Torrey Ray, Social Worker, Richard L Roudebush VA Medical Center

Me:  After 10 years of marriage, your divorce was finalized in late Aug. of last year.  What have been some of the most painful things about the divorce?

Torrey Ray (Social Worker, Richard L Roudebush VA Medical Center): My ex-husband, Chris, told me he had “been unhappy for a while.”  That was the only reason he gave me before he walked out the door after a ten minute conversation.  A week later he came over and reiterated that he had been unhappy but couldn’t say for how long.  I found out months later that he had been having an emotional affair for 7-8 months.  As much as that killed me, at least I had a better handle on a portion of the reason he left.

I’ve felt shattered, broken, half of a person, abandoned, rejected.  I still feel each of those emotions today.  The feelings eased and the tears slowed down until the holidays arrived. I started a class called Divorce Care.  It is a two hour a week class for 13 weeks.  It was recommended to me months ago but I thought I didn’t need it.  After barely surviving the holidays I realized I was wrong.  I signed up Christmas Eve after crying most of the day.  Today, I feel like I’m slightly beyond square one again.

One of the hardest aspects about the ending of my marriage has been that after all this time and the struggles, I continue to deal with regarding rejection and abandonment. I’m still completely and totally in love with him. Another aspect is the loneliness, that no matter how full I pack my schedule, it still chases after me.  Finally, I didn’t just lose the love of my life.  I lost my best friend in the whole world.  I lost my confidant, the person I was supposed to grow old with, the man I shared my life with.  He was my everything, so I lost virtually everything.

Me:  Since you already struggle with depression, how did adding divorce to the mix affect you?  Any advice you’d offer others in similar situations?

Torrey Ray: I’m surprised I survived.  I always imagined that if Chris died before me (the only way I thought we wouldn’t be together) that I would have to be hospitalized for suicidal thoughts.  Not only was I not hospitalized, but I never reached the point of depression where suicide ever crossed my mind.  I attribute that to God, friends, and family.

I never want to forget the people who have surrounded me and been there with me through every moment of pain.  When my ex left, I thought about moving closer to family.  Then I was bombarded by love and knew this was where I was supposed to stay.  My sister generously paid for my flight to visit her in Florida and then surprised me with a gift for me to swim with a dolphin. Touching a dolphin had always been a dream of mine (picture below).  Not everyone has the incredible friends and family I have been blessed with and I will never take them for granted.

I felt Chris detaching himself from me about a month before he walked out.  Since my love languages are touch and quality time this quickly began to put me into a tailspin feeling of feeling unloved.  I called my doctor and had my anti-depressant increased.  Chris walked out on me four days after I started taking the increase.  I think this is another reason I survived.  I was appropriately managing my depression and by the grace of God, already had the increase of meds in my system.  The must-do’s to survive have been asking for help, allowing myself to be vulnerable and transparent to those who love me so they can help because THEY WANT TO HELP, and accepting that this process is like a death and will take time to grieve.  You have to allow yourself the time.

Me:  Part of your healing process was to take a hiking trip last Oct.  Could you tell us what happened?

Torrey Ray:  Two friends of mine and I started hiking the Appalachian Trail in Newport, VA and finished in Troutville, VA.  It was a 53.1 miles hike that we accomplished in 5.5 days.  The section of this hike included McAfee’s Knob (picture below) as well as Dragon’s Tooth which is pretty, but quite the climb both up and down.

I would love to say that the 53 mile walk in nature started to slowly heal me.  That would be poetic and wonderful but it’s not true.  I was fairly unchanged until I had my first nightmare about day three.  It was my ex saying he wanted me back and I went running to him.  When I got there he looked at me, said he had changed his mind, and left.  I spent the next few days hiking with tears rolling down my face as I dealt with the abandonment and rejection all over again.

Me:  Have there been signs that you’re getting better?

Torrey Ray:  Well, I no longer cry every single day.  I’m able to listen to the radio again where it used to be too painful because it seemed every song was a reminder.  Also, within the last few days I was finally able to clean up my Facebook page and get rid of all of the pictures of him.  It was hard looking over our amazing memories we created together and clicking delete on that part of my life. I know it is healthy and something I could never have imagined doing two months ago.

Me:  Is there something you’re able to feel grateful about or see as a victory because of the divorce?

Torrey Ray:  I’m grateful that my relationship with God has gotten stronger.  Chris deconverted from Christianity years ago and until he left me, I didn’t realize how muted I kept my personal relationship with Christ out of respect for him.  It was something I should never have done but it is wonderful now to listen to my uplifting Christian music and sing along with it at the top of my lungs. I also freely post about my relationship with Christ on Facebook and don’t think twice about how he might interpret it.  It is very freeing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dana Hosty, Social Worker, OKC Veterans Health Care System

Me:  Your baby girl is due in just a few days.  How old are you now and how old were you when you had your other children?

Dana Hosty (Social Worker, Oklahoma City Veterans Health Care System):  I will be 47 at the end of March.  I was 27 when my oldest was born, Nick.  He’s 19 and a freshman at college.  I was 31 when my 15 year old, Noah, was born.  I have a stepson who is also 15, Tommy.   Interestingly, Tommy and Nick share the same birthday, August 26th.

Me: How has this pregnancy been compared with the first two?

Dana Hosty: I was at a place in my life where I was preparing for my oldest to transition to college and my youngest and stepson would be finishing high school in 4 years.  My thoughts were on making sure I did not stagnate as a professional and as a person.  It had become very important to me to have other interests in my life from which I derived pleasure, satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment.  My children were going to be out of the house soon and moving on with their own lives.  I needed to make sure my life doesn’t consist solely of sitting on the couch watching television.  Then POW! A baby…starting all over again.  I find I continue to have many days I struggle to wrap my brain around what this will be like for us.

I remember first thinking something was off when I ran my third half marathon of the spring on May 14th.  That race did not go well and I felt like I was really struggling.  Being a runner since the spring of 2012 and practicing yoga since the fall of 2014, I’d become pretty tuned in to my body and recognized when things were not ‘right.’  I remember at one point wondering if this was the start of menopause.  I chuckle about that now.

I was not experiencing any of the ‘typical’ pregnancy symptoms, with the exception of fatigue.  The only physical symptoms I noticed were significant fatigue and to put it politely, my bras seemed to suddenly become too small.  I am amazed and believe sincerely that there are powers larger than me at work.  After some research, I learned that what we have been blessed with is not a common event.  It is rare that women my age have an unassisted pregnancy, much less one without complications.

This pregnancy has been more challenging for me physically and emotionally.  I consider myself to be in good shape.  I exercised regularly.  I am healthy, but this has been hard.  I believe my age is more of a factor than I wanted to believe.  I had big plans to continue exercising regularly and all I seemed to be able to do have been to go to work and sleep.

Me: What’s something that has helped you get through this pregnancy?

Dana Hosty:  One of the thoughts that have kept me going, some days quite literally, has been knowing my husband always wanted more children.  He has spoken often about having wanted a large family and how blessed he is to have my sons now in our blended family.  We have been married a little more than three years.  To be able to have this child means so very much to me.

My husband is an amazing man.  I’ve not encountered a more generous, loving person.  I feel blessed to be able to give him something he’s always wanted.  There is no physical or emotional challenge bigger than reminding myself of this blessing, this gift.

Me:  Tell us something you’d want your baby to know about you?

Dana Hosty: That I love God and trust in Him and His plan.  That while she was a complete surprise and while it has taken me some time to adjust to the idea of having a baby again, I would not change a thing.

Me:  Sometimes carrying a child results in some self-discoveries. What’s something you’ve learned about yourself during this pregnancy?

Dana Hosty:  I’m stronger than I thought I was.  I thought running half-marathons was hard.  This has been much harder physically.  I’d forgotten much about what it’s like being pregnant. I’d expected to have problems along the way with this pregnancy given my age.  Surprisingly, I’ve not experienced any problems or issues.  That being said, I’m finding doing the most simple of activities very challenging. Just walking from my car in the parking garage to my office feels like a Herculean effort most days.  Preparing a meal for my family is very taxing and requires tremendous effort.

Me:  What’s something you worry about for your child?   

Dana Hosty:  I worry about the other side of being an older parent.  While we are in good health and established in our careers, I worry she may have to deal with caring for my husband and I as we age.  I hope we are able to care for and protect her.

Me:  Parents often have wishes for their children.  What do you hope for the most for the little girl inside of you?

Dana Hosty:  I hope for her health and happiness.  I hope she knows how wonderful she is.  I hope she is happy with who she is.  In this day and age of immense pressure on women, I want her to be happy in her own skin.

 

 

 

Jim Duea, Airspace System Inspection Pilot and Manager, FAA

Me:  Today, at age 70, you’re standing next to your Beechcraft Bonanza.  I understand this older picture is from when you were just 2 years old, atop the wing of an older Bonanza.  These pictures are decades apart, yet you’re smiling in both.  Should we be surprised by this?

Jim Duea (Airspace System Inspection Pilot and Manager, Federal Aviation Administration, Retired):  Love of flying runs in my family.  My dad was a pilot in World War II. He flew P-47 Thunderbolts in Italy.  That’s a big fighter aircraft used in WWII.  After he got out of the Service, he did some private commercial flying.  I’d go to the airport with him since I was 2 years old and watch airplanes, so my love for the Bonanza and flying go way back.  In high school, I found out I needed to wear glasses.  I thought then all my hopes of being a pilot were crushed.

I went into the Army in 1964-1967.  I spent a year in Vietnam and a little over a year in Germany…In Vietnam, since I couldn’t fly as a pilot, I’d volunteer to go on missions as a gunner in helicopters and as an assistant crew chief on the cargo aircraft the Army had just because I liked being in the air.

After high school, the vision restrictions to fly had changed.  They’re not as restrictive as they used to be.  I knew then I could fly as a private pilot.  When I was in Vietnam, I saved all my leave and nearly every penny that I could so that when I came home on leave, I could take flying lessons. I still had about a month of leave after Vietnam, so I spent about 2-3 weeks flying almost everyday just to get my student license.  I continued that afterwards in flying clubs and such just to get flying time and eventually qualified for my private pilot’s license.  After that, I found out the GI Bill was available to help supplement the cost of additional ratings you need to fly commercially, like a commercial’s pilot’s license, flight instructor ratings, multi-engine instrument rating, all of those I got assistance from the GI Bill.

Me: Tell us something you’ve learned about flying?

Jim Duea: I’ve had flights that for 3 hours, it was unbelievably turbulent.  I’ve also had trips over the ocean where I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it back to where       I needed to go because I was low on fuel and the weather had turned sour.  One of the first things you learn in aviation, much like with life, if you get in trouble, confess. Tell someone you have a problem.  They will then assist you. Let them…When you’re 26 years old, things don’t scare you as much as when you’re 70.  When you’re 70, wild and crazy is next to dying!

Me:  You never gave up on your dream of flying. What would you say to someone trying to make a dream come true?

Jim Duea: Don’t lose that vision.  Keep that vision in mind all the time.  You’ll find ways, you’ll find openings, opportunities to do what you really want to do in life.  If you focus your attention on something you want to do, you’ll see opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise.  For instance, you’re driving down the road looking for a parking spot.  Your focused total attention is on that.  You will see the exhaust from a car 2 lanes away that indicates they’re maybe pulling out of the parking space.  You would never have noticed that if you’re just driving down the street.  My advice is to just don’t lose your focus.  Keep that dream.  Keep thinking of what you want and you’ll be able to accomplish it.

 

Lt Chantal Hand (USAF)

Me:  You worked in Security Forces for the United States Air Force before your current job as an Air Battle Manager.  Tell us about one of your more challenging deployments and where you are today?

Lt Chantal Hand:  I enlisted in the military in January 2007.  In October of that year, I deployed to Camp Bucca, Iraq.  My job there was to guard the Iraqi detainees.  Abu Ghraib definitely changed how Security Forces as a whole guarded detainees.  Before we left for deployment, we were given a ton of training on what happened, how it happened, and how it could have been prevented.  I think it did affect my team and me in the way we approached our job.  It made me more cautious when interacting with detainees.

Being a guard at Camp Bucca was a challenging job because Iraqis already have a problem with women and now that I was guarding them, it was even worse…Some of the detainees were okay to be around, but some of them were extremely disrespectful.  They would make inappropriate gestures at the other females and me when we were on a walk around.   Sometimes they even threw stuff at us, to include poop.

The compound I worked in was unique to others because it had both Sunni and Shiite prisoners in it.  This was challenging because not only do they not get along well among themselves, but they also didn’t like having women guard.   It was a very different kind of work environment than working in an American prison.

While on duty, there were many emotions.  I worked mids, so I remember being tired a lot.  We also worked 6 days on and only 1 day off because we were so short on bodies.  As a young Airman, this schedule can wear on you and depress you really quickly.  Luckily, I had a really good team around me to help me through the deployment.  Also, de-stressing is extremely important in our job.  When you are deployed, there aren’t a lot of things to do to de-stress, so I would go to the gym a lot.

During this deployment, I ran into a lot of great officers and eventually decided I wanted to commission, more specifically go to the Air Force Academy.  I returned from deployment in March and immediately began working on my package.  I submitted my package to the Air Force Academy in the winter of 2008.

In May 2009 I found out I was pregnant.  On that same day I found out that I had been accepted to the Air Force Academy.  Though I had to decline my acceptance to the Academy, I did not give up on my dream of commissioning.  That fall, I put in applications to attend ROTC.  January 2010, I gave birth to my daughter and found out that I had been accepted into the SOAR (Scholarship for Outstanding Airmen to ROTC) program.  I separated from the military in August of 2010 to complete my degree, and ultimately earn my commission.  In May of 2013 I graduated from The Ohio State University and that August, I was commissioned.

Me:  What or who was it that kept you towards your goal of getting commissioned?

Lt Hand:  I have always been a driven person and once I make my mind up on something I don’t give up.  I would say that there were people, my chief and CC (commander), that kept helping me keep the door open for the opportunity.  They didn’t give up on me, so I couldn’t give up on myself.

 

 

TSgt Kamanu Fernandez, USAF

Me:  You’re a flight engineer for the United States Air Force.  Would it be reasonable to assume you like working with airplanes?

TSgt Kamanu Fernandez:  I’ve been infatuated with airplanes since I could walk.  My grandpa and I would sit at the end of the runway and watch the planes go by.  I joined the Air Force in 2003.  I was an aircraft electrician first.  When I was studying and learning about planes, it wasn’t like work.  It was more like a hobby.

Me:  What’s it like to deal with an emergency mid-flight?

TSgt Fernandez:  Any malfunctions or in-flight emergencies, I try to eliminate the malfunctions to make sure we can still complete the missions.  For emergencies, my goal is to mitigate the problem, isolate it, and get the aircraft back on the ground.  About five months ago, we had one of the larger emergencies that the FAA considered an emergency.  For the Air Force, anything we have to open up an emergency check list for, it’s considered an emergency even if the FAA doesn’t recognize it as an emergency.  We had taken off for a mission on the east coast and then we had an engine fire.  I was like, ‘Oh, cool, I’ve never had one of these before!’  It was a malfunction in one of our engines that required us to shut it down.  I just explained to the others, ‘Right now, we have indications of a fire.  We visually don’t see a fire, but we’re going to honor the light…’  We then worked on an evacuation plan.

Me:  Hearing the words fire and malfunction while on a plane can be pretty unsettling.  How do you manage to stay calm?  

TSgt Fernandez:  They call it being snake bit.  I’ve had a lot of emergencies aboard aircrafts.  Just the training you go through, you almost have this weird separation between reality and simulation.  You do it so much in the simulator that when it happens in the airplane, you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m back in the sim.’  You just handle it like you’re back in the simulator.  Over the years, you tend to gain more knowledge and experience over the systems and how they operate, so you can mitigate a lot of the problems before they become emergencies.

Most of our pilots are good about trusting engineers because of our training, same with navigators.  We have this running joke.  You have the pilot, the engineer, and the navigator.  The navigator’s going to get you lost, the engineer’s going to get you killed, and the pilot’s going to crash the aircraft. So what’s the pilot’s job?  Not to let the engineer kill you.  What’s the engineer’s job?  Not to let the pilot crash the plane and to make sure the navigator doesn’t get us lost.  The navigator makes sure we don’t break the plane or get ourselves killed.  You’re always cross checking each other’s jobs.  There’s a ton, a huge sense of trust and responsibility built into what we all do.

Me:  Confessions of a flight engineer.  Go!

TSgt Fernandez:  We like to sing.  We do.  When you deploy and take off, you’re usually really busy for about the first few hours.  Then you have a long trek into another country or where ever you’re going.  That’s usually a very boring time because you’re not on station yet.  You can’t listen to the radio…Everybody knows Disney songs.  I once ran up almost $100 worth of Disney albums on iTunes.  We love Aladdin’s A Whole New World.  The navigators went for a while on the Aladdin album when we were flying over the Middle East. How fitting is that?  It was very entertaining.

Some of us are really superstitious.  I stopped bringing chicken on the airplane for the longest time because every time I brought chicken on the plane, something broke or we had emergencies…On some of our best flights, we had this pink pony on a stick, like a little kid’s stick horse.  We started to carry the pink pony in my backpack.  The days I didn’t have it were when we’d have problems.  So now we strap it next to the window on the plane.

Most flight engineers were prior maintainers.  So there are practical jokes we pull on the maintenance side.  We control the power, the heating and cooling, all the environmental aspects of the airplane.  So if you have a crew that’s being annoying, you can make them really, really cold or really, really hot!

There are also some jokes that make the time pass faster when we’re stuck in an aluminum tube.  One of my buddies loves to give out hydrogenated, super sugary, super fatty and carb loaded snacks on the flights, like Otis Spunkmeyer muffins. Our lavatory on the planes is not the neatest.  Another buddy used a chocolate muffin and molded it into a shape of a turd.  He left it on the floor before walking out nonchalantly.  We do stuff like that to keep ourselves entertained on 16 hour flights.  For me, it’s all about the camaraderie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chrichelle Fernandez

Me:  You were diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in June of 2015.  How did you find out and what has it been like to live with MS?

Chrichelle Fernandez:  My husband, KJ, was gone on a TDY and during most of that time I had been experiencing severe pain in my right ear, down to the back of my neck. After a week, the pain subsided, but turned into numbness from my right ear that extended down my right arm. After two trips to the emergency room, a CT scan, several tests and finally an MRI – a neurologist confirmed the diagnosis.

KJ was on speakerphone when we got the news.  I was crying so hard because I was in shock. The doctor was talking more to KJ than me because he knew I couldn’t process it all while I was crying. I was in shock for about 6 months. It took me about that long to even have a conversation with our 12 year old son, Daniel, to let him know.  Our 5 year old son, Tyler, just knows mommy is sick.

In the very beginning, it was so overwhelming emotionally.  I just couldn’t comprehend it. Nobody has MS in my family.  I’d ask, ‘Why is this happening to me?  Is it going to get worse?  How much worse?’  I just kept thinking of the kids…I was just more worried about the kids.  KJ helped take care of his grandmother who had progressive MS and she was bedridden the rest of her life. I know that was another sign that God placed KJ in my life – because God knew that KJ would know how to help take care of me.

I have the relapse-remitting type that the doctors believe may have started back in 2005 with an initial case of optic neuritis in my right eye. I have to take self-injections three times per week, on top of other medication, and tons of vitamins. I haven’t had any major flare-ups since then, aside from a tingly feeling on my neck and in my hands once in a while, but the heat and stress will deplete my energy level some days and I’ll need to lay down for a little bit. So right now, the summer heat hasn’t been very nice to me!

I’d say the biggest challenge as a mom with MS is keeping things as normal as possible for the kids. I try to make sure I’m active in their school lives, we attend church regularly, spend time with friends and do fun things together as a family. I try to establish routines and keep them busy. I may have to pull double-duty since KJ is gone often, but it’s important to me to do my best to make sure the kids have a healthy and memorable childhood. I don’t ever want them to think we can’t do things because of our work schedules or that I have MS.

I’m thankful I had such loving parents who always made sure my brothers and I got to experience fun things.  We traveled throughout Europe when my dad was stationed in Germany for eight years with the Army. So I’ve always made it a point to do active things with the kids, such as go to museums, zoos, kid-friendly shows and concerts, water parks, play sports, spend time with friends, etc. They should be able to enjoy their childhood.  I plan out weekends with different activities, but make sure to add in some lazy days to just relax at home.

I’m a very active person.  I just don’t use the ‘Oh, I have MS, I can’t do that.’  I work full-time at American Fidelity in the marketing department.  It’s a very family oriented place.  It helps to know that my team is aware of my diagnosis. My VP said, ‘We know that once you feel better you’ll be back to giving 110% like usual. For now, I’d like you to focus on giving maybe an average of 75%.’  I’m fortunate that my position allows me to work from home twice a week if I ever need to, in case I’m not feeling 100% or like I’m able to leave the house. I also hula dance with a local Hawaiian dance group and we perform every now and then at different events. I try to do my best to go forward without pushing myself too much because I’ll end up in bed the rest of the day or the next day.

Doing research on MS helped to give me a sense of hope. I got involved in a MS support group and I’ve met some awesome people there.  KJ and I also recently signed up for a new gym together and that has helped get my energy levels up. I know there are worse medical conditions out there.  I prepare myself for what I need to get through the day, the things I can do to make sure I don’t keep spiraling downhill.  I just try to live normally because you can’t stop living life because of the fears. I’m not going to just let MS take over my life.  I’m going to keep living my life even with MS!

 

 

 

SPC Colloggero Vignati and Saxo, US Army

Me:  Tell us about yourself and your dog.

Spc. Colloggero Vignati, Military Police Dog Handler, US Army:  I joined the military to protect my country and my loved ones.  Coming from where I used to be and seeing where I am now, it’s a complete 180.  I wasn’t really such a good person when I was younger. I grew up in a bad neighborhood and my parents split when I was young.  I got into a lot of trouble when I was young…When I was 19, I decided I can’t do that anymore.  I’ve got to turn my life around, so I joined the Army.  I first came in as a MP.  From the tests, I was chosen to be a dog handler 3 years ago and it has turned out to be one of the best jobs in the Army.

This is Saxo.  He’s a Patrol Explosive Detector Dog and he has been deployed to Iraq.  He’s 6 years old.  He’s been with the Army since he was about 2 years old.  I’ve only been with him for about 8 months.  He wanted to be more alpha than his last handler.  He really needed a more experienced dog handler, someone to give him a more stern voice.  It usually takes about 5-6 months before a bond develops between a dog and his handler.  It took Saxo about a month with me.  I just spent time with him, working with him.  It took hours and hours of working together every day. Repetition helped.

A dog’s always going to protect your back.  He’s always going to know you, the difference between you and someone else, and he lets you know that I’m going to be by your side no matter what!  All the dog knows is the handler, nothing else.  The dog just knows you, your smell, your voice—your everything.  You give life to the dog.  For example, I was out here (CA) for training for about a month.  I was the only one that fed him, got him water, and took him out on breaks, so he knew he’d get everything from me.  He’ll respond to other people here and there, just to play around and be familiar with other people–to be nice with others.  This is so he’s not so aggressive and can build rapport with others, to not be so mean all the time.

What I love the most about Saxo is how he’s a goofball when it comes to us just playing around, but when it comes to work, he’s all about work.  He’s 100% work and talent.  He’s trained to attack on command…When he gets real agitated, he doesn’t let anyone get near him or me.  When he gets like that, I just let him let it out of his system.  I’ll keep petting him.  He’ll eventually settle down when he’s tired.

I’ll never forget how Saxo can act like a child sometimes, but he’s really an old man. His favorite toy is a Kong, a little plastic ball.  It has a rope on it so we can play tug of war with it.  He loves to chew on the ball.  He gets the ball when he finds an explosive.  That’s his reward.  When he does something right, that’s when he gets a toy. I’ll never forget that energy he has, even for being such an old man.  He’s getting to be at an age where he’s going to start to decline soon, but he doesn’t want to decline.  He’s a tenacious dog.  He’s never going to stop!

 

Captain Gustavo Perez, LAFD

 

Me:  Tell us about yourself.

Captain Gustavo Perez (Los Angeles Fire Department):  I’m 55 years old and I live in Mission Viejo, Ca. I’ve been married for 30 years to my wife Tamara and we have 2 kids. I’ve been with the Los Angeles Fire Department for about 27 years, recently promoted to the rank of Captain I about 9 months ago into Fire Station 14 in the South Los Angeles area. I suppose when I was young, it was always a dream of mine to be a firefighter someday.  Thankfully, I got my chance to become a member of one of the finest fire departments in the nation.

Me:  What are some obstacles you’ve encountered in your personal life and as a firefighter?

Capt Perez:  A few years ago I was diagnosed with leukemia. By far, it was the most difficult thing on a personal level I have had to deal with. Fortunately, I was able to find a cure in the early stages of the disease that has given me not only a chance to move forward with life, but to also return to duty with the Los Angeles Fire Department. The incredible support that me and my family received from my fellow firefighters was overwhelming. It gave me a whole new respect for the gift of being a member of one the greatest organizations in the fire service.

The toughest part of our job is the time away from home due to the 24 hour platoon duty system. Birthdays and major holidays, for example, are difficult at times for our families. Finding a way to balance family and work can be difficult. Fortunately, the fire station can be a home away from home, and our coworkers become extended family.

One of the bigger incidents I was involved in was the Northridge Earthquake of 1994. It’s hard enough to live in Southern California and deal with natural disasters of this type, but that one was different in that I was on duty in the Silverlake area that day and had to not only focus on providing service, but wonder how my family and home were potentially impacted as well. Keep in mind cell phones were not as big a part of our daily lives back then. It was a while before we had an opportunity to check on our loved ones. We had our hands full as an organization providing service with the wide spread damage as well as the impact on the infrastructure, such as damaged water mains that hampered our ability to affect fire suppression.

Without question, the civil unrest of 1992 comes to mind also. The quantity of incidents taxed our dispatch system very early on, which is essential at all times, especially when we were asked to respond with law enforcement protection for the duration of the event. From the onset, we were actually moving from one incident to another, non stop. Operating in this fashion is far from normal, and it put us in a whole different mode of operation.

Me:  What are some of the things you enjoy about being a firefighter?

Capt Perez:  One of the most rewarding aspects of being a firefighter is to have the ability to impact peoples lives in a positive way on a daily basis for a living.  One of the many benefits of working in a large metropolitan area is the diversity makeup that is Los Angeles, along with the type of challenges it presents to the department. To have the responsibility of protecting everything from the high rises of downtown to the waterfront of the Port of Los Angeles, to an international airport like LAX, all in one city is pretty unique.  I would imagine, not just for myself, but for all of our members, having the ability to show up to an incident when things are at there worst and provide some kind of a solution has got to be rewarding in itself. To be able to make a living by providing help is a nice feeling.

 

 

 
 

Welcome again!

All of us possess the makings of infinite victories.  While each victory is unique in its own right, every victory has the potential to revitalize and/or rebuild lost hope.  This photo blog was created with the intention of uncovering as many victories as possible.  The intention is also to infect readers with possibilities for positive changes and victories.

 

Captain Katriina Clegg, USAF

Me:  You’re an Electronic Combat Officer (ECO) for the United States Air Force. What does that mean really?

Capt Katriina Clegg:  As an ECO aboard the E-3, you are the only aircrew qualified to operate the Passive Detection System (PDS). The PDS is intended to give AWACS on-board identification capability which is a valuable electronic support tool to identify threatening or enemy aircraft and ground emitters (i.e., surface-to-air missile sites). The ECO operates the PDS and evaluates, coordinates, and reports electronic intelligence. I have been an ECO for almost 3 years and now get to instruct and evaluate other ECOs. I like that the job is detail oriented and requires a bit of detective work analyzing parametric data from emitters to determine the identity.

There are many times during flights and/or simulations when detection and analysis need to be completed quickly and correctly. The only way to get better and faster at your job as an aircrew member is through effective mission planning and experience. I like the stress that that comes with the need for accuracy and efficiency.

Me:  Why do people call you Fiin?

Capt Clegg:  The short answer is that I received my callsign from my previous Commander Lt Col Coyle at a callsign ceremony for being Finnish and having 2 ii’s in my name, something that’s constantly brought up in conversations. Longer callsign stories are only told when you buy someone a beer.

Me:  Next time, for sure!  So word has it that on your most recent deployment, you were in charge of all AWACS operations in theater?  What can you tell me about that experience?

Capt Clegg:  I recently returned from my 3rd deployment to an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia. This was my first deployment that I was not assigned to a flying crew but instead, was the Electronic Support Team chair working with AWACS Mission Planning Cell. I was the subject matter expert and responsible for providing sound tactics, techniques, and procedures in regards to PDS and emitter detection capabilities for 6 deployed crews flying combat sorties. As the point of contact for Electronic Support in AWACS, I needed to coordinate and filter information from electronic intelligence, database support airmen, maintenance, and the 36th Electronic Warfare Squadron in Eglin, FL. I had to maintain the E-3’s ability to correctly detect, identify, and locate emitters of interest to maximize combat effectiveness and threat detection.

It was a particularly exciting and challenging deployment due to the dynamic operations between Syria, Iraqi, and Russian aircraft operating unilaterally in Syria. Also, just before my arrival, we had the first E-3G upgraded Block 40/45 aircrafts arrive to a combat environment and so my team and I had to keep both old and new operating systems updated with current airspace and aircraft information. I learned so much from working with a dozen different career fields and was gratified by the experience because you get to see immediate results of your work in a deployed setting. I had an amazing team of airmen that made my job easier and were a joy to work with.

Me:  Your thoughts about being a leader in the Air Force?

Capt Clegg:  I was at a lecture of Lt Gen Kwast’s and felt validated when he referred to servant-leadership because this is a description I would use to describe great leadership I have witnessed and aspire towards. I believe it is very important for Flight/CC, SQ/CC, etc to understand that they are in their position to serve those below them and especially to be their ‘top cover.’ My last two Squadron Commanders emphasized they were indeed our top cover and gave us the freedom to make decisions and mistakes in order to learn and grow as leaders. The culture bred an atmosphere of trust and professionalism.

While I was honored to serve as a flight commander of over 50 fellow officers, my Lieutenants knew I was always available to them. Just as my commander trusted me to lead the flight, I would in turn, trust and challenge my Lieutenants to take charge of projects and come up with solutions on their own. It is also important to take time for mentorship and continue to pass down insights and lessons learned just as I have been fortunate to receive those from several supervisors and mentors.

Me:  Girls dream about doing different things when they grow up.  Is what you’re doing now anything close to what you had envisioned for yourself when you were younger?

Capt Clegg:  Actually, yes. I have wanted to be in the Air Force since I was a teenager. While growing up in a small town in Michigan, I had never seen or known anyone in the military. My parents took me to the Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio when I was about 14.  I was in awe of the airmen I saw in their uniforms and I wanted to fly all the planes in the museum. The men and women I saw in uniform looked so professional and confident that I knew I wanted to wear that uniform and feel that same pride I saw in them.

I then started flying when I was 16 and earned my private pilot’s license before attending college. While in college, I realized I did not want to be a pilot for a living but was still interested in aviation and being in the Air Force.  When I found out about the rated flying position, ABM (Air Battle Manager), I knew it was perfect for me. I love that being an ABM is a different job every day and it requires constant learning that keeps me challenged.

Me:  Speaking of challenges, what’s a challenge you’ve turned into a victory?

Capt Clegg:  When I first came into the military, I would get anxious speaking to strangers and being in large groups. I was not shy, just not very comfortable around people I did not know, especially in groups. In the military, you are constantly meeting new people and forced out of your comfort zone on a regular basis.

You can say I am an introvert who has become comfortable being an extrovert when I need to. Briefing small and large groups of people is a common practice as an aircrew member, so over time I have been desensitized to the stress of speaking in front of groups. In the beginning, I would have to practice many times alone and be extra prepared in order to brief groups of people but now, I do not worry about it. Experience and competency in your job builds confidence and it is easy to talk about topics your knowledgeable about.

Although it has been stressful many times, I value my military experience thus far and skills I have gained. I now enjoy flying on the E-3 sometimes with a completely different crew from the previous flight. Now I can appreciate the opportunities to meet someone new and to work with a new group of people, especially since we all treat each other as part of the Air Force family.

Me:  A challenge you enjoy when you’re not in a flight suit?

Capt Clegg:  I am still just an amateur, but I enjoy woodworking. My father can make fine furniture you would buy in a store and I have a long way to go if I am to be as good as him.  For now, I am learning new techniques with each piece of furniture I build. I have made a console table and a couple of side tables so far.  What I like about woodworking is its blend of technical and artistic skills.  It’s something that lets me explore and fulfill my creative sides.