Tag Archives: Military Service

The Spirit of Arizona – Happy Veteran’s Day!

If you have read Welcome Company for a while, you may have picked up here or there that my husband is in the military; the Air Force to be exact. The Arizona Air National Guard to be exact – exact.

He is privileged and honored to serve with the 161st Air Refueling Wing. He has 28 years of dedicated service under his belt as a KC-135 pilot and now commander. He wouldn’t want me to tell you all of that, which is just one of the many reasons we love him and are so proud of him. He is very proud of the 161st though so if we keep the focus on them, it should be okay. It is Veteran’s Day after all.

But first, I just have to show you this picture from a few years back because I love it so much …

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Daddy & Nathan at the 2011 Veteran’s Day Parade

Did I mention, he is also a really great dad?

Okay, back to the 161st …

This past summer, my boy’s and I were privileged to attend a very special dedication. The dedication of “The Spirit of Arizona”. Sara was spending time with Grandma in Washington over Summer break so she missed it. I mean, it isn’t every day that you get to stand on the flight line so close to the runway!

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There the boys are with Mizz Courtie (as Nathan calls her – it’s really Courtney).

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Nathan luuuuvs his Mizz Courtie!

Mizz Courtie is the wife of Colonel Joe Wilson. Joe is the maintenance group commander who led the team responsible for getting the job done and making the “Spirit of Arizona” happen.

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The “Spirit of Arizona” is the designation of the 161st tanker that now proudly displays the Arizona State Flag on it’s tail. From what I understand, accomplishing this was no easy task and a great deal of effort was put into getting the final go-ahead for painting the tail.

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Countless “man”-hours went into the job. Many of the men and women who worked on the tail, did so on their own “off-duty” time. Not because they had to; they did it because they wanted to and because they have pride in what they do, in their state and in their unit.

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The Copperhead team is pretty special. The maintainers who worked on the Spirit of Arizona did and amazing job. But they didn’t stop with the tail.

They also did this …

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They painted my husband’s name on the bird he loves so much.

I’m sitting here months later writing about it and I am still tearing up. He didn’t know they were going to do it and he was a little overwhelmed and deeply humbled by the gesture.

And on the other side …

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Colonel Wilson’s name. His name up there on that aircraft is a big deal. Why?

Okay, now I’m going to need a tissue.

Colonel Wilson is not a flyer, he is a Maintenance Officer and one of the very best! Behind his name is the name of every single maintainer who keeps these ancient birds in the air. Men and women who’s dedication to their field not only gets the mission done but keeps air crew safe. His name, a maintainer’s name, up there on that plane is a shout out to each and every one of them!

We are always happy when we get a chance to go out and visit with our 161st family. This day in particular was very exciting!

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The only thing I can say about his picture is what my husband says just about every time a plane flies over – “planes are cool”.

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A daddy first. Always.

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Happy Veteran’s Day Copperheads! You are absolutely the best of the best!

And Happy Veteran’s Day to all who have answered the call.

We love you Sonny.

The Spirit of Arizona is but a symbol of the Spirit of the United States Military and all who serve. So, if you find yourself flying into Phoenix and you just happen to look out your window and see her sitting on the ramp, take a moment to reflect on what she represents.

Freedom isn’t free.

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Remembering

At 5:46 a.m., twelve years ago this morning, I was sleeping peacefully. I had the bed all to myself as my husband had already left for the National Guard base and a routine KC-135 refueling mission.

Just before 6 a.m., the phone rang.

It was my husband.

“Turn on the news. Then call Mark. I love you. I’ll call you when I can.”

Click. Nothing more.

I wasn’t bleary eyed, groggy or fuzzy from being abruptly awakened. I knew the tone. I felt the seriousness. Instantly, I was alert and focused. Something big had happened.

Something terrible.

I turned on the news.

I turned on the news and watched the world as I knew it change before my eyes as United Airlines Flight 175 tore into Tower Two of the World Trade Center in a horrific explosion of fire and black smoke. Tower One already burning next to it. 

6:03 a.m. 

Dear Lord, how many people were in those buildings? On those planes? 

Tears in my eyes, lump in my throat, I called Mark. Mark was the best man in our wedding and is one of my husband’s closest buddies. He is also a fellow tanker pilot and at the time, lived only a few miles from us.

He is also not a morning person. “What?!”

“Mark, turn on the news. Something is happening.”

I can’t share with you the first words out of his mouth when he turned on the TV but I promise you, I will never forget them. He knew what was happening. He knew it wasn’t an accident.

And then he simply said “Okay, I’m going in”. Calm. All Business.

Click. Nothing more.

And then, the wave of phone calls.

My husband had been an active duty KC-135 pilot for ten years when he left active duty in 2000  to finish out his service flying part time for the National Guard and work full time flying for American Airlines.

My phone was inundated by friends and family desperate for me to tell them that he was not on American Flight 11.

“Please tell me Gary was not on that plane.”

“I know you’re probably getting a lot of calls but please just tell me he’s okay.”

“Where is Gary? He’s not flying is he?”

Phone calls all morning and sporadically throughout the day. Those phone calls are what have stayed with me the most all these years. I am so thankful for that outpouring of love and concern but I have to be honest, that is not what still resonates. It is how I was able to answer that never leaves me.

“No, he wasn’t on that plane” – “Yes, he is okay” – “No, he wasn’t flying”.

The other wives, the husbands, the mothers, the fathers, the sisters, the brothers who were getting the same phone calls but could not give the same answers, they have stayed with me. I carry them with me because I can’t imagine having to answer as they did. For me, it was all okay. For them it was not and I will never forget. For them and for the loved ones they lost.

After 9-11-2001, I did not see my husband again for a week, other than that night when I met him at the guard shack to drop off an overnight bag and several dozen pizzas.

But I did see him again.

He spent the next week on high alert and when his unit got the call to launch and refuel fighters flying homeland defense, he and Mark piloted one of the first planes back in the air after everything had been grounded. He shared with me how surreal it was to be practically “alone” in the skies.

He flew with American again for only a short time before he was called back to full time National Guard duty where he has remained ever since, taking a military leave of absence from the airline. In the short amount of time he flew commercially after 9-11, his route was Dallas to Newark where for weeks he could see the smoldering remains of the twin towers on approach.

A constant and terrible reminder of all that was lost and how life had changed. How our country had been changed.

This morning, twelve years later, at my children’s school there was a Patriot’s Day ceremony around the flagpole in the inner courtyard. 

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The 6th grade students sang Lee Greenwoods “Proud to be an American” and several of their classmates shared beautiful sentiments they had written. One of the girls who read is a friend of Sara’s and as she spoke the words “I was born just after the events of 9-11”,  the realization struck me that every child at that ceremony today was born after 9-11. They have never lived in an America untouched by terror.  Those sixth graders are the first generation of a profoundly changed America. And they are a beautiful reminder of our resilience and strength; of what we have overcome. That life does go on.

The little girl who shared those words, her name is Hope.

There are so many things I reflect on and remember on this day each year.

I remember the pain and disbelief and being glued to the news.

I remember the sacrifice and the heroes. “Okay, I’m going in”. Firefighters. Police officers. Military. Ordinary citizens. Airline passengers. They stepped up, they went in.

And many didn’t come out. But others did because of them.

We came out of 9-11 because of them.

And we must never forget them.

The reminders are around us everyday. See them. Remember them.

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Heavenly Father, today we remember what was lost in our country. Thank you for this day. Thank you for the freedom we are so blessed to know. May we never take it for granted. Thank you for the men and women who continue to sacrifice that we might gather in remembrance around a flagpole in an elementary school courtyard; safe and without fear. Be with them. Protect them. Let us not forget that there are those who live in fear and terror and horror everyday. We pray for them and for peace. We lift up to you the families of all who did not come home twelve years ago as their pain becomes new again on this day. Comfort them as only you can. 

Let us never forget.

Amen.

 

Family Dinner Favorites: Barefoot Contessa’s Lemon Chicken

Family dinner favorite #4 comes from Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa. I love her. She’s my favorite! I also love this recipe so much that I made it for Christmas dinner two years ago when my husband deployed on Christmas Day and it was just the kids and I for dinner.

I was tired and not up for the big production that Christmas dinner usually is. I had baked dozens and dozens of cookies and multiple loaves of pumpkin bread for my husband to take with him on his trip. I wanted to send a little bit of Christmas from home to the injured troops he and his crew would be flying out of harms way and the medical staff that would accompany them. With all of that baking and preparation to get him ready to leave, I just needed something simple but delicious and a little bit special for dinner for the kids and I; it was still Christmas after all. This lemon chicken dish was perfect.

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So easy! And delicious. Thanks Ina!

I’ve made this dish many times since then and it still brings back memories of a simple Christmas nestled on the couch with the kids watching a movie. I love how food can do that. A reminder of the surprising contentment and peace I felt, even while knowing we were sending daddy off and would miss him terribly. Truly, we had nothing to feel sad or complain about as he was going to help the men and women who were injured fighting for us and were so far away from their own families. That was a special Christmas as it was such a great lesson for our kids to see that we are often called to willingly and graciously make sacrifices in order to do what is right; to help however and wherever we can, and to put the needs of others before our own. It is an honor to serve and military families serve too. I am thankful still for that Christmas Day.

The good news for you is that you don’t have to wait until Christmas to enjoy this wonderful dish. With a little bit of preparation, it is a great weeknight meal or a perfect Sunday dinner; just click the link below to find the recipe and get ready to chop some garlic.

Barefoot Contessa’s Lemon Chicken Breasts

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Lemon, thyme and garlic. What’s not to love?

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Nine, yes nine, cloves of garlic …

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which become part of an incredibly flavorful sauce when heated with olive oil, thyme and lemon.

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The recipe calls for bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts but I use boneless, skinless if I don’t have them. Just decrease the cooking time a bit.

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Be sure to finish the chicken under the broiler for a few minutes to give it nice color and crisp up the skin if you are using skin-on breasts.

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I serve it with Ina’s Easy Parmesan “Risotto” which is a must have side dish that I use all the time and will share with you tomorrow – so be sure and stop back by.

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I am usually a Cabernet kind of girl but I really love this with a nice buttery Chardonnay.

But then maybe that’s just because it’s part of the memory.

Enjoy! And as you do, maybe say a little prayer for the men and women who remain in harms way, answering the call so far from their own dinner tables and the ones they love.