Posted by: abbiewatters | August 8, 2011

The Air Force and Me

Did you serve in the military? What did you do and what kind of experience was it? – Boy, is that ever a loaded set of questions. I never “officially” served in the military, but I was an Air Force wife for 16 years and the wife of a Department of the Air Force civilian for another 13. I also worked as a DAFC for 3 years.

When we met in 1963, Big Al was an Airman stationed at Texarkana Air Force Station. It was a small AC&W site at the airport and he was a computer maintenance person. The computers they had were old analog computers that were hooked up to the radar surveillance system.

Al was in his 3rd year of a four-year enlistment when we met and started dating. He was taking courses at Texarkana College so he could go back to school and get his degree, and he had decided he wanted to go to Stephen F. Austin State College in Nacogdoches, TX. We got engaged in 1964, and I finished at the junior college about the same time as he got out of the Air Force. As he drove off the base for the last time, he told the gate guard “If you ever see me in Blues again, I’ll kiss your lily-white ass.”

We both went to SFA, got married, had a baby, and time came for Al to graduate in May 1966. He had a teaching certificate, but jobs for high school history and government teachers were few and far between, and the ones there were went to football coaches. So he started talking to the Air Force recruiter, who convinced him that he could go back in the Air Force as an officer, and he would at least have a steady paycheck and housing. We spent the summer living in Westfield with my parents, and the first of September, he reupped and went to San Antonio for Officer’s Training School. He graduated in November and we were assigned to Lowery Air Force Base in Denver for his intelligence technical school as a newly minted 2nd Lieutenant.

After Denver, we went to Ramstein Air Base in Germany in August 1967, where we spent two and a half years. We did a lot of touring around including several trips to Paris, some sightseeing in southern Germany, and trips around the area and to Switzerland when Mama and Betty came over to visit.

We came home in December, 1969, because Al had orders to South Vietnam. He arrived there to find out his orders had been changed, en route, and he was supposed to be in Thailand at Na Khon Phanom. I stayed in Westfield with Ray. Thank goodness I was with the family because, with the change in orders, Al’s paychecks and pay records got completely messed up, and we didn’t get any pay for four months (we still aren’t positive we ever got all the money that was due to us). During that time was when Papa decided to completely retire and move back to Texarkana, so Ray and I went with them.

Al and I met in Hawaii for R&R in August 1970. Because he was in Thailand, he was able to take two weeks of leave, so we spent one week on Maui and one week in Honolulu.

Orders out of Southeast Asia sent us to England Air Force Base in Alexandria, Louisiana, where Bill was born. We stayed there for four and a half years. We first lived in a rental house in Pineville and finally bought our first house in 1973. In 1974, Al got tentative orders into missiles in North Dakota, and we sold that house in anticipation of the move (that was when I went back to school to finally get my degree, because I knew I might not have another chance). At the last minute, the orders were rescinded, and we needed to stay in Alexandria, so we moved on base. In the SNAFU of the cancelled orders, Al lost his position in intelligence, and he cross-trained into Disaster Preparedness (the military equivalent of Civil Defense).

Then in 1975, orders came to go to Las Vegas, so we moved out there where Al was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base. We bought another house there on a golf course just east of downtown.

Nannie said “I didn’t know anybody LIVED in Las Vegas!” but we did. We spent a year and a half there, and then Al had the opportunity to go to RAF Upper Heyford in England. We had been trying to get back to Europe ever since we left there in 1969, so, of course, he jumped at the chance.

We spent the first year living in base housing at RAF Upper Heyford, and then we moved to the village of Finstock where Bill went to the village school and Ray rode the bus to the American High School at RAF Croughton.

We stayed at RAF Upper Heyford for three years, but in 1979, the Air Force, in its great wisdom decided it needed to “draw down” the force, and Al was given the choice to get out with 17 years in, or to spend the last three years to retirement at 20 years as an enlisted man. He opted to spend the last three years as a Staff/Tech Sergeant, and he transferred to RAF Fairford which was the same distance to our house as RAF Upper Heyford had been, just in a different direction.

The demotion to the enlisted ranks meant we had to figure out a way to live on virtually half the pay he had been getting, so I got a job at RAF Fairford as a secretary to one of the colonels. Al also, then, cross-trained from Disaster Preparedness into the Safety career field. “Safety” is the military equivalent of OSHA.

Even with all the emotional and job insecurity of our time in England, we had a wonderful time. We reconnected with the Morgans whom we had known in Louisiana; we hosted Mama and Papa twice, Mom and Dad (Watters), Larry and Marianne Watters and their kids, and Bill Greisser while we were there. We got to travel all over England, Scotland and Wales, and we travelled to Paris a couple of times, taking the boys with us. We saw castles, and abbeys, and historical sites, and Stratford-upon-Avon. And when Al finally retired, he and I took two months and travelled all over Europe on a Eurail Pass, until we ended up in Le Havre, France, where we caught the Queen Elizabeth II for home.

We got back to Texarkana in time for Al to leave the Air Force for the third and last time. He was discharged as an Airman in 1964, and as an NCO when he left Officer’s Training School in 1967, and finally as an officer in 1982. We bought a house in Texarkana, and settled down. Only Al couldn’t find a job as a teacher – all the teaching positions for history were filled by coaches (does this sound like deja vu all over again?). After two years unemployed as a 43-year-old, he decided to go back to the Air Force as a civilian.

He got a position as Ground Safety Manager at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, TX. By this time Ray was in college, so Bill and I relocated to Abilene where we bought a house and lived for 13 years.

Here we are at Dyess AFB, and I’m pinning his 10-yr Pin on him for 10 years as a DAF Civilian.

He was “Mr. Safety” for the base for all that time.

When I graduated with my MBA and moved to Dallas because there was no work for me as a newly minted CPA in Abilene, he finally retired and left the Air Force for good.

As you can tell, I have mixed feelings about the Air Force, but I doubt that we would have had the same mind-broadening experiences without it. My kids never “loved” the service and the constant threat of being uprooted, but they had experiences that few of their peers could match. It was an interesting life and I know it would have been very different if we were not an Air Force family.



  1. I have misplaced your email address, so will communicate via your blog (which I am really enjoying) Did you see the New Yorker article (May 9) on Ree Drummond? Let me know if you didn’t and I’ll mail it to you. Anne


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