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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Barbara Wolfe Kucharczyk, 2003

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Object ID: WV0277.5.001

Description: Primary documents Barbara W. Kucharczyk's career in the U.S. Air Force.

Summary:

Kucharczyk describes frequently moving during her childhood due to her father's military service. Related topics include attending Department of Defense Schools and living in Japan when the Vietnam Conflict was heating up. A significant portion of the interview focuses on Kucharczyk's time at UNCG, including her social life, Big Sisters, the newly co-ed campus, racial attitudes, Kennedy's assassination, and her PE major.

Kucharczyk describes finding employment as a teacher in Virginia; her desire to fill the need for sex education teachers; spending summers in Scandinavia as a part of her NYU graduate studies; comparisons between teacher benefits in Virginia and New Jersey; her desire to join the military; and the process of officer recruitment for in Air Force.

Of her time in Officer Training School, Kucharczyk discusses activities, inspections, PT, and her father commissioning her into the Air Force. She describes the purpose of Aircraft Maintenance Officer Course and volunteering to be stationed overseas in the countries she had lived as a child. Notable topics from her tour in Japan include: Kucharczyk's various positions and assignments, being the only woman with the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing, having several "battle hero" planes in her unit, and how the country had changed since she last lived there. She mentions marrying a fellow officer while in Okinawa, securing a joint-spouse assignment at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, experiencing the nearby explosion of a terrorist bomb while there, and European attitudes towards Americans.

Kucharczyk describes the Education with Industry Program and her activities with General Dynamics in Texas, including working the aircraft assembly line when workers there went on strike. She discusses her responsibilities at Kunsan Air Base in South Korea and working with many more women there. Topics from her time stationed at Shaw Air Force Base include her promotion to major, her first command, and the details of her job and unit.

Kucharczyk describes her disappointment at being reassigned to Air Command and Staff College just before her unit was deployed in Operation Desert Shield, staying on to teach at the school, and then becoming a student again at the Air War College, which was also located at Maxwell-Gunter AFB. Notable topics from her subsequent assignments include: the benefits and responsibilities of command positions, the drawbacks of being a colonel, and her decision to retire in 1998 rather than be stationed in Alaska.

Additional topics include: USAF officer training schools, the opportunities the military provides, gender discrimination in the air force, Kucharczyk's testimony before the House Armed Services Subcommittee to open more combat-related career fields to women, and her work as teacher following her retirement.

Creator:

Biographical Info:

Collection: Barbara W. Kucharczyk Papers

Rights: It is responsibility of the user to follow the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). Materials are not to be reproduced in published works without written consent, and any use should credit Jackson Library, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Full Text:

ERIC ELLIOTT:

My name is Eric Elliott and I am with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro [UNCG], and today is March 17, 2003. We're here in Greensboro, North Carolina, and I am sitting down with a conversation with Barbara Kucharczyk.

Thank you very much for coming all the way from Texas, back to your alma mater, to sit down with us and talk with us about your time in the service. I want to start with, hopefully, what will not be the most difficult question I'm going to ask all day. Could you tell us where were you born, where'd you grow up?

BARBARA KUCHARCZYK:

I was born in Kearney, Nebraska, but I only lived there for about three months. My dad was in the air force and he was transferred shortly after that to California, and we lived in California for a while. He went off to the Korean War, and then we lived in North Carolina and Florida and essentially all over the world, as air force families tend to do.

EE:

He was career air force?

BK:

He was a career air force pilot. Actually, he started out flying for the RAF, the Royal Air Force of England, before we got into World War II.

EE:

As a volunteer?

BK:

Yes. He wanted to fly the hot-rod airplanes, and England had them at the time. So he flew in three wars: World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Of course, as a family member then, I went where he went, if it was possible. Some assignments are remote.

But my schooling was in elementary school in Florida and Germany, in junior high school in Florida, in high school in Okinawa and in Massachusetts, where I graduated from high school. Then for the first time in my life, I had four years in the same spot, and that was when I was here at UNCG from '66-'70

EE:

Up until the time you were at UNCG, basically you went to school surrounded with military folks.

BK:

Primarily I went to Department of Defense schools, that's true; only once or twice to public schools.

EE:

Did you have any brothers and sisters?

BK:

I have a sister who is also a UNCG grad, '72, and a Duke [University] alum after that, Duke Divinity [School], and she lives in Durham to this day.

EE:

What's her name?

BK:

Betty [Wolfe].

EE:

It's interesting, because I guess you are probably the first vet that I have interviewed who grew up a child of, what I guess, is the modern military in that you have you growing up in a military family that went all over the world. It's only been in the last fifty years or so that our military has taken its families all over the world.

BK:

That's true.

EE:

What did you want to be when you were little? Did you want to be in the service when you were little?

BK:

No, and I'm not quite sure how all this came about. But I knew that I was going to be a teacher and I knew that I was coming to UNCG, or WC [Woman's College], as I knew it. My mother is an alum, '42. Her three sisters are alums; I don't know what all the years that they were here. But she was a phys[ical] ed[ucation] major. I wanted to be a phys ed major, and I don't know if I just absorbed that over time. I don't have a memory of a bulb coming on in my head that said, “Aha.” It was just something that I knew I was going to go to UNCG, or Woman's College. And then when I got here, of course, it was barely UNCG.

EE:

That's right, it just began coed in '63, I guess.

BK:

Yes, and I showed up in '66. So my intention was to be a phys ed teacher, and that's what I did after I graduated.

EE:

So you were very active in sports growing up.

BK:

Yes.

EE:

So that was your favorite subject in school. Did you have any other favorite subjects you were interested in?

BK:

I liked science, which was a good thing, because when I graduated from UNCG, the phys ed major was short only, I think, one chemistry and one physics class from pre-med. All the anatomy and physiology and kinesiology and all that stuff was required at the time.

So I liked science and I liked math. When I was in school, including here, I hated history. I hated it. And, of course, in my travels around the world—even though I traveled a lot as a kid with my parents, I don't remember them focusing on the historical benefits of the places we were, in Germany and on Okinawa. But when I went back there as an adult when I was in the military, I really became a little bit of a military history buff. And, of course, you're kind of forced down that road when you serve in the military, because you do get that kind of training when you go to the prescribed schools that are required for continuation and advancement in the service. So now I kind of am a little bit of a history buff, although sorely deficient in pure knowledge. But I have a lot curious facts that I've learned over time.

EE:

When we lived in Berlin in '88, my wife and I, and she worked at Dollum [Dolan Barracks?], the base there, it was interesting to notice how the families do stay close to the base. Did your family explore the countries that you were in much when you were growing up, or did you stay pretty much close to other Americans?

BK:

We traveled. I have good memories of traveling to places in Germany and Holland and Spain when we were over there. That would be when I was in fourth, fifth, and sixth grade. Then I had ninth and tenth grade on Okinawa and we traveled to Taiwan, but that was all we did. My dad ended up going remote from Okinawa to Thailand, and this is before Vietnam [War] actually started, but we [the U.S.] were in fact flying sorties out of Thailand over North and South Vietnam in the '61, '62 time frame. We were on Okinawa when John Kennedy was assassinated, and that was interesting, being out of the country.

EE:

Away from that.

BK:

Away from, yes. And I guess part of all of this travel, for me, made me really very apolitical because, I mean, there was a lot of stuff going on in America—

EE:

All about the Vietnam War.

BK:

Well, all about the Vietnam—well, of course, that was—

EE:

That was a little early, I guess, when you came back.

BK:

Yes, when I came back—

EE:

More civil rights, I guess.

BK:

Yes, civil rights, and, of course, Greensboro has a civil rights history of some notoriety. But, you know, I never was a part of all that. I don't even have any recollection of demonstrations on campus, although I'm sure there were.

EE:

We talk about here that the service was early in integrating both women and people of color into the regular services. Do you recall going to school with kids of other races?

BK:

Well, yes, sure. As independent schools and Department of Defense schools, whoever was serving, their kids went to that school, and so I grew up in a segregated, if you will—I don't even like to use that term because it's all foreign, actually, to me. This whole notion of segregation—I shouldn't say segregated. What I should have said was integrated. And there you have it, you know. I'm not accustomed to using those terms; they don't feel good in my mouth.

EE:

They didn't describe your reality growing up.

BK:

No, they weren't. I mean, I played with kids of all colors and races and ethnicities because that's who serves this country. In fact, I can remember—sort of a flashback here—when I was here at UNCG, I think my freshman year, '66, that they used to have what they called a cattle drive, when the buses from [University of North] Carolina would come over and we just piled on the buses and got off at the other end. Didn't matter if you knew anybody or not, you just went for the weekend to the frat parties and the football games and all that.

I can remember spending one day—because we just went for the day; we didn't spend the night—on one trip with a young man from someplace in Africa, and I don't remember if it was maybe—it must have been Nigeria, because he had a tilted toward French accent. And another trip I went over and ended up with a guy from Persia. Now, that tells you the time era, you know. But, of course, Persia is Iran. And he looked like—oh, I just lost the actor's name that did—

EE:

It wasn't Omar Sharif, was it?

BK:

Yes, he looked like a young Omar Sharif. Yes, he was handsome, and he had those big brown eyes, you know.

EE:

That was Doctor Zhivago time. That's the reason I figured it was him.

BK:

I can remember my pals, my girlfriends here at the school, some of them being absolutely mortified that I would have anything to do—particularly with the guy from Africa, but also the other guy. I mean, he was very olive-skinned, dark, not black, but very olive-skinned. And I thought, “Well, what's up with that?” Not in those terms in those days, but I really thought they were being a little closed-minded about things. But, I mean, that's how I grew up.

EE:

So you had never had any exposure to the State of North Carolina before coming to school here?

BK:

Other than visiting my mom's family, which is out in the mountains, I mean way out in the mountains, into the woods from Asheville by about thirty miles. I can remember going up when they cut I-40 through the mountains there.

EE:

It used to be a tunnel.

BK:

Yes. Well, when they were cutting all of that, before the road was built over into Tennessee, we would go up on the dirt part. My grandfather had been a road guy for the state, built most of the roads in Haywood County and Buncombe County, so we went up on the old dirt road and would throw rocks into the Pigeon River before the road was built. And, of course, now that's the part that goes through, after you go to the other side, I guess, Maggie Valley, but that's how you get to Knoxville.

But that's what I knew, was that part of North Carolina and a little bit in—I had an aunt and uncle that lived in Charlotte, and we would visit them, but when we went to visit them, we were sort of at their house. We weren't cruising the town, you know. So I had no experience with all the politics of the era.

EE:

For a lot of the folks I interview, going off in the military is their first experience going out to the world. You come from all over the world with your family travels to one place for four years. Tell me about your experience, your memories of UNCG. What was it like there in the early days of “coed-dom.”

BK:

When I was here, there wasn't much coed about it. The ratio was probably something like 500-to-1, girls to guys.

EE:

I think we called it UNC-Girl when we were— [laughs]

BK:

Probably. I remember being a little bit in a snit when the merchants downtown would say, “Oh, you're from WC,” and I would have to correct them because they hadn't gotten used to the name change yet.

In fact, we did have two guys in my class of phys ed majors, and one of them is still here. I saw his name on—he does something with the alumni group, or Alumni Association, I think. I saw a piece about him on the Internet and it says he was on the first men's basketball team. Right now I can't remember what his name is, but I know that he was only about five [foot] ten, but he could almost dunk a ball, and I was pretty impressed with him.

But the two guys with this group of probably, I don't know, twenty-five or thirty women in the phys ed major group at that point in time was kind of a hoot, I mean, because we'd be taking ballroom dancing and fighting over who was going to get to dance with the guys because the rest of us had to learn how to lead. And I'll tell you, that screwed me up for the rest of my life. Dancing with a guy is very hard for me because I want to lead. If he doesn't take off, I will, you know. But we only had two guys in the class.

EE:

Was there just one dorm for guys back then?

BK:

I guess. I don't remember my freshman and sophomore year. I lived in Shaw [Residence Hall] my freshman year, which is where my mother lived when she was here. And, of course, being a phys ed major, I just took four steps to the left and I was down there in the gym, which at the time was Rosenthal and Coleman, I think what's now the bottom half of the new facility. I've been through it once and barely recognized—what used to be the great big basketball court isn't, anymore, very big at all.

But I remember at that point in time they still had this Big Sister program where somebody from the junior class kind of adopted you for your freshman year, typically in your major area. But you had a designated junior person who could help you out if you had questions and that sort of thing. I remember the ceremonies around the Quad when we got our jackets, when we got our rings, those kinds of things.

EE:

So were on-campus sororities important then, or the societies, I guess—

BK:

Not to me.

EE:

Because in your mom's generation that would have been a big thing.

BK:

Probably. She wasn't, either. The group that's phys ed majors, because it's a pretty heavy-duty curriculum, there's not a lot of time for—I mean, most of us are athletically inclined, so I spent my time playing—

EE:

Your free time's out there watching sports.

BK:

Yes. I mean, I was on the basketball team here. And you have to learn so much in the field of athletics.

EE:

Because most of you are learning to train and teach all these different sports. You have to have some competency in all of these things.

BK:

Yes, despite what they say, you know, “Those who can, do, and those who can't, teach.” We were required to be proficient in just about every sport you could think of that women were engaged in. We didn't do wrestling. We didn't do football. They didn't have those programs here. They didn't have a men's basketball team when I was here. They had intramurals. None of that stuff was really up and running from a men's perspective. The girls had a varsity basketball team and tennis, and I think we had some golf, maybe, but that was kind of pretty much it.

EE:

When you were here, and I guess it was about '70, '68 to '70, when things were turning and there was a more vocal anti-war movement nationwide, what was it like here? Was there anything at UNCG?

BK:

There probably were, but I don't know. I have no memory of that stuff. I mean, none. Even after I graduated, none. And in January of '71, I went up to Virginia to the Newport News, Hampton Roads area and there's a big military base there. I don't remember any commotion going on there either. But I remember distinctly when Martin Luther King was shot.

EE:

That was during your time. And Robert Kennedy, too.

BK:

Robert Kennedy I remember.

EE:

School would have been out on Kennedy. Kennedy was shot in June, but school would have been in in April when Martin Luther King was shot.

BK:

Right. And I remember that because I was teaching in a high school, and there were three phys ed teachers, myself and two other black women, who were the teachers. I remember going in and wanting to talk to them about that, about Martin Luther King, and them just being really, really upset and not interested in talking right away. And once again, you know, I'm thinking, “Why won't people talk? Why don't people want to talk?”

EE:

There was a lot of tension.

BK:

There was. There was a lot of tension, and I was completely ignorant. I mean, oblivious. Absolutely. And it's funny, when I find myself looking back, I was overseas when John Kennedy was shot. I was working with two African American women, who were great. I mean, the three of us were like the Three Musketeers. We had a great time together. When Martin Luther King was assassinated—I know that Robert Kennedy was assassinated, but I don't have the“I know where I was when that happened,”memory of his.

I was overseas when [Richard M.] Nixon resigned and made his famous speech. I was in Scandinavia going to graduate school. So a lot of the big things that have happened in that time period, in the sixties and seventies, I sort of missed out on.

EE:

You had to buy a newspaper.

BK:

Yes. I mean, I really spent a lot of time having to catch up on my own society because I was completely not a part of it.

EE:

What did you do during summers when you were here? Did you go back and live with your family?

BK:

No, I went to summer school a couple of times because I had too much fun playing, so I didn't make the grades I needed to make. But primarily I worked at a Girl Scout camp on Long Island. I'd been in scouting as a child, myself, and enjoyed camping. I worked sometimes as a lifeguard out at the little lake that the school used to have, Piney-something [Piney Lake], I think. But there used to be like a lake and cabins and stuff, and as phys ed majors we went out there because part of our curriculum included—

EE:

Swimming, I guess.

BK:

Well, swimming, but recreational stuff. So we would go spend weekends out at Piney Lakes, maybe. Does that sound right?

EE:

I'll check it.

BK:

But we would go out there and live in the cabins and cook around the campfire and do water-safety stuff. I worked as a lifeguard at the lake, which was open on the weekends for faculty and students to come out and swim in the lake.

EE:

You graduated in '70. Did you immediately go on to grad school, or what did you do?

BK:

No. I finished in December, or January, whenever the semester ends. What happened was, I didn't have the grades for the student teaching. They wouldn't let me do the student teaching in the spring semester, so I finished all other coursework and then did my student teaching in the fall. I worked in a bookstore while I was doing that in the fall, downtown. A little bookstore.

After I graduated I went up to a friend who had been a roommate one year that I was here, was working in Newport News at the Nature and Science Center. So it was a connection. Somehow she got me connected to the Hampton School District people who were looking for substitutes, and so I was sort of signed up as a sub and worked as a substitute for the spring semester of '71, and was hired after that to one of the high schools, the one I did my primary subbing in, as a health and phys ed teacher.

So I started formally with a real job, no kidding, signed a contract, in the fall of '71, and I taught there through the '73-'74 school year. Became the department head at the high school for phys ed, and there were seven faculty, I guess, at that point in time.

Then while I was there, I was still working at the Girl Scout camp in the summers, but they started trying to have a sex education program in the high schools. I'm watching this and, you know, it was the football coach, or one of the guy coaches, and a biology teacher gal who would be sent out to these different schools. You know, they'd come in and they'd do this six-week program and they'd disappear off the face of the earth and leave the rest of us trying to answer the questions that the kids came up with after they left.

And so in talking with some other teachers in the area, we found out about this program at New York University [NYU] which had bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in human sexuality-related subjects. And you could go down sort of an education track or a counseling track, depending on what you wanted to do. So I applied and off I went. That program was an international—

EE:

You started fall of '75?

BK:

In '73. It was an international studies program in the summertime, so in the summertime in '73 and '74 I went to Sweden and Denmark. Where else in the world if you want to study sex education do you go?

EE:

Sounds like the place in the seventies, anyway.

BK:

It was great. So the way that program worked is, you went through these summer programs and earned the majority of the hours required. Then I moved to New Jersey, closer to NYU, because at the end of all of that what you have remaining are thesis hours, which had to be on campus. They weren't doing long-distance thesis, you know, master's degree dissertations and stuff then. Plus some other elective hours you had to pick up in other subjects than your primary area of study.

So that's when I left Virginia. I was hired for a job in Leonia, New Jersey, which is way north, right across the George Washington Bridge from New York City, in a school that was seven through twelve in one building, teaching health.

EE:

Teaching health to all of them.

BK:

Well, depending on what grade they were in, they got health or first aid or sex education, and coaching softball. When I was in Virginia, I coached track and tennis and gymnastics. So I moved to New Jersey. In the course of that move—this is the beginning of the shift in my philosophy, I guess. I mean, I really loved teaching and enjoyed working with the kids, but Virginia at the time was a non-union state and New Jersey was a union state for teachers. I was tenured when I left Virginia, and, of course, when I went to New Jersey, I went to the bottom of the totem pole in terms of tenure. I got credit for salary purposes for time served, if you will, but I would have had to have started all over again for teacher retirement in the State of New Jersey. And that was a real eye-opener for me. I mean, like a lot of young folks, you know, we're not thinking much past the end of our nose, certainly not in terms of retirement benefits.

I mean, that stuff was way out there for somebody to worry about in the future. And this really got my attention, to see that what it was like to be tenured and all of a sudden not. And even thinking about Virginia, at that time the magic number was eighty-five. To get full retirement benefits, your age and years of service had to be eighty-five or greater. And that's forever. If you start teaching when you're twenty-one, thirty years later, you still aren't old enough with enough time to get the full retirement benefit.

I knew what the military offered because my dad had been in. He retired in 1971 after thirty-something or the other total time. And so I thought to myself, I thought, “There is not a place on the face of the earth that I would like to move and stay there for the next thirty years and be teaching the grandchildren of the kids that I'm teaching today.” That didn't appeal to me, not one bit.

EE:

It might have been after getting back to traveling overseas, maybe a little wanderlust working in, plus the benefits altogether.

BK:

Yes, probably so, because I certainly enjoyed the overseas studies in Scandinavia, and we all got Eurail Passes and went all over Sweden and Denmark and over to Finland and Norway.

EE:

I spent a pleasant two months in Uppsala [Sweden], just north of Stockholm. It's very beautiful country.

BK:

Yes, that's exactly where we were.

EE:

That's great.

BK:

You were there? That's where we were. We were at the university.

EE:

Uppsala, at the university, there's a castle on the hill.

BK:

Yes. [Carl] Linnaeus, his garden.

EE:

There's lots of famous people buried in the cemetery there.

BK:

Yes, that was our home base, was through the University of Uppsala. And then we spent six weeks there, and then we spent two weeks at the University of Copenhagen in association with their departments while we were studying.

But you're probably right, the wanderlust struck, and I thought, “You know, Uncle Sam will pay me to see the world.” So I marched myself down to the recruiter in Woodbridge, New Jersey, and when he got done laughing—because he was laughing. I walked in the door and I said I wanted to be an officer, and he was excited about that, because they get bonus points for hiring officers, if you get in. But then I was twenty-eight at the time, and the rule is, you have to be commissioned before your thirtieth birthday. So I didn't have a lot of wiggle room to actually get in. And by the time all the hemming and hawing was done, I turned twenty-nine, so there were like three or four classes of Officer Training School that I could have been entered into and graduated in time to meet that before your thirtieth birthday.

EE:

And being a college graduate, you were going to go in as an officer.

BK:

Well, I would go into OTS; I would go in to Officer Training School.

EE:

You were telling me before we started this tape that you formally signed up with a recruiter there in New Jersey, but you got a chance to do it again with your dad.

BK:

Right. I asked them if once the paperwork, you know, test scores and all that stuff they do came back approved, I asked them if I could go to Florida and have my dad swear me in.

EE:

What was your dad's rank when he was finally discharged?

BK:

He retired as a lieutenant colonel as well. I'm shuffling through some papers here, if the mic[rophone] picks all that up, because I have the letter here that says it's okay for you to go—

EE:

So you got a certificate signed by your dad that he swore you into the service?

BK:

Yes. This is a letter that I have that says “Per your request, authorization is granted for your enlistment on 24 June '77 in Florida.”

EE:

So New Jersey gave you that credit, but you got sworn in in Florida. Now, did your dad swear you in, or was he just there at the swearing-in?

BK:

No, he swore me in. I'm looking to see if I've got the papers with us. I brought you a picture—

EE:

Of that moment?

BK:

Well, not that moment, but, actually, he also swore me in when I was commissioned.

EE:

When you signed up, what was your original enlistment for? Three years?

BK:

Actually, you sign up to go to Officer Training School and if you graduate successfully, then you're in for four.

EE:

So it's six months OTS and then four years afterwards.

BK:

Right.

EE:

So it's four and half altogether. Or is that four included?

BK:

Well, I think it's four years from the date of enlistment, because when I enlisted, I enlisted—all this stuff is just really strange. I enlisted and became an airman basic. Here's the document that's got my dad's signature on it.

You enlist and you're an airman basic. You get discharged as an airman basic when you go to OTS and you become a staff sergeant for pay purposes. Nobody has any rank at Officer Training School, but for pay purposes you draw the salary of an E-5, of a staff sergeant.

EE:

So you didn't have to go through a separate basic with other folks who were not going OTS. You simply got the paperwork that said basic and immediately went to OTS.

BK:

That's right. And OTS is basic training for officers. I mean, we did all the drill marching around, learned how to march, learned how to wear your uniform, all that sort of stuff. Plus we had to study; this begins the study of military history, leadership and command, supervisory things.

EE:

This was at Chanute [Air Force Base, Rantoul, Illinois]?

BK:

No, this was at Medina Annex to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. And here's my orders of assignment to go to Lackland. I don't have to hand you all this stuff; you can decide what you want to keep.

EE:

When you signed up, did you request a specific kind of work and location?

BK:

When you go to the recruiter—he asked me what did I think I wanted to do in the air force, and I told him that I thought I could do well in what's called social actions, which was drug and alcohol abuse and, for lack of a better word, race relations and gender relations. Those are the people that get the complaints if somebody thinks they've been harassed for whatever reason. The drug and alcohol abuse counseling programs were associated with the hospital and this group, social actions.

EE:

And since you'd already been doing that as a teacher—

BK:

Yes, I thought that was a perfect fit. And he said, “Nope, we've got a bazillion of them. If you really want in—.” See, because this guy, really he was laughing when he saw how old I was. And I didn't have a technical degree. I had a degree in health and phys ed from UNCG, and a degree in human sexuality, heaven forbid, from NYU. So, I mean, he was very good. He was very straight-up with me. He said, “Look. If you really want in, assuming you pass all the tests, if you really want in, you put these three career fields down: aircraft maintenance, communications electronics, or weapons director,” which in the air force, weapons director is like an air traffic control person, in the tower or in an airborne airplane. So they do the same thing in the airplanes.

So I put those three things down, and the paperwork came back and the air force had selected me for a weapons director, which was a part-time flying position, which meant you had to pass a more stringent physical exam. And I couldn't pass that because my eyes weren't—you could have glasses and have corrected vision, but you couldn't start out with your vision worse than 20/200 or something, and I have one eye that's been worse than that forever.

So, essentially, I flunked the physical for that career field, and at that time the air force could have said, “Thank you very much. Goodbye.” But they came back and said, “Okay, aircraft maintenance.”

And I remember saying to this goofy recruiter, “Okay, what is aircraft maintenance? What do they do?”

“Well, they maintain airplanes.” Well, duh, you know. I could have slapped him. Being a college graduate, I can read, you know.

So that's how I got into aircraft maintenance. I mean, it wasn't something that I particularly asked to do. I had no earthly idea what I was getting into.

EE:

They didn't require any technical skill in advance, just as long as you were healthy and willing.

BK:

Yes, able to learn, apparently.

EE:

You've explained how you got the idea. How did your folks feel about you joining the service?

BK:

Well, my dad was real excited, I think. Although he never said so directly, my feeling was that teaching was okay, but it wasn't a real person's job, you know. But serving your country was, so he was excited. [cries]

EE:

It's nice to make him proud, isn't it?

BK:

I really didn't think about that, but I remember my mom telling me that he cried during the—when you graduate from OTS, they have a big parade. It's like what you see for all the academies on TV. You throw your hat up in the air and you take an oath of office on the field with everybody else who's graduating, and that's when you're actually commissioned.

EE:

That's nice. It's nice to be able to do that, to share that. You were there for six months in Lackland, which—

BK:

No, actually I was there for ninety days. They call us the “ninety-day wonders.”

EE:

They still had ninety-day wonders in '77?

BK:

Yes. So I was there for ninety days from June to September, hotter than hell, and then in September I went to Chanute Air Force Base in Illinois, in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, for six months.

EE:

As I recall, that was about the time that we reinstituted the registration for the draft as a country. It was after Vietnam. I remember in my class, I graduated high school '78 and we were one of the first ones to have to sign up. Were they actively recruiting women into the service then, or were they just taking what came through?

BK:

I don't recall. It was on my own initiative to go to the recruiters, and he was excited because when I was accepted, he would get, essentially, extra credit for, (a), hiring an officer, and, (b), hiring a minority. As a woman I was considered a minority. The only other thing he could have done to get even more credit would have been to have hired an ethnic woman, a woman of color. That would be the top of the pole.

EE:

So you were going to hit the affirmative action points for them.

BK:

Yes, I did. I filled some of those affirmative action squares I guess they were checking.

EE:

Tell me about Officer Training School. What was that like for you?

BK:

Well, it was funny. I just about got canned because the games they made us play made me so mad. I got angry. And like a lot of women, when we get angry, we cry. Well, tears are not allowed in the military. Even if you're a woman, tears are not allowed. At that point in time, crying was—when that happened, the next thing that happened is three or four people showed up in my dorm room and wanted to know if I was getting ready to self-eliminate. And I said, “Hell, no. Why should I do that?”

And they said, “Well, you're crying.”

I said, “I'm crying because I'm so—pardon the expression—pissed off at this goofiness that you people are doing, that I can't see straight. It's not because I'm upset or I want to go home or any of that stuff.”

The thing about OTS, as in basic training, they pay attention, extraordinary attention, to detail, and the details are completely ludicrous. You have to talk to rocks and salute rocks, and you have to have your shoes shined just so, and your buttons all lined up in a row, and the overlap of your blouse has to be lined up with the leading edge of your belt buckle.

EE:

They measure it.

BK:

Yes. And you know, of course, back then, women didn't—and they still don't—women's uniforms don't have pockets and the guys' do. So it's real easy for the guys to put a nametag on because they have a pocket to line it up on. As a woman, you didn't have one. So if you were holding your breath wrong, your nametag would be tilted. I can remember one of my instructors every day—there was one girl in our class who was particularly well-endowed, had a large bosom, and every day [imitating instructor's voice], “Did you put your name tag on with a shovel?” You know. And they'd say stuff like that to you.

EE:

Are your instructors men or women?

BK:

My instructors were all men.

EE:

Was your OTS coed?

BK:

It was. The women were all on one hall on one floor of the building, and then the men were everywhere else. But all the instructors, the only female of rank that I remember being there was a personnel officer, major to the commandant, and she made me mad because she never would talk to us. Even in down time she wouldn't associate with the students at all. And she was probably told that, but what an opportunity, you know, to be a role model and to have somebody there to talk to who was a major, which means she'd been in already for probably twelve or thirteen years. But she wouldn't have anything to do with us, so I don't have much kind thoughts about her.

But they were all guys, all my instructors were guys, and they treated everybody equally poorly. We all got yelled and screamed at, we all got stuff thrown at us.

EE:

Equal opportunity abuse.

BK:

Yes, that's right. Equal opportunity abuse.

EE:

That was the toughest part of it for you, then? Physically you probably had no problem, being in PE.

BK:

No, it wasn't—we had to run a mile and a half every day and do stuff and play games and athletics and things, and that was pretty easy. The academics were tough because they asked a lot of detailed stuff, and I hate memorizing things; it bores me stupid. So I struggled more with the academics than anything else. We had to do graded marching, and I had no problem with that, made outstanding grades. I passed right along just fine, thank you very much.

EE:

After OTS you were in Chanute for about, it looks like maybe six months?

BK:

Yes.

EE:

And that was school for you specially training in—

BK:

Aircraft maintenance.

EE:

How did that go?

BK:

It was great fun. We took all these different classes: electronics, pneudraulics, hydraulics, airframe structural stuff. We had to learn how to do weight and balance. If we were going to load a cargo airplane, we had these things that look like a slide rule, but they're specifically designed to calculate where on a cargo plane you put this box of this size of this weight.

EE:

Center of gravity.

BK:

Right. Which is exactly why that plane crashed in Charlotte. So we had to learn how to do all of that on cargo airplanes. So essentially you become about a one-third qualified mechanic. You know enough about stuff to scare yourself.

I can remember distinctly my first flight out of there. First time I flew on an airplane after graduating from AMOC, it's called, Aircraft Maintenance Officer Course, I could hear all these noises, the noises you routinely hear, the gear coming up and the flaps going down, but, I mean, I just about scared myself. I'd never been worried about—

EE:

You knew exactly what was going on. You were waiting to hear the right noise.

BK:

I knew exactly where the problems would be if there was going to be one. So since, I've found that I can calm people's fears when you're sitting next to somebody on the airplane who's obviously nervous and twitchy when noises start happening. I can say, “That's okay. This is what it's doing, and it's supposed to sound like that.” But when I graduated, I just knew enough to be dangerous and scare myself, that's about it.

EE:

But it sounds like it was something that, for being a shot in the dark as far as what to do, it worked out pretty well, because you apparently liked what you were learning.

BK:

Well, I did. I liked what I was learning, and really the job of an officer in the air force, and any of the military services, is much less about the career field than it is about management and leadership. You can know everything there is to know about any given airplane, but my job as an officer was not to go turn the wrenches and screwdrivers; my job was to make sure that the people who were doing that were properly trained and properly motivated.

EE:

Got along and did the job on time.

BK:

That's right, all that kind of stuff.

EE:

Well, now, how quickly did you go from—you were only in Illinois for six months, then you're sent to Kadena [Air Base].

BK:

Okinawa.

EE:

In Okinawa, Japan.

BK:

I volunteered.

EE:

Was that immediately becoming the supervisor role, or was it additional training that you first went through?

BK:

No. I showed up at Kadena, the 18th Tactical Fighter Wing, they had F-4s and RF-4s, reconnaissance airplanes. I was one of thirty-something maintenance officers and the only female in the whole lot. I was immediately given responsibility in charge of airplanes and people. I did get some ancillary training when I was there, more depth about the particular airplane that was at Kadena, and some other kinds of training that you have to go through; how to wear a chemical suit and a gas mask, and that sort of stuff. But the first job I had was to be responsible for twenty-seven of those airplanes and about 250 [enlisted men and women responsible for repairing the airplanes and keeping them airworthy.]

[End Tape 1, Side A—Begin Tape 1, Side B]

BK:

Interestingly enough, of those twenty-seven airplanes that I had, three of them were Vietnam heroes. One of them has had six battle stars, belonged to, at that time, Captain [R. Steve] Ritchie, who retired as a brigadier general. His airplane tail number was 463, had six stars for the six MiGs [Russian fighter aircraft] that he shot down while he was there, and it is now on display at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, on their campus.

I had another one that had two stars on it, its tail number was 267, and for a while it was on display at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida until Hurricane Andrew went through and bowled it over, and I don't know if it's still there or not.

And then I had one other one, 269, I think was the number of it. So I had these battle-hero airplanes.

EE:

And what kind of planes were these?

BK:

F-4D model.

EE:

And your training at Chanute was in this particular kind of aircraft, or was it more general principles?

BK:

It was general principles of mechanics, which generally apply—

EE:

And then when you got to the place, somebody there would get you oriented to the actual planes that were being used on that site?

BK:

That's right. You learn enough, a little bit about all the hydraulics, pneudraulics, electronics, the propeller-driven engines and jet-driven engines, and off you go. Aerodynamics, you learn a little bit about aerodynamics in flight.

EE:

You talk about being the only woman at this place and your first job is to be in charge of the men. I'm wondering, too, age-wise, you probably were—well, certainly at the Officer Training School, were you about the same age, or a little bit older than most of the women, most of the folks, in the Officer Training School?

BK:

In my class, actually, I was probably about in the middle, because there were quite a few in my class who had been enlisted for some period of time and now were—

EE:

And were trying to get it before their thirtieth birthday.

BK:

Well, they have until they were thirty-two, but they'd gone to school and completed their bachelor's degree. You have to have a four-year degree to be an officer today, even still. But all of the services have a program for enlisted folks, if they start working on their degree and complete it, they can apply to become an officer. So my OTS class was about half of those folks. So they were a little bit older than somebody who would be coming right out of college at twenty-one or twenty-two and going to OTS.

But when I got there, certainty among the lieutenants I was the oldest one. And that might have been, I guess, a little bit of a break for me, although the expectations were also higher. I mean, if you show up and you're thirty, people don't expect you to make the mistakes a twenty-one-year-old would make.

EE:

Even though nobody's told you things, you still don't know it, so it doesn't matter how old you are.

BK:

Right.

EE:

You volunteered to go to Japan.

BK:

I volunteered to go overseas at Chanute. Once you got there you could fill out what they call a “dream sheet,” which allows you to name bases that you would like to be assigned to. No guarantee. I volunteered for Okinawa and Germany, having lived in both those places as a child. I was the first one to get my assignment. They called me up and said—it was so funny, because they called me out of class. I was terrified to be called out of class; I thought I'd committed some mortal sin. And then I got on the phone with this guy who was a lieutenant colonel. I'd barely talked to anyone of them, so I was, “Yes, sir. No, sir. Three bags full,” over the phone.

And he starts out by reading my social security number to me, so I was convinced my career had come to an end before it even got off the ground. But he said, “You did volunteer to go overseas, did you not?”

And I said, “Yes, I volunteered to go to Okinawa and Germany.”

He said, “Well, okay, we can send you to Kadena,” which was a base that was open when I'd lived on Okinawa before, but my dad was assigned to Naha [Air Base], which was a different base.

And I said to this guy, I said, “Well, why can't I go to Naha?” And there was this big long silence. And he said, “It's not open any longer.” Oh, well, excuse me for being stupid. And during the time since we'd been there, when I'd been there as a child, of course, then the islands belonged to the United States. There was American money that was used, American traffic rules, all that kind of stuff.

EE:

So it wasn't quite the same as an overseas—

BK:

In the interim, the islands had been given to Japan, or returned to Japan, much to the dismay of the native Ryukyuans [indigenous peoples]. And so Japan rules applied, all the signs were in Japanese, and the yen was the money. But he said, “You can go to Kadena.”

I said, “What other choices do I have?”

He said, “Panama Canal.”

I said, “Okay, I'll go to Kadena.”

EE:

“Thank you. You made my decision easy for me.”

BK:

Yes. So off I went.

EE:

Actually, the time you spent there looked like a couple of years almost, by the time you left there. Three years.

BK:

I extended once. It was originally an eighteen-month tour, because I was single and unaccompanied, had no dependents. But I extended when I was over there for a second—

EE:

Second four years?

BK:

Second eighteen-month tour. So I ended up being there for the better part of three years.

EE:

How quickly were you progressed in rank? I assume you started at second lieutenant?

BK:

You start out as a second lieutenant. If you mind your p's and q's and you don't do anything stupid, after a year and a half you become a first lieutenant, and after another year and a half you become a captain. There's no early promotions. It's all a matter of time. You have to just keep your nose clean and do your work and you'll be a captain. So not to get picked for captain, you had to be like in the bottom two percent of the barrel.

EE:

You had to work hard to avoid it.

BK:

Yes. So I made all of those promotions on time, and had a good time while I was in Okinawa. I got to go on temporary duties to Korea and the Philippine islands and see our airplanes be swapped out for more modern F-15. We were the first F-15 unit in the Pacific theater.

EE:

According to your sheet, some of your responsibilities are evolving, I guess, along with your service there. You go to avionics branch chief, assistant job control supervisor. It's greater supervisor responsibilities and those things, or what's the difference in those positions for you workwise?

BK:

Not really. The first job I had was as a maintenance unit officer, was being hands-on responsible for the airplanes and the crew chiefs. When I went to the avionics branch chief, then those are the people who are responsible for repairing the black boxes that come out of the airplane, all the avionics, radios, navigation, flight controls, all that stuff. So when I went over there, it was a different kind of responsibility, but about the same, just a different group of people doing a different job that ended up keeping the airplanes flying.

When I went to job control, I really had, from a technical perspective, less responsibility because I didn't own any people; they weren't assigned to me in terms of a chain of command. But the business of job control is to monitor the entire fleet. So the scope of my knowledge base about what was going on with the fleet of airplanes was much broader. Before I only had to mind my twenty-seven airplanes, then I only had to mind the boxes that came out of them in the shops, and now I've moved up and I was responsible for knowing the condition and air-worthiness of all seventy-two airplanes. And most of the time I worked on the night shift, which is where most of the maintenance activity took place.

EE:

It strikes me as a sign, I guess, of trying to please folks who joined the all-volunteer army that the two places on your dream sheet are the first two stops on your path.

BK:

Right. I went from Okinawa to Germany, and I got married on Okinawa. I married another aircraft maintenance officer. So then the two of us put in for what's called a joint-spouse assignment, for which the air force makes no guarantees. There are no guarantees that you and your spouse will be co-located.

But one of the places we could go was to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, because there was a headquarters there. One of us could work in the headquarters, and there was also a flying wing, one of us could work in the flying wing, and, of course, the military's concern is that you're not in one another's chain of command. And since he outranked me, that was a concern. He could never be my boss.

So we went to Germany, I worked on the flight line, he worked in the headquarters building. I had the same job in Germany as the first job I had when I went to Okinawa. I was responsible for about twenty-seven or -eight different models of F-4 airplanes, but responsible for their care and feeding. And we went TDY [temporary duty] to Turkey and, you know, different places in Europe.

I was there in Europe when the headquarters building was blown up in 1981, and I remember that's the first time I ever heard a bomb go off. I was talking to a chief master sergeant. The headquarters building, by crow's flight, was probably a half a mile from where we were standing. You couldn't drive it that way because—

EE:

Who did that bombing? Was that Red Brigades [Italian terrorists], or was that related to what was going on in Lebanon at that time?

BK:

I don't think it was related to Lebanon. I want to say the Green Party in Germany, I think, was eventually who was responsible. But it was classic. It was before the bomb truck pulled into the barracks, but it was that kind of an event. There was a white van, it pulled up next to the headquarters building, and the guy ran away from it and set it off by remote. Fortunately for us, he was a little early and there weren't that many people in the building, but it shattered a lot of windows, and, of course, it created a big boom.

I was standing there talking to this guy and we felt the air compression, the air wave, before we heard the blast. This chief jumped in the ditch, and I'm still talking, looking at him, wondering, “Why is he jumping in the ditch?” And he says to me, “Captain, get your ass down here. That was a bomb that just went off.” So that's the first time I ever heard a bomb going off, to know what that sounds like.

Immediately came this call over the radio for any covered vehicles to go there in case there were mass casualties, to act as ambulance. Fortunately they weren't needed. But we locked down the base, we had to go post a guard on every one of our airplanes, lock them into the—

EE:

Was this the building where your husband would have been working?

BK:

No, it was where the four-star general who oversaw European Operations Offices were. He [my husband] was in the headquarters, but in another building, not really very close to that one. But that was a very interesting experience to be there when all that stuff happened.

And then, of course, not too long after that, a couple of GIs were injured when people planted bombs in their cars overnight, parked by their houses. They lived off-base. And they got in their car and turned it on and, boom, the car blew up. Or they put them under the seats so when they sat in the seat, it blew the car up.

So we were all doing inspections on our vehicles. My husband and I lived off-base at the time. That's when they started blocking the gates, so you had to sort of snake your way through the gates, which, of course, is routine today. That's when all that stuff started.

EE:

Growing up in a military family, you were talking about having a feeling of disconnect. Is that the first time you felt anti-Americanism so directly? Do you remember that?

BK:

I don't remember thinking about it like that, although I had interesting experiences when I was on Okinawa, talking to the Okinawans, locals, who were real upset at America for giving the islands back to the Japanese because, of course, the Japanese were a colonial power way early on and they colonized this series of islands, of which Okinawa is the main one.

EE:

They were mad at you for other reasons; they didn't want you to go.

BK:

They liked it when America was in charge. The living was good, money was good, things were good. When the Japanese came back, the cost of living skyrocketed to match what was going on in Japan. Japan drives on the other side of the road like they do in England, all that stuff got shifted. All these signs of Japanese, you know, everything became Japanese. And for the locals, it wasn't fun.

I remember being concerned about “ugly Americans,” us. I remember even when I was in Sweden, one year we were over there in Stockholm, the Worldwide Southern Baptist Convention was in Stockholm.

EE:

Sounds like a disconnect.

BK:

And you could hear those people coming a half a mile away. They were the most rude group of people. We would cross the street not to be associated with them. I remember one time taking a taxi in Copenhagen and giving the taxi driver the directions to that—we stayed with people in their houses in Copenhagen—giving him directions to the house, or the address of the house, in my best Swedish, and he asked me back in Danish—which they're all very close—was I Swedish. And then I had to fess up and start speaking English, you know, because I'd gone past my trains, planes, buses, and bathrooms and menus language that I knew.

I told him, no, I was an American, and he said to me, in English, “I never would have guessed.” It was the ultimate compliment that I could have been given. At the time it made me feel really good, because I saw some really ugly Americans in their conduct, and I think that was more my orientation than being concerned that somebody was going to come after me because I was American. You know, politically people disagree, but it's like we keep hearing even today, we have no quarrel with the Iraqi people, we have quarrel with the Iraqi government. And everybody that I ever—

EE:

You could say the same for France. [laughs]

BK:

Yes. I mean, everybody that I ever dealt with, including the French—I mean, I touristed all over those countries. I used to get so frustrated trying to learn German, because when I try to speak German, they always come back at you in English, figuring—

EE:

They assume—

BK:

Well, because they want to practice their English. And their English is always better, so you cave in, and you end up talking English to them.

But I never felt concerned for my safety as an individual, although certainly I was checking my car like everybody else was, but that was kind of a faceless, nameless, small group of crazy people who did that bombing.

EE:

You guys were there for a couple of years and then you came back stateside to Wright-Patterson [Air Force Base], which, I guess, is at Dayton [Ohio].

BK:

Well, yes. Actually, I was, for paperwork purposes, assigned to Dayton.

But I want to tell you this. The most fun I had in Europe was being on the USAFE, the U.S. Air Forces in Europe, Inspector General's [IG] team. I got to do that, and I have a letter in here that is one of my favorites. I saved it. I knew when I got it I was going to save it for my whole life, because I applied for the job as a captain. My immediate boss, my squadron commander, recommended disapproval, even though I was well qualified and he thought I was very capable of doing an outstanding job. He thought I needed to stay in his squadron, and his boss agreed with him. The guy who actually made the decision called me up on the phone, he said, “Come up here and talk to me.” And I did. He said, “You really want to do this. Why do you want to be on the IG team?”

And I told him I thought that it would be a wonderful opportunity for me to expand my knowledge, having to evaluate different groups of people trying to solve the same problems in aircraft maintenance. So his endorsement to the letter says, “She goes.” Period. And that was it. And I went to the IG team. And that was probably among the top three things that I did in my career—

EE:

Were you doing this all just in bases in Germany, or all throughout Europe?

BK:

No, the entire European command. So that means I traveled with a group of people from bases in England to bases in Turkey and Italy and all through Germany. Wherever there was an air force base, we went to evaluate them doing their job, essentially. It's like—

EE:

But that doesn't show up on here on your list of things, and that's what you were doing at Ramstein [Air Base]?

BK:

Right. Because the IG was actually there. So it was like when I shifted jobs at Kadena. I was still in Germany, but I went to another organization and did another job.

EE:

That does sound like exciting.

BK:

It was great fun, there was a great group of people that we traveled with, and there was a lot of travel. We were on—

EE:

Sounds like a week at a time you'd go up and do a—

BK:

Right. And we were on the road for 320 days a year, traveling to all these different bases.

EE:

Have you ever gotten airsick?

BK:

Once, and that was because another guy got sick and then I got sick in sympathy, I think.

EE:

Somebody in the air force as long as you have, as many flights as you've had, I just wanted to see if there was—

BK:

After that, from Germany I applied for the Education with Industry Program, which is a highly competitive—only a few are selected—program for young captains who are placed in defense industry corporations for an academic year, for about ten months, to see the relationship between the defense industry and the U.S. Air Force, in this case, from their perspective.

EE:

Sort of like an internship, in a sense.

BK:

Right. We were like junior executives. Wright-Patterson is where that program works out of. My assignment was to Fort Worth, Texas, to the factory where they build the F-16. It used to be General Dynamics, now today it's Lockheed Martin. But I spent ten months in the factory seeing how they built airplanes, how they provided contract training to bases worldwide. I wore civilian clothes every day, and got a good look at the inside, up close and personal, of the defense side.

The folks went on strike, and there were four of us there. We ended up going down and working on the assembly line because those folks, they belonged to the United Auto Workers Union, they went on strike for a week and so the company put the supervisory folks on the assembly line just to keep the airplanes moving so it didn't come to dead stop. We worked on Pakistani F-16s, all undercover. The air force would have shot us at high noon if they'd have known we even laid hands on an airplane under construction. We were never supposed to do that. But we wheedled and weaseled and whined and sniveled and got permission. So I learned how to buck rivets and splice wire bundles for landing gear, that sort of stuff. We watched those airplanes until they landed and were accepted and released from the ownership of General Dynamics by the Pakistani government.

EE:

I'm just sitting here thinking about, I guess, the first woman I interviewed who did aircraft maintenance, worked hard to be basically Rosie the Riveter at a plant in Nebraska during World War II.

BK:

Oh, cool.

EE:

And you have gone in the first seven years of your career all over the planet and done just a variety of work in places you've seen in just the first seven years of your career is amazing, given just the short period of time that's between those two generations.

This was a ten-month program, then you went out back overseas again for a year.

BK:

To Korea.

EE:

To Kunsan?

BK:

Kunsan Air Base.

EE:

Which is north—

BK:

It's in South Korea, it's about four hours by bus—

EE:

South of Seoul?

BK:

South of Seoul on the coast.

EE:

And what were you doing at Kunsan?

BK:

I went there as the maintenance supervisor. In the aircraft maintenance business, there's a pecking order, and the pecking order is, first you have the maintenance unit officer in charge, which is what I did as a lieutenant and as a captain. Those are right there next to the airplanes and they're primarily responsible. They report to a maintenance supervisor, which is the mid-management, and that person reports to the squadron commander. So the maintenance supervisor's job is to keep the squadron commander in the loop on all the maintenance activity while the squadron commander is working kind of personnel issues and financial, budgetary things and resources and other stuff.

So when I went to Kunsan, I was responsible for the entire fleet of F-16s, about fifty of them. The neat part about being at Kunsan at that time, the way the maintenance organization was set up, you have the deputy commander for maintenance, he's the maintenance daddy rabbit. There were three squadron commanders. The generation squadron that I worked in, an equipment squadron who is responsible for off-equipment things and the bomb dump, building all the bombs and taking care of the munitions, and then the component repair squadron, which is the avionics group that I worked with over on Okinawa.

So there were those three squadrons. All of the maintenance supervisors in those squadrons were women when I was there. We had an article in the Air Force Times. They used to publish a Can You Top This? column, and our boss wrote, “Can you top this? I'm in Korea, I have F-16s, and I have three women managing as the maintenance supervisors.” That's the primary down-and-dirty management position in aircraft maintenance. And he challenged worldwide anybody else, any other DCM, to come forward and beat that.

EE:

You said that you were thinking about, when you first signed up that, “Oh, I'd like to counsel women who might have problems with harassment,” things like that, as one of the things you might do. You went in just after the WAC [Women's Army Corps] folded into the regular U.S. Army and we sort of lost a separate women's military service.

BK:

Well, not just. That happened—

EE:

Seventy-five is when it happened, when the last WAC—

BK:

Really?

EE:

It was that late. The last brigadier general WAC was folded into the service. So did you ever experience harassment yourself from other folks?

BK:

Sure, sure. And, you know, it was wrong and probably if I'd had the knowledge and mindset that I had as a captain four years later than I did when I was a lieutenant, I probably would have filed charges on several people. But at the time, I didn't know enough and, frankly, I think they got as good as they gave. So I probably could have been hauled in for giving it back to them. But, I mean, I remember there was all kinds of—I mean, the language on the flight line is probably borderline naval. I mean, it's very—

EE:

Coarse.

BK:

Very coarse. But I can remember men who outranked me by two or three rubbing up and down my back to see if I had a bra on, and if I did, they snapped it, and if I didn't, they were going to write me up for not having appropriate underwear on.

I can remember a colonel one time who was very angry because an airplane had been damaged, not with malicious intent, but with carelessness, and the person that ended up causing the damage happened to be a female crew chief. His words were something to the effect that, “No f-ing female should ever be in the aircraft maintenance in my presence.” And that would be enough, you know. But, you know, I think at that time I turned around and told him that if that was all he could f-ing come up with, then he didn't deserve to be—and again, I'm lucky that I didn't get myself thrown in the brig for—

EE:

You learned the strategies to cut it right back.

BK:

Well, which is not a good strategy. I mean, the strategy is that it should never happen. And retorting and retaliation is equally as—

EE:

Did the service do a decent job—I know that over the time period that you're in service there's incidents occasionally where this comes up in different branches of the service, that there's arrests. Did they do a good job over your career addressing those issues, you think, when in the service?

BK:

I think from the Pentagon level and the headquarters level there was sincere effort. I think whether or not that effort was valued really depended on the—

EE:

On the individual.

BK:

As you get further down and closer to the bottom of the totem pole. I mean, we all had to go for sexual harassment training. We all had to go to social actions training, which talked about racial issues and what was and wasn't tolerated. Well, in the books what's tolerated and what actually happens on the flight line or in other office areas may be two different things, albeit against the rules. Unless somebody's willing to say that's a violation of the rules, the stuff continues.

Is it any better today? Probably not, you know, down at the bottom level. I think that the level of legitimate and sincere concern has migrated down from on high, but we're dealing with people, even still today—I mean there's folks who are in charge of baby airmen. I call them baby airmen, I mean, because they were when I was their squadron commander coming straight from boot camp, they were eighteen or nineteen years old. Those people that handled them at boot camp set them up for their impressions, and if they weren't giving them the right impressions, then they came to me with the wrong impressions, and I would have to try and correct that.

Of course, if you go to a high school today, what you hear in the halls of the high school is enough to make your hair stand up in terms of how students relate to one another, what they call one another, you know. I mean, it's sad. But those of us as we get older, we think a lot of things are sad.

EE:

It's just your own life experiences. You did not get as much of that foisted into your existence early on like some people did who had to grow up with that kind of stuff.

BK:

Yes. I work at a high school today, and the students that I talk to have no concept of integrity. They have no concept of integrity. They have no concept of caring about another person's feelings. It's all for me, I for me, and me first, and all that other kind of stuff, and I know my generation was accused of that. Probably every younger generation is by the older generation, but, I mean, it's really kind of scary because these are the kids of the future. And when they're eighteen and nineteen and care so little about themselves or one another, it's really sort of scary.

EE:

You've got three or four other stops I want to walk you through, because our time is limited. You came back after a year to Shaw [Air Force Base], which, I guess, is that in Columbia?

BK:

No, it's in Sumter, South Carolina, which it's close to [Columbia]. But, yes, I came back to Shaw and I came in as a maintenance supervisor, which is the same position that I held in Korea, only in another squadron. I was the maintenance supervisor for the squadron that owned the bomb dump. With airplanes, you have to do periodic inspection just like you do with your car. You know, every 50,000, every so many thousands of miles.

EE:

So Shaw was the place where those things were done?

BK:

Well, every base does that. But that responsibility lies in one squadron, and it's not the one that deals with the airplanes when they're flying. You sort of send them over there to go get their 50,000-mile inspection. So that was my responsibility first at Shaw. Then I went as the maintenance supervisor to the squadron where all the flight-line activity, just like I did in Korea. Then I became the squadron commander.

At Shaw was my first command, and it was of the Equipment Maintenance Squadron where I had first been assigned. So I was promoted to major, or selected for major, on time and given a squadron command at Shaw. So now I have a whole different perspective on things because even as the squadron commander, you are another step further away from the actual maintenance activity and greasy-hands stuff, but you are responsible for the health and welfare and morale of everybody that lives in your squadron, 500 people.

EE:

I was going to say, how many is that?

BK:

About 500 people.

EE:

Twenty-five or twenty-seven folks in the beginning, and now you're—

BK:

From twenty-seven airplanes and 250 folks to every airplane on the patch and 500 of your own folk. Of course, then it becomes like being a parent with this gaggle of children that go from eighteen years old to older than you are, and all of their problems, their family problems, their financial problems, their health problems. They do things they shouldn't do, they get drunk and disorderly, they rob banks, they get in accidents and kill themselves.

In my life, fortunately, as a squadron commander, I only had two folks who were in the squadrons that I was responsible for who died while I was there. And that's one of the nastiest things a person would ever have to do, notify a family that their son or daughter is dead, and why and how it happened and all the gruesome details. When you're a squadron commander, there are things that you get to do that just are exhilarating. You get to promote people and you get to give people awards and recognize good work. By the same token, you have to kick them in the backside if that's what they need, or you have to take care of circumstances like their death.

EE:

Did you get any additional training for that position, or do you feel like the positions you had before groomed you properly for that role when it came your way?

BK:

As you progress through the military, there are stops at military schools that you make. There is Squadron Officer School, and that's for lieutenants, primarily. I did that from Okinawa, went back to Montgomery, Alabama, and went to school. There is Air Command and Staff College, which is primarily for people who are going to be groomed for command. And then there's the Air War College, which is primarily for people who are being groomed for senior leadership positions.

As you go through those schools, you get a dose of more and more leadership and command kinds of things, and you learn about these circumstances that can happen to you when you're in those kinds of positions, but until you're standing in the frying pan, it's really not very hot, frankly. You can talk to people and hear war stories about, “There I was, and I had Airman Snorkel doing all these crazy things,” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. “And here's what I did.” But until you're there in the middle of that circumstance, that's when the learning takes place.

EE:

It sounds like you had sort of prepared yourself from the beginning to make a career out of this, and the fact that you were looking at retirement anyway, you say, “I want to go to someplace where I can get a guaranteed, but not have to put in fifty years of my life.”

BK:

I knew that I could do twenty years and get the kind of retirement benefits that my dad had, or something similar to it, and if I wanted to go longer, that was my call. I just had to carry on about doing my job and conducting myself in a way that was going to ensure that I was going to be promoted or be viewed as a valuable asset, and my career would last as long as I wanted it to.

EE:

You left Shaw after a couple of—well, you were actually there almost five years, it looks like.

BK:

Right.

EE:

And then you went to Maxwell, Alabama, and you were there for—

BK:

Six years.

EE:

Six years. Here it says you started out as a student at Maxwell. Is this one of these schools, the Air Command and—

BK:

Staff College. This is one of the things that I regret, but that's how things happen. When I was at Shaw as the Equipment Maintenance Squadron commander, we spent all of our time preparing to take care of business, and while I was there, in fact, I got to go to Washington [D.C.] in March of 1990 and testify before a House Armed Services Subcommittee on Women in Combat. I was one of two [U.S.] Air Force officers along with two gals from the [U.S.] Army and [U.S.] Navy and Marine Corps who went and testified before this committee about what we thought in terms of women being allowed to apply for career fields that up until that point in time had been closed.

EE:

And your recommendation was?

BK:

Let them have it.

EE:

And their response was?

BK:

The law was changed. The law was changed right before—

EE:

Gulf War?

BK:

[Operation] Desert Shield, [Operation] Desert Storm. More career fields were opened. Today I think there's something like ninety-eight percent of the career fields in the air force are open to women to apply to. It doesn't mean you're guaranteed in. You still have to—

EE:

We have fighter pilots now that are women in the Gulf.

BK:

That's right, that's right. And at that point in time, we didn't. Women were not allowed to fly fighter airplanes in the air force, although they could fly cargo, other kinds of airplanes.

So here I am in June of 1990 and I get a notice for reassignment to this Air Command and Staff College in residence, and resident attendance was preferred. In July we started building up, because we knew we were going to Desert Shield, and I went to my boss's office and got down on my knees and went groveling across the floor, “Please get my assignment changed. Let me go with the squadron that I've been training for the last two years to do this job.”

The wing commander, who now is a four-star general in charge of Space Command, at the time was a colonel, he had already called down to my immediate boss. My boss said, “Look. Get out of here. Eberhart's already called and he told me that you were going to come groveling like this.” He said, “Tell her to get off her dead butt and go to school, because that's what she needs to do. That's what we need her to do at this point in time.”

So, under duress, I went to Maxwell because I knew that all the people that I'd been working with and been training were on their way to the Gulf War. And they did. That's where they went while I sat in academia. So I wasn't real thrilled.

EE:

That's kind of special torture for a military person to not be in the action when it's time to go.

BK:

It is. When you spend all your focus and your energy on preparing people to do this job, I mean, you know, the last thing we want to do is go to war, but it is our job if that's what is required. And so I wasn't particularly interested in sitting on my butt in a classroom when the people that I was working for were eating dirt every day and taking care of airplanes that were flying those missions over Baghdad on the first night. But you salute smartly and you do what you're told and go where they need you to be.

So I went to Maxwell, to the college, for ten months, was then directed to remain on faculty and become a teacher. So now I'm back into the teaching business after—

EE:

So you can see their method to the madness that they weren't telling you about in advance.

BK:

Yes, well. So I ended up being responsible for the leadership and command curriculum at Maxwell, both on the campus as well as the seminar program that goes on worldwide out at Base XYZ. So I got to travel again to England and Spain and Germany to conduct these seminars while I was there.

EE:

How did the number of women in the service change as you were in over twenty years? What's the percentage now?

BK:

The percentage today is pushing, I think, nineteen percent. And it was probably—

EE:

Is the air force low on that?

BK:

No. The air force representation is actually, I think, a little bit higher; certainly higher than the [U.S.] Army and the Marine Corps. I'm not for sure about the [U.S.] Navy. But I think overall in the military the average is in the seventeen to eighteen percent, military-wide, Department of Defense-wide.

Probably when I went in, you know, maybe ten or twelve percent. And seven percentage points doesn't sound like a lot, but when you're talking about a million people, seven percent is a lot of people. While I was at Shaw, two of the three maintenance squadron commanders were women, so we had great times with the one guy, trying to train him.

So then I went to Maxwell, I was teaching there, I was selected below-the-zone, early, for promotion to lieutenant colonel, and with that selection came a spot in the class at the Air War College. So I went from being a student to being a teacher, to being a student again at the Air War College. When I finished that job, I became the director of education and research for the Air Force Quality Institute, and at that point in time is when the whole TQM, total quality management—

EE:

The private sector into the—

BK:

Was coming into the military. So at Maxwell that was the home of the quality management development of all that philosophy as it would apply to the air force. So that was my job, to develop the curriculum that would be used air force-wide for folks to be taught this notion of quality management in a way that was coherent and in concert with military activity.

I did that for two years and then got selected for a squadron command position at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, and there I was a squadron commander for a training squadron. This is where those baby airmen, when they go to boot camp at Lackland, then they come to Sheppard and that's where they're getting their technical training. In the same way that I spent six months at Chanute as a baby lieutenant, these baby airmen are coming to Sheppard. The squadron that I was responsible for had fourteen different career fields, all in maintenance, from propulsion to corrosion control, to sheet metal, to welding, to fuel systems.

EE:

Did it suit you well to get back out of active duty, to get back into command post?

BK:

Well, being a squadron commander is the best job in the air force. I mean, to my mind as a military person, having a command position, that's the ultimate. Rank is not the issue, it's the responsibility, and being a commander is the ultimate responsibility.

EE:

You really can create and feel a part of the team when you're doing that, I'm sure.

BK:

Yes, and especially when you're at a training base like Sheppard is, because really, we're molding the future generations. This is what I used to tell my faculty there was, “Look. We're the good-hands people,” you know, like that Allstate [Insurance] commercial. “We've got them in our hands, and if we don't teach them right and teach them correctly while they're here, then what we send out to the field can't be successful.”

I would tell the baby airmen who were in aircraft maintenance the same thing. “You guys are the good-hands people. The air force is about flying airplanes. You must be able to do your job; otherwise, people die. It's just that simple. Pilots can't fly airplanes that aren't airworthy, and everything that we do in aircraft maintenance is focused on making an airworthy machine for a guy or a gal to go do the mission, which may be dropping bombs on somebody, it may be doing reconnaissance, it may be ferrying cargo. But that airplane is our responsibility in aircraft maintenance.”

EE:

You did the commander post for a couple of years at Sheppard and then switched to another, your last stop along the way. Tell me about that. You said you thought it was time to do something else.

BK:

Well, at Sheppard there are three training groups. One is for medical training and the other two are for aircraft maintenance. One primarily for aircraft maintenance, the other group has aircraft maintenance as well as other things like finance and civil engineering. That group commander is the boss of those squadron commanders, and the group commander has a deputy. That's what I did. I was the deputy group commander for the group that had avionics, aircraft maintenance, it had civil engineering, it had finance, had communications, a lot of different career fields. Once again, it's like being the vice president. Your job in life is to gather the information that the big guy needs to know, be sure that everybody's on the same sheet of music and doing their job that they're supposed to be doing.

Right before I took that job, I was selected for promotion to colonel. [cries] Associated with that—this is my one bitter pill. We used to say in aircraft maintenance that we eat our own. And we do.

EE:

That's the only group that does that, unfortunately.

BK:

Well, we're not the only group that does that, but we're accomplished. I got selected for promotion to colonel. There is a thing in the air force called the Colonels Group.

[End Tape 1, Side B—Begin Tape 2, Side A]

EE:

So you got this letter from the Colonels Group.

BK:

I got this letter from the Colonels Board that said, essentially, “Don't call us. We'll call you.” And that's the rule. They don't—

EE:

Sounds like a fraternity or sorority initiation.

BK:

It is, it is. I call it the good old boys' network, but it's not fair because it's not all boys, because they treat everybody the same, which is like crap.

When you get to be a colonel, which is of significant rank, you, in fact, have less input about the jobs that you will have, shorter notice about the fact that you're going to get a job, and I watched men and women that I worked with who were colonels be yanked around like the short end of a yo-yo. And it was sad, because these people were so hard working, who had done great jobs, and on a couple of occasions I found out about their assignments before they did because it was on a message that happened to come across my desk, you know. And if you can imagine, here you are sending a congratulatory email to somebody who doesn't even know they're about to get moved.

In the course of my tour of duty at Sheppard, my mom died. My father had passed away already, and I essentially had made a choice, a decision that I would retire relatively soon and spend more time with my sister and family. So I went to put my retirement papers in, a year in advance, and after about three weeks got this notice back that said, “No, your retirement papers have not been accepted because you have an established assignment selection date,” which means this Colonels Group had decided three weeks ago that they were going to send me someplace but they hadn't told anybody yet. The general officer at the base didn't know anything about it, my colonel commander didn't know anything about it. Nobody knew squat. And there was nobody that you could talk to because, “Don't call us. We'll call you.”

So about three more weeks went by, and I finally got this document that said, “You have,” at that point in time, “about twenty-seven days to report to Elmendorf, Alaska, Anchorage, Alaska.” And I said no. I was not going to be like so many others. I didn't spend, you know, twenty-something years—

EE:

Just to get jerked around at the end.

BK:

Absolutely. So because I had been selected for colonel, I had a line number for colonel, all of my assignment and personnel handling was done by this Colonels Group. And the rules are different. The rule for colonels is if you decline an assignment, you have 120 days to retire. Period. There's no quibbling, there's no, “Gosh, don't you have something else I could do that gives me more than twenty-seven days to get all my stuff in order and go 3,000 miles?”

EE:

“We have one place for you to go, and you'll enjoy it.”

BK:

Yes. So I said no, and they came back and said, “Okay. Your retirement date is 1 December.” And so I did. I retired in December.

EE:

In retrospect, that's no fault of your own, that's just their process that they choose to do it, so you're not the only one that had that done to them, I'm sure.

BK:

Well, they only did it because of the way I responded. It was not my preferred method of exit. [cries]

EE:

But you had twenty years.

BK:

I served twenty-one and a half years.

EE:

I'm trying to think of a job path that would take you as many places, see as many people, do as many fulfilling things. There's probably not many lines of work that would do that that quickly.

BK:

No, and looking back, I wouldn't trade my career in. If I was young, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. I don't know if there was anything I could have done differently. I mean, I've seen people who got these cushy jobs, and we call it “homesteading,” which is what I got accused of in Montgomery, even though I was in school twice while I was there. But, you know, there's people that have no business being in the air force who have high rank, who are hanging on for the last little fogey pay raise of their retirement benefits.

EE:

It's just to fix their retirement at a higher level.

BK:

Yes. And, you know, I went out the door and it cost me about probably in the neighborhood of $300 a month for the rest of my life, to have to retire with less than twenty-two years. But, you know, I knew that. I knew when I said, “No, I'm not going there.” That was going to happen.

What I was unwilling to do was take an assignment with twenty-seven days' notice to Alaska, which my family's in North Carolina, here, and South Carolina, that's twice, three times as far away, that was going to be a three-year tour with another two years commitment for accepting, (a), the promotion, and, (b), the assignment. So I was looking at buying into five more years of not knowing when—I mean, I could have gone to Anchorage and been there for two months and been sent someplace else. That was not uncommon. So my decision at that point in time was, “I'm not taking five years worth of this stuff, I quit.” You know, and so I did.

EE:

At some point I assume that you and your husband had split ways?

BK:

When we were in Germany, he went to Italy when I went to Fort Worth.

EE:

Okay, I figured that, since that was a fairly quick switch to Fort Worth.

BK:

Yes. While I was in Fort Worth I got a “Dear Barb” letter.

EE:

You come to us today from Texas by way of Durham. Tell me what you did after you left the service.

BK:

Actually, I wasn't going to do anything until I found out that military retired pay doesn't count as earned income. I have an IRA [Individual Retirement Account], you know, and my CPA [Certified Public Accountant] said, “If you want to keep that IRA and keep contributing to it, you'd better go get a job.” So I went to the local school district in the town that I live and applied to be a substitute and was substituting and ended up being offered a full-time paraprofessional, an aide's position, with learning-disabled high school kids. And so that's what I do. I work as an aide with teachers who work with learning-disabled high school students in my role as part “administrivia”—

EE:

I like that word.

BK:

—and part tutorial. You know, I mean, I do paperwork and I kill trees and make a thousand copies of things and keep files in order and that sort of stuff.

EE:

That Xerox machine was going to save so many trees, but it's killed a lot more.

BK:

It's a long way from that thing that I used to do when I first started teaching, though.

EE:

The mimeograph?

BK:

Yes, “dirty purples,” we'd call them. But the fun part is I get to help tutor. Part of my job is tutorial, so I tutor kids in whatever subjects they bring along, which makes it really fun. You know, if they walk in the door with math or biology or world history or geography or chemistry or physics or Spanish or French, it doesn't matter. Whatever they walk in the door with, I'm there to help them.

EE:

You had a lot of engagement with teaching the whole time, though. You never really left that, even with the baby airmen you were still coaching and guiding.

BK:

In fact, I took a little license. One of the training pieces that I went to when I became a full-time employee one of the things they had us do, this group of probably seventy teachers, was line ourselves up in order of seniority, years of teaching. So I hemmed and hawed for about two seconds and went to the thirty-years-worth group, which is pretty close to the front of the line, because, yes, you know, I mean, I started my life as a professional educator, I did that, no kidding, professionally, in the air force, and was schooled by the air force Instructor School and other, you know, specific training to teach via satellite downlink and that sort of stuff. And in the role of squadron commander, you know, you're part-time mom, part-time taskmaster, and part-time teacher. So I thought it was fair that I went to that part of the line.

EE:

Now you have the chance to come up here. How often do you get to North Carolina from Texas?

BK:

Once a year. We're on spring break, so here I am.

EE:

What is it that nonmilitary folks don't understand or misunderstand about military people?

BK:

That's a good question. Probably the depth of commitment. I think there are a lot of folks—and I've said this—you know, when I first when in, I went in to see the world. You don't get paid a lot. I mean, you don't go into the military for big bucks. You don't go into the military for family stability. You do go into the military if you want to see the world, for sure. I guess in the course of doing that you find something out about yourself in terms of patriotism and that's why you hear today, you hear the kids, young troops that are already in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and surrounding areas, the question that they have is, “Does anybody care that we're here?” And the demonstrations—

EE:

Because they're doing it for—it really is a service, a service for everybody.

BK:

It is. And even though they may not say that, most of them aren't in it because they were patriotic first. A lot of kids go into the military because that's the only thing they can do. They can pass the test to get into the military, but they can't get into college. They don't have the resources to go to college, or the desire, or the intestinal fortitude for academics.

But once they get in, and they find themselves in these predicaments, they are real concerned about who cares that they really do, or could, lay their life on the line, even for a cause that's not popular. I mean, the president said go, he's the commander-in-chief, and you salute smartly and you go.

I can remember myself just being angry enough to choke people during Desert Storm. There were reports in the newspaper about guardsmen and women who were weekend warriors who got called up who said very plainly, “I didn't sign up to go to war. I signed up to get an education as a guardsman in the National Guard.” You know, they had all kinds of other reasons for signing up, but it wasn't to go to war. And boy that made me mad. And I was still active duty at the time. In fact, I had to mind my p's and q's as a squadron commander because I had guard and reserve students in my classes that would come through when I was a training squadron commander. And some of them I bounced out because they refused to wear the uniform in accordance with [the uniform regulations]. They refused—I mean, it wasn't because they said anything; it was because they weren't upholding the standards of the uniform that they were wearing. And they would come into my office and say, “But I'm in the Guard.” I don't care. You have the uniform on, when you wear the uniform, John Q. and Suzy Public don't know you're Guard from active duty.

EE:

And right now there's a fair chunk of reserves over there right now.

BK:

There is. So that was a good question.

EE:

A lot of the women we first interviewed, it was sort of like a one-year adventure, just to sort of [unclear]. But for career folks, it does mean something different. And if a young woman comes to you today and says, “I'm thinking about joining the service,” what would your advice to her be?

BK:

Hurry up and get on over there. Really. I talk to the young kids. We have an Air Force Junior ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps] program at our high school, and I talk with them. I have some of them in the classes I work with, and sometimes when they [the ROTC group] need a female chaperone the guy will come and ask me to go do things with them.

But for a young guy or gal right now who's graduating from high school, if they're not absolutely college-bound or college material today, you know, it's four years. That's all. And, I mean, they go, “Oh, four years.” How long's your high school last? Yes, about that fast. You go in, you put up with some stuff, you have to wear your hair a different way, you have to wear a uniform, you have to “Yes, sir,” or, “No, sir,” three bags full, salute, march, and do all those things. So you give up a little bit of your personal freedom for four years of training that you can apply someplace else, for four years where your meals are paid for, your housing is paid for, your medical bills are covered absolutely, your dental, your eye, and you get to travel.

And you may have to go to war. But, most baby airmen don't go to war, not right out of boot camp or tech training. Although we do send them places like Korea, you know. But for four years, by the time you come out the other end, you're twenty-two, you have a little bit more sense about you, maybe you make it a career, maybe you don't. But what an opportunity. I would recommend it without hesitation. And I do. One of the things the military tells you is remember that you are always a recruiter.

EE:

Well, it's clear to me you like to work hard to be a recruiter. You've got it in you. I cannot do justice to your career in an hour-and-a-half conversation, but I think we're about there. Is there anything I have not asked you about that you particularly want to make sure that we know about your experience and what it means to you?

BK:

Off the top I can't—I've never done one of these before, so these questions—

EE:

There's no right or wrong way to do it.

BK:

I can tell you that I had some great fun doing things and going places. I have ten hours [flying] in an F-16. I got a ride in an F-4 in Germany, and that's one of the papers I have. The guy that took me for a ride was David Eberly, who was the senior POW [prisoner of war] in Desert Storm.

I've had so many, so many wonderful opportunities just to be able to do stuff and to meet people from all different countries. I can remember having a really fun conversation with a group of Turkish Air Force people who couldn't understand—myself and a chief master sergeant who happened to work for me were talking with these people, and they kept asking him, “How can you let her be your boss?” Because that was not their—

EE:

Culturally it's not the way to do it.

BK:

It was a cultural—

EE:

“Where's her veil when she needs it?”

BK:

You know, talking with the people on Okinawa who were mad that America gave the islands back to the Japanese, and, you know, going to the DMZ [demilitarized zone] in Korea, or East Berlin when it was East Berlin.

EE:

Today's there's nothing left of Checkpoint Charlie [point between East and West Germany].

BK:

You can't trade those kinds of experiences in.

EE:

I appreciate your sharing with us and for other students and folks who will be looking for a glimpse at what a very full life the service can offer a woman in this day and age. And I just thank you for making us part of your trip this time back to North Carolina.

BK:

You're quite welcome.

[End of interview]