WASHINGTON — Like a lot of people at that stage of their lives, Lisa Reed wasn’t sure what she wanted to do in the late 1990s. After a year of ambiguity in community college, she said, she saw opportunity in the Air Force and enlisted in 1999.
Training was a bit of a shock, she admitted. Initially, she said, she was overwhelmed. As a woman, she found herself in a small minority at basic training. But that feeling subsided, she added, as she became close with her fellow servicemembers.
“At first, it was very obvious,” she said. “All of a sudden, [the women] were completely outnumbered. As time went by, it became less noticeable.” At one point, she was assigned to an F‑15C squadron with 30 male fighter pilots.
People certainly can face gender problems in the service, Reed said, but on the whole, it’s like a family, and military camaraderie should not be taken lightly. It’s hard to find that kind of friendship in the civilian world, she said, adding that the closeness people experience working together in the military is far beyond a normal co-worker relationship.
“I looked at my male co-workers as family members,” she said, “and my female co-workers as my sisters.” In August 2001, Reed was sent to Kuwait. She did intelligence work for a fighter squadron watching the no-fly zone over Iraq as part of Operation Southern Watch. A month into her deployment, her mission changed drastically.
None of her military training, she said, had equipped her for the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
“It was hard, seeing something like that happen to your country, your friends, your family, while you’re in a foreign country,” she said. “You feel helpless. Even though there wasn’t anything anybody could do, there’s still a feeling like you can’t do anything to help. It’s surreal.”
The no-fly zone took second chair. Operation Southern Watch was set aside for Operation Enduring Freedom. Reed’s job was to compile and deliver messages to her commander. She primarily dealt with threats pilots could face in the air.
“Basically, I would go through terrorism-related message traffic and report to the base commander in the war room about possible threats,” she said.
Both of her parents had served in the Air Force, Reed said, so she was accustomed to the military lifestyle. In fact, she said, she wanted the travel opportunities the military would provide her. Since she left the service in 2003, she has traveled in India and Tibet as well as across the United States.
“Whenever you travel to a different place, it sets a specific chapter in your life,” she said. “It makes that time in your life, the people you meet there, and the things that happen very memorable.”
Her time in service is memorable, she said, because of the events that happened while she was in uniform, and because of the value she places on her service.
“Being a veteran means you’ve given up part of your life and the comforts of ’normal’ life for your country, and for the people you serve with,” Reed said. “You put your personal comforts aside for a few years. It says a lot about someone’s character, that they can put their life in someone else’s hands and work in a team setting with them.”
(“Veterans’ Reflections” is a collection of stories of men and women who served their country in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and the present-day conflicts. They will be posted throughout November in honor of Veterans Day.)
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)