Veterans’ Reflections: Putting Personal Comforts Aside

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)

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