Sunday, June 20, 2010

Week #4 Semi-Finalist: The St. Amand Family

My husband, Michael, was active-duty in the Air Force for 8 ½ years, and continued to serve 14 ½ years in the Air National Guard and Reserves for a total of 23 years of service to retirement status. We were both young when we got married – Michael 21 years, and myself 18, just out of high school. We came from a very poor and rural Northern French Acadian area along the border of Northern Maine and Canada, when Michael decided to join the Air Force in order to support ourselves and attempt to get ahead in life. We missed our families and rural way of life terribly the first years while increasing our appreciation of the positive aspects of the rural French culture we had left behind.

On the other hand, military life seemed like an exciting lifestyle compared to where we came from. Having hardly strayed far from home during our youth, moving from one city or state to another over the years was exciting, yet daunting at the same time. For a shy country girl, I sure came “out of my shell” quickly overtime and also learned to be very resourceful. We took every opportunity we could to travel and sightsee all the areas we were stationed at. We learned to travel frugally but have fun at the same time and loved it. I had always liked history and geography classes in school, and the traveling opportunities brought those history books to life. Also, being exposed to other cultural areas gave us insight that regardless of the superficial aspects of any culture or race of people humans all have the same basic needs and qualities which we need to respect. Military life is also a unique culture in itself. Once you have learned and lived in it for a certain period of time, you miss it when you leave the service. Each base was its own little community, and the camaraderie of fellow service personnel who were experiencing the same thing was like a second family.

The military also provided basic needs that at most times were unmet while we were growing up, which many people take for granted such as medical care, housing and food. Granted, it may not always top-notch, but nothing is perfect, and something is better than nothing.
I cherish the traveling and touring experiences we have experienced and to this day, I always say that the ability to travel to new places and actually live in that community for awhile is a greater learning experience then just vacationing in a spot for a week or two. In fact, when the opportunity arose for my youngest son in sixth grade to take a three week educational tour to Europe, we made the financial sacrifice to send him, and to this day he talks about it, and would like to go back (but not before I do! Haha.)

After basic training at Lowry AFB in Denver, Colorado Michael’s first duty station was Shaw AFB, in Sumter, SC. What a weather adjustment, from cold, long Northern winters to the hot, humid south. Then on to South Korea for a year. This was my first time on a plane, not to mention it was a long flight from Maine to South Korea. This was our one and only overseas tour. Our desire was to go to Europe, but it never happened. We also kept trying to be stationed at Loring AFB, in Northern Maine, to be closer to home, as it was not very popular with many service persons to be stationed in the Northern frontier bases. As it was, we never did get that assignment, and subsequently, Loring AFB was shut down much to our chagrin.
From South Korea, we were stationed at Castle AFB, Merced, CA. We enjoyed this tour as it was situated in the San Joaquin Valley, the farming belt of California away from the larger cities. Castle AFB is no longer in existence today. Moving on, we went to Lackland AFB, San Antonio, Texas, then on to the Pentagon in the Washington, DC area. At this point, I was pregnant with our first son, and we decided we needed to settle down to raise him in a stable environment and so Michael left active duty service to return to Maine. We tried to restart our lives, but it did not work out as planned, and a second son was on the way, so Michael joined the Air National Guard, which brought him for basic training to Keesler AFB, Biloxi Mississippi and eventually moved on to Bolling AFB, Washington DC metro area, where he become employed with the Federal Government, and became a “weekend warrior” for the Air Force Reserves on the weekends. Having grown up working hard on the potato farms and families struggling to make a living, we carried that same work ethic and resourcefulness with us which helped Michael make positive impacts on his supervisors and career. During his reserve status, he also landed a full-time position working with the Federal Government.

It was at this point after 17 years of marriage, constant moves and apartment living that we decided to take a risk and purchase our first home 85 miles away from the city in the mountains of the Shenandoah Valley, a rural farming area which reminds us of the country life we came from. Michael’s unforgettable comment to me was “You put up with me, my military career and moving for so long, we will buy a small place with a few acres in the country for you to finally get the horses that you couldn’t have all these years since we left Maine.” Once settled in our newly purchased home, it was at this point that I was able to pursue college and invest in a long term career, as it was difficult to maintain an employment career when you were constantly uprooted. Just as I was settled into a good job, it was time to move on. Believe or not, though, after several years of living in our home, we began to get itchy feet, however, traveling days will have to wait until our full retirement age.

Both as a Reservist and federal employee, Michael’s career brought him to the Pentagon. His civilian job eventually transferred to an office in downtown Washington DC a few weeks prior to the 9/11 event. It was emotionally devastating to Michael as he had known some of the victims and some of the damaged parts of the Pentagon were ones he had previously installed equipment in. At that point, Michael was eligible to retire from the Air Force Reserves, but a stop-loss order was in effect, and his retirement was not granted until two years later when the stop-loss was lifted and he was granted retirement status. Michael continues his career as a public servant of the United States. Not surprisingly, our sons are following in his footsteps to some degree. Jonathon, our oldest son enlisted for a short tour in the Navy, and our youngest son is currently enrolled in college aspiring to eventually also become a public servant in the Federal Government for the United States.

During the two years Michael waited for his Air Force Reserve retirement status, we kept holding our breath as to whether Michael would be called back to active duty to serve in Iraq. Fortunately for our family, he did not go to Iraq, but I have the greatest respect for those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families, as I know what a strain it is to have your husband away from home for long periods of time, even more, to wonder if he’ll even come back alive or in one piece. The times that Michael was away for temporary periods of training or other duties certainly reinforced my abilities to be resourceful and manage the everyday needs of a family and home without any other relatives geographically available to help and depend on. To be on alert 24/7, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice, and miss many family milestones and events, there is no sum of money to compensate for such a sacrifice. They deserve every benefit and support we can give them and then some.

To my husband, sons, and all military personnel and veterans,

Susan St. Amand

***Remember---Every weekend between now and Labor Day I will select 1 semi-finalist to highlight here on the blog. ! There are some great prizes to be had. A portion of my annual book proceeds go to ASMBA-STAR--my favorite charity for Vets and their families. So spread the word to all those hard working, dedicated military families out there.***


No comments:

Amoveo Legend Series!

Amoveo Legend Video Trailers