Interview by Todd Mathias

This interview is anonymous except for first names.

What branch of the military were you in?

Brett: Air Force

Shelli: Air force

What was your rank?

S: e-4, which is called a senior airman

B: Technical sergeant being an E-6 pay grade

Why and when did you join up?

S: I Joined in 1994, and got out in 1998. I thought it would be a way to see the world, experience something that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise, and to serve my country.

B: I Joined in 1993 and got out in 2003. I was young and looking for action, I felt it was a good move at the time, I didn’t enjoy college, I saw it an honorable thing to do to and it would give me skills, I was aware of the consequences that conflict is possible

What was your job in the military?

S: Air surveillance technician. I would look at my radar screen and would be interpreting what was on it, bad guys from good.

B: Airborne radar technician. I made possible for the radar dots to appear on the radar. I operated the radar system; I would optimize and calibrate it, when it was fully operational transfer control to the surveillance officer. During downtime on the plane I would help others, read books or study. If problems arose I’d have to fix them as fast I could. The radar was essential to the operation of the others jobs on the aircraft.  I also was one of the primary firefighters on the plane responsible for the airframe itself and any issues that would occur. I can still smell an electrical fire and it will get my pulse to quicken. A chemical reaction you could say.

What type of plane did you serve on?

B: AWACS plane.

S: On a crew of about 35.

S: Also you may find this interesting; in our plane prior to us joining there was an escape chute that we could use if we were ever attacked. We could slide out and parachute to safety but that was phased out just as we were coming in. It’s a little disconcerting being in a plane with no escape basically. I mean the plane can see threats for a long distance away and we could outlast any fighter that would theoretically come after us due to our planes ability to fly high and our support aircraft that would come to our aid, like fighters.

Where were you stationed?

Tinker Air Force base, Oklahoma.

How long were you in the military?

S: 4 years

B: about 10 years

Did you see any conflict while your were active duty?

S: Came in after desert storm so not really, this type of job doesn’t play to that we’re up above any actual combat in the skies.

B: I was going back and forth to the Middle East in support of the UN mandated no fly zone in Iraq 1995, last time I was involved in that operation was 1998,

Then in 1999 in Europe for our involvement in Kosovo and Serbia, then came operation Iraqi freedom early 2003 I also was involved in some Counter drug operations as well.

How would you define war?

B: It’s chaos. Extremely chaotic, communication and logistics wise. Having a plan and then it going to shit, it all goes out the window.

S: There are more people than just our side fighting, all the people involved, families, combatants, a lousy endeavor for all involved.

Have your ideas of war changed over the years, especially now that you are parents? And if so how?

B: When you serve it puts a different light on it. Adult life gives a new view too. War is seen as something that happens. It’s not something one looks forward to. If this country is to go to war, if the county is going to put our lives in danger, they should ask is the cause just and are our lives worth it. You hear civil war soldiers and their recounts of how they said they regret they only had one life to live and fight for a cause and I just don’t see that happening today in these wars.

Is there anything about war and conflict you would want others to know about?

S: Not to believe everything they see or hear thought the media. Its very one sided and they only get a sliver of what the whole picture is like. And not to pass judgment on the soldiers and what they see.

When your obligation was up, did you have any problems adjusting back to civilian life?

S: No, it 4 years in, then 4 years where I could be called back, but I was in the business world before and it wasn’t a hard shift back.

B: No I was ready to get out and be in the workforce.

B: I did have one friend however who once was out and in the real world realized that he couldn’t hack it and signed back up for another tour. He lost a stripe in doing so; he went from a reserve unit to active duty. Most people seem to put their time in and then move on but some can’t leave the structure that the Armed forces contain. It’s like being in a job for ten years and then trying to start over, for some it’s a hard move.

The military life is portrayed in a variety of ways in TV, Movies, and literature. Did you feel that you could identify with particular one?

B: Hollywood glorifies a lot of things; but there are some things that try to stay true to the actual events. They don’t show the boredom and the day to day life, the bathrooms the sitting and waiting for flights and planes, they just show the “drinking beer and killing people” the stuff that sells, try to take it with a grain of salt.

What do you think one common misconception people have about the armed forces?

B: Most people have no idea what military life is like, they seem to be quick to judge the reasons we are involved, quick to judge the people- that they’ve lost human ability, that we are all automatons and lack creativity. I was at a job interview the hr guy was raising concerns about hiring former military personnel, he thought their thinking may be one dimensional. The military is a diverse work environment. There is lots of responsibility involved. There is a diverse cross section of people and jobs. Movies cloud people’s perceptions of what the reality actually is. The media does a phenomenal job of playing with facts. If something goes wrong or not exactly right they seem to jump to conclusions. You only know what you know, from our position we were above everything and controlling aircraft.

S: Just because you are in doesn’t mean you support the war, it’s your job.

Do you think back about your time in the military?

S: In the sense that we made a lot of friends in the military, and the things that we went thought, this war made me think that I’m glad I’m not in now. You can’t help but not think of it, it’s a big part of your life.  Makes you appreciate what you have now, and not take anything for granted.

Have you kept in contact with anyone from your time spent in the military?

B: Yep, three or four.

Care to share any ideas on the current situation?

B: Again people see what they see on the news and seem to take this as what’s going on. They only see a limited view on things and it’s not the true picture always of what happens in the conflict.

S: War will always be, but what will it be like? Keeping the military top notch, keeping soldiers sharp that’s the key, America needs to keep being the strongest nation but I see that as not being the case if things keep slipping like they are. You need to keep the military strong and I just don’t see that as the case exactly. When we signed up it was like “What do you have to offer the military”, now it’s like we’ll take anyone who will sign on the dotted line. Just after I got in they had a large group of us in an auditorium and asked us if we thought we’d ever be involved in a combat/conflict situation, about 95 maybe 98% raised their hands when asked if they thought they never would see it. It was about almost all the girls that were part of that group. It’s a pretty narrow view to think that you wouldn’t see something the way the world is.


In the process of interviewing, I was given some insight into the military and its connection with literature and also how the military experience differs. They were stationed together out of Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma during their years of service in the Air Force. Shelli started her service in 1994 and Brett had joined a year earlier in 1993. They met and later wed before they got out of the service and now reside in Northeast Ohio.

Some things this interview seemed to show that the military was often misrepresented by movies and some literature in a way that would overly glorify what happens in combat and in war in general. Brett’s comments about movies, “They don’t show the boredom and the day to day life, the bathrooms the sitting and waiting for flights and planes, they just show the “drinking beer and killing people” the stuff that sells, try to take it with a grain of salt.”, made me think back to Randall Jarrell’s poem Eight Air Force. While it describes the men waiting to go on another mission, it shows that there is downtime between missions and that there isn’t always fighting. It shows a human element to the people and how they cope with time they have to themselves.

A story Shelli related to me about an escape hatch that their plane once had made me think of Jarrell’s other poem we read, Death of a Ball Turret Gunner. The imagery of falling to earth after being shot out of the belly of his plane in the poem made me think of how it must have felt if pressed to jump from her aircraft.  The circumstances may be slightly different but the time one would have as they came down to earth could be used to examine their position and what they were doing there in the first place.

Another point that was prevalent in the interview was how the general public and even how a soldier fighting doesn’t have the whole view of a specific operation or event that occurs. This made me think back to the discrepancies that occurred in the two interpretations of the events at Ap Bac in the Vietnam War. In those two accounts we see one account heralding a victory and saying they overcame great hardships while the other said they happened on an unprepared and insignificant force. There will always be different views on how a situation played out during a particular conflict. This also brought to mind the Jessica Lynch news reports we read in the beginning of the semester and how there are multiple narratives of the same event by people who were either first hand or second hand witnesses.

During the interview I started to realize that even though we only hear about the infantry and the ones doing the fighting on the ground there are many others working together in support of the men on the ground for the same basic goal. This goes against a good majority of the text’s we have read in class. It seems that unless you have dirt under your fingernails and a gun in your hand you aren’t exactly thought of in a narrative.

Another story that Shelli related to me about how now she said it seems like the military now just needs bodies to fill boots and that made me think how it goes against the song by Sgt. Barry Sadler. The idea that some of our best are fighting and protecting us seems to only be conveyed in song from that era. You wouldn’t find such an overt song on the airwaves today that would get such a boost of support like this song did when it was released.

My interview didn’t have any wild story of combat in a far off land but it gave me a better perspective on military life through the eyes of a couple. I feel it would be important for people to be aware of how there is an everyday job like feel to the military. It is these peoples job and it has normal drawbacks like everything else, it’s not always the glitz and the glamour the media or literature tries to convey. There is a strong sense of duty but also realize that they have a job to do and do not have the luxury to say no if they don’t see eye to eye. I’d also like to convey what Brett had to say about his definition of war. He said, “Its chaos. Extremely chaotic, communication and logistics wise. Having a plan and then it going to shit, it all goes out the window.” I think this is extremely exemplary of what war is to a soldier, the whole situation is very fluid and ever changing. One interesting anecdote also about Brett’s service was that he met the rock group Hootie and the Blowfish while he was in Turkey. It was just another aspect of their service. This interview and project as a whole was a great experience because I feel it gave me insight into some friends and their service in the Air Force and their thoughts on conflict and war in general.