Born in Raeford, NC, I grew up the oldest of three Girls. My friends were people I knew almost from birth. Most of us attended school together for 12 straight years! I enjoy having people in my life who have been my friends all my life and, most of whom, continue to be friends today. It’s like having a very large family.
Upon graduating from high school, I entered the United States Air Force. Well, that's not accurate. I wanted to enlist in the USAF, but my high school principal, Mr. Raz Autry (beloved by all who knew him) told me, "You aren't that type of girl." So I went to Appalachian State University for two quarters. To say I was not ready would be an incredible understatement. My first assignment out of Basic Training was to Administrative Technical School at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi. I completed this 12 week course in just 7 weeks with a 97th percentile ranking. Thanks, Grace (Owen!) After a short leave home, I was assigned to Eglin AFB, Florida where I worked as a mail handler in the Base Post Office. This was during the Vietnam War, and the mail was filled with unusual shipments from the Far East. For instance, Thailand was "known" for its colorful ceramic elephants. These elephants were a foot and one half tall and very fragile. About the only way to be sure one would survive the journey to the United States was to put a mailing tag around the elephant's neck and not wrap it. Everyone knew to be careful with them, so most made it safely to their new stateside home.
My next assignment was to Headquarters, The United States Logistics Group (TUSLOG) at Balgat Air Station, in Ankara, Turkey. I spent three years in Turkey as the Administrative Assistant to the Commander, TUSLOG. At 19, it was a real learning experience -- just being away from home. But I survived and saw a lot of Turkey while I was there. I went to Konya to see the famous Whirling Dervishes. That was truly amazing when they started to go into a trance and whirl. Izmir is a beautiful and historic city on the west coast of Turkey. I spent one week each year there, enjoying Turkey's mix of vacation - Turkish style. Did I mention I love the food? I was assigned to Washington, DC some years later and was introduced by a friend to a wonderful restaurant in Vienna, Virginia called Nizam's. I heard recently that Nizam's closed, but It served some of the best Doner Kebab I have ever tasted.
Before leaving Ankara, I applied for a job (special assignment) at the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), It was a job with a lot of responsibilities and rated three grades above my rank, so it was a long shot for me. I was told, "We'll forward your application, but I don't think there's much chance they'll hire you. You don't have enough experience." Well, I was selected for the job and became Social Secretary for General Andrew J. Goodpastor, Commander. This assignment came to me during the Watergate Scandals, and shortly after I arrived, General Alexander M. Haig, Jr. was assigned to command SHAPE. Now this, this was an assignment. General Haig was charismatic. As beloved as General Goodpastor was to the people assigned to SHAPE and the locals as well, General Haig captured the respect if not adoration of everyone he met. I met lots of famous people after General Haig came, too. The Reverend Billy Graham came to General Haig's office one day. I was the greeter of his visitors as well as performing my other responsibilities. Reverend Graham looked into my eyes, and I looked into his eyes. They were like blue crystals, clear and bottomless. We had a one on one conversation for about ten minutes. (General Haig, God bless him, was always late.) He put me at ease immediately and our talk was about home and happy times.
Seymour Johnson AFB in Goldsboro, NC was my next assignment. I worked in the Operations Section of the Security Police Squadron until training as a Military Instructor. I started teaching at the Professional Military Education School at Seymour Johnson after finishing the course, and taught there for about two years. Just by the way, during a temporary duty assignment to Shaw AFB, a lieutenant colonel pimped me to a three star general. If you were there during this time, you could probably figure out who these dirtbags were. I mention this only to indicate that lots of education is not acquired in the classroom.
Then, one day in May, I received a call saying I had been selected for reassignment to Andrews AFB in Washington, DC. I was to be the Administrative Assistant (steno) to the Presidential Pilot and fly missions as an Air Force One crew member and the President aboard Air Force One. I'm still overwhelmed when I think that I was selected for this position. I flew during the Carter and Reagan Administrations and loved it. After five years, it was time to move on. I don't know if your memory goes back as far as mine, but the last year of the Carter Administration, the President spent all his time at home. Actually, it was 444 days. Iranian terrorists stormed the American Embassy in Tehran and took 70 Americans hostage on November 4, 1979. The hostages were released on January 21, 1981 as Ronald Reagan was elected to the Presidency. I flew with President Carter to Wiesbaden to retrieve the hostages. That was a 56 hour day.
I was assigned to the National Security Council's Crisis Management Center in the White House. At this time in history, LtCol Oliver North was having his troubles with the Iran-Contra Affair. His office was down the hall just a couple of doors. Don’t get me started.
That was a pretty stressful job. I asked for a position at the Pentagon in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Research and Logistics and got it. This was a very nice job -- lots of bureaucracy and routine work. I really did love it. I have some good memories of good friends made there. When Assistant Secretary Thomas E. Cooper was about to be replaced (politics and all that), I asked for and received an assignment to Hickam AB in Honolulu, Hawaii.
If you've never been to Hawaii, just let me tell you, it's as beautiful as you can imagine. The Gardenias are so profuse, even in the air at the airport where there are so many running airplanes, you can smell them when you disembark. I was assigned to the Pacific Air Forces (HQ PACAF) Protocol Office upon arrival, but worked my way to the PACAF Intelligence Offices. I met some Russian spies, which is something I'll never forget, and I was asked by a Palestinian if I wouldn't mind running some guns into Palestine for him. Scary stuff, I guess. After two years in Hawaii, I was told I would be reassigned to Korea, but my dad was very sick so I opted for retirement and came home.
This was in December 1989. Living in Southport back then was a lot more peaceful, but when the Storm of 89 hit, no one was ready. We had 19 inches of snow and the whole state closed down. It was days before things began to move, and it was fun while it lasted.