Thursday, May 28, 2009

On Being An Air Force Wife... Part 5

Through my blog I get a lot of questions about what it is like being an Air Force wife. I know that my experiences are not typical, and that some other spouses have had a harder time with being married to the military, while others yet, have an easier time.

I have decided to post some parts of emails that I have sent in answer to questions that I get as a way to help others.

Plus our story, since I have never put it down on paper.

I know that some people may disagree with my answers, because their experience is different than mine, and that is fine.

I am just saying that this is my experience, my life and the way that I have seen things unfold in the last 14 years of being married into the Air Force.

If your experience is different then you post about it on your blog, please don't slam me for my experiences.

So without further ado here is part five:

I should have probably started with this instead of ending with it, as it is what we have experienced as an Air Force Family.

Here is our story life in England:

We arrived in England in June of 1997, at this time Princess Di was still alive, Paul and Linda were still fighting her cancer (big news there), and we had no idea what to expect.

Jerry's sponsor was to be one of the guys he went to tech school with, however his wife had a baby, so one of the other guys stepped in.

Our first experience with British roads was traveling from RAF Lakenheath out to Ely, down all of the back roads. Jerry's sponsor told us that they called the roads the Drunk Monk roads, meaning that the Monk's that made the maps and roads were all drunk. We still to this day call the roads the Drunk Monk Roads, and it fits.

The best piece of advice he gave us, was to not let the weather stop us from traveling and visiting things if we wanted to do something. If you wait five minutes the weather in England changes. ;)

Or if you wait for the weather to be nice to do something or see something, you will never see it.

We arrived to find out that temporary living for families on base had not been reserved for us, as we had been promised, but that we would be staying at The Smokehouse Inn a hotel just off of Mildenhall. From there we could walk onto RAF Mildenhall to go to the BX annex (at the time it was just a shopette and toy store), or catch the shuttle bus to RAF Lakenheath or RAF Feltwell. The only drawback at that time was that the room did not come with a mini-fridge, and Natalie was still drinking from a bottle.

Things went from bad to worse, when around 4th of July we had to move from there to a hotel out by the 5 ways Roundabout, where they had no extras what so ever. Plus we still had no car, as the Jeep did not arrive in country for 2 months after we shipped it. From there we were totally dependent on taxi's and co-workers of Jerry's to get to and from the base.

Luckily we found a cute little house in the village of Lakenheath. When I say little, I mean little. 3 bedroom 900 square feet of little. Our neighbors included two couples on either side of else originally from Wales, both of which were not connected to the base in any way; two couples where the husband was an American stationed on one of the bases, and the wife was British; two more couples who one or the other of them worked on one of the bases, and then 2 strictly British couples (having nothing to do with the base).

The weekend the Princess Di was killed we had plans to go to Newmarket for the Open Stables Days. We hadn't watched the telly that morning, and only heard about it in the car on the way down. We were kind of surprised that it was still going on when we got there. As one person involved said though, a lot went into planning it, and it would have been hard for them to cancel.

The first year in England I substitute taught mostly for Feltwell Elementary School, but off and on for the other schools on Lakenheath and Feltwell.

Kelsey attended the local village school, Photobucket in their pre-primer program. PhotobucketThe best part of this, other than she was in school at 4 was our first official trip to London. We had gone down to the mall one weekend, and then decided to drive into London from there. We got to see Picadilly Circus from our Jeep. I was in awe, Jerry kept telling me to quit pointing the strange people out cause he couldn't watch them. There were signs for Q all over the place, and Jerry asked me what that meant. Kelsey's smart self said "its a line dad!" Good thing we had her with us!Photobucket
The following weekend we went down and found the underground station to park at. When we got to Buckingham Palace we looked around and decided to go to the museum and shop around the corner. Kelsey was standing there waving towards the top of the palace. We asked her what she was waving at and she said the Queen. Jerry and I didn't believe her really, but we humored her. When we entered the musuem and shop she told everyone she saw that she just waved to the queen. Well one of the shop workers took her seriously, and asked her if she knew which window it was that she saw the Queen. Kelsey being the girl that she was said of course! So the shop lady grabbed a picture of the front of the palace and asked Kelsey to point to the window where she saw the Queen waving. Turns out the window Kelsey pointed to, was one of the Queen's sitting rooms. The Queen was getting a portrait or something that day, and really was sitting in that window that day (there was a documentary a few months later about it.)

Jerry worked nights and stayed home with Natalie when I was teaching. Which led to the bobbys coming out to the house for a visit. You see Jerry and Natalie had been watching tv, and Jerry went to take a bath (no shower in our tiny house). While Jerry was in the shower, our smart little girl decided to use the phone to call 999 (the British version of 911). Then she hung up, and took the phone back off the hook. Jerry didn't notice, gathered her up, and upstairs they went to take a nap. Next thing Jerry knew, the local police was on the doorstep checking on them.

In January 1998 Jerry went TDY to Italy for 6 weeks to drive a bus. Not his career field mind you, but there was a "battle" going on in Kosovo and we had troops at Aviano that needed to be driven back and forth.

My parents, and Aunt and Uncle came to visit that summer and we traveled to places like London, Nottingham, Norwich, and the like. Photobucket

And so did my friend Karen!
In the spring/early summer of 1998 I had interviews with both the high school and the elementary school about teaching in the ESOL programs. I accepted the position at the high school, even though I had never taught at that level (other than subsituting), because it was the first one I was offered. And I enjoyed every minute of it.

March of 1999 we finally got base housing on Lakenheath. We were happy to move onto base at that time, as the exchange rate was quickly going up, making living off base almost impossible ($2.00 to one pound).

Jerry's mom came to visit the summer of 99, and with her I went to Amsterdam, and we all went to Stonehenge. Plus Jerry did another stint of driving in London (something we really don't recommend, but this was in the days before the tolls for driving in London.)

September 11th 2001, is a day that I think noone will forget where they were. I was sitting in my classroom grading papers. It was about 230 almost 3 in the afternoon in the UK. Jerry came in my classroom and said a plane just hit the pentagon, we have got to get out of here and get the girls NOW. I didn't believe him, and he had me go to and that was when I saw it for myself. School was just getting out for the day, so he and I ran up to the office and told the principal and office staff (about that time they were getting a phone call from the base personel, ordering him to send all staff home with orders to stay at home until further notice). Our principal went on the intercom and announced what was going on and that we all needed to get home and wait for further information, and to pray for the families and victims.

Jerry and I left my school, went to the base video store to get a top up card for my cell phone, and the base went from threatcon bravo to charlie. The girls both went to after school care on Mildenhall, about 5 miles away and by the time we drove over to Mildenhall we had gone to Threatcon Delta (basically you had to have orders in your hand to get onto the base, or to get the kids the police had a list of all of the parents and had to check our ids.) We were supposed to go and feed a friend's fish in their dorm room on Mildenhall, and we were turned away at the gate.

Getting to our house was just as tough, and there were police with M-16s patroling base housing, and granade launchers at the gates, and other big big guns watching every move you made, every car was searched with dogs, and mirrors and everything else. When we got home all we could do was sit and watch everything unfold on the TV (mind you the first three planes had already hit before I left work.) I remember sitting on my couch crying, and praying.

That night I got a phone call saying that schools would be closed until further notice, as only mission essential personal would go in to the base. Jerry had to go in the next day (you know those planes had to be ready to fly, not that they did that I remember but they had to be ready.) The base commander had messages on the TV channels saying to stay indoors as much as possible and everything on base was closed. The commisarry did not reopen until the 14th for a couple of hours (good thing as everyone was out of everything by then).

Teachers went back to school on the 13th (but boy oh boy was the base commander pissed about that.) The girls and I had to walk over to school and the gate guard was like what the hell do you think you are doing? My answer "Well I guess that the superintendent thinks that teachers are mission essential personel since I just got a call to go into work." The gate guard searched my purse, the girls bags, and everything else (and remember we walked from housing onto the main part of base, it wasn't like we had come from truely off base.)

Life on base changed a lot. We went from being able to drive on and off base with whoever in the car as you pleased to everyone coming on and off base having to have either a pass or an id. There was a main British road that went between base housing and the main section of the base that they closed off to only base access, which pissed a bunch of the Brits off. To get from the Village of Lakenheath to Brandon, you had to go around the base one way or another, adding a couple of miles to your journey. The small mini-mall on the corner by that road slowly lost businesses. Mildenhall went from being fairly open on the non-flightline side, to being totally secure (effecting several of the local businesses there as well.)

We went from being carefree about traveling down to London or to Brimingham or to Oxford, or to Cambridge to having to stop and think about every trip that we made, and where in those cities we were going to be going to.

Let's see if I can sum up the next couple of years without making this even longer (ha!)....

2 trips to Penn State for training, 2 trips to Hawaii (one for training, one to visit friends,) 1 trip to Italy for training, 15+ trips to Germany for soccer, leadership camp, and trainings, 2 trips to Iowa (one for Grandpa's 80th birthday, the next for Grandma and Grandpa's 60th wedding anniversary), 2 trips to Mississippi (one for Jerry's dad's funeral, the other in conjunction with my grandparents anniverary), 2 trips to Arizona (once for my reunion, and once for Karen's wedding). And all of that is just me! Ok so the ones in blue the girls at least did with me. ;)

July 2004 DJ was born at Lakenheath's Hospital.

February 2005 we found out our next assignment, back to Eglin we were to go in July.

We made great friends, spent a lot of time siteseeing, and a lot of time doing things that we probably shouldn't have done, but all in all it was a wonderful time! Overall it was an easy assignment for us, because Jerry for the most part did not go TDY, Lakenheath at the time was considered forward deployed, in other words they sent people to Lakenheath, and for the most part until the very end of our 8 years there did not send people from there to the desert. Other than his trip to Italy, he went to Texas once for 7 level school, and Germany once for medical tests.

Next up: Life back in the states
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