indigenous, Military Service, Random Musings, Veteran, Well being

Memories: Part 6 – The final frontier, final showdown and last 54 days.

Memories: Part 6 – The final frontier, final showdown, and last 54 days.

March 24, 2022

***Warning, this blog post does contain some profanity and comments as it related to conversations that emphasize what was occurring at that time and the behavior or demeanor of others.***

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I was five months pregnant when I took another long plane ride across that big pond once more back to the United States.

It was now February of 1993, 4 months before I am due to give birth.  I would soon be a new single mom and alone.  The father of my child did not want any part of it, any previous relationships were non-existent, and I was heading to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. A remote desert base with nothing but mountains around it and very little else.

I was going to a new base where I did not know anyone and had no family or friends there. I was optimistic that things would work out for the best.

What was heading my way was going to test my resolve.

By then, my whole family knew that I was expecting the first grandchild in our family.  They were excited to have me back home. Up to that point, I was not sure whether I would be leaving the military, I still had to make that decision.

Upon arrival in Boise, Idaho, I was met with a pleasant surprise, Airman 1st Class Corthell and a Staff Sergeant Friend met me at the airport.  Corthell had been my buddy when we were in weather observation school together in Illinois.  I felt grateful that there was someone there that I knew.  That was until she realized that I was pregnant.

Her demeanor towards me became less friendly as time went on because I could no longer go out and be her drinking buddy again. The only time I really saw her was during shifts at work despite her being my suitemate in our dormitory.

That was just the beginning of the issues that I would face over the next fifty-four days.

The first few days was spent in processing the base and taking my medical records to the hospital.  I got settled into my room and waited to meet my other unit members.

When I arrived at my new unit, we had a morning meeting to introduce ourselves to each other as well as go over shift assignments. I did not see Corthell and found out she was on a swing shift that day.  I was introduced to my new supervisor, Staff Sergeant Smith.  In the paperwork I was given during the in processing there was a form that was to be given to the station chief.  It was a safety form.

The station chief was this large, burly man, who was rather gruff.  He had been at Mountain Home for many years and was a Chief Master Sergeant. During the meeting, I handed him the safety form and he bellowed out “What the hell is this?”  My supervisor stated it was a safety form for any hazards that may affect pregnancy.  That’s when he looked at me and said “Wait, your pregnant?” “I thought you were just fat.” The room went silent.

I could feel my face getting hot and flushed, I was so embarrassed.

Not one person in that room said anything in my defense.  I just stood there awkwardly not knowing what to do.  Then the station chief bellowed once again, “We need to put her on mid shifts, no one wants to see a fat girl.”  I was horrified.  The others just shifted in their seats and would not make eye contact with me. 

He finished prattling on about other things and left.  The meeting ended and my supervisor pulled me aside and apologized.  I looked at the only other person of color, a Master Sergeant sitting across the room, who was, the second highest ranking person there.  He looked down and went back to what he was doing.  He never said anything back to the chief. 

The commander, weather officers and 1st Sergeant of the unit were not there that morning due to a meeting they had at the headquarters building.  I believe, in my own opinion, that would have never happened if they had been there.

In that moment, I knew that I would never have anyone covering my back if I needed.  I left the room, went to the restroom, and cried.  I felt so alone.

I was determined to not let this bully get to me, no matter what his rank was.  Things only got worse.

Later that week, I was to take a tour of the flightline and our remote observation tower.   My supervisor was going to take me and then at the last minute, the station chief took the vehicle keys from him and said he would do it.  I thought I was going to throw up, my anxiety was going up and I felt panicked.

The supervisor said it would be okay.  I knew in my heart it wouldn’t be.

I got into the vehicle with the station chief, and we drove off.  He drove me down the flightline and pointed out things on the map I was holding.  It seemed like it was going okay until we drove off the flightline down this dirt road, we were heading to the remote tower location.  It was about a mile away from the base flightline.

As we were driving, the station chief started ranting about single moms being useless and that women in general were useless. He said women were only meant for two things, being housewives and having children.  He started talking about his Korean wife and how he liked that she could not speak English well, because she could not argue with him.  He said all women should know their place and keep their mouths shut.

I could feel the panic, anxiety, and anger rising as we continued to drive.  I just wanted to jump out of the vehicle and run away.

He then went on a rant about “colored people” and how the military really messed things up by letting them in. The anxiety was so high, I thought I was going to pass out.  We finally arrived at the remote tower.

We got out of the vehicle, and he looked up, realizing that we had to climb up the ladder to get into the tower.  He turned around and looked at me and said “Well that was a waste of my fucking time. There’s no way your fat ass is going to make it up there.“ 

I stood there frozen and then he yelled at me to get back in the truck.

I got back in and had to listen to him rant more all the way back to our unit.

After we got back, the chief slapped the clipboard down on my supervisor’s desk and told him that was a waste of time. He left and went back to his office.  I pulled the supervisor aside and told him what happened, but he did not know what to do and wanted to wait for the 1st sergeant.

The supervisor then sent me back to my dormitory, I had been put on mid-shifts and would need to come back at 11:30 pm that evening.  I was happy to leave and get as far away from the station chief as possible. I was also happy to be on mid shifts because then I would never see him, or so I thought. Mid shifts were typically Midnight to 8 am.

I spent the next few weeks working my mid shifts and just trying to stay clear of the station chief.  I rarely saw him after that.  At that point I had been there almost a month and had not made any friends in my unit.  Corthell was avoiding me and rarely talked to me.

I tried making friends with the other mid shift Staff Sergeant I worked with, she took the mid shifts because her husband worked on the flightline as a mid-shifter too.  They lived in Boise Idaho and only had one vehicle. The commute was over 40 miles one way from the base. She was only ever on base when she or her husband worked.

The new base I was assigned to was in the middle of a reconstruction into a composite wing and there was no base housing available.  Most lived in Boise because housing options were limited in the town of Mountain Home.

I had a few follow up appointments with the Obstetrics and Gynecology and made friends with a med tech who worked there.  She was married to someone who worked on the flightline.  She took me to a couple of get togethers they had with their friends, but it made me feel awkward being the pregnant girl in the crowd. I appreciated her trying to show me around though. Instead, we decided to meet for lunch sometime.

One morning, I woke up with a horrible migraine. I went to the base hospital, and they sent me to Obstetrics and Gynecology.  The med tech and I sat there talking as we waited for the doctor. The regular doctor was not available, so the Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology came in to assess me.  The Lt. Colonel was nice and did a thorough check up.

She asked me questions trying to pinpoint the cause of the migraine.  Then she asked where I worked.  I told her that I was a weather observer and had been working mid shifts since I arrived.  I guess that set off a red flag for her.  She asked me if I had been given the safety form when I had in processed?  I told her yes, it was given to my station chief. She asked me why was I only working mid shifts?  I told her that is what I had been scheduled.

Apparently, if you were pregnant, the shifts could only be morning or the swing shift and no later.  Swing shifts were typically from three to eleven in the evening.  I did not know that is what the form had said.  That’s when I told her I was having trouble sleeping during the day and had insomnia. She believed it was causing the migraine.

Because of my pregnancy, they could not prescribe anything stronger than Tylenol for my headaches. The doctor then said she wanted me on bed rest for a few days.  She was sending over a sick in quarters order to my unit stating that I would not be at work for a brief period.  That was a common occurrence in the military when someone was sick.  I did not think anything of it and the doctor released me back to my dormitory.  She had the med tech drive me back.   

The med tech took me to the fast-food place on base to grab some lunch and then drove me back to my dormitory.  She walked me to my room, and we were just walking into the room when my roommates answering machine went off.

It was my station chief, and he was angry.  His voicemail was so vile and disgusting.  He said, “I don’t care what that doctor sent over here, I better see your black ass here for your shift or there will be hell to pay!”  I just stood there and looked at the med tech.  I started crying.  I was still having the headache and that message was not helping.  She got angry and asked me if she could take the tape in the machine?  I told her yes.  She helped me out of my boots and got me a glass of water for the Tylenol.  Then she adjusted the room temperature and shut the shades. 

She told me not to worry about what he had said.  She was taking the tape to her Lt. Colonel, and they would fix it.  I fell asleep shortly after she left.

I must have been tired because I woke up when my roommate got back, it was dark outside.  My roommate asked me if I was okay and if I needed anything, I told her no, just more sleep.  She went out for the evening, and I just laid there thinking about how alone and lost I felt.    

I fell back to sleep and the next thing I knew it was the next day sometime in the afternoon.  I heard a knock on our bathroom door and then Corthell came barging in.  She started yelling at me and saying how stupid I was.  I had no idea what she was talking about, and my roommate had enough of it, telling her to leave. 

My roommate again asked me if I was okay, I told her I was, and then I got up. I went to the vending machines in our dayroom to get a few snacks.  I sat there and watched TV for a little while then went back to my room.  I was still tired and needed more sleep.  I took another Tylenol for the still ongoing headache and went back to sleep.  My roommate had already left for work.

It was later that evening when I heard a knock on the door.  It was the med tech, stopping by to check on me and take me to get something to eat.  We went to the food court located near the base exchange. I was sitting there waiting for my food when I heard someone say “Suzanne!”  I looked up and it was Jerome, aka “Julio” from my first technical school in Denver.  I was so happy to see him. I jumped up and we hugged each other.  That’s when he realized that I was pregnant.  He sat down with us and started asking so many questions. 

Jerome had recently been stationed at Mountain Home and was in the middle of working day shifts.  He had just gotten off work and decided to swing by and grab some dinner.  I found out he had married the woman he had met while in Denver, her name was Charmaine. She was the childhood friend of our mutual friend, Juanita from the same technical school.  I was so happy to hear that, she was a beautiful and smart woman. 

He told me Juanita and her new husband Chris had just gotten back from deployments and moved to Las Vegas.  He asked where I had been, and I went into all those details. The med tech had to get back to the hospital and Jerome said he would give me a ride back.  I told her thank you and that I would head right back after I finished eating.  She gave me her number and extension at work in case I needed anything.

We sat there for another thirty minutes talking and reminiscing.  I felt so happy that I had a friendly face there.  He drove me back to my dormitory and gave me his home number.  We made plans to meet up for lunch the following week.  Jerome and Charmaine lived in Boise, so he had a bit of a drive to get home.

Those brief moments of happiness helped the headache and anxiety, tremendously.  I went back to my room and had no problems getting to sleep.  It was the best sleep I had had, since I arrived.

I was on quarters for one more day to rest.  Later that day, the med tech called me and said I could return to work the next day.  Shortly afterwards, I got a call from my supervisor, he was picking me up in the morning and I would be on a day shift.

The next morning, Corthell knocked on my door as I was getting ready.  My roommate was doing overnights and had not returned yet.  I answered and she said she was driving me to the weather station.  Up to that point, after she yelled at me, I had not seen or heard from her.  We had very little interaction ever since I arrived.

We drove in silence to the station and upon arrival were told to go to the conference room for morning meeting.  We walked in, there were many officers and higher enlisted there.  I was not sure what was going on. 

The group commander came in and everyone stood at attention then sat down. Then he briefed us that our station chief had been removed from our unit and reassigned.  He had been demoted to Senior Master Sergeant and was under investigation after which he would be retired.

I just sat there, no emotions and quiet.  I knew it was because of what had happened.

The other headquarters personnel were from the Inspector General and Personnel office, they were there to get statements.  I felt like everyone in the room was staring at me, but they were not.

After they dismissed us, I went outside and stood with the smokers, including my mid shift Staff Sergeant.  They were all talking about what had just happened.  Apparently, some had heard about a tape but did not know what was on it. Some of them were not there that first day I arrived and did not know about that incident either. 

The Master Sergeant from before came out and the group broke up, going back inside.  He asked me to stay.  After everyone left, he apologized for not taking action that day when the station chief had embarrassed me.  He said he heard the tape along with our flight commander, weather officers, and the 1st sergeant.  That is when he told them what had happened that day I arrived in that morning meeting, when they were not there. The med tech had taken the tape to the Lt. Colonel, and she had listened to it. Then she immediately took it to her group commander and that started everything into motion.

I found out that the day Corthell had come into my room yelling at me, was the day the wing personnel, and security forces had shown up to the unit to escort the Station Chief out.  He apparently was handcuffed because he tried to fight back.  The rumors immediately started that it was because of me and that’s why I had not been at work those few days.  Corthell and the Station Chief got along well, she considered him her mentor.  That is why she had gotten upset at me.  She did not know about the tape or the incident the day I came to the unit.

That morning, before Corthell picked me up and brought me to the weather station, my supervisor had told her what had happened that first day I was there. He also told her about the incident that happened when the Chief took me on the flightline tour.  I had told the supervisor after we came back from the tour, but he was afraid to approach the Chief with the accusations or go to the 1st Sergeant, so nothing was ever said until the investigation started. 

After everyone had given their statements, I was called into the conference room last.  They had already had all the information that they needed and just wanted my corroboration.  I told them about the morning meeting incident, the flightline incident, and the taped message left on my roommates answering machine. I signed the paperwork they needed.  That is when they informed me that because of my condition, that I was being moved to the temporary lodging facility, for safety concerns.

I found out from Corthell later, after she apologized for her behavior, that some of the other airmen in the dormitory had complained about my presence there and being pregnant.  I have always felt that was one of the sticking points for my decision to leave the military.  I had enough of the indifferences that I had faced despite wearing the same uniform.

Corthell helped me move my things to the temporary lodging facility.  I had left a note for my roommate thanking her for her kindness and wished her well. She was working different shifts and I hardly ever saw her.

I got to see the med tech a few more times before she left.  She was heading off to another technical training school.  She decided to try the surgical tech field. I will always remember her kindness and friendship.

I also got to see Jerome a few more times as well, he was working different shifts constantly, as most of the flightline normally did.  I was going to go stay with him and Charmaine one weekend, but the plans changed, and we never got the chance.  I never got to tell him goodbye in person.  I left him a voicemail.  My hope for him was a good life with Charmaine and that he kept on being the happy person I remember.

Corthell and I spent a lot of time hanging out afterwards, we caught up on old times.  She and SSgt. Friend was there once again, this time to see me leave at the airport. I hope she stayed her vibrant and happy self.  She was funny, crazy, and cool.

I had made the decision to leave the Active-Duty military.  It was time to go home.   

I vividly remember a final moment between myself and the Station Chief.  I was out processing the base and had to go to the communications flight to get that part signed off.  I walked into this huge building and there was this long hallway.  A Tech Sergeant walking by pointed me to the office where I needed to go.  I’m walking down this hallway and it was very quiet.  I kept hearing this clanking, squeaky sound as I went, and it was getting closer. 

I got to this open door and peered into that office. That is where the sound was coming from.  I looked and saw someone filing paperwork and the sorting bin they were using was making the squeaky noise. 

It was the Station Chief.  He looked terrible, like a person who had not slept in quite a while. He was disheveled and his uniform was all wrinkled.  His face looked worn, his eyes were bloodshot, and he had not shaved. We just stared at each other for what seemed like an eternity. He looked back down and went back to filing the papers.  I hurried down the hall to get my paperwork done.  That was the last time I saw him.

On that same day, I went to the base exchange to get a few items before I was to leave at the end of that week.  I was in the check out lane waiting when I looked a few lanes over.  The person I saw looked familiar, but I was not sure and could not place him. 

I realized when he checked out and walked past my lane, who it was.  It was the horrible training instructor from basic training.  I felt the anxiety starting but then it immediately stopped.

I noticed his uniform. He was no longer a Staff Sergeant, he was an Airman 1st Class, like me. That floored me. I knew that something bad had to have happened for him to lose two stripes. I will never know what occurred, but in that moment, I felt like Karma had come back around.

I had enough adventures to last me a lifetime and a new path was forming before me, becoming a parent. That would be the next adventure.

I boarded my final flight home on April 15th, 1993.

It was a crazy and wild adventure for those two years, eleven months, and ten days.  

I had traveled to, lived, and worked in 5 states and 1 foreign country. 

At the beginning of this journey into my past, I stated that as parents, sometimes we forget how we were at those same ages.  In my case, I am glad that my children did not follow that path.  I do not think that I would have handled it well as a parent, based on how I think and feel now, twenty-nine years later.

As you may have also noticed, there are no pictures to be posted with this last part of this series.  I only ever take pictures of things I want to remember or things that make me happy.  That final two months in the military, I did not want any reminders of it, and only the intangible remnants remain, my memories.

I do understand more though, after reliving just some of those moments here in my safe writing environment, why my kids see me not just as “mom”.  They can see the young, crazy, wild person, that is still in there somewhere.  The person who took a chance on a dream despite the odds against them.

I know that some of my strength has come from those moments when others tried to break me down and make me feel small or insignificant.  The military taught me how to get back up and keep moving forward. 

Thank you so much for taking this small look into my life with me.

Thank you for stopping by.

Have a great week!

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

Suzanne