This is another long post. Not as ugly, but just as long. Read only if you have time to kill.
In my last entry, I left off at the date of my salvation. That is where this picks up. . .
In Basic Training, there were two flights, or teams, that did everything together: eat, drill, train, etc. I was in an all-girl flight and the other flight was all-boy. Since we spent so much time together, I got to know everyone on both teams very well. I spent every waking moment with them for 6 ½ weeks!
After BT, I transferred to Wichita Falls, TX for job training. About 2 or 3 other people from my flight in BT went with me. We all ended up being in the same class at that base, too, although this class was much smaller with a total of 8 or 9 people. I really got to know everyone well because of the small class size. About half way through the training period (about 4 weeks into it), we received our orders for our permanent duty station.
We were all in a class for airplane mechanics on the KC-10A Extender aircraft. I won’t go into the details of the aircraft; you can Google it if you’re interested. The important thing to know is that for this particular aircraft, there are/were only 2 bases in the entire WORLD that support them: McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey and Travis Air Force Base in California. Being from Ohio, I definitely wanted to be stationed in Jersey. It was only an 8 hour drive from home and I was homesick! That wasn’t God’s plan for me, though!
4 of us went to California and 4 went to Jersey. If we could find a willing person in class to do so, we were allowed to swap orders. No one was interested. I was headed to California, and I was scared, but because of all my moving experience, I looked at it as an adventure, and I was a little excited. I had never been to California, and I joined the AF to get away from Ohio, so the Lord was answering my unspoken prayers.
During this time, I became good friends with a boy named Nick Behm. He was from a small town (Valley Springs) about an hour and a half away from the base. He received orders back to California and was confident I would love it there. The Lord was using Nick to help me grow in my spiritual walk with Him, but of course I couldn’t see it at the time.
Once our training was over, we were able to go home for a short visit during Christmas. I packed up my stuff, and on January 2, 1998, I began my cross-country trek from Ohio to California in my truck. I had 5 days before I had to report to the base, so I was going to take my time and enjoy the drive.
The Lord protected me during this time, especially because I was so naïve about things. I stopped each day to sleep in a motel, but because I didn’t have a lot of money, I chose price over comfort. Looking back, I chose some really scary places to stop, and being a single female, that probably wasn’t the smartest decision! Again, though, the Lord’s hand of protection was upon me.
As a side note, if you’ve not ever driven cross-country, I highly urge you to do so. Colorado, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona, and New Mexico are all beautiful places to visit. God’s creation is astonishing and each of these states provides a small glimpse as to the beauty of Heaven. I’ve done the drive 4 times, going different routes in order to see as much of the country as possible. I spent the night in Vail, Colorado during a blizzard, and it was breathtaking! The mountains of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico are spectacular, and the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is indescribable! Lake Tahoe is amazing!
Back to my life. . .
Once I got to the base, I got situated in my dorm room, met my new commanding officer, and found where I was going to be working. I still had to attend some more training, so for a few months (from Jan. to March) I worked on the aircraft, shadowing different people and learning as an apprentice before the class started. On the weekends, Nick and the rest of us from our class in TX hung out together. We became a close knit group of friends, visiting places like San Francisco and Sacramento. Nick also took us to meet his family and we’d often spend the weekends with them. It was nice to have a home-cooked meal!
Eventually, I was the only one going “home” with Nick on the weekends. Nick was engaged so he spent his time with his fiancé. I just enjoyed spending time with his family (Nick had all brothers) and his family liked having me around, especially his mom. She owned her own dress shop, specializing in bridal wear, and I liked to go work with her on Saturday’s. I enjoyed his family because his parents were married and when they fought, they worked it out. It was an encouragement to me, plus they welcomed me with open arms!
Nick’s family were also Christians, Baptists actually, and me being so immature in my walk with the Lord, when they went to church on Sunday mornings, I gladly went with them! They attended a small church (about 50 members) but the Doctrine was sound and the congregation was very nice. The pastor and his wife were very welcoming, too. I spent every weekend at Nick’s house for a good couple of months. I went even if Nick didn’t go!
On base I had met more people and I was gradually making new friends. Being in a unit of almost 500 people, I was a minority as a female. There were probably less than 15 girls in the entire squadron, and about half of those were married and a good bit older than I. That didn’t leave very many girls for me to befriend, but I did make a few good girl friends. Needless to say, most of my time was spent around males.
Since I was making new friends, I wanted to be with them on the weekends. I gradually decreased my visits with Nick’s family; however, the pastor did help me to find a church closer to the base. Again, it was a small Baptist church, but I liked it. Since it was closer to me, I was able to become more involved. The music director and his family took me in on Sundays so I wouldn’t have to travel back and forth to the base between services. Again, it was nice to have a home-cooked meal! The Lord was putting people in my life and using others to help me transition to my new life in California, and help to ease my homesickness.
I really loved my job as a mechanic. It was very empowering to me, and I was a go-getter! I didn’t care how dirty the job or how labor intensive, I wanted to learn it and do it and just be around the aircraft. As a kid, I would look up in the sky and pretend I was on the airplanes flying overhead. It was my way of escape from the reality of my life as a kid, so being around these gigantic planes was a dream come true.
One day in early March I worked with a guy named Tom. We were changing tires on a plane during its routine inspection (A-check). There was another guy with us named Jason. Jason was from Ohio, and from the moment he met me, he claimed to be in love with me. He was always asking me out on dates and doing goofy things to get my attention. While the 3 of us worked together, it was really a good time. We laughed as we worked because Jason was trying to show off for my benefit!
From that day on, Frank (the truck driver that took the mechanics from the squadron out to the aircraft and assigned work tasks) assigned me to work with Tom. I didn’t really think anything of it. It’s common practice for more experienced mechanics to work with and train newer ones. As long as I was learning how to do things and get signed-off in my records as knowing how to do them, I didn’t care with whom I worked! The more Tom and I worked together, the more his personality came out. He was a smoker, as were most of the people in the squadron, so we would joke and talk during his smoke breaks.
One day he asked me out on a date, and I told him I had a boyfriend. I was occasionally dating another guy. It was nothing serious, but I didn’t want to hurt Tom’s feelings. I wasn’t physically attracted to him- he was shorter than me! I had always been attracted to guys who were tall! Tom asked me out about 6 times (isn’t that borderline harassment?!)
Because of his seniority in rank, Tom was able to move out of the dorms and live off-base. He was moving into a townhouse with 2 of his friends. He asked me to help him pick out bedding, cookware, etc for his new place. It was fun to spend his money, and again, he made me laugh the entire time we were together.
One morning I went out to the flightline (where the aircraft are parked) and found Tom in a flightsuit hanging out of the window cleaning it. I had noticed he wasn’t at roll call that morning, so when I saw him I stopped to question him. He was going TDY for about a week, and I found myself sad that I wasn’t going to be working with him during that time. I instantly knew then that I was attracted to him, but not for physical reasons, but rather because of his personality. That was the first time in my life that I put personality ahead of looks (I know- very shallow of me!) I called him down from the window for a smoke break. While we were talking I asked him where he was going to take me when he got back. He kind of looked at me funny, then smiled and said he’d think about while he was gone.
When Tom got back, I had already started my next class so I wasn’t working the flightline except with my instructor. During that 6-week period, I only saw Tom in the evenings or if my class happened to be on an aircraft he was working. But, we did go on our first date to Applebee’s and we saw the movie “Titanic”. It was not my choice (if you know me, I’m not really into sappy movies), plus I’d already seen it 5 times (I’m not joking!). But, we had a good time, especially at dinner, laughing and such.
Now, I forgot to mention this in my first post, but I am really into community service. In high school I coached Special Olympics with my best friend Karrie and other best friend Chelsea (remember, I said Chelsea and I worked together at 2 of my 3 jobs?). An opportunity arose in the squadron to plan an Easter Egg Hunt for the children of the squadron. I readily accepted the position, and I enlisted Tom to help me. I sort of required it if he wanted to continue to date me. He obliged, and we had fun working together on that little project.
I have a funny side-story to tell about how hard Tom tried to get me to go out with him. He was changed to swing shift, meaning he had to report to work at 3:30pm and work until 11:30pm. I was still on day shift (7:30-3:30) so for a brief time we didn’t work together. I guess one night after work he decided to wash his car (he still lived in the dorms, right above my room) in hopes of making enough noise to wake me up. Now, at almost midnight, it’s dark outside. Why a person would wash their car in the pitch dark is beyond my understanding, but I guess when you like someone, people tend to do things out of the ordinary! His plan failed (if you don’t know this about me, I sleep with earplugs to keep noise to a minimum! He obviously didn’t know that about me!) and I didn’t wake up. Here’s the funny part- his windows were down and he didn’t know it because it was dark outside! The next day he went to go somewhere and his seats were soaked! They say love makes people do strange things!! He didn’t tell me this story until some time later, and it still brings a smile to my face!
If you haven’t figured it out, Tom is TJ. Why he introduced himself to me as Tom I’ll never know, but for the first 5 years that I knew him, he was Tom. All of our friends from California know him as Tom, and all of his AF friends know him as Tom. Only his family called him TJ, although now he goes by TJ full-time. And remember how Frank kept putting us together to work, TJ told me that he requested to work with me and Frank obliged.
I am stopping here for today. The important thing in this entry is that the Lord brought Nick into my life, then his family, and then Tom (or TJ). Again, my story of God’s grace and mercy doesn’t end here, but I’ll finish another time.