An Unexpected Journey 

Not exactly the Hobbit type – but it definitely didn’t turn out how I thought.  

30 years ago today – I left Auburn, PA to join the US Air Force. At 17, I left home, all by myself, with a plan for the future. I didn’t have any grand ideas about joining the AF, it was purely logical – join the AF to pay for college. I’d get my general classes out of the way, leave the AF after 4 years, finish out college then go on the veterinary school somewhere out west like Wyoming (I always wanted to go ‘Out West’). There was no thought of actually going to war or getting deployed – those things weren’t in the forefront of the nightly news back then. So off I went to Basic Training. 

I don’t really remember a lot of the details – my first time in an airplane was HORRIBLE because I couldn’t release the pressure in my ear. I remember getting to TX in the middle of the night. Basic Training was a pain – but not horrible.  

…I do remember one day, sitting in a training room, the instructor was asking why we joined. When he asked if we joined to get a college education – I raised my hand – that’s what I was there for. Well – he quickly set me straight – NO – we weren’t there for college or to see the world. Each and every one of us was there to support and defend our nation. Wow – was that a humbling eye opener.  

…I also remember my grandmother chastising me for crying when I talked to my mom – my Gran Wessner told me something to the effect of – don’t be crying because your homesick when you talk to your mom. It makes her sad, and this was your choice. I think I only cried in the beginning – the initial shock of going off to a strange place, surrounded by strange people. Pretty soon I was in the groove of training and those people and places weren’t so strange anymore.

After Basic Training – I headed to Shepherd AFB, TX – to learn how to be an aircraft mechanic – yep that was my career path – veterinarian by way of fighter mechanic. I spent the next 6 years as a crew chief. I was stationed in South Carolina and then Germany. I got to travel to Spain, England, Luxembourg, France, Austria. And then there was Turkey…. remember the – no worries about war or deployments – well almost 4 years into my enlistment, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and my unit was deployed to Turkey for Operation Desert Shield/Storm.  

When I returned to Germany, my time there was coming to an end – and so was my job. I was an F-4 Wild Weasel crew chief – and the AF was getting rid of the F-4, so I had to look for a new career field or run the risk of getting a job I didn’t want. I was selected to retrain to become a Budget and Cost Analyst (I was good with numbers & liked math, so it seemed like a decent fit). This was more than just a job change – I moved, re-enlisted, and ultimately changed my life plans. I liked the analysis, numbers, and problem solving that came with being an analyst, so I decided to ditch my plans of veterinary school and pursue an accounting degree.  

A few more moves (Korea and Nebraska) and I was getting ready to get out of the AF – looking for a job. By this time, I knew what an auditor was – and the Air Force Audit Agency was hiring at Cannon AFB, NM – and guess what – that’s where I wanted to go (yeah, right, who in their right mind wants to go to Clovis NM? – well you know – it involved a guy – who’s now my husband & father of my 2 boys – so it was a good move!). 

 I never really left the AF – I was still on leave when I hired on as an auditor – and I’ve spent the last 18 years as an auditor. Now I’m just days away from moving on to something new – I’ll be leaving my civilian AF job to pursue other interests – and I can’t wait!

I have lots of fond memories of the AF – 

   I met amazing people – we had lots of fun – they are like another branch of my family.

   I had a love/hate relationship with my job as a crew chief – I loved the job satisfaction (every time I fixed something – I could see immediate results when the jet flew), the sense of accomplishment – – but at the  same time I hated having to be out in the cold or the heat (looking back that wasn’t so bad). Sometimes the job was hard – trying to trouble shoot something or trying to get a part to go where it needed to. But mostly it was fun (I really enjoyed when I got run the engines).

   I’ve seen lots of great places – and some crappy places too.

   I learned to be independent – strong – countless times I moved somewhere and didn’t know a single person before I got there.

   It was a great place to grow up.
If you would have asked me in October 1986 if I would still be around the AF in 30 years – the answer would have been a resounding NO! But here I am in October 2016 – I haven’t lived anywhere that you couldn’t hear jet noise since I left PA – the smell of jet exhaust still brings fond memories (yeah -I know – weird – unless you’ve worked on the flight line) I’m still working for the AF just not wearing the uniform. My life is permanently entangled with that culture and the people that have moved in and out of my life over the years. Although this wasn’t the journey I set out on – it’s been a great time and well worth it!  No, I don’t have Dr. in front of my name – but this journey has been fantastic – and since I still haven’t reached my destination – there’s more to come!

Thanks for reading my ramblings!

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