In honor of Veteran’s Day on November 11, we are profiling veterans from around the area all month long to honor their service. Our first installment is Marie Stewart, an Air Force veteran.
“I enlisted because my dad and my grandfather served, so I knew since I was a little kid that I wanted to also,” said Marie Stewart, who currently resides in Pine Plains and serves as the Director of Operations at the Stissing Center.
Marie enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1989 and served until 1991. “I really wanted to work with airplanes. My grandfather was a gunner in World War II and my dad worked on C-130 planes, and they would tell the most amazing stories about the camaraderie of service and being a part of something important,” she said.
She attended basic training in San Antonio, TX, and completed six more months of training at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, CO, before being stationed in Fairbanks, AK.
“It was so cold there,” she laughed. “When I first got there in 1990, it was 30 below zero, and it didn’t get above that temperature for three weeks. That’s what I wasn’t prepared for. I was completely prepared for the job – they trained me how to do that. I wasn’t prepared for the intense weather conditions.”
Some of Marie’s work consisted of loading bombs onto Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircrafts, which are low-flying planes that are known for their ability to destroy tanks.
“I was serving in the early 1990s, so most of the work I did was related to guarding the Alaskan pipeline and keeping the river open. Our pilots would drop cluster bombs on the river to break up the ice so the boats could get through,” she said.
One of the things that Marie remembers most from her service as a whole is the people that she served with. “I’m still friends with many of them today and we check in with each other frequently,” she said. “There’s a bond there. We shared something that is inexplicable.”
Marie also said that her service helped her develop a sense of structure and learn how to be a part of a team. “I learned how to work with people that I don’t necessarily want to work with, but have to. We don’t all get along all the time, but learning to work towards a common goal with a group of people effectively really helped me solidify everything that I did after my service. It gave me the skill set and the tools that I needed to be an effective employee.”
Back to civilian life
Because Marie didn’t serve in a hostile zone, she said that it wasn’t difficult to return to civilian life following her service. “I wasn’t being shot at on a daily basis. I was safe and secure on a base. If anything, my service gave me the tools to assimilate back into life with additional life skills.”
When asked if there was anything she wished civilians understood about military service, Marie took a lengthy pause before answering.
“Freedom is not free, and the people who don’t put their lives on the line for it don’t completely understand what that means. When I said my oath, I was willing to put myself on the line for my country,” she said. “The freedom to be able to say what you want, write what you want, identify how you want, that is a luxury in this country. You’re not just entitled to that because you’re an American. That right has been earned for you at somebody else’s expense.”
Marie also shared a concern that she has regarding veterans that are coming back from fighting in the Middle East. “Vets now don’t want to be a part of anything. They don’t want to talk about it and they don’t want to be involved with any veteran organizations, they just want to move on with their lives. That tells me that things are a lot worse over there than we’re led to believe. It’s a scary world, and I’m so grateful that there are people who are willing to defend us against it.”
To learn more about the U.S. Air Force, visit their website here.