l’s Corner—“General”-y Speaking
Brigadier General Matt Barker, Texas Air National Guard
Many Veterans will agree that the allure of exotic travel is one of the “draws” of military service (many will also agree that the expectation doesn’t always match reality). But even if it’s only seeing a new state or being able to take leave at a unique location during a routine assignment, I’ve found military travel to be one of the most fascinating and rewarding parts of my 31 years in uniform.
My travel adventures with the Air Force began when I was a cadet sent to the now-defunct Castle Air Force Base near Modesto, California. Base operations were interesting enough, at the time Castle trained B-52 bomber and KC-135 air refueling crews. What was equally compelling for me was the opportunity to travel to the breathtaking Yosemite National Park during a break in training. I’d return to California a year later (the coastal town of Lompoc) for technical training as a newly minted Lieutenant. My father accompanied me on the epic road trip from southeast Pennsylvania south through the Carolinas before picking up I-10 for the transit through Louisiana and Texas coastal plains which gave way to central Texas prairie, then the southwest desert before dropping Dad off at Los Angeles Airport. All along the way I was struck by the natural beauty and diverse communities of this nation I’d recently sworn to defend.
Most people have heard the phrase “join the [insert your military branch here] and see the world!” Foreign travel has unique opportunities and challenges, but for me has been almost entirely positive. As an aircrew member with our surveillance aircraft, I had the opportunity to spend time in Korea, Japan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. I learned a lot each place I visited (including a lot about myself…it’s very humbling to have to make your way in a place where you don’t speak the language). The chance to experience different cultures, food, history and scenery with my crew mates made for some lasting memories.
Those who are fortunate enough to be permanently stationed overseas often recall the time fondly, as my wife and I do, having been stationed at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, for two years. We were able to experience life in a rural village where Pam was the only American in the protestant church choir and brushed up on her German while sharing the common love of music. The best part of being stationed so centrally was easy (and relatively inexpensive) travel opportunity to neighboring countries, as when we hopped the train to Paris for a long weekend or grabbed a cheap flight to Scotland to run the Edinburg half-marathon. As we’ve scaled back and shut down overseas installations, I’m saddened that fewer service members will have the opportunity to expand their horizons and experience the enrichment that an overseas tour offers.
For me my most memorable overseas experiences came when I was assigned to Pope Field in North Carolina. I was part of the Joint Staff unit that ran Mobile Training Teams for tactical data links and other equipment for our allies and partners. Travel to Japan, Thailand, Poland, Germany, Chile and the Republic of Korea became routine as we took our important work straight to our customers. One of the more interesting facets of these trips was they were often at a host nation’s base, off the beaten path that many Americans (even other service members) frequented. I was informed they “toned down” the spice at the Thai mess hall for their guests from the USA. Although many of our instructors seemed to live out of their suitcases, they established lasting friendships around the globe and wouldn’t have traded it for anything. The confidence and resilience bred by the rigors of international travel made us all more patient, flexible, and honed a sense of humor crucial to maintaining sanity when the inevitable delays, cancellations, or lost bags blew up “Plan A” (and “B,” and “C”…).
I hope our readers’ military travel memories are more positive than negative, and that you’re able to share them as a part of your unique military story. Our Veteran community is more diverse and worldly-wise because of these adventures and will continue to be with the generation just starting their journey in uniform.
Until next time, Stay Frosty and Hold the Line.