A KC-135 Flight Through the Eyes of a Military Wife

By Jasmine Thomas

MacDill Air Force Base is hosting its annual AirFest show this Saturday and Sunday. As a preview for the event, members of the media were invited to a ride-along flight on a KC-135 Stratotanker as it completed a training refueling mission.

I boarded the massive plane as both a reporter and Air Force wife whose husband is training to become an aviator. I hoped the Airfest “preview flight” would give me a hint as to what my husband will be doing one day.

A glimpse inside the cockpit of the KC-135 Stratotanker flown by the MacDill Air Force Base 6th Air Mobility Wing.

A glimpse inside the cockpit of the KC-135 Stratotanker with co-pilot Capt. Joseph Brzozowske with the MacDill Air Force Base 6th Air Mobility Wing.

I stepped into the dark cylindrical-shaped cabin area. The walls of the plane were lined with benches where the news media would be sitting. Three small windows dotted each wall while a loud constant humming filled the cabin. Military aircraft clearly weren’t designed with comfort in mind.

“We’re not an airline. So, it’s not gonna be as smooth as you’re probably used to. So, I apologize for any bumps, but I’ll do what I can. But really when it comes down to it, it’s getting the mission done today,” said Capt. Matt Swee, the KC-135 pilot.

His warning about takeoff makes me a little nervous. I don’t fly often, so, I tend to be uneasy when it comes to that.

I sat in the cockpit right behind Swee and his co-pilot Capt. Joseph Brzozowske. Before takeoff I ask, “How long have you guys been flying together?” Their response?

It was their first time. That made me a little anxious. But as Swee explained.

“That’s extremely common. We don’t have hard crews. We’re all trained exactly the same. And so you could show up and fly with someone you’ve never flown before, and everyone does it exactly the same way. And that’s intentional, standardization,” Swee said.

Okay, that made me feel much better. I’m well aware of how the Air Force likes to keep things standardized, so to see it being put to use in the cockpit was definitely comforting.

Soon after, the pilots taxied us to the runway. The sky was dark and cloudy as it rained, making my stomach churn with anxiety. I thought, ‘not exactly favorable weather we’re about to takeoff into.’

Despite this, the two captains positioned us for take-off, rapidly gaining speed before we were finally airborne into a sea of thick clouds and rain.

A look at the A-10 Warthog refueling from the boom operator's point of view.

A look at the A-10 Warthog refueling from the boom operator’s point of view.

Even though it was their first time flying together, Swee was right. He and Brzozowske seemed to be in sync as they flipped switches and adjusted other instruments.

We finally broke free from the turbulence of takeoff and leveled off into a serene blue sky.

Wow. The view from the cockpit was breathtaking. And to think, this is what my husband will get to see and do as part of his job.

At this point, it was safe to unbuckle myself from the jump-seat and walk into the cabin.

This wasn’t so bad after all. I was worried I wouldn’t be able to stand and walk around without falling over. And it suddenly got really chilly. I realize, a little too late, I should’ve brought a thicker jacket as we soar above 30,000 feet.

Before long, I got over the temperature drop when I saw a fleet of A-10 Warthogs approach. Cameras in hand, I and more than a dozen journalists lined up to snap photos and record video.

I finally got my chance to see them. Four Warthogs lined up side by side, seeming to hover in the air next to us. They were so close I could see the pilots clearly from my window. And the aircraft’s signature artwork on the side, the eyes and grinning mouth full of teeth, was just too cool, reminiscent of World War II fighters.

A-10 Warthog as seen from the cabin of the KC-135 Stratotanker.

A-10 Warthog as seen from the cabin of the KC-135 Stratotanker.

What was even cooler was having the chance to lie on my stomach next to the boom operator, Master Sgt. Nancy Primm. One by one, each jet approached us from underneath and aligned themselves just perfectly. Primm already had the boom extended as she worked to align it with the jet before finally making the connection.

That’s no easy task, but Primm knows how to calm nervous receiver pilots.

“Whenever I have a receiver come up, and you can tell they’re nervous, you can hear the pitch in their voice, and they let the jet fly them a little bit, I put on what I call my librarian voice,” Primm said. “And that is ‘Mac four, left right’, you know whatever I have to do because the more calm I can project to him or her who’s flying, that tends to work.”

Swee explained the danger of refueling in-flight, but said they have to do whatever it takes to get the mission done. Training flights like this one prepare pilots for refueling during combat and other missions.

“The aircraft is actually closer than you’d expect, 10-13 feet actually. And it’s going to be moving around a lot more than one might think. And we can feel every single movement that’s made in the back, we can feel that up front,” Swee said. “It turns the entire aircraft. So we’re constantly compensating for every movement that the receiver pilot makes, and every movement that the boom operator makes with the boom as she’s flying that around too.”

Admission to the air show is free and open to the public. The KC-135 and A-10 are only two of the aircrafts that will be on display.

Personally, I can now be easy having a much better idea of what my husband will be doing and what our Air Force is capable of. This is one experience I won’t soon forget.

You can listen to Jasmine Thomas’ report on WUSF News.

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5 Things I’ve Learned Since Joining the Army as a Spouse

The insignia for an Army Staff Sergeant

By Sarah Curran – a proud, new military spouse

It’s no wonder that less than one percent of the American population serves in our Armed Forces.  It’s not an easy task for them and it can be even harder for their family.

My husband is currently stationed in Korea.  And while it’s difficult as newly weds to be so far apart, I find more difficulty in getting used to the lifestyle and rules that come with becoming a military spouse.

We have only been married a couple months, dating for a couple years.  But I still am completely clueless when it comes to the basics of military life and procedure.

So in a effort to not look like a deer in the headlights when someone asks me “What is your husband’s APO?” or “What rank is he?” I have assembled a need to know list for myself to integrate into a military lifestyle. Continue reading

You Know You Are a Military Spouse When …

Jackie Dorr with her daughters, Paisley and Anastin.

You know you’re a military spouse when: You’ve mowed more lawns than your husband because he’s never there to do it himself.

You use an “L” shaped flashlight with the red lens during power outages because it’s the only one you can ever find in the house.

You know that it’s normal to set fire to shoe polish or use a heat gun and that the best way to spit-shine boots is with cotton balls.

Your husband is a land nav expert, but takes a GPS for a trip to the mall.

You only write in pencil because EVERYTHING can and will change.

You need a translator to talk to your civilian friends, only because they have no idea what DFAS, AER, TDY, ACS, NPD, PCS, and ETS mean.*

You never put curtains up because by the time you do it is time to move.

You track time in duty stations and deployments, not years.

You know that “back home” doesn’t mean at the house you live in now, it refers to your last duty station.

You know that a two month separation IS short, no matter what your civilian friends say.

You know better than to go to the PX or commissary between 11:30 and 13:00, or on payday unless it’s a life or death emergency (seriously).

You know that any reference to “sand” or a “box” describes NTC at Ft. Irwin, Iraq, or Afghanistan, not your kid’s backyard toys.

You have a stock in flat rate shipping boxes, in varying sizes.

You don’t have to think about what time 21:30 is.

You’ve spent more time apart than you have together.

You’ve ever been referred to as “Household 6.”

You know his friends and people he works with only by their last names.

You stand for the National Anthem at a movie theater.

You carry shipping tape, sharpies, and customs forms (already filled out) in your vehicle.

It only costs you $30 to have a child.

You can spot a soldier in civilian clothes a mile away by their posture, haircut and that certain “air about them.”

You pick apart uniforms on TV and in the movies, even though you used to yell at your husband for doing the same thing.

You know your husbands SSN better than your phone number.

You have “we moved!” cards on hand.

You run for the phone,every time it rings.

You spell everything using the phonetic alphabet, Alpha, Bravo …

*DFAS – Defense Finance Accounting System; AER – Army Emergency Relief; TDY – Temporary Duty; ACS – Army Community Service (among others for ACS); NPE – Non-Proliferation and Disarmament (Fund); PCS – Permanent Change of Station; ETS – Estimated Time of Separation.

After reading several different blog entries on the theme – You Know You’re Military When … – I asked Jackie Dorr, President of the MacDill Enlisted Spouses Club, to write about her experiences. I invite any readers, military or civilian, to contribute their personal insights or spins such as – You Know You’re a Civilian When … – I look forward to reading your humorous, thoughtful and creative responses.

White House Initiative for Military Family Support

Maj. Janet Schoenberg, Space Operations Office...

Image via Wikipedia

Improved childcare, career development and enhanced mental health benefits for military families are just a few of the 50 commitments the White House is making to military families.

Here’s what Spouse Buzz has to say about the initiative and a Military.com article.

Below is the Presidential press release on the Military Family Support initiative:

 

President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Dr. Jill Biden put forward today nearly 50 commitments by Federal agencies responding to the President’s directive to establish a coordinated and comprehensive Federal approach to supporting military families.  Strengthening Our Military Families:  Meeting America’s Commitment is the result of an effort led by the National Security Staff and Domestic Policy Council responding to the Presidential Study Directive-9 calling on all Cabinet Secretaries and other agency heads to find better ways to provide our military families with the support they deserve.  The result will be a unified Federal Government approach to help ensure:

·         the U.S. military recruits and retains America’s best, allowing it to maintain the high standards which have become a hallmark of our armed forces.

·         Service members can maintain both strong families and a high state of readiness;

·         family members can live fulfilling lives while supporting their service member(s); and

·         the American people better understand and appreciate the experience, strength, and commitment of those who serve and sacrifice on their behalf.

This document provides the Federal Government’s response to that challenge by identifying four strategic priorities that address the primary challenges facing our military families.

1.  Enhance the well-being and psychological health of the military family.

2. Ensure excellence in military children’s education and their development.

3. Develop career and educational opportunities for military spouses.

4. Increase child care availability and quality for the Armed Forces.

These four priorities were identified with special attention to the feedback that the First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, and Administration officials have received from the many service members and their families they have encountered over the past two years.  They address the concerns and challenges of the families of Active Duty and Reserve Component Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard members; Veterans; and those who have fallen.  Each Cabinet Secretary pledged to continue to communicate these priorities, share expertise, and establish sustainable solutions through leveraging partnerships.

This report identifies partnerships that expand capacity and quality of services in a fiscally responsible way.

·         Health and Human Services (HHS) has partnered with the Department of Defense (DoD) to best confront suicide trends within military family and Veteran populations, to normalize preventive training and peer-level counseling to best treat psychological needs of our military families, and expand access and quality of child care resources.

·         Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Affairs, Labor and HHS have teamed to achieve the aggressive goal of unqualified elimination of homelessness by 2015.

·         DoD, Labor, Commerce, and the Small Business Administration are committed to collaboratively engaging corporate America and expanding career opportunities for military spouses.

·         Department of Agriculture (USDA) will expand its already rich history of cooperation with the military by co-hosting the Family Resilience Summit in 2011 with DoD and maximizing USDA’s reach to military communities across rural America through its cooperative extension network.

This report elevates the need for more awareness on the challenges facing military families and in turn generates more effective use of government resources and across society.

·         The Department of Education will make supporting military families one of its supplemental priorities for its discretionary grant programs.  This priority, when applied, will, for the first time ever, favor grant applications to meet the needs of military students.   Education has also made accessing and processing of financial aid more tailored to military families and more sensitive to the financial fluctuations of Guard and Reserve personnel.

·         HHS is aggressively promoting awareness across its service provider networks, the media industry, and professional medical organizations on military culture and psychological health of our service members, their spouses and their children.

·         The Treasury Department is establishing an Office of Service Member Affairs, led by Holly Petraeus, under the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help educate and protect military families from predatory lending and harmful consumer practices.

This report demonstrates how innovation and sharing best practices can generate resources and reduce barriers.

·         The Department of the Interior is making available its facilities on their 500+ million acres of Federal lands to military families for recovery, reintegration, and youth employment.

·         Treasury, Transportation, Homeland Security, and DoD are accelerating efforts to bring down professional licensing barriers to promote competitive career advancement across states on par with civilian advancement.

This report also serves as a springboard to highlight the military families’ contributions as a national and community resource and identifies opportunities to leverage more of the skills, experience, and capacity of military family members.  Additionally, this overall effort endeavors to strengthen existing feedback mechanisms for military families to voice their concerns and opinions, their unique challenges, the effectiveness of existing programs, and their input on the future direction of related Federal programs and policies.

More than 500 Military Spouses Are Blogging

Anne Marie, creator of the military spouse blog Household 6 Diva.

I was introduced to serious blogging by Air Force SMSgt Rex Temple. He blogged almost daily while deployed in Afghanistan. His blog: Afghanistan: My Last Tour.

Blogging is a trend that’s grown to involve the whole military family.

To get an idea of the extent of blogging in the military, check out the following article.

The “Stars and Stripes” features a story on military spouse blogs. The article highlights an Army wife, Anne Marie, currently stationed in Germany, and her blog Household 6 Diva. Her blog includes sections on cooking, gardening, military life and military spouses. And, she’s compiled a list of spouse blogs covering all branches: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, National Guard.

The site  Milblogging.com has more than 500 military spouse blogs registered.

Best Thanksgiving

Thank you, Lord, for the courage and selfless service of our military troops. Thank you for their dedication in the face of difficulties and challenges. Thank you for their families. I pray that all of our servicemen and women will experience Your mercy each day, and that You will provide for their every need. Let them feel your presence with them, and your everlasting love. In Christ’s name, Amen.

The prayer above was posted on one of my friend’s Facebook page today in honor of Thanksgiving as she spends yet another holiday without her husband who is deployed. Just seeing that makes me once again appreciate our Thanksgiving this year so much more – this year for us truly is the best Thanksgiving ever.

SMSgt Rex Temple talks to his family from Afghanistan via Skype on Thanksgiving 2009.

We have so many reasons to be thankful. First and foremost is the fact that my husband Rex made it through a year in Afghanistan. He served on more than 180 combat missions, came under fire often and saw things he had never seen despite his three previous deployments and 10 other overseas assignments. But now we know he will be retiring for sure come next year. No more deployments. No more fear. Because for me it’s the never ending fear for your loved one that is the hardest thing to cope with when the center of your entire universe deploys. Today I am thankful that for us that fear is now over.

***

The following was written in June 2009 while Rex was deployed but never published.

Waiting for a call or a knock on the door

My husband Rex left on his convoy mission yesterday about 12:30 am EST our time. I knew his team was headed into “the valley” and had enlisted some additional firepower from the Afghan National Army to help provide security for the two-day convoy.  He was hoping to be out of the valley before nightfall, providing no incidents or breakdowns.  Then he and his team would stay overnight at an outpost before returning the next day.

“It should be an interesting trip,” he wrote in his farewell e-mail as he hurried off to meet his teammates for this humanitarian aid convoy. In an earlier phone conversation he had told me in passing that he expected to be back on Thursday by lunchtime our time – and he would call me as soon as he got back.

I know the worry my husband and his fellow teammates have every time they leave the relative safety of their forward operating base. They know the enemy is out there determined to kill them.

I woke up Thursday morning exited about Rex getting back to his camp today and looking forward to his call. I checked my e-mail on my cell hoping for an early surprise; Internet had gone out the night before at my house due to a thunderstorm. Maybe his convoy was back early and he could send me an e-mail describing his two days away. He had been hoping to be the one tossing out candy to the Afghan children; he had even made a special trip to the camp’s store to get a few bags of candy so that he could pass the treats out at the villages he would visit on this trip.

But there was no e-mail so I went downstairs and got my two dogs Charlie and Sam ready for our morning trip to the dog park. At the last second I grabbed my laptop and decided to pass by Starbucks and check all the other e-mail addresses I had not yet bothered to program into my fancy new phone.

So a few minutes later in the Starbucks parking lot with a Venti Misto in the front seat cup holder and dog cookies keeping the “boyz” busy in the back seat, I logged into Twitter. In my favorites I have saved this address: http://twitter.com/usfora – the official Twitter site of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan. And the site’s latest tweet said: “Three coalition servicemembers killed in IED attack in Kapisa Province.”

My heart dropped. I know enough about my husband’s convoys to know that this is an area he has to travel through often. He has only been in Afghanistan for about a month – he took off from Tampa International on May 5th for this tour that is supposed to be his last tour of duty before retirement. And the first few weeks of his stay there have been bloody – by Rex’s calculations the units close to him have lost eight troops in just the last few days.

The next few hours are sheer agony. I have an idea how fast family notification happens. I know what to expect; Rex has prepared me for both injury notification and also should there be a death. I figure out how to get the Internet back working at our house and I research the news websites for the latest details.

Finally I can’t take it anymore and head to the gym. As I pound through 3 miles on the elliptical I constantly check my cell for incoming e-mails. Nothing. I move to the bike and peddle another 30 minutes. Still nothing. Feeling defeated I head back home – it’s still too early. “They could still notify me” keeps running through my mind.

I get home and check all the news wires again. There’s a bit more detail available but nothing that really eases my mind. I keep looking at the clock calculating what time the incident happened and how soon they would likely be able to get the family if something had happened. I realize that if I make it to 5 pm then probably everything is OK. Because by then they would have already gotten a hold of me – whether it was an injury or something worse.

As the clock ticks closer to 5 I feel claustrophobic stuck in the house as I jump every time I hear the phone ring – and especially when I hear a car door slam outside our house. I say a quick prayer: “Let it not be the notification team. “

So I finally can’t take it anymore and take my husband’s car to the mall to go pick up my engagement and wedding rings, which have been fixed – some of the stones had come loose. Sitting in my husband’s vehicle I feel like his car represents his arms wrapped around me but I feel a massive need to be able to wear my rings. And hour later those two pieces of jewelry are back on my ring finger and I all of a sudden finally feel calm. And I calmly settle in for the wait to hear from him – however long it takes.

Rex finally e-mails home Friday morning. He is safe but four others who were on the same mission have died.

I need to take a deep breath and write a supporting e-mail back not showing my fear. I need to hide my fears and only show my love and support so my husband can keep going for the 40+ more weeks he still has to serve out there in the middle of the enemy’s roadside bombs and ambushes to complete his last tour before retirement. The end of this deployment cannot come soon enough.

****

So on this Thanksgiving I am thankful for all the others who are still out there fighting the fight and keeping us safe. And I am thankful for all the families who support their deployed troops.

I am thankful for those who served bravely and made the ultimate sacrifice. My thoughts are with their families as they sit down on this Thanksgiving with an empty seat at their table. My heart aches for their loss and I am thankful for their service.

I am thankful for my husband Rex and his service of almost 28 years in the U.S. Air Force. I am thankful he is home with us – now and forever.

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