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The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

Oral history interview with Brenda Formo, 2009

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Object ID: wv0460.5.001

Description: Brenda Terrell Formo tells of her life, education, and career as an officer in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and United States Army.

Summary:

Formo primarily discusses her work as an officer in the WAC and the U.S. Army in which she served as an instructor, recruiter, and finance officer in the United States, Germany, and South Korea. She gives extensive and numerous details of the various positions that she held during her twenty-four years of service. Formo also describes the climate of the military during the Vietnam and Gulf Wars.

Other subjects include Formo’s patriotism, views on the feminist movement, her thoughts on women serving in combat, her marriage, and a description of her later civilian life.

Creator: Brenda Terrell Formo

Biographical Info: Brenda Terrell Formo (b. 1946) served in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) and the U.S. Army as a finance and accounting officer from 1969-1993. She retired with the rank of colonel.

Collection: Brenda Formo 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, today is April 16th 2009, I am in Greensboro, North Carolina. This is an oral history interview for the Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. And Brenda, could you go ahead and state your name the way that you would like it on your collection?

Brenda Formo:

Brenda Terrell Formo. 

TS:

Okay—excellent—just one moment. Well, Brenda why don’t we go ahead and start with when and where you were born?

BF:

I was born here in Greensboro, May 18th 1946. 

TS:

And what was it—what kind of community did you live in at that time?

BF:

I lived out in the Alamance Church community in southeast Guilford County.

TS:

Oh, okay. What kind of family did you have?

BF:

I had a sister and a brother and my parents were there. We did a lot of things with both sides of the grandparents. And then in about 1962 we moved in town, and I graduated from Page High School in 1964.

TS:

There you go. So a lot of the time you were growing up in a more rural area?

BF:

Yes.

TS:

What did you parents do?

BF:

My father worked for Johnson Service Company, and he was in the air-conditioning business. He was a foreman for the installation of air-conditioning units. And in fact, he worked at the Greensboro Airport, and put the thermostats there on the wall that they had at one time. He did some traveling in that job—going to Trinidad and various places.

TS:

Went to Trinidad, really?

BF:

Well, he did. We stayed home. My mother was a hairdresser.

TS:

Oh neat! Did she do it in her home, or—

BF:

No, she worked at Belk’s beauty salon.

TS:

Oh, nice. Okay, so where do you fit in the three siblings?

BF:

I’m the oldest.

TS:

Oh, okay.

BF:

My sister was four years younger, and [I had] a brother fourteen years younger.

TS:

Oh, so you were definitely the oldest then. Now—so you were in more of a rural community growing up. Do you remember any sort of games that you used to play as a kid or anything like that?

BF:

Oh, well, sure. We had playhouses out in the woods. My cousins—there were two cousins that I had, girls. [They] were my age—within six months—and we did that. Our grandfathers were tobacco farmers. And so we always helped with tobacco in the summer time. I learned to be a stringer, because you got paid more money.

TS:

What’s a stringer?

BF:

A stringer was one who put tobacco that was handed to them on a stick with string. The stick was on a—what we called a “horse”. This sounds really archaic. It’s totally changed now. That’s what they did.

TS:

So you did that pretty much every summer growing up?

BF:

Every summer growing up, until I was probably into fourteen or fifteen years old. We had moved into Greensboro by the time, so I worked in the summertime at Rose’s dimestore; mostly I did that. When I graduated from high school—before I went to East Carolina [University]—every summer I worked at Southern Bell Telephone as a telephone operator. I had a standing job.

TS:

That would be interesting.

BF:

It was interesting.

TS:

Did you do the switches at that time?

BF:

Yeah. Yes, we did the switches which are now at the Smithsonian [National Museum of American History]. My son thinks that is hilarious that I did that.

TS:

[chuckles] Well, it is.

BF:

You had to know a lot of different codes, and you had to have that in your head. It wasn’t information; it was long distance. So you had to know all the area codes. You had to know all the numbers quickly.

TS:

You couldn’t look it up all the time?

BF:

No, you couldn’t, there was no time for that.

TS:

Well, that’s kind of neat.

BF:

It was a fun job, actually. I enjoyed it.

TS:

A lot of people that I talked to who have been telephone operators always seem to have really enjoyed that job.

BF:

Yes, even at East North Carolina. I worked Carolina Bell there for a period of time when I was in summer school. I could always have a job doing that.

TS:

Now, so when you’re growing up and you’re the oldest—are you—how do you like school?

BF:

Oh, I loved school!

TS:

Did you have a favorite subject, a favorite teacher, or anything like that?

BF:

Not really. Not that I recalled. I always liked—I did take book keeping, and so I—that’s why I majored in business administration. I wanted to be in the business side, not just—you know—a secretary, or that end of it.

TS:

At that time, how did you feel about school? Did you feel like you were encouraged by your parents?

BF:

Yes, I did. I felt like I was encouraged to do the best that I could do.

TS:

Did you do any kind of extracurricular activities? Like music or sports, or anything like that?

BF:

Well, basketball up until about the ninth grade. I really wasn’t good enough to be on the team apparently, but I did like basketball and sports.

TS:

Yeah. So you liked sports?

BF:

Yeah, I liked softball.

TS:

Did you get to play that very much?

BF:

No. Well, just recreationally, not on an official team.

TS:

Not competitively?

BF:

No, I wasn’t that good. [laughs] 

TS:

[laughs] Well then—So you’re going to school, and did you have an idea of what you wanted to do when you “grew up” sort of thing?

BF:

Well, I was always interested in travel. I wanted to see the world. So, I guess that was probably in the back of my mind.

TS:

Yeah. So, did you know that you wanted to go to East Carolina [University]—what you wanted to do at a certain point there?

BF:

Well, I was the first one in my family to go to college. So, I pretty much did that on my own. I decided that I wanted to get more education, and that I wanted to get a degree. I pretty much pursued that on my own. My mother was always very supportive of everything I did, so that was helpful.

TS:

Yeah. What year would you have graduated from high school?

BF:

High school was 1964.

TS:

Okay, you’re growing up in high school during the sixties, when JFK [John Fitzgerald Kennedy] was president?

BF:

Correct.

TS:

We had some things that happened then like the Cuban Missile Crisis. Do you remember any of that?

BF:

I do.

TS:

Can you tell us about that?

BF:

I remember that my mother was in the hospital when John Kennedy was shot. So, I remember that very vividly. And—

TS:

What do you remember about that?

BF:

Well, I just remember how horrible it was and that it was a time of great mourning for our nation.

TS:

Do you remember where you were?

BF:

I was visiting my mother—who was in the hospital at that time—that particular day when we got word.

TS:

So did you—With the Cuban Missile Crisis and the concern about nuclear weapons in this era, do you remember having any thoughts about that as a young girl?

BF:

Oh, I remember some of the school exercises we went through, but I don’t remember being particularly afraid.

TS:

Yeah.

BF:

I wasn’t personally. I felt that it was taken care of.

TS:

I think sometimes young people today don’t have a sense of anything about what kind of things you had to do to prepare, can you describe any things that you did in school to—if there was a nuclear bomb that came? Did you guys have any exercises?

BF:

I think we just had to go to a certain location away from the windows, or something like that. That’s the best I remember about that.

TS:

So, did you have any—‘64—what happened in historically, at that time—so you then actually get into college during the height of—part of—

BF:

—of Vietnam.

TS:

—of Vietnam, and also the civil rights movement.

BF:

Yes. Concerning the civil rights movement, that was a period in which I was scared; because—when I would come to Greensboro—there were a lot of protests at A&T University [North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University] and we could hear the gunshots. I remember that there was a curfew at seven o’clock at night, where everyone had to be off the streets.

I do remember in eastern North Carolina—seeing crosses burning from the Klu Klux Klan, which was quite scary. That was period—it was scary. I won’t say that it was terrifying, but it was scary to live through those days; because—let’s face it—everything wasn’t tranquil. It wasn’t just peaceful. There was violence. I know that’s not the way that Martin Luther King [Jr.] intended it, but it did happen.

TS:

When you said that there were gunshots near A&T, do you know where they were coming from?

BF:

They were coming from A&T University.

TS:

Yeah.

BF:

I don’t know whether they were just shooting them in the air or what. But, yeah, that was scary.

TS:

Did you have any—was your high school integrated at that time?

BF:

Yes, Page was integrated. I’m not sure if it was my junior or senior year, but there were a few blacks there. I don’t think that that was—I don’t recall that being a problem at Page. When I was in college and coming back—which was later than ‘64—it seemed like the situation was ramped up.

[Phone rings]

TS:

Yeah. Want me to pause it for a second?

BF:

Go ahead, he’ll pick up.

TS:

Oh, okay. So, you go to East Carolina University. Did you have a sense of what you wanted to accomplish there?

BF:

Well, I wanted to get a degree in business administration. There—there were very few women majoring in business administration. In fact, I was advised to go into business education, because that’s where women “belonged”. I said, “No.” Although I typed, I wasn’t a great typist, and that I wanted to be on the management side.

During that time it was quite interesting, because I did have various professors—one of them in business law—who told us that—I think there were two or three women in the class—that women did not belong in business administration, and that he would grade us accordingly. And he did. I got a “C”. And I remember one—another woman got a “D”, and another one got an “F”. And I really worked for that “C”. So nowadays, of course, that would not happen.

But he wasn’t the only one. There were some others who did not think that women should major in business administration, that we should be on the education side; so that we could go into a high school, and teach typing and stenography, and that sort of thing. But I stood steady with it, and continued on and persevered and I did get my degree in business administration from there.

TS:

Yeah. Now did—do you feel like you had kind of an independent mind?

BF:

Oh, absolutely!

TS:

Yeah. So when the first time they said you shouldn’t be here, do you remember how you reacted or anything?

BF:

Well—my natural—although I was quiet, my natural tendency was to persevere and show them that I did belong. So, I just—I had my goal, and I just did everything that I could do to achieve it.

TS:

Do you feel like you won them over, the ones that were kind of putting up barriers for you?

BF:

Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know. I really couldn’t say. I do know that there are a lot more women majoring in business administration throughout the years, than there were in the sixties.

TS:

Yeah, at the time. So you had mentioned that you got hooked up with the ROTC [Reserve Officer Training Corps].

BF:

Just in the fact that I was commissioned the same day [that] they were—no other association. It was just that my recruiter thought that that would be a good idea. They accepted it there at East Carolina, and so I was commissioned the same day that they were.  I had graduated a year previously.

TS:

Okay. Well, tell me that how you got interested in the military, then.

BF:

Well, my father and all my relatives served in one of the branches of services. But I was a member of Angel Flight when I was there, which was an auxiliary to the air force ROTC. And I enjoyed that. I was a member of that for probably about three years.

TS:

What did you do in Angel Flight?

BF:

We had different functions in support of the air force ROTC. We would have fundraisers for different things—contribute—just as many of the associations did.

TS:

Like dances?

BF:

I don’t remember—Well, yeah, we did have that. For multiple sclerosis, as an example—or Jerry’s Kids [children supported by the Muscular Dystrophy Association]—that sort of thing—polio. We would have various functions for that—fundraising—contributing that way.

TS:

Okay. So you said that you have a family history of military service. What made you—because at this time there weren’t that many women in the military—what made you kind of look in that direction?

BF:

I guess Angel Flight had a certain influence on me. Through meeting different women who had served in the military, I thought that it was a profession that I would be interested in. And I was always patriotic, and I had the desire to travel and do different things. Being a major in business administration, quite honestly, I was used to being in a classroom with almost all males and—so, I was used to that side of it. So that wasn’t frightening to me, or anything.

TS:

What other choices did you feel that you had at that time?

BF:

Well, I did work as a sales rep[resentative] for a major cosmetic manufacturing company for a year after I graduated from college. So, you know, I had that as career stepping stone, but I wanted to do more than that.

TS:

So you felt like the military might offer you some different opportunities?

BF:

Right, I felt that I would have more opportunities. I thought that it would offer me, as a women, more opportunities; and it did.

TS:

So did you just go into a recruiter’s office, and talk to them?

BF:

Yes.

TS:

How did you pick the army over the other services?

BF:

Well, I talked to the army recruiter—I guess I didn’t really look at the other services so much. I liked the army recruiter. I guess I may have met her—I guess I met her in Raleigh. I liked her. I liked what she had to say and the opportunities. I didn’t pursue any of the other services, maybe I should have.

TS:

[chuckle] Well, doesn’t sound like it, if you had twenty-four years in the army. What was it that she said that might have interested you in it?

BF:

Well, she just told me about the different jobs that were available and the opportunity for travel, and that sort of thing—

TS:

Okay. So you were commissioned in—what—June of 1969—with the ROTC?

BF:

Right.

TS:

And when did you go to—did you go immediately to active?

BF:

I went to Fort McClellan [Alabama] for the officer basic course in August of that same summer.

TS:

And how was that?

BF:

A very hot time. Whoo. It was very hot there. It was a good experience. There were about two hundred of us who were there. My remembrance of that—very good—good training, et cetera—

TS:

Do you think it was what you expected at all?

BF:

I thought it was pretty much what I expected, yes.

TS:

Did you have to do any kind of—well, marching, I’m sure you had to do some of that.

BF:

Oh yes, every Saturday was parade day; so we practiced that every day. We had physical training—not to what it is today, or became during the time I was in the service. But we also had field training—such that it was—again, not to the extent that is today.

TS:

What—

BF:

Because, this was part of the Women’s Army Corps—

TS:

Right.

BF:

—except, well, it’s improved. Let’s say that.

TS:

You think it’s improved?

BF:

Oh absolutely. It had improved when I left, in fact.

TS:

In what way do you think it improved?

BF:

Because the standard—we had to do the same thing that the men had to do. And [we had] different times for the two mile run and pushups and sit-ups. Before, it wasn’t as rigorous as it became.

TS:

Do you think that caused any difficulties for women in the service at that time? Because of the different standards as far as acceptance, I guess, is what I mean—

BF:

I don’t think so.

TS:

No? Because it was the Women’s Army Corps—because it was a separate—

BF:

Right. By the time that we became part of the different branches of service—by that time, it was the same. But our times and the repetitions which you have to do are still dependent on sex and age.

TS:

So, there’s discrimination based on sex and age. Not just—

BF:

I don’t call it discrimination.

TS:

I don’t mean discrimination in a negative way—I mean that it’s different standards.

BF:

It’s different. A man who is forty-five [years old] has a different standard than one who is eighteen [years old].

TS:

Exactly.

BF:

It makes sense.

[Conversation redacted]

TS:

We were talking about if a man is forty-five he has a different standard than a man that’s eighteen.

BF:

Right.

TS:

We get that. That’s what we were talking about for the different standards. You went through Fort McClellan, and then you got sent to your training school, correct?

BF:

Right, that was August or December of 1969. And I then went to Fort Benjamin Harrison [Indiana] in Indianapolis. That was for finance school. Also, I became an instructor. I was one of the first two women ever to go the finance officer basic course. We were the first ones. And then I became an instructor, and I taught military accounting. I was then the first female military accounting instructor at that school.  

TS:

Excellent, how was that?

BF:

Oh, well, that was very interesting, because I remember my boss being terrified that he was having to deal with a woman being an instructor. And so, even when—I went through instructor training also. Of course, he claimed that he helped me get my instructors’ training badge. But later on I worked for him again—later on when I was a lieutenant colonel—his whole attitude had changed, so that was very nice.

TS:

So, you saw a change over time?

BF:

Yes. Oh absolutely, he was actually “for me” at the end there, when I was a lieutenant colonel.

TS:

So he wasn’t at the beginning?

BF:

Well, I didn’t think so—maybe he was.

But in all fairness, it was new, and they had been told by the army, “Hey, you’re getting this female and she’s going to be an instructor in military accounting.”

They had to make their own mental adjustments I guess, but they were always pretty much very cordial. The colonel, the one I was talking about, was a major at the time. The colonel, who was from South Carolina, was always very positive. I felt [he] was always “for me”.

TS:

Did you find that throughout your career that you—that there were people—probably men and women—who were like that?

BF:

I felt that as long as you did a good job—and that you tried hard—that that’s all they really wanted. So, I don’t feel like I was discriminated against.

TS:

Right. How about for your housing conditions? What were they like?

BF:

At Fort Harrison at first I was at a BOQ—Bachelor Officer’s Quarters. They made a mistake when I was first there; because there was a bathroom separating me and a male officer, which was changed quickly. Then later on I lived off-post, and had a female roommate who was—she was in information there.

TS:

So, did you spend a lot of your career living off-post; not a lot on-post?  

BF:

Most of it was off-post, except in Germany; where we lived on-post when I was married. So we lived in the officer’s quarters.

TS:

Did you find that—because that at this time—since there were not many women—that when you would go to the BOQ situation—did you find that accommodations for a woman—they were trying to figure out how to—

BF:

Oh yes, they were trying to find out where to put us. That’s kind of understandable too. You have to remember that this was 1969 or early 1970—in January, or so—and we were the first women who were assigned to the various basic courses: whether it be personnel, which my roommate went to; or finance; or defense information. So it was new to them. They were trying to accommodate everyone. The accommodations were essentially the same.

TS:

As for men?

BF:

The same for men.

TS:

Okay now did you—so you’re learning your trade. You’re becoming an instructor. How was that? Did you enjoy being an instructor?

BF:

I did enjoy that. Later, I become the head of the military accounting instructors, which was really interesting; because then I learned that when I was a rookie I had the absolute worst things to teach: the most dry, the most un-fun. Then when I became in charge of it, I did as my male predecessors had done. I just took the best thing to teach and let them have—which was only fair.

TS:

[chuckles] Right, privilege of rank.

BF:

That was RHIP [rank has its privileges].

TS:

That’s right. That’s very true. So you—Did you have a sense when you went into the Army how long you were going to be in? Did you think that you were going to make it a career?

BF:

Oh, I was—I wanted to see how it would go, so my first commitment—I think—was two or three years. Back then, after a year—so, I was commissioned a second lieutenant.

TS:

Okay.

BF:

I went in as a second lieutenant. After a year of active duty, then I became a first lieutenant, and then [a] captain a year after that. In that time—of course that was Vietnam era.

Then I decided—I liked it. I then—After being an instructor at Fort Harrison, I went to Kansas City and was a recruiter. I really loved recruiting, and I recruited women officers. My territory was all of Kansas and half of Missouri. I had a lot of independence there, and did quite well at recruiting duty. So I was fortunate. I recruited the first female helicopter pilot: Sally Stonescythe [?] Wolfulk [?] [Sally D. Murphy] is her name. The women of Kansas and Missouri were absolutely fantastic to recruit. Never a problem with them passing a test, never a problem with their academic credentials. Most of them did very well. I was fortunate that way.

Then I went to San Antonio [Texas] to the regional headquarters after that, where part of my job was to oversee recruiters in the whole southwest region, which went over to New Mexico and Louisiana and then north to Kansas. That was a good job too. Essentially what that was, was helping or teaching other female officers how to recruit women officers.

TS:

Did only women recruit women?

BF:

As far as officers were concerned, yes. That was true also in the enlisted ranks. The enlisted women recruiters primarily dealt with women. So the interesting thing back then—we had to get a consult with a mental hospital to see if a woman had ever been in a mental institution before coming onto active duty; which I thought was hilarious. I still do. Of course, you don’t do that anymore.

TS:

Was there anything else that you did differently then, that you do differently now for recruiting?

BF:

I’m not really sure what they do now for recruiting. They probably don’t recruit women officers. Because these were all direct commissions. This was before ROTC, so now there is no need for that sort of recruiting. In my job I was went to the University of Kansas, Kansas State—as an example—and some of the smaller universities. Now it’s Southwest Missouri State, I guess. I would be an invited speaker. I also would assist male recruiters and the female enlisted recruiters by going to high schools and speaking. [I was] assisting them in the recruiting effort.

And then once I was in San Antonio—after being at the region—then I became an area commander for recruiting. In that job I was the area commander for San Antonio, and I was the first women area commander for recruiting in the United States. That was interesting, because by that time I had had at least four years of recruiting experience before I become an area commander. Which was—in fact, the position in San Antonio was an infantry position that I was placed in; which did cause me a few telephone calls from some irate men who thought that they were more qualified for the job. And I remember telling them my qualifications, and then hearing theirs. And then at the end of the conversation, they agreed that, in fact, I was more qualified for the job than they were, even though it was an infantry position.

TS:

Was it like a plum job then?

BF:

It was. Being an area commander back then was a plum job. It was plum in that it was recognized as a tough job. If you didn’t make it you were fired, and your officer efficiency report reflected that. But, if you did well, then you could—it would help in the promotion process.

TS:

So there was risk, but there were good benefits also.

BF:

Right. There was risk, but there was reward as well. That was a real challenge, because—of course—I had all men working for me. In San Antonio, I had Hispanic recruiters. I had a Native American recruiter. I had Black recruiters.

TS:

What year?

BF:

—And, I had white recruiters.

TS:

What year are we talking about here?

BF:

Let’s see, that would have been 1976 to ’77.

TS:

Oh okay. So that’s when you had the African American—or the Mexican American—

BF:

I had the—

TS:

—And, the Native American.

BF:

Right. I had all of them as recruiters.

TS:

Okay.

BF:

So in San Antonio—at that time—I would not send a Mexican American recruiter to a predominantly Black area. They would stay mostly in the predominantly Hispanic area—that sort of thing. It was just so that they could achieve the results, because back then we had monthly objectives; and for the voluntary force, it was very difficult.

TS:

Seventy three, right? That’s when that switched over?

BF:

Right.

TS:

That’s really interesting about the recruiting. Was General [Mildred C.] Bailey—did you have any contact with her?

BF:

I did [have contact with her] back when I was in Kansas City. She came out to Kansas City, and I was her escort officer. I remember she spoke at the famous Muehlebach Hotel, and I remember the photographers and the newspaper people being there. The one thing I remember about her most explicitly is that she always looked very good, because she had very blonde hair. And that she would tell the photographers, “I’m sure that you’ll pick the most photogenic picture of me”. Knowing that they could have some that weren’t as good as others. So kind of putting them on notice that she was trusting them to pick the right picture.

I thought that she was an inspiration. I especially liked being with her that particular day, because she was from North Carolina. We could talk about that.

TS:

Did she do any of her fashion shows at that time? Was she still doing those?

BF:

Well, she’s the one that came up with our test uniforms that were kind of a mint green—not army green—and not looking like a uniform. I was part of that test program. That went on for a couple of years actually.

TS:

Was that successful?

BF:

No, no, it wasn’t.

TS:

No?

BF:

I mean when we were part of the army—the total army—then the thought was that our uniforms should look more like the male uniforms. Going back to that—It had been that way, and then we went to kind of a mint green jumper with a jacket. I mean, it was very comfortable in San Antonio, but it didn’t look as professional as I think the army uniforms were.

TS:

Okay, I see. Well, it’s interesting that the recruiter—did you—obviously, you must have hit your goals most of the time if you—

BF:

I did, but it was tough. It was tough.

TS:

Yeah.

BF:

The difference in recruiting in San Antonio was because I was in charge of enlisted recruiting, and not officer recruiting. But, there was [sic] more problems with the people in our area, at least, passing the test than there were in Kansas City—all of those people pretty much could pass the test. It was not so much [that way] in San Antonio, because I think at that time Texas probably ranked near the bottom in education.

TS:

So it wasn’t necessarily having the people, but it was getting them to qualify. 

BF:

Correct. It was the opposite problem than it was in Kansas City. But I will also say that during the time—the early years—in Kansas City that was the time when Vietnam was still going on, and about to wind down. I do remember being in the army car getting egged, getting yelled at—screamed at—and there were some times where I was, quite frankly, a little bit afraid.

TS:

And where were you at?

BF:

I was in Kansas City and Kansas, but that’s just the way it was.

TS:

[You] would just be driving down the street and get egged?

BF:

Or, I could be in a parking lot.

TS:

And come back and see your car?

BF:

That’s right.

TS:

Well, let’s talk a little bit about Vietnam then. We haven’t really talked about it too much. What were your—You went in, in ’69, and obviously the Tet Offensive had happened, and a lot of protests had been going on.

BF:

Well, they continued on until the seventies—at least for us.

TS:

What was your feeling about what was going on?

BF:

Well, we had a commitment to be there, and so that’s where we were. I thought that if you were drafted that you should serve. That was my thought.

TS:

So how did you then feel then about the protesters?

BF:

Well, I thought that they were on the wrong side. I mean, let’s face it; nobody likes to get egged—to be scared that way. I wasn’t after all the one making the decisions. I was one of them, really. I mean I’m just a normal American serving my country, so I thought that I should at least be given some respect.

TS:

Do you still think about those times, and does that bother you, I guess, as much?

BF:

No, it doesn’t.

TS:

I wondered with the counterculture going on at that time too—was that—

BF:

Well, that was going on. Well, probably my husband and I and some of my friends are the only people that I know that were never into drugs. Never done that sort of thing. I’m an individualist even though I joined the army, and maybe it took that. I don’t know. I’ve never been a “joiner”. I kind of like to research things myself, and see how I come out on it. I think there are different ways. If you disagree you can handle it in a different way.

TS:

With recruiting though, and what’s happening with the drugs and things like that, was that an issue with recruiting people at all?

BF:

Well, at that time, I don’t believe that they were drug tested. That came later on—after Vietnam—that we were subjected to that. I guess I wasn’t aware of who was, and who wasn’t.

TS:

Because, they weren’t drug tested?

BF:

Right.

TS:

I guess that’s true. So you had—sounds like you really enjoyed recruiting then?

BF:

I did. I did. It was great fun.

TS:

So, where did you get to go from there?

BF:

After there I went to the finance officer advanced course in Indianapolis. And then I went to Korea, where I was the pay and examination officer—finance officer. I was responsible for paying all of the contracts that we had in Korea—all of Korean national pay. In fact, I had about sixty Korean men working for me, and they did Korean pay. Plus, we had all military pay.

TS:

This was in Seoul?

BF:

This was in Seoul.

TS:

You said that this was Eighth Army—Seventh Army?

BF:

Eighth Army.

TS:

Eighth Army. Now did you apply to go there?

BF:

It was time for an overseas assignment. In fact, the army wanted to send me to Saudi Arabia. And I said that I did not prefer that; because, being on recruiting duty, most days I worked from about five in the morning until ten o’clock at night. This was always six days a week; maybe not as many hours on Saturday, because the testing center wasn’t open. Then we were called on even to work on Sundays, which I really didn’t like. So, I was used to working a lot of hours. I did not want to go to Saudi Arabia: where women could not drive—where I would really have been in bad situation, I think as a woman. I knew that because people in San Antonio from—Saudis whom came over for flight training, or whatever at Lackland [Air Force Base]. So, I knew what it would be. So they said, “Oh, how about Korea?”

So, I said yes to that.

TS:

Approximately what year was this then?

BF:

That was 1977.

TS:

Okay, ’77.

BF:

[From] Seventy-seven to seventy-eight, I served in Korea. So, it was just a one year assignment.

TS:

So you’ve been in the army now for about eight years? Would that be about right?

BF:

That’s probably about right.

TS:

What sort of things had you been doing? Although in recruiting it sounds like you didn’t have a lot of off-time—but what kind of things did you for fun?

BF:

Oh, it seemed like in San Antonio it seemed like I worked all of the time. Well, I would go to concerts back up in Kansas City. Plays and things like that.

TS:

Did you use any of the facilities on base, or anything like that?

BF:

No, because I lived off. I was stationed in Kansas City. So, I had my own apartment in one of the suburbs. Gladstone was where I worked. I would occasionally go over to Fort Leavenworth. I did know people over there. But, it took me about forty-five minutes, to an hour, to go over there. So, it wasn’t a place that I would go to.

Back in Fort [Benjamin] Harrison, when I was there, and I was an instructor, I took pottery classes and that sort of thing. That wasn’t available to me. I guess it probably was at the community college or something. Here again, on recruiting duty, I traveled a lot. So, I wasn’t back home a lot.

TS:

It was hard to commit to something—

BF:

That same thing in San Antonio. I was—I worked long hours, so I really didn’t have a lot of private time.

TS:

How about when you got to Korea?

BF:

Oh yes, there was all kinds of private time then, because I worked regular hours. So, I was off at four o’clock, and didn’t know what to do with myself. And then Wednesday afternoons we had cultural day. Since I was a senior officer, I got to take the people who worked for me—and others from the finance office—on different trips there in Seoul. We would go to the cultural center, or we would go to Inchon. We would go to see the MacArthur memorial, and actually see Inchon itself.

So, we had different things that we did. The purpose of that was to learn about the Korean culture. And I have to say that it was a beautiful country. Have you ever been to Korea?

TS:

I have not.

BF:

It is a beautiful, and the Korean people are very lovely people.

TS:

I did just have Korean food last night though [chuckles].

BF:

I love Korean food.

TS:

I do too. So, you’re—How did you like your tour then? [It] sounds like you did like it.

BF:

I did like it, because the USO [United Service Organizations] had various trips—weekend trips—that you could take that were great fun. I got to see a lot of the country. I did take a Korean language course while I was there; so that I could communicate, and so that I could read the signs, and know various things: “where’s the restroom, where’s whatever”. That was interesting, and it did enable me to communicate somewhat with the Koreans.

TS:

Yeah. That’s really neat. Was Korea what you expected, too, at all?

BF:

I guess I didn’t know what to expect, but I think that the Asian culture—interesting. I liked it. People were really great, and the beauty of the countryside was just overwhelming. I have to say it was beautiful.

TS:

Yeah. Do you have pictures of it?

BF:

I do.

TS:

I’ll have to see some of those. Now—so, you spent your year in Korea, and so then where?

BF:

I met my husband there.

TS:

In Korea?

BF:

I met him there in Korea. He left—I guess I met him in August, but then he left in December.

TS:

Was he in the service?

BF:

Yes, he was in the army also. And then we got married in October of ’78 in Fort Belvoir in the D.C. area.

TS:

Now when you originally went in—I’m trying to remember the year that they allowed women to have dependents. When you first went in you couldn’t have dependents, could you?

BF:

That’s right. You could be married, but you couldn’t have dependents, yes.

TS:

What did you think about that at the time?

BF:

Well, when I was in recruiting duty I thought that it was a big hassle. But, because— also, I have to say I didn’t understand why women would leave their children and come in. I guess I still don’t understand that. But that did occur on some occasions—not with any women officers, but on the enlisted side.

So my general is feeling is that it isn’t compatible. It’s very difficult, because you have to make provisions for when you’re called away. And you could be called away on alerts. In Germany—that’s where I was assigned after DC, and after I was married—I did have my son there in 1983 at the end of my time. But that was quite difficult, because when we had alerts—you might get a call at four o’clock in the morning. I had to have preparations ahead of time, which I did. But if you’re back in the states, you could have your family help you, and that could be of assistance to you. Overseas, you know that’s not the case, you have to rely on other people, and they have to be available.

TS:

So you’re back in Korea and you met your future husband, and he left—how did you hook up again, I guess? 

BF:

Well, he had asked me to have my orders changed from Fort Ord California—where I was supposed to go—to D.C., so I did. So, then he asked me to marry him, and so I returned in July of 1978, and then we got married in October.

TS:

And you’re in the Washington D.C. area?

BF:

Right.

TS:

What was your job at the station?

BF:

I was the deputy accounting officer for the military district of Washington, which was the largest finance office in the army at the time. So, we paid all civilians in the D.C. area, so every Friday was a payday for us. We also paid all military. It’s totally different than it is now. And all contracts for the military district of Washington.

TS:

How do you mean it’s different?

BF:

Because it’s a smaller office now, and it’s not nearly as large. In the accounting office alone there were probably about five hundred employees. At first I was in operations, where we had military pay and travel. Then I was the deputy of accounting officer. I worked for a civilian. The overall head was a colonel.

TS:

Now had you been to the D.C. area before?

BF:

That was my first assignment.

TS:

How did you like it in that area?

BF:

Oh, that particular job was the worst job that I had ever had, because I wasn’t used to—There was very few military there, and the work ethic wasn’t what I was used to among the civilian force; and, so, it was very difficult. I found that the people working in accounting—many of whom were hired during [Robert] McNamara’s days; where McNamara, secretary of defense, hired about a 100,000 people off of the streets of D.C. to give them jobs. A lot of them resided as employees of the military district of Washington finance office, and I found out that they didn’t know anything about accounting. So, I spent quite a bit of time there teaching the employees accounting, because I had been an instructor. It was unbelievable, but that’s just the way it was.

TS:

So did you get it all turned around then?

BF:

Well, not me individually, I mean, I did what I—but it took kind of a group effort among the officers to turn it around. I think it did. Then it was decentralized, and that was probably a good thing.

TS:

Okay.

[End of CD 1—Begin CD 2]         

TS:

How about—Did you do anything in particular on your off time in the D.C. area?

BF:

Well, I tried out for the MDW [Military District of Washington] Women’s softball team, which was great fun at Fort McNair. I didn’t make the team. I wasn’t good enough, but I did try out for it.  

TS:

The MDW?

BF:

Yes. I just tried out for it. I didn’t make the team—the army women’s team—they were much better than I was. And they took it seriously.

TS:

I bet they did. I bet they did [chuckle]. We usually got stomped—the air force usually got pretty much creamed by army teams.

BF:

Oh, really? They were something else.

TS:

Was there anything particularly hard that you had to do while you were in the military—say—emotionally, maybe? 

BF:

Oh, I think one of the hardest days I ever had was in Germany, when we qualified with the .45. And it took me about all day, or we were out there all day, because we qualified in the gas mask. And, it was in May, and it was an exceptionally hot day in Heidelberg—which was unusual. That was a difficult day for me, but I did qualify. And then I could go back to the office where I worked—it was called resource management—then I found out that some of the infantry people did not qualify. So, I was very proud that I did. But that was a difficult day. Sure, there were difficult days. I think that’s with any job.

TS:

How about anything physically that you had to do—anything hard for that?

BF:

Not really. I always prepared for the PT [physical training] test. In Germany we took it four times a year. So, I was always ready for that. I always passed the PT test. It was more difficult after I had a baby, of course. My best event was my sit-ups. I could knock those out in nothing flat. But after I had a baby—I did take the test in November; after I had him in August—that was difficult, but I did pass it. So I could have gone for a waiver, but I didn’t want that on my record; because I was going before the lieutenant colonel board, and I was afraid that that would be a black mark. I just lost a lot of weight, and got in and out, and did it.

TS:

[chuckles] Let’s talk for a second about performance evaluations, because that’s an interesting part of—for a career. There’s a lot laying out there for it. Did you—initially when you were talking about your initial time—I forget the—it was a major wasn’t it?

BF:

Correct.

TS:

Then later on you said that he changed his attitude. Did you feel that your evaluations—Did you feel that you were treated fairly? I guess that is what I want to say.

BF:

I did. I did.

TS:

Do you feel like you had any mentors that helped you along the way?

BF:

I did. General Millie Hedberg, a female in recruiting command in San Antonio was a mentor. Before that, I guess I—I’d have to say that when I was in the inspector general, I do think that some of the male officers—my supervisor was a good mentor. Also, Johnny Laughton at the military district of Washington. He was a black officer from South Carolina, and I thought he was a great man.

TS:

What kind of things would they do as a mentor?

BF:

Well, they gave guidance on certain situations. I guess through observation—that was very helpful—how they conducted themselves in difficult situations. If you’re in the finance office there are going to be things that go wrong, or [there will be] people who miscalculate a travel voucher—we’ll say—or make errors on pay. So, you have to be able to handle people.                        When I was at the military district of Washington, I remember that one of the contractors that provided hay for the horses at Fort Myer did not get paid. I remember him coming to our office with a handgun and putting it on my desk, and demanding that he get paid. So, I handled it right then. And he did get paid, because some of our people had made a mistake. So, that if there was a civilian whose pay was not right—

                        I remember being sent over to the Pentagon to explain to some senior executive service civilians, whose pay had been recomputed by some of our people who did not know what they were doing. I remember going over. I was sent over to deal with that situation, rather than the major or the colonel. I was a captain at that time, but I guess they thought it would go down better if a female went and explained it. So, I did.

                         Things like that would happen. You just have to tell the truth, and get it corrected. If your people made a mistake, [then] they did. When you’re the officer, then that’s your responsibility.

TS:

That’s true.

BF:

You take it, and you make the correction, and go on.

TS:

So you’re—you led by example, as well as followed by some role models.

BF:

Right.

TS:

Do you remember any experiences with the people that you supervised? How was that, how did you—

BF:

Well, I guess in Korea the Korean men were very worried about me, because they weren’t used to women being in positions of authority. By the end of my time, they hired a female to be part of the Korean pay group. So I thought that probably spoke well for me; that they trusted a female well enough to be their—I just believe in treating people right regardless of rather their male or female, black, white, Korean, or whatever. You treat them with respect, I think that that is returned to you.

TS:

Did you have any disciplinary issues that you had to deal with?

BF:

Oh sure, you know, I sat on court marshal boards, where I had to make the hard decisions. And I’ve had to decide rather a person gets an Article 15 punishment for various things.

TS:

Can you describe what an Article 15 punishment is for the people who don’t know?

BF:

Oh, that is just a punishment for an infraction of the military code of conduct. It could be something like an enlisted person—or it could be anybody—but in this particular case an enlisted person drinking too much, and getting into a fight with a guy over a girl—that sort of thing. That would come up. In recruiting duty—Thanksgiving—having to go down to the police department, and getting a recruiter out of jail for a DUI [driving while under the influence charge]—that sort of thing. That happened. It wasn’t a good thing. You just have to do it. You hope that they won’t do it again.

TS:

Yeah [chuckle]. Where there people that you saw under you that really shined in a particular way?

BF:

Oh yes, yeah. In recruiting duty I had some very good recruiters—high ethics. Because, ethics was [sic] a thing of paramount interest. Because you do not want to have anyone cheating to get—because, there was a lot of pressure on recruiters. You had to be aware of that—that they could succumb to some things that weren’t ethical. You always had to be on the watch for it. I think overall I was very happy with the men and women who worked for me. Some of them have gone on to be general officers, and I’m very proud of that. You know, I think very successful people in general.

TS:

Now when you and your husband got married, and you had your orders changed to go to the D.C. area—then how—did your husband stay in the service also?

BF:

Yes, he did.

TS:

How was it that you—did you stay together most of the time? How did that work out?

BF:

We did. We were—I was thirty-two, and he was thirty-three, first marriage for both, and we had already completed the officer basic courses. He’s in the engineers. I was in finance, as I said. So, we had already finished the basic and advanced courses by that time. We did have a separation when I went to the armed forces staff college in Norfolk [Virginia] and he was in D.C.  So he would come down and visit me every weekend. Then I went to the war college. So, but I went in the summers for two weeks as part of their correspondence course; so that I would not have a separation, because my son was little then. He was just a baby boy.

TS:

So you both went to Germany together then—I assume—because you had a baby there?

BF:

Yes.

TS:

Did you—were you both in Heidelberg?

BF:

Yes, we were.

TS:

Tell me about that, tell me about living in Germany.

BF:

We lived in government quarters—very nice—Kirschgartenstrasse—which faced a mountain. Actually it was very nice, because it had just been renovated. So we had a brand new bathroom that was beautiful: German tiles and a huge tub and all that. So, we had two bedrooms and a living room and a combination dining room and a kitchen.  We lived on the third floor. There were all officers—major and above—in the building.

We were both majors by that time. So we walked to work every day, which was great. We did have a car that we bought there. We did volksmarching, which is hiking. We usually went for about twenty kilometers on Saturday, and then we would go Sunday. We really enjoyed that. We did go on a marathon once—walking marathon, I want to say—not a running marathon. It was very beautiful. We enjoyed that. That was our hobby. So we got to see a lot of Germany that way. When we finish our interview I’ll show you our plates, and—

TS:

I was just going to say, “Did you get those plates and the—

BF:

Well, we did. We went for the plates, and we always liked gold ring, because that was twenty kilometers. One of the things I noticed about the German women, that they either went for the ten kilometers, because they had children, or thirty kilometers; when they had those, and they would run it. [There were] not so many people on the twenty kilometers. But, that’s what we did. We did that.

TS:

Yeah. That’s a great time there too.

BF:

It was. I really enjoyed it. We went in the winter time too. So we went all year. Of course, it was best in the spring and summer and fall. So we got to see a lot of Germany that way too. Because, we would plan our weekends when our paper came out with—the army publication came out—I forgot what it’s called now—it would have all of the volksmarches listed. We would choose by the plate usually.

TS:

[laughs] Yeah, isn’t that funny?

BF:

—which one we wanted to get. So, then we were members of the Heidelberg volksmarching club, and so we worked and we sponsored our own volksmarch.

TS:

That’s really neat.

BF:

That was great fun. We did a lot of traveling too. One of the civilians on our building was a—he put travel packages together. So we did a lot of traveling to England, Ireland, Italy, Spain.

TS:

How was that?

BF:

We even went to Russia. It was great.

TS:

You went to Russia? Where in Russia did you go?

BF:

We went to Moscow and Leningrad [now known as Saint Petersburg due to collapse of the USSR].

TS:

Really, what year was that?

BF:

That was 1982, back when we had to have special permission. We went on Aeroflot [Aeroflot—Russian Airlines]. That was scary flying out of Frankfurt.

TS:

How was that?

BF:

It was pretty scary. I will never forget what they served for the lunch. It was a beef tongue, which I just had to just bypass. The stewardesses were not like Americans. They were—

TS:

A little more hefty?

BF:

A little more hefty, yeah. But in Moscow and Leningrad we had a very nice tour guide. Of course, we saw what they wanted us to see. We actually got to see them—It was in November, so we got to see them practice for their November parade; with all of their military tanks and all that.

TS:

How interesting.

BF:

We had to have a special clearance to go since we were active duty. We thought they were watching us a little more closely.

TS:

I was going to say that—I was trying to remember what year that KAL 007 was shot down. I thought it was 1982—it might have been ’83 though [Korean Airlines flight 007 was downed by Soviet interceptors September 1, 1983].

BF:

Maybe, I don’t remember. I think it was after that, because we went in—I think it was November of ’82.

TS:

Interesting, I think that would have been fun.

BF:

It was a good trip.

TS:

I’m a little jealous of that.

BF:

Then we went on a train from Moscow to Leningrad, and so we actually got to see the beautiful birch trees in the countryside. Then, we went on a cruise in 2005. So, we got to go back to Moscow, and see the difference—and quite a difference it was.

TS:

How would you explain the difference?

BF:

Well, in ’82 cab drivers and all people who had a car—which weren’t that many people—would take the windshield wipers off. That kind of interested those of us on the tour—why are they doing that? Our tour guide said that, well, there was a shortage of them. In fact, what people would do was steal them, because there was a shortage. So, they just took them off themselves.

TS:

When they parked their car or whatever?

BF:

Yeah. Back then in ’82 was when they had the Beraska [?] stores that only foreigners could go in.

The hotel that we were in was only for foreigners also. So the Brits were there, and they were totally recognizable by their raincoats that were kind of khaki colored. And then our tour guide warned us that some Finns were coming in over the weekend. And we thought, “Well, what’s the big deal about that?” Well, we found out that they liked to consume large amounts of the vodka and champagne that were available. And they were three sheets to the wind. Broke—tore up—they would break glass doors in the hotel. So, they were busy apologizing for that. So, that was a big difference.

And seeing the colors that the people wore in Moscow: black, dark brown, navy. Different when you got to Leningrad, because they wore brighter colors there. Seeing the beautiful subway systems that they had and—which were really fallout shelters—because some of them would be crystal, others would be mosaics, works of art. Churches turned into museums, where you could see the various icons. It was just that sort of thing— seeing their department stores.

I remember back in ‘82 seeing a drink machine with a glass up on top. As an example, it might have a cola, orange, or grape in the machine. You take—what the Russians were doing—they would take the cup above the machine that was for everyone’s consumption: there was no paper cups. It was like a glass—a glass. Then they would choose their drink, and then they would drink it. And [they would] put their glass back up for the next patron. Yeah.

So, that was—Also, seeing that they really did not have enough to eat. There were big barricades—I guess—of cabbages at the end of the street, where they would go get those. Or going in their department—what would be a grocery store—and seeing that they had almost absolutely nothing to eat. Any canned fish or meat they had—very few fresh vegetables. Their line system of telling the clerk what they wanted. That was line one and line two. Paying for it, was line three. And picking it up—

TS:

Interesting. So how was it different in 2005?

BF:

Oh, when we were there—of course, the museums were actually—before in ‘82 they were in the process of doing various things. So, there was a lot of work going on. By the time that 2005 came around, they had actually finished the different museums: Catherine’s museum and places like that. It was very beautiful. There was a lot of traffic, and a lot of smog.

TS:

Later?

BF:

Yeah, in 2005. [There was] a lot of traffic, where you could just be sitting in traffic for a very long period of time trying to get places.

TS:

I’m interested, too, hearing how you feel about—when you went in the service we were having a—not a hot war with Russia—or the Soviet Union—or anything—but we’re in Vietnam—but we’re in the Cold War mentality, I guess.  So you went through a period of that. So, by the time you got out there was no more Soviet Union.

BF:

Right.

TS:

So, do you have any thoughts on that change maybe at all?

BF:

My thought is what a great president President Reagan was to cause that to come about.

TS:

Yeah?

BF:

Truly.

TS:

How do you think he caused it to come about?

BF:

He did that by building up the military and the strategic weaponry that was worked on. Particularly when I was at the DNA—the Defense Nuclear Agency—was Star Wars [the Strategic Defense Initiative] that helped to bring it down. No question.

TS:

When you were in Russia then—the Soviet Union and then Russia—did you have a sense of the people there?

BF:

Yes. In ’82, when we went in a church, clearly there were people taking down names of people who were there—older women—they had scarves on to try and camouflage their appearance or whatever. We observed that. Even in the hotel—when you get off the elevator—there was person there—I guess—checking and writing down who was coming and who was going. That sort of thing.

TS:

Yeah.

BF:

We were warned not to do certain things, not to give them things, because you always had to be aware in ’82 of the things that were on the black market. American jeans—There were some things that you could give them: ballpoint pens, or gum, cigarettes. I’ve never been a smoker, but cigarettes was [sic] an item. But you were—particularly being on active duty—we were very careful to not do anything that we had been warned against. Because, we were briefed before we left on what to do and what not to do.

TS:

Right. You don’t want to cause some sort of international incident.

BF:

No, and you don’t want to engage these people. You know, you just want to be friendly.

TS:

Right, on the surface. No deep political conversations. 

BF:

Right, you could see that the buildings were poorly made, were not maintained. The people were not in good living conditions. That—You could see what socialism really does to a group of people, and it’s not good.

TS:

That’s very interesting that you had that experience, I think. So, let’s see you’re enjoying your time in Germany. How’s your job there?

BF:

Oh, I loved my job. I was the banking officer for Germany—for Europe—it was Army Europe. That was primarily my job. So, I was a staff officer. So, I wrote papers—you know: fact sheets, did research, information papers, and oversaw the banking system that we had; which was actually run by American Express and Chase Manhattan at the time.

TS:

Really?

BF:

Primarily American Express, but Chase Manhattan did have a presence in Heidelberg. So, part of that, we set the exchange rate every day on the currency that was dollar to DM [deutschmark]. We paid—

TS:

The exchange rate was pretty good then.

BF:

Yeah. Well, it became good. We paid the German nationals. We had to advance the money so far in advance. With bankers—German bankers—Deutsch Bank—that were part of the American Express system.

As an example, if we had—when we went into different parts of the country—of Europe—we’ll say—or the Middle East—and troops needed money—like in the Sinai [Peninsula]. We had to transfer funds there, so that they would have money to work with. So, that was all very interesting.

TS:

That is interesting. Finances are always interesting to me. Did you—one thing that we haven’t talked about—sexual discrimination at all—did you know of any, like, people under you—or anything like that—that that had happened to?

BF:

Well, it seemed like as a female in Germany, I was—the one who—there was a general who was the deputy chief of staff of resource management: a two star general. He appointed me as his eyes and ears for sexual harassment and so, I was to report to him anything that I observed. So, that continued with his predecessor. I guess pretty much I was called on to do that with a lot of my jobs, although I was not the so-called equal opportunity officer. It was more of an informal thing; where I was charged to report back anything that I saw that he should know about, and take action.

TS:

So, did you have to report on anybody?

BF:

No.

TS:

Never?

BF:

No.

TS:

So, you don’t think that there was much going on, or—

BF:

I don’t. No.

TS:

And this was the—these were the years ’82 through—

BF:

This was ’80 through ’83.

TS:

Eighty-three, okay. Now do you remember anything particular memorable? [Do you remember] funny stories from the service at all?

BF:

Well, I’m sure there were. There are a lot more funny things when I was an investigator that I can’t talk about.

TS:

Oh, okay! You can’t even give us a taste of it?

BF:

No. I gave an oath, and I’ve always kept that, so I’ve never talked about any of it. Well, yes, there were some funny things there.  As a finance officer, really, the funny things don’t actually come to mind as much as maybe some things in recruiting duty, or as an investigator—yes—definitely.

TS:

Well, mull that over as we’re going on.

BF:

Yeah, I’ll mull that over.

TS:

Because, in the military there always a certain sort of humor, I think, sometimes, with that. You had talked a little bit about attitudes changing towards women over time.

BF:

I think my general opinion is that, as long as women did the best job they could possibly do, that I think we all got a fair shake. If you look for negativity you’re going to find it, because people are human, and they’re going to say and do things. Maybe I was one of those that just—[I] think that as people we’re called on to overlook things that other people do that we might not like generally.

TS:

Can you give me an example of that?

BF:

Well, yes. If a person tells some kind of joke that you don’t think is so funny. Well, like my boss at MDW who was a civilian. He was the chief of accounting. He might say to the work force “Well, you’re nothing but a bunch of monkeys”, when they messed up.

Well, the problem was that he didn’t really mean it the way that it sounded. He was speaking to a primarily black audience. It’s not a word choice that I would have used, but it’s one he used. So you get complaints on that.

I would say, “He didn’t mean that. He didn’t mean it the way that you took it. He didn’t mean it the way it sounded.” And he didn’t.  Poor choice of words.

So I could overlook that. Or, comments about women, if there was a joke contest or something like that. I guess my attitude was that, “Well, I’ll show you that you need me to be part of your workforce.” Of course, I was in finance. I wasn’t in the infantry, so there was a difference there too. So, I feel like I could contribute, and could be as good as any man, or better, in recruiting and finance and being an investigator—those things.

TS:

Do you think that there were limits for women in other areas?

BF:

Well, we weren’t in the combat arms. Although, I’m sure some women could do that. My personal opinion is that if you could—I think there are problems with it generally—but if you could handle the physical aspects of it, and not ask for different rules or—

TS:

Standards?

BF:

Standards, that’s a better word. Then, maybe. I mean because we do have women in—now days it’s different, because you could be logistics and be in live-fire as a truck driver.

TS:

I was thinking of the women you talked about that you recruited—that first women helicopter pilot—how do you think it was for her?

BF:

I’m sure it was probably difficult, because she was the first women at Fort Rucker [Alabama] going through the training.

TS:

But, as far as her capability I mean?

BF:

I think she was very capable or she wouldn’t have been chosen.

TS:

Right.

BF:

So, she was able to pass all of the tests that they required. At that time the army was looking to assimilate all women into everything, and it was only by law that you couldn’t be in the combat arms.

TS:

Right. When WAC became integrated into the army—’77 was it? [The WAC, Women’s Army Corps, was officially disbanded in 1978.]

BF:

It—No, it was before that. I know for a fact that it was probably 1970. I’d have to look it up for sure, because I was in the finance school in 1970. I did not—at that time it was open, because that’s when they opened it to women: although some women still pursued the Women’s Army Corps path. But it may have been ’73 that the Women’s Army Corps was totally closed. I’m not really sure. But it was the early seventies I know.  

TS:

I was just wondering if that made a difference at all when it became integrated.  

BF:

Oh yes, I’m sure, because then we were totally integrated, and not segregated from the men, which was the case primarily before then.  

TS:

Interesting.

[Recording Paused]

TS:

Okay, there we go again. We took just a little break there. Is there anything that you would like a civilian to know, about what it is like to serve in the military, that you think they might not understand or even appreciate?

BF:

I think that it was a great experience for me, and I think it would be for many people, because you get to learn the team concept. You—as an officer in particular—you are a leader, but also you work for someone else. So, you are a follower as well. I think that’s something that a lot of women would benefit in. I think that it carries over to your personal relationships with people too. It’s as good to be a leader—I like being in charge—but it’s also good experience be in a team, and work with other people. That way, you know, you work to each person’s strength. That’s also beneficial. I think it opens you up to conversation and learning from other people, which is a good thing. I think that’s the main thing that I carried away from the army, and I really appreciate that. I don’t think I would have gotten that otherwise.

TS:

Is that something that you think sometimes is missing in the civilian world?

BF:

Yes, I do definitely.  

TS:

The sense of team work?

BF:

Right, because they haven’t been part of a team. It’s more—what I see on the civilian side is more individual effort, and not paying attention to how much better things would be as a team. I honestly see more backstabbing and that sort of thing.

[Phone Rings]

TS:

That’s interesting. Now, we didn’t get out of Germany, and get to—You went back to the Pentagon, is that right?

BF:

I went to the Armed Forces Staff College [now known as the Joint Forces Staff College].

TS:

Where was that at?

BF:

That was in Norfolk [Virginia].

TS:

Oh, that’s right.

BF:

I was there for six months, and then I went to the Defense Nuclear Agency [now part of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency].

TS:

Oh, that’s right. First—

BF:

—where I was the finance and accounting officer. That was a very good job, because I got to work with scientists. This was during the Reagan era, so predominantly scientists worked on Star Wars.

TS:

That would be very interesting.

BF:

That was very interesting.

TS:

Is there anything that you can tell us about that?

BF:

Well, we—not about that per se—but we had an accounting system that had programming, budgeting, and all finance in it. So, that was one of the first ones that was totally integrated with programming and budgeting. So, that was a unique system. So, from that we had people—at that time it was the general accounting office, not the general accountability office. Big difference, because, at that time, accountants were in the GAO [Government Accountability Office]. So, they had an interest in implementing this throughout defense. So, we had a lot of exposure that way.

TS:

That’s neat, so what is your rank at this time?

BF:

I was a lieutenant colonel.

TS:

Lieutenant colonel. What’s your sense—how long had you been in now?

BF:

That was—let’s see—well, that was before I was in the IGS [Inspector General Service]. I spent one, two, three, four, five—

TS:

So, ’89—so about—

BF:

By that time I had about 18 years in, I guess.

TS:

Your husband, was he in about the same time I guess?

BF:

Yes. He was with the corps of engineers, and then he was in the Pentagon also.

TS:

When you were in Alexandria [Virginia]?

BF:

Yeah, when we were in Alexandria.

TS:

I see, so what are you thinking about your—

BF:

I was thinking about retiring at 20 [years of service], because I thought that that would be the best thing for my family. Because my son was very little. He was about two. So, but, then I came out on the promotion list for colonel, so I stayed.

TS:

Is that when you went to the IG?

BF:

I went to the Inspector General as a lieutenant colonel, and then I got promoted to colonel there. And then I served as a colonel in the army logistics, where I was chief of programming and budgeting and sat on the council of colonels for the Pentagon. So we worked on budget issues: programming and budgeting for the army.

TS:

How did you like that job?

BF:

Oh, I liked it. It had a lot of power to it, because it was a money job that made a difference. There was a lot of interplay there with the department of army budget personnel. My job was to make sure army logistics had the money required to send troops and equipment all over the world. We did make arrangements to send people to Somalia and materials and that sort of things.

Well, different places in the world. It could be anywhere. The interesting thing about that job was that I was occasionally invited to go the security briefings in the mornings on the threat assessment worldwide, very interesting.

TS:

I bet that was interesting.

BF:

It was very interesting. You had to have special clearances to get into that.

TS:

No kidding. Then you would have been in the first Gulf War too.

BF:

Yes.

TS:

So, how was dealing with that—logistically that would have been interesting. .  

BF:

That was very—well, that was a lot of work for us in logistics in particular.  It was a very difficult time.

TS:

What was that environment like at that time?

BF:

Very busy, very busy—around the clock.

TS:

Yeah. So that was ‘91 right?

BF:

Well, I went to logistics in ’91, so it was during that timeframe—part of that time I was in the IG.

TS:

Well, if you had to pick what you favorite place was that you went, what would you say?

BF:

What my favorite place that I went—

TS:

Place.

BF:

As far as Korea and Germany, both of those I really liked. I also liked San Antonio, although it was a little hot there. Kansas City I liked. My least favorite was Indianapolis; because of the weather, and the grey skies from November to April.

TS:

Yeah.

BF:

My favorite jobs were as an inspector—an investigator—I liked that, and I enjoyed being a recruiter. Area commander was tough, but I enjoyed it. I liked all of my jobs pretty much except at the Military District of Washington. That was probably my least favorite.

TS:

You had quite a variety of things that you got to do.

BF:

I did.

TS:

That would be interesting too. You had said—one thing that I forgot to talk about a little bit earlier—backing up a little bit—the women’s movement was still going on at the time that you pretty much joined. Do you have any thoughts about that?

BF:

Now, well, I’m not a feminist, so I was never part of that. I’m an individualist. I’m not a groupie. I consider them to be groupies.

TS:

Groupies?

BF:

Yeah, I do. Everybody can have their own opinion. I don’t care. I don’t see things in the same way that they do.

TS:

How do you see things?

BF:

I don’t see that women are totally persecuted in every job and in every way. I think some of them do think that. That’s always amazing to me, because I see these feminists protesting and saying all the things that they say, and I’m thinking, “Wow, have they ever majored in business administration in the sixties? Have they ever served in the army for twenty-four years?”

None of these people have any idea of a different mindset, or pursuing different things. At least that is my opinion. I think they rev themselves up unnecessarily on ridiculous things.

TS:

One of the questions then that I would ask you then—is the barriers that the women had when you initially went in, because of the capping of the ranks—that they weren’t allowed to go past a certain rank for many years—some of the other restrictions—

BF:

Oh, you mean not having a general officer?

TS:

Yeah. Not being able to have a general officer. Having to break down those barriers in the service, how do you think that they were broken down?

BF:

Oh, you’re saying that it was part of the feminist movement?

TS:

No, I’m not. I’m not sure like how—

BF:

I think it’s broken down by women of good conscience and good will persevering, and showing that they can do a job well. That’s what I think. I don’t think it’s through protesting, but that’s just me.

TS:

Interesting. That’s great. That’s great. Did you have any—you talked a little bit about some of the veterans’ benefits that you used?

BF:

I did use my GI Bill to get a master’s degree.

TS:

When did you do that?

BF:

I did that when I was in San Antonio through Webster University, and it’s an MBA [Master of Business Administration].

TS:

So, that’s was when you were in the service?

BF:

That’s right. That I went to night school.

TS:

You did a lot of night school stuff, didn’t you? Did you do other types of training for the military? You’ve had some advanced courses; you’ve talked about those. 

BF:

Well, I did the finance officer basic, the advanced course in finance, the instructor’s course—then investigators, that’s a course for IG.  That’s a school. Well, sure, I took all of the courses that were required for different things that I did.

TS:

Did you need to take those courses to advance through for promotions and stuff?

BF:

Oh yes, you did, you did.

TS:

Like had to check them off?

BF:

Right. That was the armed forces staff college. You either do that, or you go to Fort Leavenworth for the army’s program for that, the war college. I did that by correspondence, because I didn’t want a separation.

TS:

Was that the one Carlisle [Texas]?

BF:

Yes, that one is Carlisle.  

TS:

That’s interesting, too.

BF:

The others, I didn’t do by correspondence, I did at the location.

TS:

At the location? Originally, before we even turned on the tape recorder, you said that you were very patriotic. 

BF:

Yes.

TS:

What does patriotism mean to you?

BF:

Patriotism is a belief in your government, in the United States of America, the way it was founded, our Constitution, and the Declaration of Independence—believing in those kinds of things.

TS:

And personally?

BF:

Oh yeah, personally I do. I think our job is to support and defend, putting defense as a primary responsibility of the president and our government. That’s their job.

TS:

So, do you see yourself at all as a pioneer for women?

BF:

Oh yes, definitely, because I was the—I told you I was the first area commander, and one of two to go the officer basic course. And, I was first women promoted to colonel in the finance corps.

TS:

Excellent.

BF:

So, I feel like I have done my part in trying to pave the way.  

TS:

Well, is there anything that you would like to say to women who are thinking about joining the military?

BF:

Well, you have to be in ROTC, but I think it’s a great career. Things have changed over the years. You can go to many different fields than we were initially able to. You’ll really learn a lot, and you’ll meet a lot of really great people: the greatest people I’ve ever known I feel like I’ve served with. So, I appreciate that experience.

TS:

Is there anything that you’d like to talk about that we haven’t mentioned yet about your time in the—

BF:

I can’t think of anything.

TS:

Get anything on the humor one yet?

BF:

I’ll have to think about that. It sounds like I didn’t find things very humorous. I’m sure that I did. [laughs]

TS:

No, there are just some things that you are just not saying, there’s a difference.

BF:

I’m sure that I did. I know there are some things in the Inspector General’s Office. I can’t think of anything—

TS:

It’s hard to—

BF:

—in particular.

TS:

Did you guys do any sort of sendoffs when you were leaving?

BF:

Oh yes, we always had “hail and farewell” for those coming in and those leaving.

TS:

Sometimes those have some fun things—gifts that you get when you leave and things like that.

BF:

Well, I did in the Defense Nuclear Agency. I had quite a send off. They gave me a driver hat, because I was the one who drove the van with a whole bunch of people, because I was the only one who had a military driver’s license.

Oh, I do remember one thing. Getting my military driver’s license when I was in Kansas City, so I could drive the army cars. I had to go out to Fort Leavenworth, and the only vehicle that they had that I could take my test in was a hearse equivalent. So, I had to drive that around and park it and that sort of thing. One time I got to drive—when I was with logistics—all though this isn’t funny—it was a huge truck with a loader on it. So, I got to drive it around the perimeter. I could barely get up—being relatively short—I remember having to be kind of hoisted up so I could get on there. But, I did get to drive that around. That was a lot of fun.

TS:

Once you got in there—I’ve had that same—trying to stand up—

BF:

But boy, you could really see well when you got up there. Me driving something like that was practically unheard of.

TS:

Well, tell me why you decided to retire when you did.

BF:

Because, my son was at that time ten years old, and I wanted to spend time with him. I didn’t want to miss his growing up. You do have to work a lot of hours in the army as a finance officer. So, I wanted to be with him. I did have to travel as an investigator. There were times when I had to go to Germany or Hawaii—well—which that was nice, but you were still away. I didn’t want that.

TS:

Did your husband stay in then?

BF:

No, he retired a year before I did. That was a time when we were drawing down the force, so it was a good time to get out.

TS:

Did you find that you had any transition—did you have to make a transition from the military to the civilian world after—

BF:

Not really. Afterwards I went to work with a civilian contractor as an investigator, and then worked at the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration]. And, I also had a job reading business books, and writing summaries for those. And, they went on a website for the government. I also was an—I acted as an editor for other people’s writings. That was interesting. I enjoyed that: reading business books and summarizing those for publication. Then they had to be approved by the various publishers.  That was a good job, I enjoyed that.

TS:

That would be interesting.

BF:

It was. I enjoyed being—I got to see how the FAA works, and the difference there versus the Department of Defense regarding investigations. Then my husband and I went to travel school at a community college in northern Virginia. So, we did that, and then we had our own travel business that we operated out of the home.    

TS:

Pretty neat. Did you get some perks of that?

BF:

Not anything free, but after you go to school you get a little more knowledge—

TS:

How to find things?

BF:

—on where to go for sources of information. Now the internet is there, and it’s a lot different than it was in the early nineties—

TS:

That’s true.

BF:

—when you really had to go to a travel agent who had access to the resources. But now, things are totally wide open for that. So, you don’t really have to.

TS:

Yeah, that’s true. So, if you had to sum up your service what would you—how would you describe it?

BF:

I would say that it was a great experience. It taught me a lot. I got to meet a lot of really nice people in the military and around the world: in Korea and Germany. I have a great appreciation for the different cultures, and the beauty of different countries in the world. I love to travel. All of that has been good. Being from North Carolina and Greensboro—a smaller town than some—I just think that I benefitted from world travel, and all the experiences I had in the army.

TS:

Excellent, well is there anything that you would like to add?

BF:

No, I probably told you too much [chuckle].

TS:

[laugh] No, it’s never too much. Thank you so much Brenda, I really appreciate you talking with us.

BF:

Thank you.

[End of Interview]