the first woman in my family to be in the military.

I come from a family filled with military veteran men to look up to.  I wanted the other women in my family to know, that anything is possible, they just had to take that chance.

I am proud to say that several young women in my family took those same chances in the Army and Marines.   I retired on September 13th, 2013, after serving a total of twenty years on both Active Duty and in the Guard & Reserve.  I had accomplished being the first retired veteran, as well as, the first woman to go into the Air Force in my family.

The beginnings of my military career were very rocky.   I almost did not make it out of basic training.  I had issues with running and was almost at my max weight when I first got there. 

The first training unit I was assigned to had two male training instructors.  The one Staff Sergeant was gruff but kind of funny. The cadences he sang during our runs or while marching were sometimes bawdy, crude, or sexist.  This was the early 90’s so political correctness was not the norm and at that point Anita Hill was not known yet. The second Staff Sergeant was a real piece of work.  He was a bully and derived his sense of power from making the women in the flight cry.  It was after failing a timed run that I had to deal with him directly.

There were several of us who did not make the run time and had to stand at attention outside his office.  As they slowly went in one by one, they came out crying.  I had grown up in an abusive home and the ability to turn off any feeling or emotions was the only way I lived through it.   People viewed this as either headstrong or stoicism depending on the situation. I just saw it as surviving.

I was the last to go into his office.  Up to that point both training instructors where in the room because they were required to be.  As I was standing there, waiting my turn, the funny training instructor left to get something in the charge of quarters office in the building adjacent to us.  I was called into the office after he left.

I was standing at attention when the bully came around the desk.  He stood facing me and was only a few inches away from my face.  That is when the abusive behavior came out.  He called me names, told me I was ugly, and kept calling me the “N” word.  He kept telling me how useless I was and how dare I think that I was better than the rest, because I was not crying. 

He told me to answer him.  I said, “There is no reason to cry because I know I failed, and you should do what you need to do.” That made him madder.  He kept telling me to cry or he would recycle me back.  I refused. 

That’s when the other training instructor returned and told me to step outside.  I did, and then heard them arguing over what just happened.  The abusive instructor came out and told me to get out of his face.  I went to my bunk and waited.  A short time later, a charge of quarters person showed up and had me pack up my stuff, I was being recycled back to another unit.  They were removing me from my flight, and I was being sent downstairs to await further instructions.

I stood there most of the morning into the afternoon. An airman showed up asking if I had eaten lunch or dinner yet?  I told him, that I had not, so they sent me to the dining facility.  I received a plate of food and ate it by myself in the empty hall.  It was in between meals.  I went back to charge of quarters afterwards.

I stood there until I heard the end of day retreat.  Then a woman Tech Sergeant stopped by and asked me why I was still there and if I had showered yet?  I told her why I was there and that I had not taken a shower.  She called back to my previous unit and was told by the abusive training instructor that I was not allowed around his flight.  I was standing right outside the door and heard everything.  She quietly called him a “bastard” under her breath.  She sent me to another women’s flight to take a shower then I came back.

They fixed me a cot in an unused utility closet because there was no other place to send me for the night.  I think that was the most restful sleep that I had while in basic training.

The next day I was assigned to a new flight and met my new woman training instructor.

I was reassigned to a new training unit that just so happened to be under the direction of the Base Field Day track coach.  She was a no-nonsense Staff Sergeant and former highway patrol officer that happened to run marathons.  She stated her goal was to ensure that I could run.   I had a healthy dose of fear because of her, but also had the greatest respect for her pushing me to do my best.  She put me on a strict eating plan and running regimen.  I ran in the mornings, the afternoon, and in the evenings to include weekends. She would run with me, or the Air Force Academy cadet assigned to us would, every day.

One early morning, I injured my ankle after falling during a morning PT (Physical Training) run.  I just got back up and kept moving.  It started swelling up later that day.  I had rolled my ankle on the asphalt running pad we were on, resulting in a hairline fracture going across the top of my foot.  I was within a few weeks of graduating and knew I was going to fail.

The new flight I was in did not push me back, instead they worked with me, and my training instructor made sure I was recovered before making me run again.  I was not completely healed but time was getting short, and I had to meet the time requirement to graduate.  I pushed through with her guidance and an ankle brace.

In the end, our flight became an honor flight, I made my run time, lost around thirty pounds, and I graduated.

The only downside was that I had no family there to see me during graduation.  During the ceremony, Lee Greenwood’s “God bless the USA” played and a feeling of being overwhelmed came over me.  In that moment, I was extremely proud of what I had accomplished.  I felt stronger, smarter, and more self-confidence than I had ever had before.

That confidence was challenged and broken many times afterwards.

Continuation in Memories: Part 2 – Mountain Views

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Thank you so much for stopping by.

Have an awesome week!

Peace, love, happiness, and good vibes to you, always!

Suzanne