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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Therese Robinson, 2008

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Object ID: WV0439.5.001

Description: Primarily documents Therese Robinson’s career in the U.S. Air Force from 1984 to 2005, including assignments to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War and Afghanistan during the War on Terror.

Summary: Robinson shares her memories of attending Fresno State University in the early eighties and completing the school’s air force ROTC program. She discusses her family and friends’ response to her decision to serve, and shares her reasons why she joined the ROTC program. She recalls Field Training Camp at Vandenberg Air Force Base, being assigned to the air weapons control field, and a friendship with a fellow servicewoman in the field. She goes on to discuss being reassigned to the services field as a daycare facilities inspector. Topics include: inspecting childcare facilities throughout the U.S.; utilizing her undergraduate degree; and being stationed in the Philippines at Clark Air Force Base. At length she discusses her assignment in Riyadh Air Base in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. Topics include: traveling, witnessing a beheading in “Chop Chop Square,” and being a woman in a conservative Islamic country. She also talks at length about her assignment to Kabul, Afghanistan during the War on Terror. Topics include: working to create a civilian component of the Afghan National Army (ANA); living and working as a woman; mentoring two female ANA generals; and aiding local childcare facilities. General service topics include: military service at wartime; being reprimanded by a supervisor; the difficulties in working for female supervisors; balancing work and motherhood; changes in the air force over twenty-one years; retiring before becoming a full colonel; equality with servicemen; and travel.

Creator: Therese Robinson

Biographical Info: Therese Robinson of California served in the United States Air Force from 1984 to 2005. During her service, she was employed as an air weapons controller and a daycare facilities inspector.

Collection: Therese Robinson Oral History

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:

Hermann Trojanowski:

—in the alumni house, on the campus of UNCG [The University of North Carolina at Greensboro], and today is November 14, 2008. And we’re here to interview Therese Robinson. She is from Virginia, and was with the United States Air Force at one time and retired.

If you’ll give me your full name, we’ll see how we both sound on this machine.

Therese Robinson:

Okay. Therese Robinson.

[Recording paused]

HT:

All right. Well thank you so much for meeting with us this afternoon. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Could you tell me some biographical information about you yourself such as when and where you were born?

TR:

I was born in East St. Louis, Illinois.

HT:

And can you tell me something about your family and your home life?

TR:

I have four sisters, mom and dad, of course. And we travelled around a bit when we were growing up. My father was with the space program, so we travelled a little bit on the East Coast and ended up in Florida for quite a while, while he worked on the Apollo Program. And then eventually moved to California, where he completed his time with Rockwell [International] on the space shuttle program there. So really California is where I spent most of my growing up years.

HT:

And what did your mom do? You’ve already told me what your dad did.

TR:

Mom stayed at home when we were younger, and she went back to school when I was probably about in high school. [She] went back and got her degree and her masters and then was a career mom after that.

HT:

And where did you go to high school?

TR:

Went to high school at Foothill High School in Tustin, California.

HT:

And do you recall what your favorite subject was?

TR:

Probably was anatomy.

HT:

And when did you graduate?

TR:

I graduated from high school in 1978.

HT:

And what did you do after high school?

TR:

Took a semester off and then applied to some colleges and universities and then started in the—January of ’79 at Fresno State University in Fresno, California.

HT:

And so did you gradate from Fresno as well?

TR:

I did.

HT:

Okay. Well tell me something about your college days.

TR:

Let’s see, like I said, I started college in ’79, and lived in the dorms. And after about a year my mom had made a recommendation that I might want to try going into ROTC [Reserve Officers’ Training Corps] or trying the military. So I initially was going in to the nursing school undergraduate program because I wanted to do nursing. So I checked out the ROTC program there on campus. They had air force ROTC and got enrolled in one thing after another, and I was in ROTC. [laughs] So [I] did nursing for a while, and then stayed in the ROTC program. I was in the four year program ROTC. And then decided nursing was not what I wanted to do, I wanted to go to medical school. So [I] started changing my major and looking at pre-med courses and took those on about the last—probably not a good time to change your major—my last year and a half trying to finish school. So it delayed my graduation for another year, so I ended up doing five years at Fresno State. Had planned to go to medical school and was studying for the MCATs [Medical College Admission Test], also was getting ready to be commissioned as an officer at ROTC and also had gotten a scholarship while I was there at the Fresno State program. So I’d received a scholarship for my last two years. Got my commission and asked for a delay in my commission, but the air force didn’t see my way. They decided they needed me right then, I guess. Went ahead and got my first assignment. So I immediately, right after I graduated and got commissioned, I went ahead and went straight to my first base.

HT:

What was your first base?

TR:

My actual first base was Eglin Air Force Base but I spent about ten months prior to that going through basically two different tech schools. So I didn’t really arrive at Eglin until about ten months after I was commissioned. I first went to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida and did tech school as an air weapons controller, and then continued on another tech school following that in Arizona, Luke Air Force Base. So by the time I was done with that, it was about ten moths total, and then back to Florida to Eglin Air Force Base, for my first duty assignment.

HT:

So you had all this medical background, but they didn’t put you in the medical field?

TR:

No, because it really was—I really would’ve had to go into medical school.

[tape malfunction]

HT:

[chuckling] Okay. What events do you recall from your college days that really stand out in your mind?

TR:

All the events that I can recall that were significant were pretty much wrapped around my ROTC days, because that was a huge part of my life. It really became—you know, it wasn’t just going to the different classes and the different requirements within the ROTC program, but it really did become, you know—to coin—a way of life for me, as a college student. So it didn’t seem like much other time was spent on campus. I was very involved in ROTC. I was involved in the different aspects of it. There was other fraternity or sorority organizations within ROTC like Arnold Air Society that I was involved with and became the Arnold Air Society commandant. Ran for different positions within ROTC in my senior year, and was the vice-commander of the ROTC corps. So I think things that happened within ROTC really kind of culminate what I remember about college. Not so much the going to classes and that, it was really ROTC because it was so much part of my life.

And then my roommate ended up being in ROTC, one of my best friends, and we moved off campus together. So everything that we did together—she was in nursing school and got commissioned and went into nursing in the air force—so really everything we did was somehow connected back with the ROTC program and the involvement, being on  honor guard, doing all the foot—probably that was one of the things. We had opened a brand new football stadium. I think it was called the orange bowl. I think, not totally sure. And we had—actually her and I had gotten selected to do the first honor guard at the very first game, the home game. So things like that that we did as maybe not typical college students, but because our ROTC involvement was so much.

HT:

How did your family feel about you being in ROTC?

TR:

Oh, they thought it was great. Well, like I said earlier, my mom had kind of suggested that, had me look at it. I don’t really come from a big military history. My dad spent four years in the Marines and my uncle spent four years in Vietnam. He was a Marine officer in Vietnam. And then both of them—neither of them retired, they both separated after their initial duty. But they were really very supportive and thought it was a great thing, a great opportunity. You know, I had gotten a scholarship, like I said, for the last two years that helped me a little bit financially. Of course I was just getting loans and grants, you know, to get through school, so that was a help. Then they just—yeah, I think they were real proud of the fact that I was doing that.

HT:

What about your friends? How did they—what did they think?

TR:

It really—my friends ended up being friends that were doing the same thing I was doing. Like I said, my best friend, we were roommates through the rest of the college years together. We were both going in the air force. So most of my friends, you know, in high school, I guess they thought it was a great thing or—you know, I don’t recall them specifically saying anything negative, but they were supportive. But they kind of—you know, those friends kind of also fade away as you start getting on in college and you kind of form that new group. I went away to school so I didn’t go to school where I was—kind of grew up in California, I went north to Fresno. So I didn’t know anybody when I got there, so it was a whole new group of friends and those friends really became, you know, my lifelong friends.

Which my very first person I met in college, in the dorms, her dad—actually one of the things that really kind of pushed me over to the military was her father was a navy officer. He was the navy commander, and he was commander of Lemoore Naval Air Station, which was fairly close to Fresno. And we used to go there for long weekends or just to get away, we’d go down to her house. And I just thought that was the coolest thing. We’d go—he was the base commander so he lived in the base commander’s house, and I’d never been on a military installation before. I was a freshman. This is before I joined ROTC, and it was just like this introduction. She’d take me to the commissary, different places, and I just thought it was the coolest thing that there was this little world out there of people that have their own little world, like a little city within a city. Probably it was just naïveté. I was just fascinated with it.

I mean I didn’t— it’s funny when you look back with like people ask you, “Why did you join the service?”

You’ll say, “Oh, I felt an honor and a calling.”

Not that I think it’s a bad thing, I didn’t really have that. I didn’t feel that or, like I said, have a family history of it. I just started going home with her and it just—I thought “This looks like a really cool thing to do. This looks like a neat way of life and great opportunity and the travelling that they had done.” That really was what had spurred me initially to look into it.

HT:

I think you said—what day did you actually enter the—you graduated and entered the service was—?

TR:

In May of 1984.

HT:

Do you recall what the general population thought about women in the military in the early eighties?

TR:

You know, I don’t recall anything that was seemed negative or anti-women in the military. Thinking back on some of my supervisors and people that I met that were outside of the military, I always felt that it was really positive. I don’t recall anything that was just not a positive experience. You know I never had—it seems like when I met people I told them what I did, they always thought that was such a neat thing, you know. “Oh, you’re serving your country.” I mean I didn’t—I never felt like there was a force against me or people that felt that it wasn’t—female or not, it was—it seemed to be positive. I don’t have any experiences that I can remember where it was anything but.

HT:

Well after you graduated from ROTC, I think you said earlier that you went to a couple of tech schools. Did you get any kind of basic training? Because when I was in the air force I did six weeks of basic training at Lackland [Air Force Base, Texas]—

TR:

Right, right.

HT:

—but as an officer you probably didn’t go through anything like that did you?

TR:

You go through in ROTC at your—before you go into your junior year—between your sophomore year and your junior year, that summer you go to Field Training Camp, is what they call it. And I went to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, went to Field Training Camp. And it’s a six—I believe it’s six weeks—six or eight weeks camp. And its basic training for officers, you know. Of course, talking—later on as I got in the air force, talking to my enlisted members and friends, you know, it was like, “Oh, bunch of wimps, what they went though compared to what we went through.” But not probably quite as intense as basic training that the enlisted force went through, but similar. Up in the morning, people yelling in your face, got to stand at attention the whole time, inspection of the rooms, inspect the beds tight, boots shined. I mean marching, marching, marching all the time. So I actually, I loved it. I had a lot of fun, so I did—and actually that’s where I got my award, my scholarship, was from Field Training Camp. I got the commandant’s—vice commandant’s award, and with that came a scholarship for my last two years of college. So I excelled and loved it and loved marching and always volunteered for everything and liked drilling. I don’t know where all that came from within me. Like I said, I didn’t grow up in a military family, had no brothers, but I just liked it.

HT:

Jusr fell into place.

TR:

Right.

HT:

Can you describe some of the training that you underwent during Field Training Camp?

TR:

Let’s see. I recall a lot of marching, a lot of drilling. You know, drilling where you had to memorize a whole series of commands and then you had to perform those flawlessly without your paper in front of you. So a lot of drilling we did. We did some tours. I was at—like I said, I was at Vandenberg Air Force Base, which was a missile base. So it was really kind of cool, we got to go down to the missile silos and go down—I think it was Minuteman. I should remember, but I don’t remember off the top of my head the silos. I think they were the Minuteman Silos that they had at Vandenberg Air Force Base. That was a really neat experience. I did learn one thing that I said, “I never want to do that job. Whatever that job is, don’t sign me up for that. I don’t want to be a missile man or a missileer,” because I just couldn’t see myself sitting down in one of these. It’s incredible. You get in this elevator shaft thing and you just go down below the earth. I just did not want to be in that enclosed—

HT:

Claustrophobic.

TR:

Yeah, space down below where it’s like you’re down there for twelve or fifteen hour shifts. So I learned really quickly that’s definitely one thing I did not want to do. Which was significant, because as you go into your junior and senior year that’s when you start making your dream list or, you know, your wish list of what you want to be in the air force, the career fields that you would like to go into. So I knew I didn’t want to be a missile person.

Let’s see, what else did we do? Inspections, you know, standard room inspections. And I had a great roommate. She was from Georgia. She—you know, we were kind of the same way. We didn’t either have any military experience, but it was just one of those things where you just pair up with someone. You find out their strengths and their weaknesses. And she was awesome at shining boots and getting the beds perfect, and I was a good organizer and a good ironer, so we just traded off tasks. And we just always had each other’s back. And we always had like the best room and the best inspection because we just really worked together as a team. I remember her. I don’t know whatever became of her. We lost track but I definitely remember Gail—and I think it was Gail Wallen, W-a-l-l-e-n, was her name. And she was just a great person. I thought she was going to win the award when they called the name, matter of fact, because I said, “For sure you’re going to win this award, Gail.” And then when they called my name I was like, “What, I won? You were supposed to win!”

HT:

Oh gosh. And your first assignment, can you describe what that was like after you graduated?

TR:

Well, my first assignment, like I said, it took about ten months to get there because I went through the tech schools. I had gotten into a career field. My career field that I was commissioned into was weapons—air weapons controller. And believe me, I had no earthly idea what that meant. I thought I was going to load bombs on planes. I hadn’t ever heard of this animal before. It was nothing I’d signed up for! [laughs] I think I had put things like public administration, and there was a career field like morale welfare recreation, and there was a couple other—those types of public—public affairs I think was one—another on. Anyways, protocol was kind of what I thought really fit my personality, but I ended up with this air weapons controller.

And actually there was another female that graduated in the same year with me. She had been prior service. She had done four years enlisted and then did the program where she’d come back to school. Of the two women in our class, we got this air weapons controller career field. And we were like, “What’s up with that? What is that? That’s not what we asked for.” So I learned quickly too it doesn’t matter what you put on that piece of paper sometimes, you get what the air force wants you to have or what they need.

HT:

What they need, right.

TR:

Exactly. So we ended up—we didn’t know each other that well. We were in the same class together, but we ended up becoming very, very good friends because we had the same tech schools. And so for the next ten months we ended up being together. We drove from California to Florida together and went across country together and kind of formed this really—this bond and got each other to through tech school and then back to Arizona tech school and then both back to Florida. That was pretty neat to have someone there with you that was going through the same thing.

Very interesting career field. It was probably the most bizarre experience. I remember walking in the first time to what they called the “dark room”. And an air weapons controller is—how I was described to people was basically almost the opposite of what an air traffic controller does. An air traffic controller hopefully keeps planes apart from one another; an air weapons controller, the whole goal is to vector aircraft together for putting bombs on target or in an air combat situation where dissimilar type aircraft would go against one of our friendly forces. And you’re directing the aircraft in for the dog fight so to speak. So that’s what our job was. Again I’m thinking, “How in the world did I ever qualify for this?” because I couldn’t even name—it may embarrass me to say this, but when it came to airplanes, that was not my world. I was not in the aviation world. So it was a great learning curve.

But going into the dark room—because it was a room that was dark—the only thing that had any lighting was the radar scopes that you sat at. So it was very, very dark in there, and they just made these humming noises. And it was just like—I guess it was just like going into a foreign country. It was just all of a sudden you’re in this dark room and there’s radar and there’s this blip going around, and you just like have to—those are airplanes and you have to talk to those people and tell them where to go. And it’s just like, wow. So I was pretty much in the fog for a while. Thank goodness I came out of it. But it was like, “I’m going to do this?” It’s like, “Wow. I don’t know if I can do this.” It’s just like this whole other realm, so it was like being in some kind of foreign country where they’re speaking a foreign language. It really was a whole new language of learning that and talking to aircrafts on a headset and figuring out which one of those blips was the aircraft. So it was just—that was—I mean I remember that walking into that and thinking, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do this.” [laughs]

HT:

And were most of the controllers men, or were there lots of women?

TR:

They had just—I wish I could remember the year. I’d have to go back and remember. But I was what they called the ground controller. AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System] is what they call the airborne warning system which was airborne controllers, and they had just opened up controlling to women just before I got in. I was going to be in a ground controller, and I think there had been women in the ground control field for a little bit longer. But because Air WACS—I mean AWACS was an airborne platform and different combat kind of, I guess, rules attached to it, women had just started getting into AWACS, flying on the AWACS. So there was not a lot. I don’t know the percentage of how—but it was definitely a lower percentage. Like I said, of all of our class, there was—I don’t remember how many females were in our graduating class, but we were the only two that got the assignment. I think, if I can recall the time, they were actually trying to pump—they had just opened the career field not too long ago to women, so they were trying to pump women in the pipeline. So hence I think that’s why we ended up doing what we did. It was just trying to—

HT:

And how long did you do this particular job?

TR:

I stayed in—for about eight years I was in the career field and then got an opportunity to—never was my love. I did it. I think I did it pretty well. I was actually an instructor. My last assignment in the career field I was picked to go back and instruct the new lieutenants coming in who were like me in the fog that didn’t have a clue what they were doing. So I must have progressed to some good level and knew what I was doing. And then did the instructor role and then had an opportunity to cross train out of the career field. It was an opportunity where they were over-manned. We had been critically manned the whole time I was in, and they had told me at the beginning, “You will stay in this for twenty years. You will never get out. You’re in for life,” type thing. And it was one of those things where they actually ended up having an overage, and they kind of let people cross train. But they found out very quickly within like a month period that way too many people went, “Pick me! Pick me! I want out!” And they like kind of shut those gates down real quick, so I was one of the few that—

HT:

That got out.

TR:

—happened to get to cross train and get an opportunity to do something that I like. About half my career, about eight years was a controller.

HT:

And after that what was your next tour?

TR:

I went into the services career field, which was kind of the old—what they used to call MWR, Morale, Welfare, and Recreation. It’s had like a lot of things. It’s evolved and had many different names, but when I came in it was just transitioning. It was still called MWR, and then we were merging and retitling or re-designating it. It was then called Services. So I had my degree from Fresno State in early childhood development, and I got a call on a Monday when I was there as a controller. I was an instructor controller and my boss called me in and said, “I’ve got a call from headquarters and they’re looking for a captain that has experience with or a background in early child development. The air force needs someone to work on child development programs and inspections for child development programs.” Of course, now I’ve been in the operational world. I didn’t even know they had child development in the air force. I was clueless. I was single. I didn’t have kids. I didn’t even know that thing existed, so now I’m going, “Oh my gosh, something new again.” So I said, “Sure. That sounds great. I could go work on the staff,” and that’s how I ended up getting into that career field. And then the opportunity for cross-training was coming about the same time, and I was already stepped into this new career field as kind of a temporary thing. And I said, “I really love this. This is something I love and this is what I have a background in, can I stay in it?” And that’s how I got the opportunity to stay in it.

HT:

And what exactly did you do in this field?

TR:

It was—basically I went from—I went straight into the headquarters, which is not how normal people do anything. But once again, I’m not really—never seem to follow a normal path. Most people start at ground level and learn a skill, and I got selected to go to headquarter staff and do all the inspections of child care facilities throughout the air force. So most every base—not just air force, but I was just air force—but most bases have a—what we call a CDC, a child development center, where they take care of families of military. And they were—the Military Child Care Act of 1989 had just come into effect. This was ‘90—’91 or ’90 when I got the job offer. So it was this huge new Congressional act for military child care. It changed the whole way we do child care. And it like exploded and they needed help and they needed inspectors.

I was—they did a worldwide search, and I think they came up with me and another male captain. And back in those days everybody had a picture. We all had eight by ten photos in our personnel folders. So a lot of times people got jobs—I hate—I mean it’s how it worked, is how you presented and how you looked. And I guess the other officer—the male officer was a bit overweight in his photo and I guess I looked better. [laughs] I don’t know. I can’t believe I said that. But anyways, so because we both had degrees in child development but for whatever reason—I don’t know the exact reason—but I was selected and interviewed and they selected me for the position and [I] got that position.

And that’s what I did. I did one—I did at least—in eighteen months I did seventeen bases. So it was just a, you know, fire hose got there within a week, I was out doing an inspection. It was like, read every regulation you can get in your hands on and go out to Pope Air Force Base and inspect their child development center. It was really cool in a way that I had this degree and never in my wildest dreams, going into the air force, because I didn’t even think that they would even have that. I was in a completely different mindset. You have kind of what they call kind of an operations brain sometimes and you just—that’s what you’re into and you don’t realize the rest of the support tail that helps you and does all these other things on base. So yeah, I got to actually use my degree.

HT:

That’s wonderful

TR:

Which was really a cool thing.

HT:

And did you do this for the rest of your career?

TR:

Yes.

HT:

That’s wonderful.

TR:

Sure did. I did. I didn’t do child development. The career field—that was one tiny piece of the huge services career field. And then [I] worked my way up and learned all the other different aspects of it till I became a commander. It was really neat. It was just one of those things that fell in my lap and it worked out. It was meant to be, I guess.

HT:

If we could backtrack to your days as a controller, were you stationed in more than one place during those eight years?

TR:

Yes. I started at Eglin Air Force Base and then went to Wallace Air Station in the Philippines and then came back to Florida, but came back to Tyndall Air Force Base, where I was an instructor there. So after two assignments came back as an instructor. And then after Tyndall, spent three years there, and then went up to Langley Air Force Base, where I started kind of my new career where I went into services there.

HT:

That’s Langley.

TR:

At Langley.

HT:

In Virginia.

TR:

In the headquarters there, yes. Yeah, that was Air Combat Command, so that was the biggest command in the air force and kind of the—set the tone for the rest of the air force.

HT:

And did you enjoy your stay in the Philippines?

TR:

I loved it. It was a phenomenal year. It was—well I met my husband there. [We’re] still married after eighteen years, so that was a wonderful thing. Just—I lived downtown. I wanted to live on the economy. I didn’t want to live on the base. It was a small site. It was a remote site, so we only had about 170 people on our own little—it was on the northern Luzon Island. Like I said, about 170 people there. Very much imbedded in the—in the Philippines versus down south, which is the huge air force base which was down in Angeles City.

HT:

Clark Air Force Base?

TR:

Clark—thank you. Clark Air Force Base which is huge and it was—you know, a lot of people didn’t know about us because we were about three hours from Clark. We were very close to Bajo [Kima Bajo Recreation Center] which was the resort, which was actually an R&R [Rest and Recreation] I think during World War II. And Bajo Air—Bajo—was it an air base? I guess it was. It was just a recreational site. That’s all it was was recreation. They had golfing and they had indoor skate rink and these wonderful cabins, these little you know wooden cabins that people stayed in, and that was really the R&R. But they had kept it for all these years, and we only were about an hour from there. It was up in the mountains. It was awesome. We could go up on weekends and stay up there. But it was—the people were phenomenal, the Filipino people. I lived, like I said, downtown. I learned to cook. I lived kind of with the people. I shopped downtown. Saturday mornings I shopped for all my vegetables in the open market. It was just this—we had the ocean. I kept saying, “I can’t believe the air force was paying me to be here.” It was crazy—crazy they were paying me to be there. But I learned how to scuba dive. I mean, we just made the most. In a year’s time, I did so much stuff.

HT:

And you say you met your husband in the Philippines?

TR:

Yes.

HT:

Was he in the military as well?

TR:

We were doing—he was a controller also.

HT:

Controller, okay.

TR:

Yeah. It was a really small radar site. We were literally on the edge of the map. I mean we were on the—what you call—the cliff. I mean literally we had our radar site with the big dome and then the cliff was there. We were basically watching—that was back in the eighties where we were still watching the Bears and the Badgers, the bombers come from Vietnam flying across. So we were—that was our whole role with the Filipino air force to monitor the Badger and the Bear flights as they were coming over to make sure they weren’t having any suspicious activity or coming too close, you know, they had to stay within their airspace restrictions and all that.

HT:

In the eight years you were a controller, anything unusual happen, any outstanding events?

TR:

Whew. Unusual. No, just some—I mean there were some really good experiences. It wasn’t really my—I don’t want to say I didn’t love it, but I did it and I learned it to the best of my ability. I was deployed during the Iran-Iraq War [Gulf War] over to Saudi Arabia, and that was—the event was called Elf One—or the mission that we were on was called Elf One, was the name for the mission. And we were in Riyadh Air Base, Saudi Arabia, and I got to, you know, meet some significant people. I got to brief a Saudi general officer on our mission, although he couldn’t look at me while I briefed him, because he can’t look at a female, so that was interesting. [laughs]

HT:

I was going to ask you. They have such unusual—

TR:

And I had to be—yes.

HT:

—rules and things. Did you have to dress differently while you were in Saudi Arabia?

TR:

Yes. Yes, we did. We had to cover. We had to wear the abaya, which is the robe, which is black and it covers you all the way down to your ankles. We had to ride in the back of the bus. So I mean it’s—but to me I guess I look at life is that was a phenomenal experience. I absolutely loved it. It was everything—I tried to do everything I could do to experience the culture that we were allowed to do, you know, and pushed every limit I could just to go downtown. And weren’t supposed to take pictures, but kind of snuck my camera downtown and I was really careful. And I actually asked the Saudis in the Souqs—in the Gold Souqs if I could take—I did ask them, and actually some of them stood next to me and I got pictures with them in the gold Souks, which is like, you weren’t supposed to do that—

HT:

What is that?

TR:

—at all. They’re open market. They’re like going to a market but it’s all gold and it’s just hanging out. It just hangs. There’s no bars, it’s just there. It’s everywhere. I mean it’s just 24 and 18 carat gold of like row after row after row these Gold Souqs. But if you steal in Saudi Arabia, of course, you get your hand cut off, so there’s a huge deterrent to steal. They don’t have a lot of stealing going on. But we went down to the Souqs. I went down to the square where they beheaded people. The Americans call that Chop Chop Square.

HT:

Oh my gosh.

TS:       I was the only female because they’d behead people on Fridays, because that’s their holy day, of course,  in Islamic countries. So they pray in the mosques, and then they come out in the central area downtown, which the Americans would call the Chop Chop Square. I don’t know what the technical name of it was, but it was kind of the city hall area, and they would pray. So the Americans like we are, we of course need the front row seats, so we get there early. And they would come out of the mosques and get like—you just get mobbed. But on Friday women aren’t allowed out in Islamic countries because it’s their holy day. So pretty much there was about five thousand people, and pretty much you could pick me out because I was the only woman there. But we were allowed to be as Americans just the Saudi women can’t be out.

So we—I’ll tell you about this one experience because it’s probably the most significant. We’re there early and we were up against these cement cylinders that blocked you off from the area where this event was going to take place. And when they came out of the mosque it was like being mobbed, and I just—there was just people everywhere around me, just Saudis and everyone speaking in—I asked the guy, because I’d gone with like four males from the base, and I said—because they had their arm behind me to kind of like back people off. Well it wasn’t their arm, it was all these people around me. The guards that are walking around had sub-machine guns, and they started waving these guns and they started doing [gibberish] in whatever they were speaking. And within seconds all the sudden it was like one of those things that you like drop something and all these people behind me created this—they all moved. [laughs] And I just had this enormous space around me. It was like they just went swoop, and I had like this semi-circle around me with like nobody was near me. So whatever they said, they basically said “back off.” I guess is what they said in so many words. And then they pointed to me with their guns and told me to come with them. Okay. This is, I’m thinking, not good. But I thought, “I better do whatever they say.” So I just followed. And I had my head thing on. I had covered—I always covered my hair and I was all covered. And I went—they took me down in front of everything else and had me sit down there in front of all the cement blockage, and then I was all by myself. And I sat down there for the event. That’s where they had me sit and stay.

HT:

So you actually witnessed—

TR:

Oh yeah. We all saw it. And there was two beheadings that day.

HT:

Oh my god.

TR:

But I got the newspaper—because I’m like real thorough. I got the newspaper clippings the next day. Both of them had murdered someone, and they believe in an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and that’s what they did. So that was probably the most significant event that I can remember. It had nothing to do with controlling, but it’s where I ended up being. And being in that country and experiencing the culture, I wanted to experience everything about it.

HT:

And how long were you there?

TR:

Just ninety days. It was a ninety day rotation. So ninety days. We were in a hotel, the Al-Yamama Hotel. And once we were in the hotel, we could—we didn’t have to be covered up, you know, but we still had to be careful because Saudis came through and Saudis maintained our hotel. You had to go through a cultural briefing, and you had to understand what was offensive to them, and you had to just—that was the way it was. And I got hit with—the religious police are called the Mutaween, and they whacked me a few times. Even though I was covered, you know, the prayer time they would—certain—they have to—I forget how many times a day they pray but whatever, it was a prayer time and we were out, which you were allowed to be, but they didn’t like it. And they would come up with that little stick they carry and they’d whack me. They’d just whack people! I thought, “Ow!” [laughs]

HT:

Across the backside?

TR:

Yeah, like your leg, you know. Like they just—I guess because they can. I don’t know.

HT:

That’s wild. Well I’m assuming you didn’t do a lot of touristy-type things there.

TR:

Not really, but that was the time where it was pretty safe. They had a mall. We’d go to the mall. We went to eat downtown. We had to be careful, because one day I walked in and just kind of plopped down—like if this was the restaurant, forgetting where I was. I guess I forgot for a moment, and I was like yelled at and people were saying things and—well because the women have to eat in the back, have to eat in a separate room. They can’t eat with the men. I’d just forgotten, forgotten my head. They called them family rooms, and they were in the back. So even though I was with all male—you always had to have at least three escorts, male escorts with you. You couldn’t go with one because it was assumed that if you were one male that you were married to that male. And you had to be real careful, and they didn’t hesitate by throwing you into jails and stuff. Even as Americans, we had to be really careful about what we said and did. So you always travelled several males together—me and three or four other guys, and then just we had to be careful where we—like I said, I was not thinking that day and I should’ve been in the back room, but I just forgot. But they reminded me very quickly though where I was at and what I needed to do.

HT:

Were you resentful because you had to do all these special things because you were a woman?

TR:

You know it never—I wasn’t resentful. I kind of felt—I think I felt bad more for like their women. But then, you know, when you really think about it, you think that’s their way of life. I don’t know if I should feel bad for them. I felt like, “Gosh are they missing opportunities and not—?” You know, I would sit in the back of that bus with the other women that were—I would usually be like the only American, and I would be with the other Saudi women, and they would be completely covered, you know. I don’t know how they could even walk because they wear black covering their entire face. But they knew who I was. I mean they knew I didn’t belong, and they’d always like try to touch my hair. I was told that my color hair brought them good luck if they touched it, so I started wearing veils and I covered up a little bit more on my head. I didn’t cover my face. But it was just so different. It just seemed so restrictive as a female to live in that kind of culture, and you always go, “Do they love it or do they just do it because that’s all they’ve ever known?” If it’s all you’ve ever known, you don’t know any different. Then you don’t really feel bad for them because it’s like that’s their way of life, you know.

HT:

Well, you often wonder—at least I often wonder, once they’re exposed to all kinds of things via TV, especially American TV, so you begin to wonder how do they feel about this really?

TR:

Right. Do they really want that life style or is that, you know—do they feel oppressed? I can’t imagine that they have to walk so many paces behind the male. I mean there’s—it’s so restrictive. It’s so like—so foreign to me—so foreign to us, just riding behind in the back of that bus. Of course, we never—they never paid so I never paid because—the guys had to pay. There was a little drop box. But I just “do in Rome as the Romans do.” So the women would get off the bus and wouldn’t drop their little coins. So I thought, “Well if they don’t have to pay, I’m don’t have to pay, I guess.” So we never had to pay. So I guess you have to look at the advantages. [laughs] I don’t know. But yeah, it was very foreign. It was so, so extreme—so, so extreme way of life. Just unbelievable, you know. But I personally didn’t feel—I didn’t feel—I just took it as: this is what we need to do in their country. This is what they expect from us. Sometimes I’d think, “God, it’s so hot. I don’t want to wear that black thing.” You know sometimes you were like, “Ugh” kind of because it was warm. I was there during the summer. But it was just like, “I’m here as Americans. We’re in their country. We have to respect their rules, and that’s what they want us to do. They might live maybe a double life somewhere else, but that’s not for me to say or judge.” This is what they expected us to do, so we did. It was cool.

HT:

That’s a very interesting story. Any other interesting stories during your time as a controller?

TR:

Not that topped that one! [laughter]

HT:

Did you go on any other TDY [temporary duty assignment]?

TR:

Yeah, did quite a bit of TDY. I was, like I said, in a ground unit, and we were deployed a lot. We—probably my most significant airplane story—airplane ride was leaving Florida in a C-130 with jump seats. So if you’ve never seen that before, ridden on that, most people like go, “Wow.” And [we] flew to Korea. So we flew from Florida across the United States, and then the United States up through—I believe we went through Alaska, then to Japan, and down to Korea. It took us about two and a half days on web jump seats. No air control, no—that was like a very unbelievable flight. People I told that are like, “No way did you fly that far.” But that’s how we travelled because I was in a ground—a mobile unit. And really actually in the ground [tacts?], that again I really think they were really trying to pump more women into that.

HT:

Like in Germany that one time.

TR:

Yeah. It’s unbelievable. I’d be in a foxhole with my M-16 [rifle] and thinking, “Did I join the army or the air force?” [laughs] You know, looking down at the uniform I’m pretty sure it’s air force, but I felt like—I’m like, “Is this what the air force does?” Because you know you have a certain image I guess or a perception of what I thought I was going to do in the air force or, you know it’s like, ‘”The army guys, they’re the ones that sit in those foxholes, not us air force people.” But oh, no. So we lived in pup tents. That’s how we lived. We—it—

HT:

This is in Korea?

TR:

In Korea and in the States when we deployed. Yeah, we went to Korea. It was cold. We had larger tents, but it was snowy. It was cold. We went there in February, and it was cold in Korea. So we were on an army post for thirty days and put up our tents. And other times we deployed locally around the United States, we lived, usually, in small tents, usually pup tents on the grounds. It was pretty rough. Thinking back, it was pretty rough for what I expected, I guess, but I learned a lot. I learned how to be tough and that kind of thing.

HT:

Camping’s always fun.

TR:

Always fun. [HT laughs] With ants—oh, and then when it rains it’s even more fun: wet boots, wet BDU’s [battle dress uniform], camouflage uniform nice and wet. It’s a lot of fun, yeah. [laughter]

HT:

Oh gosh. Let’s go ahead and jump forward to your time you were in services. Any outstanding experiences there that you can recall?

TR:

I mean—

HT:

No more trips to Saudi Arabia?

TR:

No, not to Saudi. [I] got deployed during Allied Force. [I] was deployed to Germany during that and worked in the Crisis Action Team they called “The CAT”, which was—I was down below the ground in basically just a big hub center of everything that was going on during [Operation] Allied Force. Every—you know, from transportational logistics, to lodging our troops, everything—all the parts and pieces that were making that war happen. I was—the service is part of that, which was a lot of the lodging and figuring out where we’re going to be people down and how they were going to wash their clothes and those things that were affecting people’s lives, so that was very interesting. And then my other deployment was—would’ve been towards the tail end of my career, which was when I went to Afghanistan. So I was deployed during the War on Terrorism to Afghanistan.

HT:

What’d you do there?

TR:

My job title—I worked for the oper—the Office of the Ministry of Defense and basically—gosh, it’s such a convoluted—what I did. I did everything. But I went there to be a mentor, which was another interesting experience because when I read the job title I thought, “I’m going to mentor Afghan officers?” I’m thinking, “First of all, I don’t speak the language. And last time I was in a country that was Islamic, they didn’t look at me.” So I’m thinking, “This isn’t going to work real well.” But that was my title: I was going to be a mentor. I didn’t have much other information about the job when I got there, but ended up being a mentor, but also ended up working with helping them incorporate civilians into their Afghan National Army, in the civilian personnel system, and creating, building, molding from the ground up, from basic job descriptions civilian personnel into their—because their air—ANA, the Afghan National Army, was one 100 percent military. They couldn’t have that concept that they could have a civilian working in their military system. That wasn’t a concept they could even fathom.

HT:

Where in Afghanistan were you stationed?

TR:

I was at Kabul, the capital. Yeah.

HT:

And what was that like, living in another Islamic country?

TR:

Well different times, obviously, you know, we carried a weapon 24/7—a little bit more of that. You had that element going on. In Saudi we didn’t have—that wasn’t the environment where now we’re in really a war zone. So felt overall pretty safe, but it was just—we went out. I had to work, go to the Ministry of Defense Office, not daily but for a lot of meetings, so of course you’re out on the road a lot travelling. There’s always those thoughts in your head. It was probably, for me, in twenty one years, it was definitely—actually, it was not probably—definitely the most rewarding experience I had in the service.

HT:

That was in the early nineties, I guess.

TR:

It was—I deployed in—no, 2004—actually 2004, the year before I retired. It really culminated for me my service. It was—I felt honored. I mean, probably most people don’t feel that way. It was—it was just really an honor to serve over there just because of what I was asked to do, and it was a really humbling experience. It was very different than Saudi. I mean when I was there, of course I was doing very different things, but I really felt that what we were doing as Americans, as service people, civilians, military, that we were really making a difference and we were really there to help the Afghan people and to help their army do what they needed to do to train and be equipped to take on the role so we could back out of that. And for them to be self-sufficient within their military was what our whole goal was, going in there to do that. I felt hugely rewarded, and I could really see—I didn’t know that much about Afghanistan. Afghanistan was not in the media that time, you know, because it was all—it was pretty positive, so that wasn’t something the media wanted to report on, I guess, so most of it was all about Iraq. But there were so many positive things that we were doing over there. Like I said, I got to be a mentor. While I was there I really tried to get involved in a few of the things. And a big one the females, they really needed some female mentorship. So one of the gals that had taken over that mentoring group, she was deploying or re-deploying back and asked me if I wanted to take over, and so I stepped up to the plate and said, “I’ll do the mentor job.” And we met with a small group of women. There was only—actually two general officers in the Afghan National Army, and I got to mentor one of the generals.

HT:

Female general officers?

TR:

Yes. There was two, yeah. She was in the nursing field, the other one was in aviation. I never got to meet her. I saw her from a distance one day. She had jump wings, but I never got to meet her. And then I mentored a lieutenant colonel, who was a nurse. She was the primary one because she wanted to—I was also working on casualty issues with them as part of the whole—I’m stepping back, sorry.

Once the general that was in charge of us—the two star general found out my background, they initially put me in like political military liaison. And I like—that was not my area of expertise at all going there deployed. But they said I was supposed to do it, so I started doing my research trying to figure out what we’re gong to do in that arena. And during that time, the general had interviewed me and found out that my background was in services and has to do with families and support, and he wanted me to work on a family support program and help the national—the officers, especially the ones that were killed during the war, to help their spouses and families get some sort of financial—like we give casualty assistance and even getting their bodies back. I mean basic stuff like that, which was like, wow, that was a big bite of an elephant to have to start chewing off. So I started working on those programs, and one of the officers, she ended up was kind of designated on her side of this Ministry of Defense to help me and for us to meet and to figure—start figuring out some stuff. But I mean just one of the challenges is the language barrier. Obviously, I don’t speak Dari and they don’t speak English. So we—I had to learn to speak through an interpreter, so everywhere we went we took interpreters with us. They travelled with us. They were hired by our government, and you had to learn to speak through an interpreter, which is different.

HT:

How were you treated by the local Afghans?

TR:

Phenomenal. I mean they were—they were like—they loved us. They loved Americans. They loved military. They didn’t care—and being a female, they—I never ever felt at all that—they had ultimate respect for me in what I did, and they even told me that. It was so different walking in. When I walked into that Ministry of Defense the first time, I mean it’s a building—because there are very few, very few women—there obviously were only two in, you know—I would usually be the only female in that whole building in there, as you walked through. So of course you get a lot of looks. I mean I’m in uniform and I’m strapping a weapon, you know, all that. But they were so respectful. They—it was amazing. It really was amazing. And I was in these rooms, in these briefings and meetings with general officers, I mean general Afghan officers. It was like you’re thinking, “This is not really happening.” [laughter]

[End CD 1—Begin CD 2]

HT:

Okay.

TR:

One of my meetings was with the Ministry [minister] of Defense. I mean he was like one of the top—like way up there, you know, like right next to [Hamid] Karzai. So it was hugely humbling that he would take the time to meet with me and listen to what I had to say and try to understand. It was difficult. They really—it was taking a lot to get them to understand the concept of having civilians in their military, but they were open to it. They wanted to learn. They wanted to know. They wanted our advice. They wanted our opinion. They wanted our help.

So it was—they were hospitable. You drink—I learned to drink a lot of hot green tea there. Because in the Afghan, like a lot of other countries, you first do a lot of hospitality stuff before you ever get to a meeting. So a lot of times we never got to the meeting. [laughs] You’d have to come back. It’s like, “Oh my gosh. We have to have another meeting and come back because we never even got to the meeting,” you know. We never got past the hospitality part of it. But that’s just the way they are, and you just have to know that. You just have to take a deep breath. So you drink a lot of tea and sharing—you tell about your family and, “How are you?” and the—again, talking through the interpreter. Some of the more senior officers had been educated in Europe and spoke—had really good command of the English language. Some did, but most did not so—you know, speaking through the interpreters.

And then one day when I was there they asked us to stay. The meeting or the non-meeting had gone so long they said, “Oh, stay for lunch.” And you know, we always were like, “We’ve got stuff to do. We’ve got to get back. We’ve got to—,” but you can’t do that. You can’t say no. If they ask you to stay for lunch or have tea, it’s always yes. Because it’s seen as, like in a lot of countries, very rude to turn something down, so of course we’re going to stay for lunch. Which is a phenomenal experience because we actually ate—they had us go and eat in the general’s dining room, and it was all general officers. So there was—believe me, there was no women in there. And I was really hesitant because I’d only been in country, gosh, only maybe a couple days, maybe a week or so. And I kept thinking, again being a female, that’s not where—I wouldn’t dine with males. And I kept thinking, “Sure I can go eat with them?” And they’re like, “Therese, it’s fine.” Anyways—
And I walked in and there’s a three-star that came up and greeted me and said, “Colonel Robinson, we’re so happy to have you here.” And there’s a three-star general officer, you know, in their army. It was like amazing. And sat me down at the head table and there was one seat, and he was introducing me to everybody. And he told me where I was sitting. I was sitting in the chief of staff’s seat. And I about died.  I thought, “I need to move!” And he’s like, “Its fine. It’s okay. He’s not dining today for lunch. You can sit in his seat.” Because rank is very important to them, extremely important to them. So it was amazing. So we ate and—I mean it was this beautiful room and they had people serving. It’s amazing, just sat there and ate with all these—this snapshot of history, you know, that I got to do.

So yeah, that whole time, even though it was a short time, it was like the things that I think I was exposed to and that I got to do and that I had an opportunity. And then mentoring the women, I created a small women’s group, whoever wanted to come, anybody that—any female Afghan that worked for the department, for their army, that supported it, we met and we just talked about their issues, like they didn’t wear their uniforms to work yet. They were still working on that, feeling comfortable coming downtown in their uniforms. I never saw any of their officers in their uniforms, they wore civilian clothes. So talking about their issues and trying to help them, you know, I’d just try to encourage them and tell them they had such great spirit and they were so willing to make this work, and most of them had their husbands had been killed in the war already, they had children that had been killed, and they just had a great spirit. They were amazing, amazing people that I got to meet. So it just was an absolutely phenomenal experience.

HT:

You said that was your—part of your last duty.

TR:

Yeah. That was the year before I retired.

HT:

Was it a good way to get out?

TR:

It was, it was. Just, you know—and going there I had no idea what I was going to do, and then the other—one other thing that I did over there too, since I had a background in child development, is I started emailing everybody in the world I could think of and asking them to send—well first of all, I wanted to go and see—they said they had child development centers—very loosely I use those words—in Afghan. And I said, “Let’s find them.” So I went and started finding out where they were in my off—we had one day off—and going to look at the facilities and see what they needed. Of course, they need—they were literally a room with a cement floor and no toys and some old rickety beds and nothing, and then just these kids in these rooms. So I just took on this as best as I could in this short period of time in this place to try to get them help.

We took on one facility, and I got a group of people together, volunteers. On our day off we went—I got paint and we went downtown, pulled that off. That was a little bit scary. Went downtown and got—because we were not allowed to go downtown like shopping or anything. We were not allowed downtown. But we managed to get some paint and fix it up. And I got the guys, we got screens. We fixed the windows because there were flies there, They had no screens or anything. And got as many people from the states I could [to] start sending me, basically, a lot of diapers and wipes. They didn’t know what a wipe was. They didn’t know what a baby wipe was, so when I brought them the first time they were like—so I had so show them what you do with it and diapers. So we got toys. I mean stuff just started coming in, and we did as much as we could in that period of time to give them.

They were—oh, it’s like I get emotional when I talk about it. But it was just—they were so overwhelmed by it all. And the kids, I have great pictures with the kids and holding the kids. I mean they’re just dirty and they don’t have shoes and, you know, just so poor, just dirt poor and have nothing. But they’re so grateful for the smallest thing you can bring them. So yeah, I did as much as—they were not really happy when I left. The women all had given me a party the last meeting we got together. And they were all crying and they were telling me I couldn’t leave. It was heartbreaking because it was like we’d just really started this group. And I just tried to pass it on to somebody else. But you do what you can, and, you know, I told them I had to go back to what I had to do and my family. You know, I left three little kids behind while I came there, and that kind of thing, so—

HT:

Would you like to go back one day?

TR:

Yeah. I guess it was different, but it’d be neat. I mean I tried. I had emails, and at first I thought I’d try to stay in contact with some of them, but the officers that I knew that were there that were doing my job, they rotate so often and then that—the farther you get away from it, then it just kind of—yeah. I think it would be neat. I mean, I—you know, I’ve written some names down, I actually journaled. I actually brought my journal. I journaled everyday when I was there, and it’s a pretty incredible journal. I mean—well I think it is, because you forget so much. And I wrote down names of everybody and my accounts everyday of what I did and where I was and specifically what I had done the whole time and different quotes and different things that I saw, so that was really—that was neat. I’m really glad I took the time, you know, to stay up late at night and write down every day everything I experienced and everything that I saw, because it’s a neat way to go back and look at it. It’d be neat to go back.

HT:

Now you were married during this entire time so—

TR:

Yes.

HT:

—where was your husband? Was he back in the States at a different duty station?

TR:

Yeah. When I was actually deployed to Germany in the Allied Force, he was already deployed. So we had kind of a dual deployment thing that was a little difficult. My children were eighteen months and three-and-a-half years old.

HT:

Oh my gosh.

TR:

So I called my sister from California and she had flown out to Georgia in twenty-four hours, because I had like a forty-eight hour notice that I was to deploy. It was really quick notice. She dropped what she was doing in her life and came and picked up my kids and flew them back to California. About five thousand dollars later in plane tickets, I went to Germany. And then during—he had just retired, so my husband retired after thirty years in the air force. So he had already retired when I ended up being—our last duty assignment Langley, and then I went to Afghanistan. So he was, you know, he was a civilian and working, so my daughter was then born. She was eighteen months when I went to Afghanistan—actually she turned two. I was reading my journal and her birthday was when I was in the plane flying over there because remember saying, “I’m missing your birthday this year.” But so she turned two and I went over there. And so then he was there.

HT:

That must have been very difficult to leave such small children.

TR:

Yeah, it was. That was probably the hardest part, you know, leaving. And you always have—you try not to think of, “What happens if I don’t come back?” but that’s always there in your mind. And you can’t dwell on it too much, but it’s always a thought, you know. And so that’s why I journaled too. I thought, “Journal [and] my kids will always know my experiences and that type of thing.”

HT:

That’s wonderful. Well if we could backtrack just a little bit, now you were in the air force during the Balkan Wars [Yugoslav Wars] in the early nineties and the Persian Gulf. How did that affect your work, do you recall? You were probably a controller at that time, I would imagine.

TR:

I had just—I was actually in the services career field at that time. So yeah, I guess, especially when I went over there to Germany, just learn—just really understanding and—I guess the biggest thing is you just have to take on so much more. Because as we saw in the air force, as those different conflicts were coming and we were deploying more and more people and for a longer period of time, the air force was trying to figure all that out too. And how do we keep the home force functioning and going and working, and how do we then take these people out of that and put them over here and keep all those parts moving on both fronts? So I think the biggest thing that we all started experiencing is like, “Wow, we have to do a lot more with a lot less.” We had to really pick up the slack, so to speak, for thosee troops that went or when I went. You know, I went when I was actually a deputy—a deputy. For me to leave my position and be gone, someone had to do that work. That wasn’t—there wasn’t a back fill for that. Or I think we’ve matured better now in the air force. We—that’s part of what they’re doing is the rotation. And how that all works now is that—so it doesn’t affect so much the home front. But it does affect it hugely. I mean there’s—you know, there’s just a huge gap there when you deploy a base. And a lot of folks, you know it’s tough on them. When I deployed to Afghanistan I was a commander—you know, I was a services commander so I had a squadron of eight hundred people that I was in charge of. And the theory used to be not to deploy those kinds of people in those roles because they felt taking them out was too significant. But you know it’s like, “Oh well.” We all had to do our time, and it works okay. You—the people that you work with learn to pick up and take over, and you have someone that—a deputy that takes their job and my job, so she had to do double whammy when I was gone. But I think that’s the biggest thing that—you know—you learn during that deployment phase is you just—everybody has to step up and do more or work longer hours. So families I think suffer on both fronts, to a certain degree. You know, the support piece.

HT:

What was the hardest thing you ever had to do physically while you were in the service?

TR:

Physically? [pauses] That’s a tough question. [laughs] I mean I can’t think of anything that was super significant. I—you know, I’ve been a person that’s always worked out all my life and I’ve always been in shape, so as far as the physical aspect of running and push-ups and sit-ups and all that, I was—actually I was scored really high because I wanted to be on the A team there. Probably the hardest thing was maybe during Field Training Camp we had like an obstacle course to go through. [laughs]

And then I went—then when I— that reminds me of something. When I was at Tyndall Air Force Base and I was an instructor controller, I volunteered—remember I told you about that Field Training Camp, that summer camp? Well at Tyndall we hosted that camp. So when I was a captain and I was an instructor they had asked for volunteers, people that wanted to, for that summer camp, do like training officer and that. So I’m like—I’m always about opportunities, so I said, “Ooh, I’ll do it,” because I got to wear shorts and a t-shirt and a baseball cap for eight weeks at the summertime, and I was out of my job. Of course my boss didn’t like that, but they let me go. So I was—did the training. I was on the training staff for the ROTC cadets. So of course part of that is, “Well if they’re going to run the obstacle course, I’m going to get out there and do it. You know, I need to do it.” So that goes back to the obstacle course. That was probably the most challenging because there were just physically things that just I could not [do]. I would’ve had to train and work at, and some of those obstacles I just physically could not do it.

But sometimes just the long hours, I guess. Remember, working twelve, fifteen, eighteen hour shifts and that type of things, I guess, probably. Not that it was physically difficult, but more probably mental of trying to, you know—especially during deployments where you’re just tasked to do a lot and asked to do a lot. And that’s what everybody did. So you know, just some long, long, long, long hours.

HT:

What was the hardest thing you ever had to face emotionally?

TR:

The hardest thing I ever had to face emotionally was when I thought I was going to be fired. I was a commander and I was called in by the wing commander, and basically—in so many words she brought me in unannounced and sat me down in her office and closed the door and slammed me and basically told me that I was the worst commander she’d ever worked with. I mean I just out of the blue I had gotten this. I couldn’t speak, basically. And I never to this day know what—why she did it, what prompted that. And I have my feelings about it. But when I left her office after she berated me unbelievably, to the point where I couldn’t speak, and I just asked her if I could be dismissed when it was over.

Of course when I left I was very emotional, and I just went home and I decided that, “You know what, I think that person wanted—wants to fire me for some reason I’ll never know,” because I thought at that point I had done a fabulous job. She’d never had said anything. She’d always commented on the great job I was doing, and I had great reports. I had sterling reports. And I just decided that I had to figure it out, and I had to just—the old pull yourself up by the bootstraps. I called a meeting with my staff I said, “I don’t know what’s going on, but I need you guys to huddle around me. We need to—I need your support. We need to like knock her socks off and do everything we can do to stay in good graces with her as a unit, as a group.” I pretty much told them what—kind of what—I didn’t tell them exactly what she said because it was kind of a personal thing, but just said we needed to pull together. And I just decided that I was going to do—that person was not going to get her way, whatever that was, that I was going to overcome that and figure it out. I really don’t know physically or mentally what I did. I just mentally said, “I’m going to work harder. How, I don’t know”  because I was separated from my family at that time. My husband was—unfortunately didn’t have a job with me, so we were doing a family separation. I was there with the kids by myself, no husband. I was a commander, so I was burning the midnight oil. I was working my tail off and—

HT:

This is—you’re in the services area?

TR:

Right. I was in Kirkland Air Force Base. And I said, “You know what, I’m going to beat it. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what’s crawled into her or whatever’s going on, but I’m going to figure this out, because first of all I don’t deserve to fired. I’m a good commander. I’m—my troops love me. And I don’t know what’s going on. There’s something else behind that scene that’s motivating her to do whatever she said.” And so I did, and it—

HT:

So you were able to turn it around?

TR:

I did. And I got—actually I wanted to stay another year because my husband finally got an assignment there after we’d been separated for a year, and I didn’t want to leave because then we were going to be off track. And so I asked permission from higher ups to stay for another year, which commanders don’t normally do that, and they granted me to stay the third year to be the commander. And one day we’re in the car and I finally just—and it was about a year later, and I remember the day that I had walked into her office and did it. She was she goes, “You remember that day?”
I said, “Yeah. It’s ingrained in my brain,” I said, “the things that you said to me.” I said, “I just have one question for you, whatever it was,” I said, “is: what do you think of me now?”

And she just said—she basically turned it all around, so I don’t know. It was the most bizarre experience I’ve ever had. I’ve never felt that way in my life of someone looking at you and telling you that everything—I swore I thought she’d asked the wrong person to come in the room, that she definitely must have been confused. “You know, this is not me you’re talking to; this is not my performance level.”

HT:

Now was it your performance level alone, or was it the performance level of the—

TR:

No, it was me. It was all me. She based it all on me. It was nothing—but she never told me like, you know—and I’ve got pretty thick skin. It’s like tell me I messed this up and I did that and I’ll own it. But she never could identify. All she told me was she just attacked me as a person and just said that I didn’t care about my troops, I—just like to the core attacked me, like unbelievable, because I have huge passion for what I did and my troops and I would do anything for them. And that I didn’t take care of people. It was just like this most—it was just—yeah, it was a very incredible experience. But I just tried to take it.

And actually it was interesting because I was getting on a plane. That was like four o’clock in the afternoon on the Friday when she called me in—or was it Thursday? My sister—I had already had plane tickets to go home. My son—my nephew’s graduation—she was having a graduation for him, a party and everything, and I didn’t get on the plane because I just—I called. I couldn’t even talk I was emotional. But I just called my sister and said, “I’m not coming. I can’t even begin to explain why I’m not coming. I know you’re not going to understand. The whole family’s going to be there, I really want to be there, but I can’t.” I said, “There’s something going on here right now with me and this job that I feel if I leave I’m not going to—I will be fired. She’ll find a reason that I’ve left the town, I’ve left the city, I’ve gone off to do something that’s not—you know, neglecting my responsibilities whatever,” even though I had it all approved and I was going on leave. I never left. I just abandoned the tickets. I just—I stayed there and I said, “I’ve got to figure this out. And, you know, I’m not going to let her get the best of me.”

So it was interesting because I had several female bosses that were colonels, and I had probably the most difficult time working for them. I don’t know. It was just—I’ll never—I’ve tried to evaluate it and I have my own thoughts about that sometimes. But most of the ones that I had the most difficult—that we—I mean I usually can get along with everyone—that we hit heads on with, is—not that I hit heads with them, but they had something going on—was the ones that never had kids or were single and never married. And I don’t know that their career was their life, and I don’t—I think it was hard for them to see other females with other things in their life. I don’t want to use the word they were “jealous.” I don’t know what the right word is, but it was—they just weren’t understanding of that.

HT:

They were not sympathetic or empathetic.

TR:

Right. And I have a couple female officers now that are colonels and they’ve said the same thing, that they have young children like me—one that we went through Air War College together. We were both pregnant at the same time there at New Mexico. And it’s just—they—it’s just different, you know. It’s—they just don’t have that empathy or they can’t understand, I guess, why you would want to have children in the service or whatever it was. But there was this kind of rift thing it felt like, this underlying current sometimes, the way that—which is so unusual because I felt more—I’ll use the word “discrimination,” for lack of a better word, with other females that were my bosses than I ever felt with the male boss.

HT:

I was going to ask you next: did you ever—were you ever the subject of any kind of discrimination because you were female?

TR:

Never. But that, I don’t know what that was. I definitely felt that, that situation with her, that boss. [It is] interesting because when she went on the next assignment she was actually fired, so I find that significant. Not that it means anything, but sometimes I just wonder about the person, who she was and what her motivation was and why she did that and why she could never tell me what—why she would do that to me. But just, yeah, so I don’t know. That’s not discrimination, but it was a form of discrimination, I guess.

HT:

Almost sort of a reverse-type situation.

TR:

And I did have several—uniquely that some of my bosses were female because of the career field I was in, and then some of the bases I was at. They weren’t bases where they were in charge of aircraft, because for so many years women couldn’t be because you had to be a fighter pilot to be in charge of a base that had fighter aircraft. So I was at bases that were more support roles. So that base actually had three female wing commanders back-to-back, which was unheard of. You never saw that. And I worked for all three of them. So it was—that was interesting. I always found that very—and comparing notes with other women my age that were my friends, other like lieutenant colonels, we have similar stories, because all my friends have young children. We all had children later in life. I mean I had my—and that’s one thing, because I was pregnant with my daughter. I got pregnant right after 9/11 [September 11, 2001]. And I thought that—could never prove it, of course, but I think once she found I was pregnant, I don’t think she wanted me in that position.
And it’s funny because the very first time I was pregnant I had just gotten a new job, I had just—this colonel, this male colonel, had just hired me. I was brand new in the services career field, and he hired me to be his executive officer at headquarters. Which is a pretty—you know, it’s a pretty high level. I mean one of the top bosses, you’re their executive officer so [you’re] in the lime light. And I was honored to have that job, but a week later I found I was pregnant. And I thought, “That’s it. He’s going to fire me, I know it. He’s going to let me go because he’s going to think I’m not going to be able to work hard, you know.” So I went in and I just said—I just had to tell him, so I said “Sir,” I said, “I totally understand. I know executive officers have to work long hours and we have to work weekends, and I’m pregnant. I think I can do it, I know I can do it, but I understand if you want to pick someone else.”

And he said, “No. You can do it, Therese. No problem.”

You know, so it was like—for me I think I experienced sometimes the reverse discrimination or whatever that was. I had more issues with my female bosses than I ever did with any of my male bosses, you know. And I had all of my children, all three of my kids, in the service. I just did my job and went back to work. And twice I was a commander when I had children. It just worked out that way, which is a lot on my plate but was able to manage it.

HT:

That is amazing. You were in there for twenty-one years, I think you said earlier.

TR:

Yes.

HT:

What kind of changes did you see in the air force over your twenty-one year career?

TR:

Just in general, you mean general changes?

HT:

Yeah, or specific things.

TR:

I think the air force—some of the things that I saw was in the area of education. I think we became—although the air force was pretty good, I guess, compared to other services when I first came in with education, I think they really started putting emphasis on it, especially for the enlisted troops. And, you know, paying for their education or more towards the education and letting—you know, making sure that those of us that were bosses, so to speak, were making sure that their troops had time to do off-duty education, you know, and that was really important.

I think the other thing was more looking at families as deployments and as different wars and different conflicts started happening, like Allied Force and that type of thing. I think more family support and really, really looking at the family and those that were left behind, so to speak, and making sure that they had a lot of different programs for them. I think the air force did—I think did really well. And being in that career field, I really saw that in what I did. I ran fitness centers and child development centers and golf centers and bowling centers and yacht clubs all those fun things, that it was like there was a great emphasis on making sure either the troop’s home or the family’s home, the recreational part of it or whatever you want to call that, the good—quality of life. You know, I think the air force really, really took off on that more so than any other service on quality of life and making sure that no matter what, if you’re single or have a family, if you’re deployed or at home, that those issues in your life were available for you. And we had top notch facilities. I mean we have some top notch facilities in the air force. There’s no doubt that we put our money into quality of life for the troops. I know from being even just at Langley and the different services, the Marines and the [U.S.] Army in that area would come to like our 12 million dollar fitness center that we opened, state of the art Gold’s Gym, so to speak. But that’s where the air force, I think, really put their emphasis in quality of life. I think it was huge.

HT:

I imagine that would probably help with retention.

TR:

Absolutely, absolutely. You saw a lot of crossover from other services come to the air force. You know, I think they call it—different programs that they had where people that had served in—or maybe they were enlisted in the army and then they came in as an officer in the air force or whatever, you know, those types of things. And then that was another thing that I stared seeing a lot more of is like I think our officer corps is so much more—not experienced, but they have a more breadth of knowledge because so many of them did serve as enlisted and then began education, finished their degree while they’re in active duty, and then got their commission. So seeing more and more and more officers with prior service time, which makes, I think, the air force—or any service, but speaking of the air force—richer and just a more solid base, because now they  have knowledge of kind of both sides. Kind of been there, done it, they were enlisted, they know that side of the world and maybe more of a technician, and now they’re in a leadership managerial role. So I think that makes for a stronger force, too. I saw more and more of that.

HT:

Did you ever think about staying more than twenty-one years?

TR:

Yeah. I thought a lot about it. Yeah. I was—as a matter of fact, my colonels’ board was meeting the year I retired, was meeting like that December.

HT:

Were you up to be full-bird [colonel]?

TR:

A lot of discussion about that—yeah. Of course, like anybody, I hope—I would hope I would have made it. I felt confident that my record was strong enough to make it. It was really about family. You know, having a young family I knew I had never been stationed at the Pentagon. I had never done that. I kind of really always didn’t want to do that. And that was sort of my goal, is I wanted to stay more in the operational base level, and I’d done that for so long. I really needed to go to a staff level, a Pentagon position, next. And if would have made colonel that was—basically they told me that was going to be my next move. And I just really—that’s not what I wanted to do. I’m kind of at base-level with the troops and where the rubber meets the road and making changes in people’s lives, and that’s what I’d like to do. I don’t want to push papers. And I know that has a place in life and I know they make policy and probably all good, but for me that’s not what I wanted to do. That doesn’t fulfill me. So I kind of made that—
My husband was behind me a 100 percent. He retired a lieutenant colonel after thirty years. He did ten years prior service and twenty years. But he said, “You go ahead honey, we’ll be right here waiting for you.” In other words, “We’re not moving again, but you know what, if you—.” He never said, “Don’t do it,” or talked me out of it.

But I said, “That’s not a quality life.” I didn’t want to come home and be a weekend mom, and come home on the weekends from the Pentagon down to Virginia and spend my week up there working. And it’s for what? For another rank, for some more money, for—I felt like when I left the air force and I retired I was at the pinnacle of my—I couldn’t imagine anything better. I’d been a commander for five years in a row and—which is a long time. But I did it back-to-back and I did it for five years. And I had this phenomenal Afghan experience, and I left the service with probably the two best bosses I’ve ever had in my life: my wing commander who went on, he’s a three star general now. And it was like—it was wonderful. I mean I’ve always been told you should leave your career, your whatever, when you’re at your peak, you know, when you feel like you’ve just done—and we’d accomplished so much with that squadron the two years I was there. We had turned everything around: the morale, the financials. I mean we just—the team had done so much that I just thought, “You know, this is perfect. This is perfect to leave now.”

But there’s always that wanting to stay and wanting to make—I think that’s just how we are at this level. And I’m very much about progression and, you know, it’s like thinking about being a colonel and staying. Yeah it was a lot—big decision.

HT:

And you retired in ’05—

TR:

Big decision.

HT:

—2005?

TR:

Yeah, November 2005. Big decision but it was the right decision.

HT:

Over the twenty-one years, do you think that the opinion of women or the attitudes toward women in the military changed any? Because I know when I was in the air force, which was forty years ago, it was a huge difference between having women in the air force—in any branch of the service than it is now. It just wasn’t as common in those days.

TR:

So do I think women’s attitudes have changed?

HT:

No. Well, I guess people’s attitudes towards women in the military changed over those twenty years.

TR:

I think so. Like I said earlier in the conversation, I don’t personally—I didn’t feel anything in my earlier—of my twenty-one years that people were thinking, “Oh, what do you want to do that for? And why would you—?” I didn’t feel that. And of course I didn’t feel any of that, you know, as later on. But I think in general, I think when you—as I have told people over the course of time what I’ve done and serving, it’s—people are like, “Wow, that’s really neat. That’s really cool that you served.” And it’s interesting because sometimes we all look at ourselves, you know, in maybe in one light, and I just think I just served in the military. I don’t think it’s like any big deal, I guess, you know. And the things that I did, I mean I think they were great opportunities, but it’s other people that kind of think, “Wow, that’s a really neat thing that you did.” Sometimes you have to think, “Oh, yeah, I guess I was pretty cool.” I mean not like patting yourself on the back, but just thinking that it was a great opportunity.

So of course there’s more women in the military, you know. And like I said, my position—I got to levels—I never was—I don’t think I was ever—obviously I became a commander twice, so I mean I had opportunities. I was hired in those positions. I was selected for those positions. I, many times, like at Kirkland and I think at Langley—because Langley was a very—it’s a fighter base so a lot of fighter pilots. Fighter pilots, with the exception of very, very rarity, are all males. Even when I was a controller, it was a very male dominated—I’m a controller in a briefing room with all pilots because I’m controlling them as the controller, but they’re all pilots, they’re all males so, you know, I was always in kind of a male dominated environment like that, and then even sitting around the table in staff meetings, sometimes I’d be the only female commander. And my boss was a male and this guy—but it’s like I never—it’s like you kind of know that looking around the room, but you don’t think, “Wow, I’m minority,” or, “Wow, I’m a female.” It’s like I never thought of myself like that. And I probably never thought of myself like that because I was never treated like that.

HT:

And that makes a difference.

TR:

You know I think it’s the people that are around you that create that environment. And I worked with all my bosses and my counterparts like I was just one of them, you know. And I never felt any different. So—

HT:

Well after you left the service in 2005, what’d you do next?

TR:

I started my own business. [laughter]

HT:

Well tell me about that.

TR:

I felt I’ve always had that entrepreneurial spirit, even though I was in the military. Which you’re not really an entrepreneur, but I knew I had very strong skills: like I know how to build a good team; I know how to do teamwork; I know, I think, how to be a good boss; and all those things. But I kind of decided I didn’t really want a boss anymore, and I wanted to try my hand at being my own boss and starting something myself and creating something myself. So I went through a professional coaching for about ten months on trying to of figure out what I wanted to do. I did that right before I retired, actually. So I was—I’m the kind of person who wants to know what it is. I don’t want to try six things and figure it out. I want to get it right the first time if I can. So I went through a coaching process and tried to hone in on really what it was in this vast world out there of what I wanted to do when I grew up and what I wanted to be. So [I] came up with definitely it was my own business, and tried to figure out what that business needed to be. And my sister has a staging company Northern California, professional staging company, home staging. And I worked with her a little bit, went out there, and just had an epiphany of, “This is it. This is me. This is my passion. This is what I know how to do, and I have a passion for it.” And so I started at ground-zero building my business, getting my training—went through and got professional training and was accredited as a stager and built my business from ground zero.

HT:

And how has the economy affected your business in the last year or so?

TR:

Actually, it really hasn’t affected it. I didn’t see an effect until about September of this year, believe it or not. It started to slow down September, October, this last couple—about the last two three months is really—

HT:

I’m assuming houses are staying on the market much, much longer.

TR:

Staying on the housing—yeah, staying on the market a little bit longer and people, of course, are a little bit more concerned about their money, so they’re not willing to spend. But—

HT:

If they were to hire you, they might be able to sell that property.

TR:

Right. It’s just sometimes convincing them of that. But I’m very proud of my business. I mean I’m a sole proprietor. I don’t have any employees. Like I said, I started at ground-zero and the first year I was financially in the positive, so that’s hard to do as a home based small business. And second year I met my financial goals, and you know, I keep it small. I keep my overhead down. I work efficiently. I love it. I just love it. It’s just—

HT:

And how do people learn about you, through word of mouth or—?

TR:

Through word of mouth referral, completely referral. I don’t advertise. I have great business cards, and I have great literature that I give out. But mine is just a referral business because my clients are the realtors and they see my houses and I work with them. And you’re a realtor and I stage your house and, “Wow, it sold in four days.” And next client you get you’re going to say, “You need to get your house staged! It’s great. This house I staged, you know, that I just sold last week—.” And that gets going. Or other people will see the house when they come to show it and they’ll see how great it looks. So I just—yeah, it just perpetuates itself.

HT:

So you work for realtors only?

TR:

Homeowners and realtors.

HT:

Okay, both.

TR:

Pretty much anybody that calls me [laughs] that needs help, I help them. Yeah. It’s all about people. And when I found out about the military, you know, I didn’t—when I was in the services career field as the commander, believe it or not I did learn a lot about finances, because in my business we actually had to be profitable. I mean I had to know how to balance the books. I had to know how to do profit loss. I had to do balance statements. I didn’t have to do it as the commander, of course. There were people within my command that did that to the nitty-gritty, but we sat down every month and went through these ginormous profit-loss statements. And, “Okay. What happened there? Why did we lose that?” You know, that type of thing.

Because we were kind of non-profit, or we were what we called “non-appropriated dollars,” so we didn’t have the government dollars. Like a child development center, you know, you get Congressional dollars for that—to run that. But things like a golf course or the bowling center or, you know, a yacht club or whatever—or even the clubs: the officers club and enlisted clubs. In the old days, they got all this appropriated money. Well that stopped back in the eighties. Congress stopped giving appropriated dollars. And they said, “If you’re going to make it, you’ve got to make it on your own. You’ve got to make it like a business.” So really a lot of my facilities that I ran were—we had to have the revenue. We had to generate the revenue to make improvements and buy new things and to turn a profit.

So I learned a lot about that. I was fortunate, you know, in services that I got to run that and understood the financial part about that. That helped me hugely in getting my business started, which most people don’t get that in the military because most of it is appropriated government. You’re flying airplanes, you’re doing all that. That’s a different world. But for us we had to make a profit in what we did and stay afloat or else we had to shut down, because we can’t run in the negative. So I did learn a lot there.

HT:

Do you consider yourself to be a pioneer or a trail blazer since you joined the military, which wasn’t probably, even when you joined, not as common for a woman?

TR:

Yeah. I don’t think I ever felt that way, you know. I think people told me that sometimes, but I just didn’t see myself in that role. I just came in like just “Do what I need to do.” I didn’t—I guess I never stopped to really think about that. Just whatever the task was, whatever I needed to do, I just did it and I didn’t really sit and think about, “Am I the first one doing this? Or am I—?” I mean I would sometimes, like I said, in different scenarios, in Afghan or whatever, I’d say, “Wow, this is like amazing that I’m given this opportunity to do it.” But I didn’t—I never really saw myself that way. I don’t know if that makes sense. I didn’t feel like I was, but I know there was things I did that probably—maybe not maybe first, first but definitely out in the forefront in doing many things.

HT:

And would you recommend the service or the military to other young women?

TR:

Absolutely. Absolutely.

HT:

Sounds like it was a great deal for you.

TR:

It’s a great deal for anybody, you know; I guess especially for a woman. Just the opportunity to—if someone had told me in ROTC that, “You’re going to be this commander. You’re going to command.” I’m be like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. There’s no way that’s going to happen.” You know? I mean I just—you just don’t think that way when you’re in any career or starting out. You just don’t think those opportunities are ever going to be there you’re going to be good enough or, you know. I just thought I was going to—honestly I came in to spend about four years in the military. I didn’t come in thinking I’m making this a career. Again, I wasn’t like set on I had this vision and I had this lifelong goal that I’ve always wanted to be in the service or serve my country. That’s just not how I thought. So I thought, “I’m going to give it—you know, it’ll be great: go in for four years, get to travel a little bit, get to see a little bit of the world, move on to the next thing.” And [I] just kept loving it, kept loving what I was doing, just wanted more and that kind of thing. So yeah, I think it’s just a phenomenal opportunity. Education-wise it just exposes you to the world and scenarios that you—you know.  And again, I tell people things that I’ve done—and again I just did them because that’s what we were—that’s what you’re sent to do and that’s the task you’re given to do. But when you tell people they’re like, “Wow.” I mean they’re just like, “That’s just not what ordinary people get to do.”

HT:

It isn’t.

TR:

You know? It’s like sometimes you’re amazed that you did it because—not that you’re so great, but it’s just that it happened that you were there at the right time at the right place that that’s what you did.

HT:

Well, speaking of travel, did you by any chance do some leisure travel while you were in the service?

TR:

Yeah. I did a little bit. I tried to take advantage when I went over to—during Allied Force, after my deployment, instead of just coming back to the States I went, “Gee, I’m in Germany. Why not just take some leave?” So I called my sister from California and said, “Want to come out to Germany?” [laughs] So her and her husband jumped on a plane and they flew out and I—we spent about eight days touring around and seeing Paris. And I thought, “While I’m here, I don’t know—.” And I haven’t been back since, so I thought, “You know, I’m here now, so I might as well do it.” And then one day a week, while I was deployed, I—we got Sundays off, and I just went down to the services office that does all the trips, especially overseas. They have a great office. Tickets and Tours is what it’s called, and then they plan all these different events for, you know, of course, for the troops to do. So I went down and I said, “Okay. I’m going to be here.” I said, “What do you have every Sunday from now until this date? Sign me up on every trip.” [laughs] My husband kept getting the credit card bills like, “What? I’m getting a bill from Czechoslovakia, Therese! Where are you? I thought you were—.”

“Yeah, that was that little trip I took.”

So I went and I signed up for—every Sunday, I signed up for—I mean there was like a twenty-four hour bus ride to Paris. I went on that whirlwind tour of Paris. I went to Czechoslovakia. I went to Prague. I went—you know, I just—wherever they were going, I said, “Sign me up on the trip.” I figured what the heck?

HT:

Why not?

TR:

Exactly. One day off, I got to see something. I’m not going to sit in my little dorm room and read a book. So yeah, I did as much travelling—[in the] Philippines [I] jumped on a hop to Korea. You know, it was great because we could do the hop—you know the hop thing in military—and you could hop to other places. And Panama, when we were there, we hopped back. My husband was deployed to Iceland—not deployed, he was stationed. We were separated for a year. He went on a remote to Iceland while I stayed in Virginia. Our baby was five months when he left, so me and the baby hopped on a plane in Virginia. A navy plane would fly back and forth to Iceland. So for ten bucks or whatever it cost we’d jump on the plane and hop to Iceland and went to see him. So yeah, that was pretty cool that you got to do that, especially overseas. Such great opportunities to see other things too and get out. A lot of people don’t, but I like to take—make the most of it while you’re there.

HT:

Why not?

TR:

Exactly.

HT:

Well I don’t think I—Therese, I don’t think I have any other formal questions. Is there anything you’d like to add that we haven’t covered? We’ve covered such a—

TR:

I know.

HT:

—great variety of things over the last couple hours.

TR:

Covered the waterfront, huh?

HT:

Oh my gosh.

TR:

I think a couple of the significant things. I really wanted to talk about Afghanistan. I really—I talk about it a lot wherever I go because I think it was so—it was just a phenomenal experience to be there. From the day I landed to—you know, it’s just—it’s an incredible story for me, personally. You know and I—it was funny because we were going and I couldn’t find—I was having my husband go on like the secret classified thing to try to figure out what I was going to do, because they kept saying everything was classified and I just wanted to like know what I was getting into. Literally, when I left the United States, I knew I was destined for Afghanistan. I knew my final destination—the country of my final destination, but getting there took me about three days. But the air force didn’t—doesn’t do—one thing that they don’t do, when we go together as a group, when we leave on a deployment, we go to a contingency, they do very well. But when you go as an individual, which a lot of us do, especially officers, somehow something falls apart and you just don’t have a whole lot of good information. So I only knew I was going to Afghanistan, but—and once I got on that plane, I had no idea how I was getting to my final destination. [laughs] How scary is that? But here I have been in the military for what? Nineteen, twenty years at that point. I’m thinking, “I’m sure I can figure this out,” you know. But it was pretty crazy because we finally ended up in Kyrgyzstan. I think I’m saying that correctly. And from there you are pretty much on your own. I was like you’ve got—I’m like, “Hello. Can I catch a plane to Afghanistan?”

They said, “We don’t have planes that fly to Afghanistan.”

And I said, “Well how am I going to get there?”

And they said, “You need to go to this place and you need to—.”

And it was like this—and it did kind of amaze me at this point in my career because I thought, “Of all the things we do in the air force are so well, that I am like out here in this foreign land—.” And I finally got a lady there, if you can believe me, in the Red Cross to help me at the base that we were at, and that we did a combat landing on. And [I] didn’t know what was going on after being awake for three days. But it was—you know, so the whole adventure, it was just—it was, it was an adventure. I mean how I eventually got there and figured out and got on—because they kept saying, “You have to just get on a convoy.”

And I’m like, “Well how do I do that?” I’m like, “Hello! I’m like—I’m new here! Somebody help me out.”

So it all worked out and it was all okay, and it was all pretty crazy the story and, you know, flying there. Of course you have a weapon, but you don’t have any bullets. That was always interesting, too. Not sure how productive that was going to be. But yeah, it was just a crazy adventure, but I look back and it’s pretty funny. It was a great story. It makes a great story to tell my kids someday, I guess. That’s what they say in the military: there’s always great stories.

HT:

That’s right. [laughter]

TR:

If nothing else you have a great story. So I do have a good story, like everybody else that served. We all have good stories.

HT:

Well, thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure listening to you.

TR:

Thank you for listening, because I know you have to listen a lot. [laughter]

HT:

Well great. All right.

[End of interview]