I joined the Air Force after high school. The plan was to serve four years, take the money (Montgomery GI Bill), and run to college.
In basic and technical training I was told there would be times the job would suck and I would like the suck. My first station was in Germany. Luckily I spoke a little German. In 1999 I deployed to Albania. There were some bad people doing some awful things to innocent civilians, and I was going to help the civilians.
My team landed at a bare base. We didn’t have a tent to sleep in. All 18 of us men and women, slept in the back half of an old canvas tent used for administrative purposes. In training, I was promised a place to sleep, not that it would be nice. Tents landed the next day. It was cold. It rained. We got wet. The dirt turned into mud. There was no shower/shave tent. There was no restroom, no porta-potty, nothing. The civil engineers (CE) dug a latrine for the men to… number one in. Tents came in a pouch. The pouches were re-purposed into privacy screens for the latrine and for number two and the women the pouches were used to cover a small makeshift porta potty. A 55-gallon drum was cut down to about knee height, and a few pieces of scrap wood made a seat. A young Airman would have to pull the drum out, add fuel, and light it on fire. I was never promised a porcelain toilet, just a place to go.
CE dug a well and built a small “shower” room. A hose ran around the top of the room like crown molding with holes punctured every few feet. The spraying water was a shower station. The water came out of the ground, was held in a small bladder and then pumped into the shower room. The water was cold. But, no one had ever promised me a hot shower in a warm building.
We woke before dawn, ate Meal(s) Ready to Eat every meal for fifteen days. It was food and that’s all we had ever been promised. The day ended when it was too dark to work. My job was putting up tents so Airman getting off the planes would have it a little better than when we landed. My job helped the mission, and the mission helped the civilians.
After a few weeks, we had proper shower and restroom tents. We also had a few porta potties. Then the kitchen tent went up and better food came out. Soon after, the communications squadron landed. They brought four “morale” phones that looked like they were left over from the Vietnam war. The phones had been operational for days before it was my turn to go to the phone tent. I was the only one waiting and heard a man say, “It’s bad here. Our living conditions are worse than Desert Storm.”
I looked down at my dirty scuffed boots and ran my hands over the heavy wrinkles in my pants. I wondered, “How is this worse?” The man started to cry. Someone hung up a phone and left. It was my turn.
“Mom, I’m thinking about reenlisting.”
“What about school?”
“I’ll go when I’m done,” was my answer.
I started classes at Eastern Washington University in the summer of 2014 while on terminal leave. I asked my professor if I could miss a class to attend my retirement ceremony. I graduated with a BA in History in June of 2016.