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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Aimee "Sarris" Corning

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Object ID: wv0451.5.001

Description: Amy Corning’s tells of her early life, marriage, ROTC education, and service in the United States Air Force as a logistics and transportation officer, operations commander, and ROTC instructor from 1984-2006.

Summary:

Corning primarily documents her service as an officer tasked with air and ground transportation for the United States Air Force, United States Armed Forces Special Operation Command and operations commander. She describes her assignments at various Air Force bases including Minot, North Dakota; Yokata, Japan; Tinker, Oklahoma; and McGuire, New Jersey. Corning also details the reaction of the military to the terror attacks of September, 11th 2001, and their logistical handling of operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield.

Other documents include Corning’s thoughts on growing up during desegregation. She also gives numerous anecdotal examples of the importance of responsibility and proper leadership, reflects upon sexual harassment in the air force, and describes her time abroad.

Creator:

Biographical Info:

Collection: Aimee "Sarris" Corning 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:

Therese Strohmer:

This is Therese Strohmer and today is February 20th. I am in Jamestown, North Carolina. This is an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. And I have Aimee Corning with me. Aimee could you state your name the way you would like it to be on your collection?

Aimee Corning:

Sure. Aimee Sarvis Corning.

TS:

Okay, great.

[Tape malfunction redacted]

AC:

Aimee Sarvis Corning.

TS:

Okay, let’s see how that goes. All right Aimee, why don’t we go ahead and start out with when and where you were born?

AC:

I was born in Miami, Florida, 1957—a very, very hot July.

TS:

[laughs] A hot July day? In—what—Was it the city of Miami that you lived in?

AC:

North Miami.

TS:

Okay. What did your folks do?

AC:

My father was—had formally been in the navy and had worked supply in the navy. So when he got out he worked motor parts for a motor parts corporation, and drove taxis at night.  My mother was a nurse. And she kind of worked sporadically, because she was raising the children.

TS:

So how many brothers and sisters did you have?

AC:

One older sister and one younger brother.

TS:

Older sister and a younger brother? So you’re in the middle, huh?

AC:

I’m in the middle.

AC:

My sister was ten years older, so I’m still an older child.

TS:

Yeah. Okay. Well, how about in Miami—What was it like growing up there? Do you remember, like, what you did as a kid for games—or anything?

AC:

I remember riding my bicycle a lot.  We rode—We went for walks and rode bicycles and our next store neighbor had a swimming pool, so we were over at her house a lot in the swimming pool.  I actually left Miami. We moved away when I was seven.

TS:

Oh, okay.

AC:

So not a whole lot of memories there except for—and going to the beach. We went to the beach every single weekend—probably ten months out of the year.

TS:

Do you remember whether you liked that or not as a kid?

AC:

I did. I got sunburned every time. And didn’t like it when the man-of-wars [jellyfish] came—and jellyfish came up. Because, I couldn’t leave them alone. So I would inevitably wind up with stings on my legs arms and stuff.

TS:

Yeah. Well did now—So you moved away when you where seven. Where did you move to?

AC:

We moved to North Florida—which was my mother’s home town—which is where I consider my home town. [I] grew up in Monticello, Florida—very close to Tallahassee [Florida]—just south of the Georgia border.

TS:

Is that right? Okay, how was that growing up? That was a little bit more rural area then—

AC:

Very rural, very agricultural. The town is known as the watermelon seed capital of the world. So we grew up with watermelon festivals and going out and harvesting watermelon and corn, and things along those lines. 

TS:

Yeah. So you had a lot of watermelon growing up?

AC:

Oh, absolutely.

TS:

Do you still like to eat watermelon?

AC:

Absolutely. [chuckles]

TS:

[chuckles] Well, sometimes if you’re around it a lot you know—

AC:

No, there is nothing better than a good watermelon.

TS:

Well, you can probably pick out a good one too.

AC:

Absolutely.

TS:

Does it take a good thump or something?

AC:

Yes, some people have other ways to do it. But, no, my grandfather taught me to thump the watermelon and get the ones that sound hollow.

TS:

Yeah, that’s right. Now, so you’re in a more rural area. What kind of things did you guys do for fun?

AC:

We had lots and lots and lots of animals. Our house—it wasn’t a farm—but if you looked at the amount of pets and things that we had—We raised ducks and chickens and at one time had a horse and rabbits, and all sorts of stuff. So my brother and I were taught responsibility very, very young. It was our job to get up and go feed all the animals, and water them before we went to school. And still get dressed and get out to the school bus on time, and things along those lines. And then as soon as you came home from school, you went back out and fed and watered everything again.

So I liked it—I—the animals were my best friends. So but—my best girlfriend lived next door, grew up with her and her brothers and stuff. So we would play pick up football games, or basketball games, and things like that. While I don’t remember a whole lot of playing, I think growing up was pretty much okay.

TS:

Yeah. That’s great. Now. how did you get to school?

AC:

Usually—My mother and father had divorced. And my mother had remarried.  My stepfather was a barber in town. So while we did ride the bus occasionally—we certainly rode the bus to get home. But my stepfather, we would ride into town with him, because he had to open up the barber shop ten minutes before school started. So he would just drop us off at the school on his way to the barbershop. 

TS:

Okay. So how did you like school? What was it like?

AC:

I always liked school. I knew at the age of twelve that I wanted to be a school teacher when I grew up. School, it was just the place to be. I had friends that I enjoyed being around.  I always emulated my teachers. They were—almost all the teachers that I had were really, really good teachers—good role models. I was that kid who would always stay after school and clean the blackboard and all that kind of stuff. Not that anyone knows what a blackboard is anymore. [laughs]

TS:

[chuckles] Some people might still have an idea.

AC:

So I loved school—social outlet—a place to focus. I did really—learning came easy for me, so I did really well in school.

TS:

Did you have a favorite subject?

AC:

Probably English. [I] did not care for the sciences so much. [I] tolerated those. But probably more the touchy feely subjects that—maybe—subjects that I could exaggerate in, and get away with it.

TS:

Or writing?

AC:

Right.

TS:

When you had to do writing and things like that.

What about—I am trying to figure you what years this would be. So did—Were the schools still segregated at all where you were; or, were they integrated?

AC:

Integration came when I was in eighth grade.

TS:

Okay.

AC:

So I had grown up in the same elementary school that my mother had gone to—I—[that] all of my family had gone to. My brother came up through the same elementary school. But in middle school, that’s when they integrated. And we were—the middle school—then was at what had been a traditionally black school. I personally liked the way the school was set up, but that first year had a lot of bumps in it. There were a couple of episodes of violence. And my grandfather came and picked us up and took us home early on a couple of days, and teachers got hurt. But that probably lasted about a week, and I have no idea what set it off. And some of my best friends were black, and we kind of stopped noticing the difference. It was more our parents that noticed the difference.

TS:

Oh okay, interesting.

AC:

I was only in that school for one year, because the high school was at the school that was—that had been traditionally white.  So I was right back over at the high school the next year, only because I progressed in years.

TS:

What were the names—Do you remember the names of your elementary school?

AC:

The elementary school was named Jefferson Elementary. The middle school at that time was Howard Middle School. It had been Howard Academy. Then the high school was Jefferson High School.

TS:

You said that—you always—that since you were twelve you wanted to be a teacher. Did you feel—Well, how did you feel as a girl in your expectations for the things that you could do when you became an adult?  Did you have any sense of what you could possibly do that was out there for you—opportunities?

AC:

No. I think growing up—especially in the town that I grew up in—we weren’t necessarily introduced to a whole lot of things that were out there. There were subjects that you could major in in college that, until I went to college, I never knew those subjects existed. And maybe that was because I always wanted to be a teacher. So I was going to grow up and go to college and major in education or English and just go on from there. So I never even thought about it. 

But when my husband and I both went to college and found out that there were actually areas of study such as forestry and biology and things along those lines, we’d never even conceived of  those types of subjects. So—

TS:

But you had an idea that you were going to go to college?

AC:

Oh. That was always expected. I grew up—that was an expectation. My sister graduated from high school and went right into college. That was an automatic expectation. My grandfather had put away money for all of us to go to school.

TS:

Excellent. Do you have any memories that you want to share from your high school days at all? Anything that you can recall that—?

AC:

Well, it was interesting that later I did wind up going into the military because we did not have any type of military affiliation at our school what so ever. And my senior year someone came in and offered the A.F.O.Q.T. [Air Force Officer Qualifying Test]—the Officer Qualifier Test—and then took a poll of the students to ask, if it were offered, would we would be interested in taking military classes while in high school.

And I had said, “Yes.” But it never came to any kind of fruition or anything. And yet, later, that is exactly that is exactly the direction I went into, and that was a fluke. It was very interesting they asked my senior year, because, as far as I know, they never asked at the high school. And my high school does have air force and army [J]ROTC [Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps] now.

TS:

Oh the one that you went to when you were younger, okay. Okay, so now you graduated from high school, and then what?

AC:

By the time I approached graduation I was already engaged to get married. So I got married in October after high school. Worked two jobs that summer to save up money and everything. My husband was in the military. He was in the Marine Corps at the time. And he did his first enlistment and got out—went ahead and got out. [He] felt like the Marine Corps had been very, very good for him, but it was not going to offer him anything further that he could use. He kicks himself now, because, of course, he could have been retired ten years ago. But the benefit of that was that was he got the GI Bill.

We got married in October. He finished his enlistment, and we moved back to—briefly moved back to my home town. But it’s a small town and there—if you don’t have a degree—if you don’t have a specialty—there is not a whole lot waiting for young people there.  So eventually we moved back up to where my husband was from in New Hampshire, and were doing odd jobs. I was working at Dunkin’ Donuts.

And he had the GI bill, and decided to go take a college class. It worked. He got an “A” in it. He felt like “Okay, this isn’t so hard”. Took two more classes, and at that point I started feeling frustration. Because, obviously, when I got married I did not go to college. And I was always the one who was supposed to go to college, and now he was going to college. A friend of mine that I was working with at Dunkin Donuts came in one day. I was tutoring her in Spanish, and she said “I have talked to my dad and if you want to go to college, he will pay for your college education.”

TS:

This is a friend of yours?

AC:

Yes. At that point we had a baby, and the thought of going to school full time with a baby was very interesting. But I kind of needed somebody to tell me that. Now I never—he never paid for any of my college education, but it was just the fact that—without even knowing me—that someone was expressing that kind of confidence that I could do it.

TS:

Giving you a little nudge.

AC:

Yeah. I went home and told my husband that “I think we ought to both go to school full time.”

So we both left our jobs behind and applied for, you know, financial aid and grants and everything we could get. He started using the GI bill. And we both went through college full time with a baby.

TS:

Together?

AC:

Together. So I look back on it now—By the time I graduated I swore that I’d never set foot inside a classroom again. Because trying to manage schedules, it was very, very demanding. I graduated. He graduated with honors.  I just graduated, because my priorities were more towards the family, and I studied when I could. His priorities were more towards school, and he paid attention to his family when he could. So—

TS:

What were your majors in?

AC:

I started out majoring in English. I was still going to be a English teacher. I was not—still wasn’t looking at the military. But in the years between high school graduation and starting college, I had talked to the Navy about enlisting in the Navy. And it got messed up. The recruiter did not call me back. And a couple of years later, I got pregnant and then the recruiter called back—of course—he wasn’t interested now that I was pregnant.

So I lost my train of thought.

So when I was going to go to college for full time, my husband said, “Well, you know, you were interested in the Navy. Why don’t you look at ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps], and possibly becoming an officer?”

So I went in and talked to them, and they said basically, you just sign up and take the classes. There was no commitment. No—you just took the classes for two years, and then decided if it was the right thing for you. So I did. And made an “A” in the first class I took, which meant that these were easy classes, and just decided to just keep on taking the classes, because they were easy. It was going to be a easy “A”, and could keep my GPA up.

TS:

These were the ROTC classes, you mean.

AC:

Right. The ROTC classes.

TS:

Which ROTC classes was it that you were going to?

AC:

It was [United States] Air Force ROTC. The university only offered air force and army. I suspect that air force was the one I got to first. They just happened to be in the front of the building, and the army was in the back—or something like that.

TS:

Not a conscious choice of which one you were going to?

AC:

Yeah, absolutely. It was not a conscious decision of one service over another. So I took the classes. I enjoyed it. I did well in it when I was given opportunities to take leadership positions. I did well in those positions. So it just seemed like a good fit for me when the two year period was over, and it was time to make a commitment. I was ready to sign my name and go ahead and make a commitment.

TS:

Now what year are we talking about when you first signed up for the ROTC?

AC:

It would have been ‘81 timeframe when I first signed up for classes. Eighty-two was when I would have had to have made a commitment. And then eighty-four was when I graduated and was commissioned.

TS:

So when in ’82, when you had to make a commitment, what kind of a commitment did you have to make?

AC:

Basically, because I was not going to be a pilot or a navigator, I was saying that if they continued to train me that I would give them four years after graduation.

TS:

But you didn’t know exactly what it would be in?

AC:

You had absolutely no concept whatsoever what it would be in. As—I had changed my major by that point to linguistics. So I had a suspicion that I might be put into intel [military intelligence], which is not something I wanted to do. In fact, I told them I did not want intel.

TS:

Why didn’t you want intel?

AC:

Very naïve conception of the risks and dangers of knowing secrets. I didn’t want to know any secrets. Just give me a job to do where I don’t have to know anything that somebody could threaten my family to make me divulge some information.

TS:

These were the Reagan years. So pretty, you know—

AC:

Yeah. So I just didn’t want to be—have any part of that, don’t put any temptations out in front of me, just let me do my job. I did not go in to intel. They selected me for transportation. I didn’t have a clue what that was either, and it was not something I had asked for. I had asked to go into education, or possibly hospital administration. And the air force in their infinite wisdom decided that those weren’t the right places for me to go to, and selected transportation. And I would not change the decision at all. I had a blast for twenty years—over twenty years—of logistics and transportation. And it was a good fit for me.

TS:

So they must have known what they were doing somehow. [chuckles]

AC:

Somehow.

TS:

Or the needs of the military just came—pointed in the right direction for you.

AC:

They put a lot of people into transportation that year. So maybe they were just short in that career field. Or—maybe—because I hadn’t focused my studies on anything like engineering, or things along those lines, it was just an, “Okay, here’s a name what is the next career field that’s open?”

TS:

When you’re thinking about—so you—are—have a family. You’re going to college—Your husband’s going to college, or I guess he’s graduated too, around the same time you did.

AC:

He graduated one year before I did.

TS:

What—Did you have a certain expectation of what you thought when you made your commitment to joining? Saying, “Okay, I am going to commit to four years then I’m done,” graduating. Did you have an idea of what that might be like?

AC:

Some idea. Only because, remember my husband had been in the Marine Corps when we got married. So I had been a military wife, and basically he got up and went in to work early every morning. And he came home every afternoon. He never brought work home. And he did a lot of paperwork and communications and things like that while he was at work. So, yeah, I had kind of a vision that I would be getting up early going to work every morning. The difference would be that I would actually have decisions to make, where he was very junior enlisted. Since he got out after his first term, [he] did not get a whole lot of depth, responsibility, or supervision time.  I knew I would be a supervisor. So I would be making decisions that affected people’s lives, and that I would be taught what I needed to know to do my job.

TS:

You felt pretty comfortable about that?

AC:

I did. We knew that we would go to tech school, where we would get into regulations. They would tell us, “you can do this and you can’t do this.” We would go to work knowing that we had to maintain a certain standard and go from there.

TS:

You said that what was it—Did—Were you influenced at all by the fact that your father had been in the military, and your husband had been in the Marines? Was that— Do you think that had any influence whatsoever on deciding n on this course?

You said— He had said—your husband at college had said, “Hey why don’t you check out ROTC?”

But beyond that— I mean your—

AC:

Yeah. And my father had been in the navy. My brother had been in the navy. My uncle had been a pilot in the Army Air Corps. Basically, what that did for me was it took out some of the mystery that might cause a fear of going into the military. People that I knew and loved had done it and had survived it and had even done well at it. So there was no mystery out there.

“Once—gosh—I get into this I am trapped,” There was no sense of that.

My husband and I talked about it. And basically that’s what people do when they graduate from college anyway. They go work for a corporation of some kind, and mine just involved wearing a uniform and took out the decision making of what to put on every morning. But it still was a corporation, if you would, that you had the chance to grow in, develop an expertise in, and do well in; if you choose to do that.

So for me there was no mystery to it. It was just something—the next step. It was something I was going to do, and I was going to do well.

TS:

What was the reaction of your family and friends to you deciding to join?

AC:

I think I became my grandpa’s favorite grandchild. At that point after I graduated—before I went on to active duty—I went to visit my grandfather, who promptly announced that we were going to an American Legion meeting and I was going to wear my uniform—my full uniform—keeping in mind that graduation was in May. So this was in June in Florida, once again, like I say, about 20 miles from the Georgia border. It was probably a hundred and ten degrees and the building we were in had no air conditioning. I was in long sleeve service dress with a blouse on underneath it. I have never been so hot and miserable in my life. And I’ve never seen my grandfather be so proud. So it was worth it.

My mother thought it was a great idea. She always knew when I was growing up that I would do something unusual. She just didn’t know what. So I’d answered that question for her.

My brother was going in the Navy—was in the Navy at the same time—so he didn’t even think anything about it. “Okay, so that’s what Aimee is up to now” is about it.

My husband obviously was fully for it. His mother wasn’t. I don’t think she was overly thrilled, because she knew we were leaving New Hampshire and were going to travel—and maybe thousands of miles away—and we had her granddaughter with us. 

But I don’t think anybody—I think that except for the fact that we were going to be separated from certain family members, I don’t think anybody had any ideas about it—except maybe being proud that I’d made that decision.

TS:

Tell me about then getting to your first assignment—your first duty station—what was that like?

AC:

Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota.

“Why not Minot?”

“And freezing’s the reason”.

TS:

They had a few clichés there?

AC:

They have an expression up there—and I think they at one point had it over the gate—that “only the best go north”. And it was supposed to make you feel good about going there. I didn’t know what to expect at Minot. But then I found out, and I really didn’t want to go there. But in retrospect—years later—when I got selected to be a commander, I applied for the commander’s position at Minot over all the others, it was my number one choice. I didn’t get to go, but I would have gone back there.

Minot was somewhat isolated. It was a few miles out of town.  But the town of Minot was very supportive of the base—having the military there. So you weren’t—there are some areas where the military is not necessarily a good influence, or welcomed by the local populace.  There we were.

Because we were somewhat isolated you develop a sense of family. You no longer have your parents or in-laws or cousins, or anything like that around. So your next-door neighbors become your best friends. The people that you work at [sic] at the office become very good friends. There is a lot of social activity you—

TS:

What kind of social activity?

AC:

Well, when I first got there they had had an inspection, and did not do very well on the inspection. So there wasn’t [sic] a whole lot of social activities when I first got there. They then had another inspection, did very, very well. I can remember the wing commander how disappointed he was in us. Because, he told us when we got there that we were going to work hard, and we were going to play hard, and he had not seen any playing yet.

Our first sense of quote-unquote “playing” was we had a toga party. And that was very interesting. But there would be large gatherings. They were very big on hails and farewells. When new people were coming in they were recognized, and “hailed” into the group along with their families. And then as people were scheduled to leave, they were given farewells along with their families. Those were great events to attend, because everybody was generally very, very happy to meet the new people, and a little bit sadness saying “goodbye” to the ones that were leaving.

TS:

Can you describe how one of those might have been, to somebody who is not familiar with it?

AC:

It’s a party like any other party—a lot of people coming together. But then somebody who was running it, sometimes it would be the wing commander if it was a basewide one—or it could be a squadron commander—if it were a smaller one—would recognize and call for the people and the families that were all leaving. And all of those people would come forward.  A lot of times they would be recognized by [being] given a small gift of something along those lines. Generally, especially at Minot, it would be something that was related to the local area. I still have an arrangement of wheat that I was given, because around North Dakota there are wheat fields. So that would have been something that would be appropriate—

TS:

Symbolic.

AC:

—to give somebody. So all these people would—you now knew who was leaving the unit, who was going on to another base. And you were told where they were going and what their new job was going to be. And it was kind of an indicator, especially for the younger officers the—or the younger people that were there—that, “Okay, this could be your next step, in a year or two, when it’s time for you to leave.” There was a lot of excitement about that.

Then they would announce the names and welcome forward all the people that were just arriving and their families. [They would] tell where they had come from, what job they had done there, and what their new job was on base.  This gave you an indication of some of the people you where now going to be working with—in offices—that you dealt with everyday on a professional basis. So it was good for everybody. Good for those people who were going to be staying there a little while longer. But it was also a good way to make people feel welcome, and to recognize the people who had done a good job for the two to three years that they had been on base.

TS:

Okay, can you talk little bit about your job. What was your job like when you first got to Minot?

AC:

Brand new second lieutenant, didn’t know anything about transportation. But I’ve always been the type that would ask questions, you know, if I don’t understand something. I had walked into a base—into a command—where you did things—everything was written in black and white. Things were right or wrong. There weren’t a whole lot of decisions to make. You had to know the regulations. And I was the type that always said, “Why do we do it like this”?

The answer quite often was, “Because we always have, because, it works.”

And sometimes I wouldn’t see efficiencies. So I just kept being that little voice that said, “Why, why does it have to be this way?”

I was lucky, I had a boss that encouraged that. He was not a career transportation officer. He had been a navigator—pilot?—I think he was a pilot—he could no longer fly, because of health reasons. So they had put him into transportation.

He thought it was pretty neat that I just kept saying, “Why do I have to do this? Why do I have to do this?”, when everybody else was just kind of marching along because they were told to.

As I mentioned, they had an inspection and had not done very well. And I was real—I could do nothing that wasn’t right at that point. Anything I did—if I changed a piece of paper from white to purple—that was good, because it was changing the bad stuff. It didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it gave me the freedom and creativity that I needed to flourish in my job.

I found out a few years later that I very quickly became known as the person who would always ask “why”, and look to change things.

TS:

Sometimes there is a perception that the people who are in the military are only the type that are going to follow—whatever the—wouldn’t be a type like you, Aimee, that would question things. What do you think about that?

AC:

Right. I think maybe at one time it might have been like that a lot. You probably did have an awful lot of lemmings within the military. But I think that, in the quest for efficiencies, doing things that same way you always done them does not get more efficient. So I think the military now encourages much more for people to look at the way things are, and question, “Why does it have to be this way? Why can it not be better than this way?”

But I don’t think it has always been like that. I just didn’t know how else to be. And my boss had no inclination to stop me. So I was very lucky in that way. I did meet up with him later, and he did ask me if I was still asking why.

TS:

[laughs] What was your husband doing at this time?

AC:

He was playing “Mr. Mom”. We had a daughter at home. She started kindergarten at Minot. And he was staying home with her an awful lot. He did eventually get hired on. He did a lot of things—a lot of our career—in the recreation area.  He worked at recreation centers. He worked on golf courses. He did various jobs along those lines.

Eventually, when I became a commander, he became director of outdoor recreation, and set up trips for military people and their families to take in the local area around Nellis Air Force Base [Nevada].  So there is so much more to Las Vegas than the casinos. And you have the pleasure of getting to know that if you were on the air force base; because they specifically try to introduce you to things like hiking, or going to Zion National Park, or going to the Grand Canyon, and things along those lines. All of that is within easy driving distance, and so much more wholesome than the casinos; and so much less expensive than the casinos.

So he had that job. He worked at the recreation center. He called bingo. He worked at the NCO [Non Commissioned Officer] club and called bingo. He flipped burgers. He did—He has done just about every job there is to do in the area of recreation on a base.

TS:

How did he feel about that? What was his degree in?

AC:

His degree was in forestry; which caused us a little consternation when we found out that we were going to Minot, because the joke is that the state tree is a telephone poll in Minot.

TS:

[chuckles]

AC:

They tell guys that are getting stationed there that they’ll love it, that there is a girl behind every tree. And, yes, there is a girl behind every tree, but there’s no trees. So he just basically left forestry behind. And, in fact, has not worked in forestry in the twenty three—twenty four years since he graduated. So it caused him a little bit of frustration to have spent four years studying and graduating with honors to learn something that he never used. But he has developed other talents in other ways. He has worked budget management for a major headquarters in Japan, and things along those lines.

So he still found niches to fit in. It just wasn’t always—the frustrating part is starting over. Where—when we would get to the end of three years, I was going to a base and walking into a job that was sitting there—waiting for me—had my name on the chair. He was getting there, and then looking for what he was going to do at this particular base.

TS:

A lot of times that meant starting at the bottom tier?  

AC:

Absolutely.

TS:

Proving himself again.

AC:

Proving himself again, sometimes not starting at all [due to] hiring freezes. When we got to Tinker Air Force Base [Oklahoma], the military had just initiated a big hiring freeze, and you weren’t going to hire any more civilians. So that meant he wasn’t going to work on base, and he had to find something off base. And breaking into a new community wasn’t always that easy, depending on where you are, and what the economy there is like. So it’s been frustrating for him, but he is at work now. [Laughter]

TS:

That’s right and we’re sitting here. After Minot, where were you headed?

AC:

When we started coming up on time to leave Minot, I turned in a dream sheet. You always turned in the dream sheet to tell the military where you’d like to go, and then took your chances. My boss was looking at leaving at about the same time I was so—But he knew the system much better than I did. I thought all you could do is turn in your dream sheet, and then sit and wait for them to tell you something.

He told me, “Why don’t you call and see what’s going on?”

“I can do that?”

So I called. And they said, “Chances are you’re going to go overseas. We have fourteen officers coming up for assignments, and we have sixteen slots that we need to fill. So you are probably going overseas”.

So I was happy. I reported back to my boss that I had done what he said—called—and he goes, “Not good enough. If they know they have sixteen slots to fill they know where they are. Call back, find out where they are, tell them which one you want, and let’s see what happens”.

By the time it was all done, I had my assignment before he had his. And I was going to Yokota Air [Force] Base, Japan. [I] did not know anything about Japan, but the obvious next move—I had done ground transportation at Minot—a transportation officer has got to get into air transportation. So I told them I’d like to go to Japan, so I can do air transportation. And that’s where they sent me. And once again, we were at the right base at the right time, because we absolutely loved being in Japan.

TS:

Well, before you tell me more about Japan, I’m curious about how did you know that you needed to do air transportation?

AC:

Basically when you go to tech school—you know—They tell you in tech school that you need to have a balance of air transportation and ground transportation; because you’re expected to be knowledgeable in these things to get promoted. And if you only work one, eventually, you are going to stop getting promoted; because you are not as useable—you’re not as valuable to the military.

TS:

Was that something, as an officer, that you’re cognizant of? As your career progresses does the steps you need to take—or certain slots you need—is that something someone is advising you on?

AC:

Yes. Usually you have a—your boss—your squadron commander—will advise you on it. You got told that while you were at tech school. You were told what the obvious next moves are. Obviously, there is some variation in it. But you knew that by the time you were being considered for major, you had to have accomplished certain things. You could take your own road to get to each of those things, as long as you got them all done by the time you were coming up for major.

TS:

So you’re checking off certain boxes or something of that nature— I see—

AC:

Yeah, pretty much. You have a checklist, and you know what gates you need to make—if you want to call it that. You know what hurdles you need to jump over, and it’s just like running a race.

TS:

Do you have some help along the way to jump over those hurdles? 

AC:

You do. You do. It’s gotten better now, because they require commander’s input for assignments. When I first went in, if anybody was calling my boss, and asking him anything about my next best move I don’t know about it. I certainly never heard about it. Now it’s required. They actually have to sign off on your sheet before you turn it in. So, yes, they are advising you. And they actually did have the opportunity to say, “No, I don’t think this person is ready for this job at this time”. Because there are those of us, who aspire to great things, and [who] will apply for jobs that might not be the right time for us. We might not be ready for it, but we don’t fully understand the job. There are times when we think we can do anything.

TS:

Okay. I’ve heard too that some women have said that they were assigned a job that they never thought they could do. And yet they—the people who were pushing them knew that they could do it. And so they got a lot of confidence from being put in the job where maybe they didn’t feel so secure about; but then, once they got in it, they realized they could do it. Because they had somebody behind them, that was kind of prompting them, or, maybe even, pushing them.

AC:

Well, going from ground transportation to air transportation, the two are so radically different that when I got Japan, I had absolutely no knowledge that had prepared me for that job there. It was now, what, two and a half years since tech school; so anything I learned about air transportation there was gone.  I had done very well in ground transportation. But what I was being sent to do was get in a truck and run from airplane to airplane making sure that they were configured properly; that when the cargo was being built up into pallets—which is how things go through the air transportation system—that those pallets are being built properly.

I’d never seen a pallet in my life.  Now I am supposed to be the boss. And I’m supposed to be running the show and telling people when they are not doing their job right, and they’ve got so much more expertise. Yeah. It was a little unnerving for me. I dreaded the thought of going out to the flight line, because there were places where you could enter it and—if you didn’t enter it at the right place, and you went over a red line—police were coming at you with guns. That was intimidating, but you just went out and did your job. And you very quickly found out that—just like at your first base—you know what’s right; you know what’s wrong. You just apply the standards, and go on with the job. There were people willing to teach you those detailed things that you didn’t know, and what you just needed to do was be willing to learn.

TS:

Did you ever step over the red line?

AC:

I did not, but I watched other people do it. I did watch other people do it.

TS:

Well, tell me a little bit more about Japan. Did you enjoy that tour?

AC:

We did enjoy that tour. My husband found a very good job working at the headquarters in budget management. He was the headquarters supply person. [He was on a] first name basis with general officers and things. He knew more of the big wigs on base than I did, because of his job. We met a whole lot of people—again, it was a rather secluded type assignment. You weren’t going back and forth to visit your family all the time; because you had the whole Pacific Ocean to fly over to get home. So you developed really, really close friends—really good friends—and some friends we made there, we still are friends with to this day. [We] still keep in contact with.

The job was very interesting. Strange hours, we worked twelve hour shifts, so it was a really long day. But you generally worked three days on, two days off. So you were having a weekend after three days of working. So it took a little getting used to, but it was something that was really fun once you did it. We took the opportunity to travel all over Japan. [We] went to places where they had not seen Caucasians except for missionaries, took the kids to see these places, got my older daughter involved in Girl Scouts, where she was actually going to Girl Scouts’ camps with Japanese Girl Scout groups there. And things—

TS:

Do you remember some of the places you went there in Japan that were like that? That you said hadn’t seen a Caucasian?  

AC:

We went down to Beppu, Japan, which is a tourist place. It’s not on the main island. I can’t remember the name of the island that it was on [Beppu is located on the island of Kyushu]. But it’s got hot springs—lava heated hot springs—and things like that. We went to Nagasaki and Hiroshima both. One of them we went to accidently, we got lost. The signs on the roads in Japan are not in English.

TS:

[chuckle] Imagine that!

AC:

There all in the Japanese kanji language. So we would navigate our way down these streets with me looking at the map, and my husband driving. By the way, we are keeping in mind that your driving on the left side of the road, and your steering wheel is on the right side of the—not the left side of the car—so difference in driving.

I’m looking at the map telling him, “We are now looking for a sign with a man walking a dog that only has three legs. And the man has his hand up in the air”. And that’s literally how we looked for signs for the exit that we needed to find. Obviously, we got lost once in awhile. And that’s how we wound up in—I think it was Hiroshima—we didn’t intend to go there. In fact, I was pregnant and really did not want to be there. But we wound up there nonetheless. So we had all sorts of adventures.

My husband did scuba diving a lot while we were in Japan. So we had relationships with people that had nothing to do with the base; because we would go to these scuba diving places and make friends with the local people. How we did that I don’t know, because we didn’t speak any Japan—any Japanese—and they didn’t speak very good English. But when you have something in common like scuba diving, or children. The children were a big barrier breaker when it came to making friends. We did have a baby while we were over there. She has made in Japan stamped on her bottom.

TS:

[chuckles] How was that, having a pregnancy in the military, in the service? What was that like for you?

AC:

Well, for me—because my job was out on the flight line—not a whole lot changed. I still got in the truck every day, and went out on the flight line and got on and off of airplanes and did my job. It kind of came to a screeching halt, though, when I went on an airplane; and the crew that was on the airplane had a heart attack, because I was pregnant. And they were afraid that I was going to fall on their plane and get injured.

I didn’t go on very many planes after that, because my boss decided that I was probably beyond the point. I was probably seven months pregnant at that point. So right about seven months they pulled me in and gave me a desk job and assigned me to do some stuff that nobody else wanted to do anyway. But it didn’t require me to go out on the flight line—no lifting, anything like that. But basically you went to work at the same time every day, and you got off at the same time every day. When it came time to deliver you called in, and said “I’m on the way to the hospital”. And they knew you weren’t coming into work that day. 

TS:

How did you feel you were treated as a pregnant women in the military?

AC:

I just never let it slow me down, so I never really focused on it. One of the negatives was that, at that time, once you had the baby, you had four weeks of maternity leave. Now they have six weeks, but at that time it was only four. And the project that I was working on—the military does annual awards. Units submit giant packages with all sorts of pictures and write ups and everything detailing all the great stuff that they have done over the last year. And some wise people at headquarters look at it and decide which unit is best and declares them the unit of the year. My job was putting together all these awards packages to submit, and they were due not long after the baby was born. So I worked through my whole four weeks of maternity leave. I was in at work—probably thirty hours a week—instead of forty-five or fifty.

And I had the baby. I mean, I would go into an office, where I was not disturbing the flow of activities. We didn’t have computers back then, we had word processors. [I would] sit at the word processor and do the word-smithing and the editing, all the stuff that needed to be done to the awards packages. [I would] tape pictures on to paper and get everything set up. I could do that in a back room with the baby, right there with me, and stuff. And the packages were all completed right at my four weeks of maternity leave ending. So I never saw my maternity leave. That was one big disadvantage.

In retrospect, I let it happen. I never said, “No, I’m not coming in. I’m on leave. This is my leave. You have to leave me alone”.

I never said that. So, in retrospect, it wasn’t anybody else’s fault but mine. But I didn’t see it that way at the time, and husband certainly didn’t see it that way.

TS:

I imagine not. Did you go in uniform when you were doing this?

AC:

Most of the time, no. Most of the time, no. During this time I was also put up at as officer of the quarter. And I had to meet a board in my uniform. So—but that was luckily at about the three week point, so I had time to lose the weight and get back into my uniform like I was supposed to be. So but—no.

TS:

How did you in the—

AC:

Well, I wasn’t selected as the officer of the quarter. But—

TS:

But that was nice you got put up for it. That’s pretty neat.

AC:

It is.

I can remember one of questions they asked me was, “Who was the dictator that was in Panama?”

And I couldn’t remember [Manuel Antonio] Noriega [Moreno]’s name to save my life. I should have, because—maybe I don’t want to say this. We had a picture of him in our office that we used as a dart board. And I could see his face just as plain. I just could not think of his name, which was very embarrassing when that’s what a board asks you. So—

TS:

Well, that’s neat—so okay—so you had a baby in Japan. You learned how to do air transportation. Your husband’s got a pretty cool job. And what did—were you ready to move on when the time came up, or was there any hardship with that?

AC:

I was not ready to move. But I was not ready to move, because in almost every unit you have a job that—a person called the mobility officer—and their job is to make sure the unit is ready to go to war, if that happens. Most people will never see it—or maybe today they will—but back then, most people did a whole lot of preparation, and then went on to their next job, because nothing happened. I had been the mobility officer at Minot and we never went anywhere.

My goal was to become the mobility officer when I got to Japan. So after a year— year and a half—about a year in a half—I guess—of running around on the flight line—they asked me, “If I could pick my next job what would I want it to be?”

And I said, “I came here wanting to be the mobility officer. That’s exactly what I want to do.”

And they gave it to me. So I was the mobility officer the last year—a little over a year—that I was there. And I loved it. It’s a job that is very rewarding, because you know—you can see—when people are prepared. And you can see especially if you walk into the job and they’re not [prepared]—you can see the progress if you do your job right. So I was in that job when it was time for me to move on, and I was not ready to move on because my next job in all likelihood was not going to be mobility. And I was in my element. I was right where I wanted to be, but that doesn’t last.

So they had a special program that they only selected twelve officers a year to do. So that meant I probably couldn’t get it, which meant that I wanted it. So I applied for that. It was called the “Logistic Career Broadening Program”, and as far as I know they still have the program today. It takes you to an air logistics center, as a logistics officer, and teaches you how the logistics centers work: because they have distribution, they have maintenance, they have propulsion, they work on engines and airplanes, [and] they have material management. So they have a whole lot of these air logistics center that you will never see. They have warehousing, and normal bases don’t have huge warehousings and supply parts for the rest of the air force.

So, I volunteered for the program, and somehow got picked up for it. [I am] not sure how, so that took me to Tinker Air force Base, Oklahoma. That was really a coup to get to get that job, when they are only selecting twelve officers a year for it. That was quite an accomplishment. I was very pleased that I had even had the guts to ask for it. So we went to Oklahoma. Again, living out in the country. There was not the same kind of camaraderie at Tinker Air force Base that we had seen at our first two bases. We became close friends with people in the neighborhood we lived—with—who were all civilians. Our close friends were not on base. We didn’t have any close friends on base. That was a whole different element.

TS:

Why do you suppose that was?

AC:

Well, for one thing, Tinker Air Force Base at that time had 17,000 civilians working on it, and seven thousand military. So there weren’t a whole lot of military people there. Again, the program that I was in had 12 to 15 officers at that base working in it. So you weren’t in the office. You weren’t sitting with someone. You weren’t working with someone that was doing the same kind of job you were. We changed our jobs every six months—went to another one—because we were there to learn the overall workings of the base. Not necessarily to develop an expertise in any one area. So you didn’t work with anyone longer than six months.

TS:

How long were you in training for that?

AC:

It’s a two year rotation. You move every six months, and then your third year you were supposed to go back to your area, transportation, unless you have got a good reason— good justification—for going to another area. I went back into program management for my last year, and did make a couple of friends—you know—really good friends on the base. But a couple of good friends on base didn’t equate to what we had at Yokota and Minot, where there was such a sense of family, and you felt like you could know these people forever, and never get tired of knowing them. But we became friends with neighbors as opposed to people that we worked with.

TS:

And you said Tinker’s where your husband wasn’t able to get job in the —

AC:

He could not get a job. We got there, and two days before we got there a hiring freeze had been imposed for all civilian hires. So what he did was he—because he had learned to scuba dive—he went and got a job managing a scuba store. So—Which put him in management and taught him the retail store area. And he is very good at it, and he actually likes it. He likes looking for new and creative ways to make a store profitable, while—supplying—looking for things to supply to customers that they need and want.

TS:

Well, now—your older girl, how old is she about now?

AC:

In Oklahoma she was twelve—thirteen—

TS:

Getting to be a teenager.

AC:

Right around there.

TS:

And your younger one is only a few years old then?

AC:

A couple of years—she was—I think she was twenty months old when we first moved there.

TS:

So how were you finding having a family in the military and making these moves?

AC:

Well, the younger one of course had no concept of leaving stuff behind, and things like that. One of the things that was difficult to leave behind was, at Yokota, she had a baby sitter that—it was her, she was the only child that this lady took care of on a full time basis, and we still send pictures back to this lady. She and her husband are now retired and living in Virginia. So we will probably go up and see them, even though it’s been almost twenty years since she took care of Bethany.

Now, at Tinker Air Force Base, Bethany wound up in a day care center, which was a totally different situation. And Donna entered junior high school, where she was close to becoming a teenager and all the teenager rebellion and everything else was setting in. But my job in the career broadening program—there is no overtime associated with that—so  you’re going to work in the morning, coming home in the afternoon, and you still sit down for meals every night. There is no such thing as deploying. You don’t have to worry about going to war, because they are not going to pull you out of that program. It was a very, very stable three year period for us.

My husband went back and started working on a master’s degree. I started working on a master’s degree there. My mother-in-law came out to visit from New Hampshire and started a trend of spending winters with us, because New Hampshire winters were so harsh. She would now come and live for three months with us, which was really good, because—knowing the children are getting to spend time with their grandmother.

TS:

That’s really neat.

AC:

Tinker was a good assignment. It was a very, very stable assignment. I learned a lot. It was very rewarding work. I was given projects to work on that could be completed in a short period of time—four to six months—and benefited the unit. [It] taught me stuff; [it] taught me who to coordinate with, and things along those lines.

TS:

So what came next?

AC:

While we were in Oklahoma we moved my Dad to live near us—he was about four or five miles away—because he had had knee surgery. He was now confined to a wheelchair, and couldn’t take care of himself.

My next—normally my next assignment would have been an overseas assignment—and, in fact, I did get orders down to go back to Japan, just to a different base in Japan. Which would have been really, really good, but I couldn’t take my Dad to Japan. And relocating him to be near one of my siblings was proving to be very, very difficult.

So I contacted the personnel folks, and said, “Is there any way to get out of the assignment to Japan?  I would like to stay stateside.”

And, in the end, I wound up going to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey. But the job I was going to was a much better job; a much more promotable position than the one I would have had in Japan. So it turned out to be—

TS:

Worked out better.

AC:

--Pretty good for me anyway.  So I went to New Jersey and went back into air transportation, and was now at the second in command in the squadron. So I had several young officers working for me, along with a lot of enlisted people. But I now learning a different part of the world. Whereas in Japan, I had learned all about the pacific and what happened there and the cultures there, and stuff. I was now having to learn Europe—and what Europe was all about—because that was where McGuire Air Force base sends all of its cargo to.

TS:

Approximately what time was this?

AC:

Those would have been—’86 to ‘89—[it would have been] ‘93—‘94.

TS:

So when the Gulf War happened what were you—where were you at?

AC:

Well, when the first Gulf War happened I was still at Tinker Air Force Base. Tinker Air Force Base had been made into an aerial port, which didn’t last very long. It was like a one year thing, they decided that the program wasn’t going to work. The concept was to have an aerial port in the center of the United States, whereas all the aerial ports were on the coasts—put one in the center—so that somebody who is shipping something out of Texas doesn’t have to truck it all the way to the coast. They can take it to a central base in the central United States, and it would than fly to where it needed to go from there. It was a great idea, but some of the statistics they used to justify it didn’t work. My personal opinion is that they also forgot to take into account that when you’re opposed to something, you can make it not work. And the coast ports did not want this port idea to work, and it didn’t in the end.

TS:

A little politics and power play?  

AC:

And bad timing, because Desert Shield/Desert Storm started at that point. As directed, all the bases in the central United States sent everything to Tinker Air Force Base. But the airlift—the airplanes—had not been redirected to Tinker. So, literally, the commissary parking lot became a staging area for all this cargo that accumulated, and sat for weeks and weeks and weeks without moving; because there were no airplanes to put it on. It just didn’t work, because of a number of reasons, but timing of Desert Shield and Desert Storm had to do with a lot of it.

TS:

What did you think about what was going on at that time with that engagement?

AC:

Well, obviously, there was a lot of support for it. Some of our jobs changed. The career broadening officers knew that we weren’t going to be deployed. So we weren’t in danger of—We knew what Scud [Soviet manufactured surface to surface missile] missiles were, but we were never going to find out firsthand what they were.

But because we were logistics officers, and we have all this cargo sitting there, we then got—a lot of us—got very involved at getting creative and figuring out ways to get this stuff out of here. Or how do we marshal it differently, so that the more critical stuff is accessible, when an airplane does come in, as opposed to some of the things that can sit and wait. It was very exciting. Hours got to be a little bit longer, but, once again, with airplanes not coming in, working until eleven o’clock at night has absolutely no benefits whatsoever. So our lives there didn’t change a whole lot. We understood the urgency of the situation, but we weren’t personally impacted by it. Now we did have some reserve groups, and, things like that that, there who were impacted, and obviously security forces and some of those units were impacted. But our lives didn’t change a whole lot at that time.

TS:

So you’ve got this new great job at McGuire [Air Force Base]—

AC:

At McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, as the port operations officer. And—like I say—I got to know a whole lot about Europe, not by going there, but knowing what cargo I was sending there; what the needs were. I learned a lot more about hazard materials— explosives and corrosives and things like that—than I had known at Yokota; because, while we shipped things there—we didn’t—I guess maybe the officers didn’t get involved a whole lot. I was now in a different position, and it was my job to make sure that we were complying with all the regulations for shipping hazardous materials and things like that. It was directly—I didn’t have to have the expertise. I just needed to make sure that the people who had the expertise were applying it. How’s that?

TS:

Well, you know that incident that happened with the nuclear weapons not getting—what did you think about that? I was thinking about that when that happened, and I was going— I wish I could—I guess with it—for the recorder to talk about–What was it that exactly happened with it? It didn’t get taken off; what’s the term about—

AC:

It didn’t get properly manifested.

TS:

Okay.

AC:

For one thing, they didn’t have the documentation. When you ship anything on an airplane, you’ve got full documentation of darn near every screw that’s on that airplane—is documented somewhere.

TS:

Something like a nuclear weapon would be pretty visible on a checklist, you’d think.

AC:

When that happened my husband and I heard it on the news. And my husband just looked at me and goes, “How does somebody do that?”

I was like. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, I don’t know and I don’t want to know!”

Because—that is—there should not be any way for that to happen; there are just too many checks and balances. Well, you know, right down to the air crew being briefed on what’s on their airplane; so that they know how to respond to an in-flight emergency if it happens. The people who loaded it knew. Somebody else did a load plan for what was going on to that airplane. While, yeah, they’re sitting on a computer just typing things away, they have to look at all the background documentation and the hazards and make sure that –

TS:

So it went through a lot of filters?

AC:

There were so many steps along the way where somebody should have blinked and then screamed. I can’t even imagine how it got to that point. I don’t know if lackadaisical attitudes added to it, or what. But I—

TS:

Well, you probably–

AC:

I was very glad I was not there!

TS:

But you probably see things like that though, because of the type of work that you did that was so detailed, that was so meticulous, about tracking. Right?

AC:

Right.

TS:

You know that when you see something like that you just have to wonder, “What went wrong?”

AC:

Well, you know the only thing that I can think of that would be more important than tracking nuclear weapons would be human remains. When you are shipping a dead body—a person’s body—a service member’s, or even their family’s body—there is so much concentration on making sure that the proper reverence is paid. I mean it’s not just a paper work type thing. It’s how the casket is placed, where on the plane it goes, and the documentation that goes along with it. And how the responsibilities and rights that the next of kin, who may choose to travel with it, are afforded. There is—That’s the only thing I can think of that gets more attention to detail than a nuclear weapon.

TS:

Interesting.

AC:

So, no, I can’t even imagine how that happened.

TS:

So you enjoyed your job at McGuire?

AC:

I did. I did for the most part. I was only in it for a little bit over a year and a half when  they decided that they were going to reorganize how they did training in part of the air force. And they relocated a school to Fort Dix [New Jersey], which is adjoined to McGuire. Fort Dix and McGuire share a runway.

So they took this huge school and decided to move it there. One of the smaller elements of this school was the air transportation school. It had been up in California up to this point. At that time training for tactics was done in one place, training for security forces was done at another place, training for—all this mobility related training was done all over the country, and they decided to bring it all together in one building.

Fort Dix, as an army post, had—I don’t want to say they stood down—they didn’t close, but they had stopped a lot of their former operations. And one of the things that was there was their big induction center. That was where all the people used to come into the army through—was the big induction center at Fort Dix. Now it’s just this big empty building—a huge empty building—so the air force leased it, and later bought it, I think, and turned it into this big consolidated training location called the Air Mobility Warfare Center.

Because they were going to have a transportation school, they were going to have a transportation officer running the school. So I volunteered for the position. I don’t know if I got chosen because they could save money, because I didn’t have to move. I never changed houses, I just didn’t have to drive quite so far to get to work. Or, if I actually offered them what they were looking for in the position. But here was my chance to be a teacher. And so, I jumped on it, and I got selected for the job. So for the last two years that we were in New Jersey I was at the Warfare Center, running a transportation school, but also teaching in a different department. So –

TS:

So, how was that?

AC:

I would say [that it was] the best job I ever had, but I think every job I get to I will say was the best job I ever had. It was a really, really good job.

TS:

Yeah.

AC:

[I] worked with a lot of expertise it a lot of areas, but, specifically, the instructors that were there in the transportation school [were experts]. We had class instruction there, where they would bring people for mid-level instruction. They had already been to basic tech school, and now they were coming for some mid-level instruction. So we had stand up in front of the classroom instruction.

We also had computer based training that was developed there. So the people that were working on that had to have very specific expertise to know, not just what people needed to know, but how to present it to them in a way that they could understand it. But you’re not standing up in front of them. You’re not getting any non-verbal responses to see if somebody understands it. This computer based training was put on to CDs, and sent out to air force bases all over the world. And [they] were made mandatory lessons that people could sit down and learn more about their specific job. And it included things like, customer service was one, but, dealing with hazardous materials and their documentation was another one. I mean probably 40-50 lessons that these people were developing.

TS:

Well, can you talk a little bit about over time—you went active duty in ‘84? And we’re getting into the nineties here I think, right?

AC:

At this point it was, yeah, ‘95.

TS:

Oh, okay, so you had been in for about ten years?

AC:

Right.

[End CD 1—Begin CD 2]

TS:

Can you talk about the way—first of all—your experience having gradually having more and more responsibility in command level?

AC:

Okay. My first job—My very first job when we were at Minot, when I first got there, I had three people working for me. That was it. And they were all staff sergeants and tech sergeants—no brand new airmen—because I had no expertise, therefore I needed people with expertise around me.

My next job, there were a whole lot more people working for me, but I also worked with the chief master sergeant; and nobody could rival his expertise. So, again, it was a learning type thing. This was vehicle operations.

It was a learning type situation where, okay, I could be an officer. I could be stern.  I could apply rules. I could fuss at people, or, whatever. But I was not expected to have the expertise. The chief had the expertise, and the other senior NCO’s that worked with him had the expertise. And the chief and I had offices right next door to each other. And he never hesitated to come in and close the door and say, “Okay, here is something you better know; because if you don’t, it’s going to come back and bite you”.

TS:

Right.

AC:

I actually went through the process of hiring a civilian in that job. Chief hired the civilian. I just signed the paper, because he had the expertise.

[I then] left Minot and went to Japan. And as a duty officer running around the flight line, you have nobody working for you, as far as actually reporting to you; but because you’re the commander’s representative, when he is not around out on that flight line, everybody works for you. So it’s a lot of responsibility without the— well, you don’t always have the hammer to drop. When I finally did get into mobility at Yokota I think I had five people working in the office. So at this point—lieutenant, junior, captain—very few people working for me that are really working for me.

Career Broadening Program at Tinker nobody worked for me. That was purely learning and never had anybody I supervised.

At McGuire, however, all of the sudden I found myself in a position where I had a lot of—I had four units under me. And they had from—The smallest one had  probably had twelve or fifteen people in it, and the largest one probably had forty people in it. So [there was] a lot of people working for me there. I was expected to have a certain level of expertise. [I had] a lot of reports, a lot of evaluations, a lot of appraisals to do. Like most people, I found the paperwork the most tedious part of the job; but, once again, if you don’t give somebody the appraisal or the evaluation that they deserve, their career is going to suffer. So as tedious at it may be, you have to do it.

TS:

What about having to give a negative appraisal? Did you have to do many of those?

AC:

Not a whole lot—some. But usually if—I find this still today—usually if you’ve got someone who is performing poorly they either need to be out of the air force, if they are making a conscious decision to do this, or they have not been given the right incentives or opportunities to improve their behavior; and they’ve gotten into a vicious cycle. A lot of times, if you’ll get involved and help somebody see their positive points, even though, right now, the negatives are very impacting on their life—if you will let them see that there is reason to improve.

TS:

Do you have an example that you could give on that?

AC:

Yeah. We had a guy that we called “Mister Hundred and Eighty Degrees”. He was a young airman. He made—didn’t have whole lot of expertise. He’d made some mistakes, got yelled at. Some of his mistakes impacted doing the mission, so they negatively impacted other people. So he got yelled at some more. It started a cycle where he honestly did not believe he could do anything right. That was not going to turn itself around. It can’t.

I got involved and another supervisor got involved and a civilian got involved, and [we] basically told this guy there was no reason why he couldn’t control his future. And I don’t know who said something right, but over a matter of a month—I mean we’re talking weeks—we stopped seeing him be quite so reserved. I mean he stopped making any decisions. I’m not sure if he was deciding what to eat in the morning.

TS:

[chuckles] Do you remember what his rank was around?

AC:

Senior airman.

TS:

Senior airman, okay.

AC:

I think he might have actually been demoted to airman first class at one point. But he was not going anywhere, because he was never going to show any incentive; because he was afraid he would make the wrong decision about anything he decided. Somebody somehow said something right; that got him to understand that he did have the capability to do the job that needed to be done.

It started out with small things like he would stay longer at work to make sure a job got done; when before—when it was time to go home, he’d have packed up his stuff and gone home, and that would have been it. So we started to see a little bit more effort on his part. Evidently he started seeing some successes, which led to increased effort on his part.

Like I say, within a few short weeks his whole attitude had changed. And within six months, he had completely turned himself around, and was now a role model that some of the younger troops could learn from. Eventually I left the job where I worked with him and went to another job on a whole different part of the base—a whole different unit—and when I was told, “You can could come down and pick someone to come and work for you to do this,” he’s the person that I picked to come up to the office, which then further—

TS:

Bolstered his confidence?

AC:

Yeah, bolstered his confidence. [It] further suggested to him that maybe he might have a career doing this. But we didn’t let him forget, because we were calling him “Mr. Hundred and Eighty Degrees”.

So things like that are pretty neat to see, but not everybody will respond positively to suggestions for improvement. Not everyone will take on responsibility when you assign it to them; most people will.

TS:

Well, what about—Now, you as a woman joining the military in ‘84—I know you go longer than ‘94—but did you see any changes, as far as being a woman in the military? Or even a female officer?

AC:

I’m sure they were there. I am not sure I saw them. When I first got to Minot I probably worked with more female officers than I did males. So I didn’t know that it was unusual, and in ‘84 it probably was unusual. I didn’t know that, and I didn’t see it. I was so focused on my job and making sure I was doing things right. I’m sure there were times when things happened that maybe wouldn’t have happened to a male officer, but I just didn’t see it.

When I first heard of DACOWITS [Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services] I was in Japan, and they came over to Japan on a visit. And so the female officers—in fact—no, it was the female officers—were specifically invited to a luncheon. And they were asking us very pointed questions about our treatment and things along those lines. And that was the first time I knew that there was problem. You know they had issues: wanted to know how the daycare system worked, wanted to know about the recreation center, wanted to know about our promotions compared to male promotions. I didn’t know that this was something I was supposed to watch. Life happens and they made me aware that there were issues. So maybe they weren’t issues.

So, no, I didn’t see a whole lot of difference. I was getting promoted. In fact, I worked with two male officers who were not promoted, when I got promoted. So I can’t say I was not being promoted at the same rate as the male officers.

TS:

So you feel like you were treated pretty fairly?

AC:

I do, maybe I just had good bosses.

TS:

Do you think there is something to that—I mean not necessarily even as a woman—just having good bosses?

AC:

I think for the most part I had bosses that knew that the young officers working for them were going to be their replacements. And they carried that responsibility to make sure that those young officers grew up in a way that they wanted to be replaced by them. And they took that responsibility seriously. So, no, I don’t think that—I don’t think there was a male-female issue that impacted me.

TS:

I remember one incident we talked about last time.

AC:

Okay.

TS:

Do you think that was a male-female thing?

AC:

I don’t think it was on part of the individual. And the thing we had talked about was—I married my job, and the only thing that could negatively impact on me was when somebody got in the way of me doing my job. And as a brand new lieutenant I was given my order, and a major contradicted my orders, and released all my people that I was supposed to be controlling. And they all went home. And I was very upset. I went away all by myself and cried, which is the way I release tension.

He wasn’t—It wasn’t good enough for him to have interfered, and then just have walked away. He came to find me and found me crying. He put his arm around my shoulder and told me it was okay, and that when my boss had a problem with him just tell him that the “big, bad major made me do it”.

I didn’t— that just made me madder. I didn’t take that as a sexual thing. Okay, yes, I’ll—granted he would not have put his arms around the shoulders of male officer; but the male officer wouldn’t have been in this back room crying either, in all likelihood. I do not think he intended it to be a sexual thing, however it was seen by another female—a female NCO [Non Commissioned Officer]—who reported it. And he, the major, wound up in front of the wing commander’s office desk explaining his sexual harassment; which just horrified me when I found out about it, because I didn’t make the complaint and I didn’t interpret it as that. Other people did. Maybe it’s just my nature. I choose to see that I will accomplish what has to be accomplished, and if for some reason I can’t, it has nothing to with me being a woman. It just has to do with the fact that I couldn’t, for whatever reason.  

TS:

So you were more upset that you weren’t able to complete your task, is what—

AC:

Oh absolutely, absolutely. My boss told me to do something and I couldn’t do it and that infuriated me, because up until that point in my career, I’ve never not been able to do anything that I tried to do. So—

TS:

Well did you ever have any—when you were in the position—of men or women coming to you with their problems? Did you ever have the experiences where you had to council people about sexual harassment or discrimination, or any of those sorts of things?

AC:

I did. The first time happened very early. We had taken an individual who was failing to perform in his assigned duties. And we—and why we did this, I don’t know, but we did. We put him in charge of the dorm. He was now going to be a dorm manager. He couldn’t drive taxis, and he couldn’t do paper work, so he was going to be a dorm manager. Well there was young lady—now he was married—this young man was married. There was a young lady in the dorm that he found very attractive. And for whatever reason, he let himself into her room one day. And she was laying [sic] on her bed, and she was very upset about something else totally unrelated. And he sat on the bed beside her, and he rubbed her back and consoled her.

Now from everything I was told—both his testimony and the young lady’s testimony—it never went any further than that. She was not in our unit. She was in another unit, who didn’t have their own dorms, so some of the people were spread over the other dorms. Her commander was very upset, and had felt like he had sexually accosted her.

I read her statement. He never touched anything but her back, but he did sit on the bed beside her and rub her back. And, yes, I had to call him in and let him know that his behavior was absolutely unsatisfactory and he was fired as the dorm manager. There were no charges pressed or anything like that. But it was my job to make sure that he understood that this was inappropriate.

So, yeah, there have been male-female, but that’s—in his case, he just wasn’t very bright. But in his case I think it was triggered a lot by—he found her very, very attractive, and now she was crying and hurting over something else. And I think he got himself into a situation where I’m not sure he could have resisted it if he tried. But—so that was difficult.

TS:

That reminds me of another thing that you had talked about. It’s really interesting how you talked about how you talk about males discriminating against women, but you had mentioned something one time about how one time women use their sex, I guess you could say—or gender—to get their way.

AC:

Okay. I think the question was, “Have you ever been aware of women—myself or others—using their gender to promote their position, or whatever?”

And I wished I had told that story a little bit differently when I answered the question before.

TS:

Oh. [chuckles]

AC:

Because, yes, I am aware that that has been done. But I had a boss one time tell a very interesting story one time about tools and tool boxes. Everybody has a set of tools to get a job done. And the tool may be something as simple as your height if your job involves having access to things that are well over your head. It may be something as simple as that, but it may be specific knowledge you have. It may be your background. It may be your gender. And if your gender is a tool you can use to get the job done, you would not be doing your best, in your job, if you did not use it.

And I do know women who use gender to get their job done. Whether they related well to other women and got other women, who worked underneath them, to perform better, because they aspired to be like this person; that is still using your gender, no matter what you want to call it. Or, if it’s [pause]—how do I say this—if it is appealing to men who may see you as weaker, or less able, and they then put out extra effort to make—help make the job get done; because, they perceive that they are going to get less input from you. If you can get people to input more—to put out more effort—by all means do it; because that means they were capable of it to begin with, and they should have done it to begin with.

TS:

Do you think that gets into anything with—say—the issue of combat, you know, and men and women in combat together; that it wouldn’t work, because the man would be protecting the female, or something like that? Do you think that’s—

AC:

I think that there’s always a potential for that to happen. But I can also say that a lot of the women that I know of in the military who were successful were successful because they put in one hundred and fifty percent. Because they felt like they had to put in extra effort. And I think that you will see that in combat as well. You will see women who are very much aware that they are perceived as being weaker or less, and therefore they have to try harder—have to work harder—have to put out more, to be perceived as doing the same amount. So they will.

Is that okay? Sure, if that is what it takes for them to reach their full potential. If one hundred and fifty percent is their potential, then they should be doing one hundred and fifty percent.

TS:

There you go. It’s interesting the way you have articulated that. That I think is really interesting, because I think you’re talking about the potential someone can reach. I appreciate that. What—so where were we—in our last base—I forget where.

TS:

Okay, at McGuire.

AC:

McGuire was the transportation school. Working with a lot of experts. It came time to start thinking—well, we were at McGuire for four years; two years on the base, and two years at Fort Dix. And, obviously, it was time to move on. Although at that time we were in a period where you didn’t have to move. We—they were letting people stay and homestead. But I had a general officer that I worked under who [thought that] no matter what the current feeling was, that you could stay and homestead,  that it was not in the best interests of anybody’s career. While the air force rules said you could, the general was there saying, “You’re not going to do it on my watch.”

Which was exactly—you know—hindsight is twenty-twenty. Looking at it from the perspective I have now, he said exactly what needed to be said and did exactly— he was going to give up expertise, but he was going to keep peoples careers moving.

TS:

Is that how you felt at the time?

AC:

Not necessarily, not necessarily. He did everything he could to get people good jobs out of that unit, because we had been very successful at standing up that brand new school. So he gave us the support that we needed. If we told him we wanted a job—unless he really felt like it was wrong for us—he was going to make phone calls, and do whatever he needed to do to give us that job.

I wanted to go back to air transportation. The school that I was running was an air transportation school, and the job that I wanted was not going to be made mine. The general got involved, and eventually I was offered the job. But, up front, the answer was “No, you are not going to have this job.”

They wanted a pilot or navigator, and they wanted a male. No female had ever held that position, which—of course—that made me want it that much more. And nobody—I was not—I had not pinned on major yet. No captain had ever held that position, ever.  It was more senior majors and lieutenant colonels, which made me want it all that more.

So I—but—I wasn’t going to have it. So I went looking for another job, and eventually got accepted into special operations at the command level; which I had no idea what that was. And I thought that where I was going was—their area of operation was South America—and it turned out that special operations was a predominately male career field, and the area of operations was the Middle East and Africa.

So now I was going into a job that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I had never deployed at this time. So operating at a remote site where I was responsible for taking care of people and making decisions without any—any area of comfort, any stability around you—I was just going into a whole new world. I did find the job. I quickly found out that when you deploy you just look at situation, and you make a decision that fits the situation that’s there. It’s not any secret wisdom. It’s not any God-given holiness that makes you do it right, and it’s not even something you can study up for ahead of time. You just have to look at the situation, just like parenting, and make the decision that fits the situation. So I was—I went to Florida to MacDill Air Force Base in Florida. And I very quickly started deploying to places like—“gutter” is how we said it—Qatar. I spent several months in Bahrain. Went to Kuwait, spent a lot of time in Kenya, and a lot of time in Egypt. Learned a lot, probably learned a lot about myself. This was probably the most fearful time of my career.

TS:

What years were you doing this?

AC:

This would have been ‘96 to ‘99, so very early ’96—or late ‘96—to late ‘99.

TS:

You’re out of your comfort zone.

AC:

I was. That is exactly right. I couldn’t have said it better. I was so totally out of my comfort zone. I had no expertise. And yet, I was being looked at to be an expert; and people’s lives were depending on me. I was now responsible for setting up places to sleep, food, all of this stuff, for people who were deploying to an area. I had never been to this place before in my life. I had no idea where I was going to get food from or beds, or anything else.

TS:

So you were the logistics behind the special ops.

AC:

I was, more for the headquarters except when the army units and the rangers—the special ops people, and even the psy-op people would deploy—they looked at me. They would tell me what their needs were, but they looked at me to make sure all this stuff was going to happen.

TS:

So it was a joint service?

AC:

It was. It was. The specific office that I worked in was joint army and air force. I think we might have had one navy reservist in there, but otherwise we were all army and air force. But I spent a lot of time going to the Middle East. We lived in Brandon just outside of Tampa [Florida]. And I can’t tell you whole lot about the area, because I was never there. My daughter obviously liked it, because that’s were she turned eighteen and decided she wasn’t moving anymore. And she still lives there to this day and has been there for ten years. I would not probably go back into that job. But I probably learned more in that job, and had a very real sense of accomplishment in that job, more than any other job I’ve had.

TS:

Do you have any memorable stories that you can tell us about it?

AC:

The psy-op unit—we were going to an exercise that was in Egypt [Operation Bright Star], and that exercise is so such a big massive exercise you start planning a whole year in advance. And we had already had the first conference, which was a year out. We had the second conference, and we were now at the last conference; which is only about six months before the exercise started—maybe even five months—and the psy-op unit that was going to participate— who had said they weren’t participating—was told “Yes, you are”. And they are way behind the power curb.

They don’t even have tents to sleep in. They haven’t arranged for anything, and they don’t know how to start. So we were in Egypt. We were in Cairo at the hotel. And I had established when I was going to be in a certain room, and for all the loggies to come and talk to me.

TS:

All the what?

AC:

The logistics people, loggies.

TS:

Loggies.

AC:

To come and talk to me, to make sure that that what they thought they needed, and what I thought they needed, were one and the same. And I could let them know if there were any shortfalls. And at that point we had been told there were certain things that weren’t going to [be] available, so you going to have to figure some work arounds. So they didn’t have any logistics people there. Their operators were doing all of their planning, and operators are wonderful people, but they don’t necessarily look at the big picture of support the way someone who is used to looking at it. They are looking at actual taskings and operating and getting the job done, but they are not looking at the mechanics that lead up to that point. They came into the room where I was and sat down, very frustrated, because they didn’t want to be part of this exercise.

They said, “Here is what we can tell you.” And they said a few things.

I said, “Why don’t you stop telling me and let me ask you? How many people are you bringing? How many of them do you think will be female?” Because, obviously, when you are putting people in bedrooms to sleep you got to pay attention to that. “Do you have access to tents? How much square footage do you think you will need for your equipment?”

They were able to answer all of my questions. They just didn’t know what I needed to know. And so I got the answers to all of my questions, and then they said, “So we’re going to be able to come even close to this?”

“You’ve told me what you needed, and I’ll get it for you.” And they couldn’t believe it. They just thought that was just going to be an uphill battle, and I just basically told them, “Go home and go to sleep, because I’ll do the work.”

They started to leave the room, and then they turned around and said, “Are you busy tonight; would you like to go sailing?”

One of them, his father-in-law worked at the embassy in Cairo, and had invited him and a couple of the people he worked with to go sailing on the Nile [River]. And they were just so absolutely overwhelmed that I was going to make their job so easy. And this wasn’t really—this was not any work for me whatsoever. If I am going to arrange fifty tents, I can arrange fifty-three tents; which was kind of what they were asking for.

I said, “Sure, that sounds great.”

So they picked me up. And we went in the embassy’s limo which had like steel doors, bullet proof windows, and all this kind of stuff. We went there, went down to the Nile, got on a sail boat, and ate pizza and drank beer while sailing down the Nile; from one side of the Nile to the other. That was probably the neatest experience I’ve ever had in my life.

TS:

How fantastic. Did you see any crocodiles, or anything like that?

AC:

No, the Nile is an extremely filthy river, very, very, dirty. I can’t imagine anything living in it.

TS:

Okay. [chuckles]

AC:

In fact part of our conversation was centered around all the immunizations that you have when you go over to the Middle East, Africa, and stuff. [We discussed] how many diseases we’d still come down with if we fell into the water. It’s—I mean we’re talking babies’ diapers floating in it. You know disposable diapers. It’s—you look at it, you know, it’s a land mark. It’s a—I know it’s not one of the  wonders of the world, but it’s something you learn about in history class—in geography class—and we think of it as being such a great thing. And they just throw everything into it. I can’t imagine it. But you know, I look at how we treat rivers here in the United States, and I’m not sure if it’s a whole lot better.

TS:

Did you get to travel any more in the Middle East when you were there, leisurely?

AC:

Not traveling leisurely, per se.

TS:

Okay.

AC:

You might get an afternoon off to go do something. When I was in Bahrain we went and visited some of the forts that were there. That were built way BC, you know, and just to see things that are that old and know that—I mean our history here doesn’t even come close to the history that you have in the Middle East.

In–when I was in Kenya, for an exercise, everybody was afforded one day off; and we were there for three weeks—something like that. And so the day that I got off, we went on a safari. Now I had set up for these safaris to happen for everybody to go, but only like five or six people could go at a time. So my group of five or six to go. And the driver told us to go back into the dining hall and get some rolls, so that we could give them to the chimpanzees when we saw them. So I went and got a whole bag full of rolls, and he took us out.  We saw lions. We were charged by a rhino and stuff—almost lost one of our lieutenant colonels.

TS:

How did that go? What happened there?

AC:

She had a baby but we didn’t see it. We were in the jeep.

TS:

Oh, the rhino did.

AC:

We were in the jeep, and were all taking pictures of the rhino. And the driver—through the camera, you kind of loose sight of what is happening big picture. The driver wasn’t taking pictures, and the driver saw that this rhino is charging at the side of the jeep. And so he stomps on the gas, because he has got to get us out of there. We had somebody on the back end—a Lieutenant Colonel on the back end. And luckily his feet were tangled underneath the seat, because we wound up grabbing his shirt and pulling him back into the truck; because, he was literally outside of the truck—everything except the feet that were caught in the seat. He’d been off if it hadn’t been tangled in the seat.

TS:

Yikes.

AC:

So, pulled him back in. There were people who would say—he was a reservist and he was a lawyer in real life—so we teased him about it. We said that it wouldn’t have been a big loss. But we never—but until the driver got out of reach of the rhino and stuff and we looked back—that’s when we saw her baby, and we were just too close for her comfort to her baby.

TS:

Yeah.

AC:

But we saw warthogs. I got lots of pictures of warthogs. That’s what I wanted to see. From the Lion King, I liked the warthog.

Did not see—there were some things we didn’t see, and I can’t remember what. 

We did not see lions. We did not see any cats. There were no big cats that we saw, which given the structure of my daughter’s weddings seems kind of odd.

But we did find—we did go to the place, where the chimpanzees were. And so we were—we—I don’t know why I said “we did this”. I was throwing bread out to the chimpanzees, and had forgotten a very basic thing about monkeys—about chimpanzees. You do not feed the females, that is for the male to do. If you are going to give them food, you give the male the food; and he will distribute it as he sees fit. I wasn’t giving it to any particular chimpanzee. I was just throwing it. And the next thing I know everybody in the Jeep in front of me is clearing out of the way, because this chimpanzee has come up and over the Jeep and is coming after me. And he wants the rest of my bread, and I wouldn’t give it to him.

TS:

[chuckles] Oh no!

AC:

I had to get shots, because he bit my finger.

TS:

Oh my gosh.

AC:

I had a piece of bread in my finger, and he was going to take it. He didn’t bite my figure.

TS:

He bit the bread?

AC:

No, he scratched it with his nail. But it didn’t matter, because you still have to get immunizations, tetanus shots, and stuff like that.

TS:

So you’re protecting your bread, huh?

AC:

Yeah, I guess so. So we let him have the entire bag of bread. That was the end of that. He went and distributed it. So but, yeah, you can’t have these adventures every day. And you know that was a very good adventure. And we got lots of pictures out of it and memories that we will remember for the rest of our lives.

TS:

That’s pretty cool. So how long did you do the special ops?

AC:

Almost exactly three years. I got there in December, and actually left there the eleventh of January. So just over three years later. Actually, now that I think about it, I actually left there before that, because I was selected to be a commander. [I] had asked to go back to Minot, but they had an immediate need and wanted a transportation officer at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada; because a lot of the other people that were going to be commanders weren’t eligible to move yet until the summer. I was selected for that job. [It was the] air force’s largest transportation squadron. [It] scared me to death, but I got there.

We flew out the day—two days before New Year’s Day—so what the 30th of January—30th of December? Because, that was YK2 [sic Y2K], and nobody knew what the impact on airplanes and computers and everything else was going to be. So they actually flew me out early, and then we had the change of command, and I took over my squadron the second, or the third of—something like that—of January. That was a really good opportunity.

I had a deputy who was a retired supply guy, and he had been in that squadron for years and years and years, and had had more commanders come and go under him then I can even imagine. So I had all of his expertise; all his continuity. Because he knew the people in the squadron, he knew their capabilities—you know, the civilians that stayed behind. He knew more infractions that had existed for eons, and he knew who you could look to to make the peace and everything.

[I] had two good chief master sergeants there. One of them I still hear about. The other one decided to put in his papers and get out, because they selected him for deployment. He went and did the deployment, and came back and two months later was going to have to go. His wife had a—I don’t know if she had MS [Multiple Sclerosis]? Something along those lines. He just—he could not be deployed all the time; so he put in his papers to go ahead and retire.

And we knew were losing him in about two months, and he was driving into work one day and a semi [truck] ran into the back of his little sports car. And he was never the same again. They took him to the hospital. He never came back to work. It was very, very, sad. He was a phenomenal chief. He had taught me an awful lot. But, more than that, I had second lieutenants that would work with him for six to eight months. And we’re talking brand new, right out of tech school.

And I remember being there in those shoes. And I think if you can take a brand new second lieutenant, and have them work with a chief master sergeant, that’s probably the best favor that anyone will ever do for them in their career. He would sit down with them and he would explain decisions that he made and why he made them. He would make them get into regulations and learn the rights and wrongs.

He—I know on at least on a couple of occasions, when I would ask a question: “Okay, I understand what we’re doing. I want someone to explain to me why were doing it, and why we can’t do it a different way?”

He would sit down with the lieutenant, give them all the background, everything, and then make them come over and explain it to me. And he would sit there and listen to them, but he would make them—so they had to learn it in order to do that. And he was just so, so good at it. It was very sad. It was a big loss when—it was a big loss when he decided he was going to retire from the air force. I figured he was going to come back and work as a civilian somewhere. And that just wasn’t going to happen, because his wife was now taking care of him. We’re talking hardly able to walk at all. So and that was probably going to be—there were some other complications that may well have shortened his life in the end. So but, that was Nellis Air Force Base.

TS:

Now Nellis—you were at Nellis Air Force Base when 9/11 [The Terror Attacks of September 11th, 2001] happened, weren’t you?

AC:

I was. I was. I thought the world would never recover from that. Obviously life has gone on in a lot of places for a lot of people. I’m not sure I’ll ever look at the world again the same. When you live on base, and in order to get to your house from off-base, you have to go through control point that—you’ve got machine guns pointing at you; that is a life changing type experience.

There were no airplanes flying over Las Vegas for days, which is—I mean, it’s Las Vegas! My daughter was—she was in junior high school. My younger daughter was in junior high school at the time. And for her and her friends to go on and off base was an unpleasant experience. You left for church on Sundays an hour before you need to be at church, so that would be able get through the gates at the base to be at church. 

It was—it was very—it grounded people. It stopped people from taking life for granted, because most people knew someone who had either died, or come very close to dying, because of the Pentagon incident. My secretary’s daughter, one of her high school teachers was killed. She was on one of the planes. Something as remote as that to wake up one Tuesday morning, and find out that everything is now different. You have entered an altered state that will never become unaltered again. That was—there aren’t any words to explain how impacting that one incident was.

TS:

Do you remember how you found out about it?

AC:

I was—We were having an exercise on base, and when you have exercises on base you’re giving—you’re put into different scenarios where you have to do emergency procedures. And it’s important that you know that you’re doing an emergency procedure for an exercise, as opposed to real world. So when you call somebody and give them a message you make sure you say that “This is an exercise message.” So I got a call saying that the threat level on the base had been changed, and it was the highest threat level we had.

And he said, “Do you have any questions?”

My first thought was—I was still at home, I had not left for work yet. The first thing I said that was, “Aren’t you are supposed to tell me that this is an exercise message?”

“No ma’am, this is not an exercise message.”

“What are we talking about here?”

I mean, I had no idea. Our TV wasn’t on. I don’t watch TV in the morning.

He goes, “Ma’am, I think you probably want to turn on your television before you leave for work.”

So I turned on the TV—keeping in mind we’re three hours behind—I turn on the television just in time to see the second airplane go into the building. And I couldn’t believe it. It was like there was a science fiction movie on. So—

TS:

Were they replaying it?

AC:

Yeah.

AC:

Shortly after they had replayed the second plane coming into the building, the first tower collapsed. And that I saw live, because I can remember all the excitement. And the announcer’s—the newscaster’s—voice. And it—I don’t know. There are no words. I really thought it was an exercise that he was calling me about. And to find out that, so fast, we’d gone from having an exercise and complying with all the requirements, to—the exercise is done, and we’re in real world threat levels. It wasn’t a smooth transition.

TS:

You mean for the military, or for personally?

AC:

Both. I mean I think that the military, on the overall, just did it. You rehearse these things. That’s why we have exercises. You rehearse these things. You rehearse going to higher threat levels, and taking the appropriate actions. But for it to happen, I think it happened rather seamlessly. We had a major catastrophe; the word went out [that] we were at a higher threat level, because it could happen anywhere. And the word just went out, and people just responded. It was very, very automated. But the horror of why we did it, maybe it was more of a personal experience; but it’s hard to call it personal when it was shared it with so many people. Because I think that everybody felt an awkwardness in the transition; even though our outward movements, our emotions, our actions were what they were supposed to be. We were rattled.

TS:

Did you have a role in the war then in Afghanistan that happened shortly after?

AC:

Other than sending people over there and supporting training for pilots. Because Neills Air Force Base is a major training base, the pilots come there and fly what they call “the range”. It’s the area around Neills Air Force Base that allows them to practice flying in a desert situation, and things along those lines. There’s a variety of geography and landscape there that allows them to prepare for realistic—do realistic training—for when they go to Iraq and Afghanistan and stuff.

So we saw the training take on an intensity, because all of the sudden people weren’t just coming there to fly and then go have a good time in Las Vegas. They were coming there to fly, because they needed to know how to do this flying. One of the other things that happened was, when these people come and train, there is so many. You will have over a thousand people there a time, [and] there’s not enough room for all of them— on base—for them to stay. So we had contracts with hotels downtown.

Now all the sudden we’re asking the question, “What if something happened in downtown Las Vegas? ‘What were we going to do with all these people?”

Because, I mean, obviously, we’re going to call them back to the base and were not gonna let them leave. Well, there’s—

TS:

You have to house them and things like that. Feed them—?

AC:

So we wound up coming [up] with a plan to put them in hangers—airplane hangars—the gymnasium—How we were going to shower, were we going to get the port-a-lavs— port-a-potties—to allow them to do stuff. And the biggest glitch in the equation was for those people who come from bases that are close to Las Vegas—Arizona—New Mexico—sometimes they bring their families with them.

What do you do if there is a major explosion in downtown Las Vegas? Even if they’re not hurt, they’re coming to the base. I mean, guaranteed, if I’m there with my daughter, I’m not staying downtown; I’m heading for the base. So what do you do with that?  So there was an impact that we had to plan for.

TS:

New questions to think about?

AC:

Right, [questions] that we never thought about before. Now, of course, then when we start briefing people on this, and what were going to do, and how it’s going to happen.

And, “Oh, by the way, don’t bring your families”.

Now there is a resistance to it, because it’s an inconvenience. So—

TS:

Interesting. Well one thing I forgot to ask you earlier was—at what point did you decide to make it a career?

AC:

I don’t think I ever decided. I just—you know—I was Minot for two years and Japan was a great place to go. Of course, I’m still under my four year contact then, so I really didn’t have a choice about going to Japan. But coming out of Japan I got selected for this really elite career broadening program. Well, I wasn’t going to turn that down. So, I went there. Well, coming out of there I get selected to be the second in command at the aerial port at McGuire. Well, I wasn’t going to turn that down. That was a great job, and I was—I was—a mid level captain at that point. You just don’t find mid-level captains at a major aerial port as the operations officer.

So it was all just, I liked what was coming next; so why would I not go? And all of the sudden I found myself at the twenty year point, and still liked what was coming down the road. So I still just hung around for a little while longer.

TS:

What made you decide to finally get out?

AC:

My next job was probably was going to find me in the Middle East on—and not necessarily for a four, five, six week type thing. Which is—you know—I had already spent a whole lot of time over there, but I spent short periods of time. And my next job was probably going to find me over there for a much longer duration. That was not appealing to me. I had a daughter who was graduating from high school. And so there was no longer the drive to stay in to provide stability for her. She was moving out of the house and leaving home anyway. My husband and I wanted to travel together—not just me travel—and do some things. Plus, I had been passed over for promotion to lieutenant colonel. Which—and I don’t know what the rules are now, but, the rules were then, I could stay in. I could stay major forever, or, at least, until the twenty-fourth year. So I really only had two more years to go. I mean, unless I got picked up for promotion, but that generally doesn’t happen. So I was at the end of a very good assignment and—

TS:

Which assignment were you at?

AC:

I was in ROTC, teaching ROTC. Commissioning bright young lieutenants to go out into the field; to be those lieutenants who would ask “why’s”, because I had taught them it was okay to say, “Why do we do it like this?” To understand that “because we’ve always done it this way” was not necessarily an acceptable answer.

TS:

So in a sense you’d come full circle?

AC:

Absolutely. Absolutely. I knew when I was taking ROTC, twenty-five years ago, that I probably would like to be a ROTC instructor. But it’s not always the right next move. It takes you out of the mainstream. If you’re a transportation or a logistics officer, remember I talked about that career path? And there are certain things you’re supposed to be doing before you get to a certain point. If you try and squeeze in something like teaching ROTC, you’re throwing everything out of kilter, and you may not be able to get back on track very smoothly, especially before your next promotion. So ROTC is quite often not the right next move.

But for someone like me, who has been passed over for promotion—I no longer have a right next move to get promoted. So it was perfect for me. It wasn’t going to stop me from getting promoted, and it was something that I wanted to do. So it was a good way to end a career. And I’ve talked to other officers who’ve felt the same way.

TS:

Yeah. Would you say that had—Your time in the military, do you think it shaped it in any way who you were at all?

AC:

Oh, it had to have. Had to have. I was so painfully shy before I went.

TS:

Is that right?

AC:

[chuckles] In fact, when I volunteered for the job at Fort Dix—running the transportation school—I volunteered for that job very conscious of the fact that the idea of standing up in front of a group of people and teaching terrified me. And this was going to force me into that arena, and make me get over that fear. No, absolutely. I had very little self-confidence going into the air force, and today I see—It has also allowed me to look at people differently. There’s  no good and bad people. People are different from each other, and that’s okay. You know, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got money or if you don’t have money. It doesn’t matter—the male or female thing, the race thing, none of it—even in a package—in a person. None of it matters.

What matters is whether or not that person is willing to live up to their potential. To do what they should be doing, and what they should be doing as determined by someone besides me. You know, it’s not necessarily that they should be in the military. There may be something else that they should be doing: teaching in a school, driving a bulldozer, directing traffic, being a cop, running a home day-care. But doing what your talents dictate that you should be doing with your life, and doing it well. So it changed my way of looking at things. I was always going to be a teacher. I was always going to go to college. Life just had a predicted course, and that’s the way things were going to go. And after twenty years in the military, I can see that even decisions about careers is not a right decision and a wrong decision. They’re just going to change the course that you were on. And you stay that course, and do the best that you can in the direction that you get led on.

TS:

And what is it that you’re doing today, Aimee?

AC:

I’m teaching. I’m teaching people who have dropped out of school for whatever reason at some point in their life, and have decided that a high school diploma, or a GED [General Education Diploma], is important in their life at this point in time. So now I’m helping them obtain that goal. So that they can go on, and stay the course that they’re on.

TS:

That’s really excellent. Was there anything in the twenty—was it twenty exactly that you were in?

AC:

Twenty-two—almost twenty two.

TS:

Twenty-two. So the twenty two years you’re in, women were able to do a lot of different fields—now they’re flying jet planes, right?

AC:

Now they’re flying jets. Well, I talked to—spoke to you about Marcelite Harris, general officer, who in her bio—if you read it—you will see that she was the first black women to do—I know that there were like four or five different things: female maintenance officer, wing commander in air education, and training commander. So many things that she was the first at, but not the last, because it opened up doors for people to come behind her. Today, I’m not sure how many women are doing firsts anymore, because we have been given so many opportunities and have taken so many opportunities.

TS:

Do you think there anything that women should not be able to do in the military, or otherwise, I guess?

AC:

No. No, I don’t think—I think as long as it is something that a woman wants to do, I think she can and should do it. She should go after it. And I cannot see why someone would stand in her way. And I realize that society still looks at women as not being appropriate in combat type situations, but I don’t know. I don’t think that that’s legitimate anymore. We’re certainly not running out of the the worlds populations, so to keep us around for breeding is not the issue anymore.

TS:

[chuckles] That’s right. We’ve covered a lot. Surprised—you haven’t even stopped for a drink of soda or anything.

AC:

That’s okay.

TS:

But is there anything that you want to add, perhaps, that we have not covered yet?

AC:

No. I go back to stories that my last boss told—he would tell cadets. He was very good with stories that illuminated points, while being fun to listen to. And I told you about the tool box—that we all have tools, and he told that story.

And he told it about a general who had tool that he didn’t know where it was. So he threw it in the back seat. And months later, his wife needed that specific tool to help her in changing the tire; because of the awkward position the car was in, and all sorts of stuff. But he’d just thrown it into the car. Tools that you don’t think you’re going to be able to use, just keep them around, and they’ll come in handy.

But he told another one. And he used Skittles. And the cadets would all be sitting in the auditorium, and he passed around a jar of Skittles and said, “Everybody take a handful of skittles.” And this jar circulated. And he waited until it got almost to the last cadet. And, of course, a few of the cadets would eat a Skittle here and there, even though he hadn’t said they could eat their Skittles.

He’d say, “You’re not eating any of those Skittles are you? Did I forget to tell you that one of them has arsenic in it?”

The whole room goes silent, because the cadets don’t know. And the first time I heard it, I mean, I was like, “Okay, where are we going with this?”

He goes, “I think it was a yellow one. Did anybody eat a yellow one?” And nobody’s making a sound.

And he said, “You know we’ve talked a lot about choosing right or wrong, and doing things that are against regulations or against the rules. And how many of you speed? Why do you speed? Most of you speed because you won’t get caught. But you do get caught eventually, just like that skittle. You can disobey the rules and think you won’t get caught, but you will eventually. Somebody has got the Skittle with arsenic. Is it the first Skittle, or the last Skittle? Is it the first time you break the rule, or the last time you break the rule? The only way not get the Skittle with arsenic is to not get any Skittles at all. And the only way not to get caught breaking the rules is to not break the rules.”

And he would generally present this when we had had a student get in trouble for something, because they were bending the rules. And we talked about the thing about in-state tuition, and not really qualifying for it. [We would talk about] an underage student who would drink, because he didn’t think he could get caught. And at one point we had a rash of students getting caught drinking. We had one get caught who had bought alcohol for other students. And that this thing—this story—the Skittles story would come up about that time, because it was real impacting for the newer students who had never heard about it.  It gave the concept of breaking the rules and getting caught. [It] put it into a new perspective.

I always thought he was very, very good about coming up with life lessons in a way that you didn’t know you were learning a life lesson until you already had it in your head very firmly. I still keep in touch with him. I still exchange emails. He just had his first grandchild. Two of his three kids are now married. His younger daughter is also Bethany. [She was] born the same year that my Bethany was born. So we have a lot in common. His wife works with developmentally hindered adults. And they’re just wonderful people to know.

But the impact that he had on students lives, I’ll never forget that, and never lose sight of that. He’s a really neat guy.

.

TS:

It sounds like you made a lot of really good friends in the military.

AC:

I did. I did.

TS:

Not even necessarily that were in the military, but just through being—the little lady in Japan?

AC:

That’s true. I would advise anybody—my husband said this a long time ago—he would advise anyone to go into the military for one tour. Whether one tour was enough or not all depends on your perspective. I told you he left, because he didn’t see that he had anything else to gain. I never left, because the next step was something I had to gain. And I never stopped looking at it like that. I think the military can be very good for young people today. But whether or not continuing in the military is right for them is all going to be determined by their outlook and their perspective.

TS:

Excellent. Well, thank you so much for letting me come and chat with you again today.

AC:

Yeah, sure, sure.

TS:

I’ll go ahead and click her off.

[Sound of recording device turning off, and then switching back on]

TS:

Okay, Aimee actually has one more thing she would like to add. Go ahead, Aimee.

AC:

You had talked about making friends along the way. I had mentioned earlier that at Minot I worked with two other female officers. There were three of us that worked very closely together. All three of us, years later, wound up at MacDill Air Force Base. Our careers had taken totally different turns.

I was there now in special operations working in a joint arena.

One of them was now no longer working transportation at all. She was working humanitarian affairs, handling just about everything that was going on in Africa for humanitarian assistance—that we were providing—the United States was providing.

The other one had been a supply officer, and had left supply and was protocol officer. And she was now a lieutenant colonel. I was a major. And the other one that was working humanitarian had gone into the reserves. So her career path was a whole separate thing. It’s different in the reserves for promotion and everything else.  She had taken a significant break and everything too.

So we’re all now together in one place at one time again along with the commander that one of them, and I, had had. It was very interesting to see the different paths that everybody had taken, even though we had all started out at the same base doing roughly the same jobs. I just—it just occurred to me that that was a phenomenon that doesn’t happen all the time.

But you make friends, and I still know where they are and stuff. And two out of three of us had had children, and raised children successfully with a career.

TS:

Do you think that says something about the opportunities that are presented in the air force?

AC:

I think maybe it says something about that prescribed career path, and the fact that you can follow it and be very successful. But you can deviate sharply from it, and still be very successful. You’ll just be going in a different direction then where you originally wanted to go. The opportunities are there no matter what direction you go in. You’ve just got to recognize them, and take advantage of them when they present.

TS:

Excellent. So, many paths.

AC:

Yes.

TS:

There we go.

[End of Interview]