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By: Bertha Matthews, Brittany Bennett, Allie Braswell and Bob Hitchins
This Veterans Day, we wanted to recognize and appreciate the servicemen and servicewomen within VyStar who have protected our country. That took us to VyStar Employees That Served (VETS), the VyStar Resource Group for those within our organization who have served in the U.S. military. A special thanks to Bertha Matthews, Brittany Bennett, Allie Braswell and Bob Hitchins for sharing their experiences. And thank you to all of our veterans who so bravely served our country.
By Bertha Matthews
I went into the U.S. Air Force straight out of high school. I actually swore in on my 18th birthday.
I was stationed at Vandenberg Air Force Base, where I was selected out of 300 airmen to join a 49-person Force Protection Team.
The Air Force decided to add five teams in their inventory that could be deployed anywhere at the drop of a hat in response to the Kohbar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.
As a member of one of these teams, I had the honor of serving two tours of duty to Shaikh Isa Air Base, Bahrain, where my team helped to build and secure an entire functioning tent city during Threatcon Bravo conditions, within 72 hours from landing. I was awarded the Air Force Achievement Medal, which is the highest medal that you can be awarded during peacetime, because of my contribution to this success.
My last year of duty, I was the female airman in charge of our on-base brig, where my fellow airmen detained Martin Sheen for trespassing while he was protesting one of our satellite launches, with the group Green Peace. He and his fellow detainees sang “campfire type” songs and told corny jokes. He promised me an autographed picture for my "hospitality,” which I never received. I honestly think about it every time I see him on TV, lol.
I enjoyed every moment of my service and I would definitely encourage anyone wanting to serve our country to Aim High and Go Air Force!!
By Brittany Bennett
When I enlisted in the United States Navy at 17 years old, I had no idea how my journey would prevail. Serving on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower was just the beginning of this life-changing experience. Being a Ship’s Serviceman with 87 sailors in my care was both rewarding and at times overwhelming. I oversaw the production of two ship stores, two barber shops, a handful of vending machines, the ships’ laundry facilities and fashioned the Navy’s first onboard beauty salon. Two Mediterranean deployments afforded me the opportunity to visit France, Italy, Bahrain, Dubai, Greece and Portugal.
My intention when I joined the Navy was to do something that would make my parents proud, my country safe and that I would be proud of for years to come. My experience as a United States Sailor accomplished all of those things and more. I developed lifelong friends who were more like family and I learned the core values that I have expanded on and live by today.
I proudly and honorably served my country and I would do it again.
By Allie Braswell
Born to Be a U.S. Marine
I joined the United States Marine Corps during the spring of 1982 to broaden my opportunity and to challenge my abilities both physically and mentally. I had graduated high school three years earlier and was working as a security officer for a local retail chain in Rochester, N.Y. Over the course of those three years, I had lost both parents due to health reasons. Given the challenges of life, I was still doing okay. However, for me, doing “okay” wasn’t enough. I wanted more out of life than the usual manufacturing job, or my role at the time as security. My family has an incredible story of service to our country. Much to my grandmother’s dismay, I investigated joining the family business.
I met with several recruiters to explore opportunities, but I kept circling back to the Marines. I like what I heard about God, Corps and Country. To be clear about the title of this story, the U.S. Marine Corps and I do share November 10th as our birthday. The Corps had been around me most of life. My uncle led the way during the Korean Conflict, and my two brothers and another uncle served during the Vietnam War era. Three cousins followed their lead, and when I joined, I was the eighth member of my family to step forward and adorn the Eagle, Globe and Anchor and was in “Boot Camp” during the attack on our Marines in Beirut, Lebanon. My nephew would make it nine, and my son-in-law rounds it out at 10.
I served for over 12 years as a Marine Cryptologist and Linguist (Bahasa Indonesia) with assignments that took me as far away from home as Hawaii and Spain. I deployed with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), Special Operations Capable (SOC) to South West Asia (SWA) under the command of Colonel Jim Jones in support of Operation Provide Comfort to Zakho, Iraq. He would later become the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Proud to have served with him and the rest of the men that comprised the 24th MEU.
So, when asked why I served? My answer is simple. “We, you, our way of life was worth every moment that I served.” The Marine Corps opened doors for a kid from Oviedo, Fla., that grew up in Rochester, N.Y. to explore the world and gain the knowledge to allow me access to the life that I lead today. A life that would have never been available to me if not for the Corps. It instilled in me the discipline and “Can Do” attitude that has been at the foundation of my success. I truly believe in our motto, “Semper Fidelis,” Always Faithful, and I strive every day to represent my family and my Marine Corps Brothers and Sisters with the respect and dignity of being a Marine.
By Bob Hitchins
I served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Air Force from 1983 until 1993 and was assigned to the Air Weather Service. The majority of that time was spent as a Staff Weather Officer to Special Operations Command, Pacific (SOCPAC) at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii supporting the Navy Seals, Rangers, Airborne, Green Beret, Marine Expeditionary Force and Air Force Special Operations. After that, I was an Operational Plans Officer at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia and then Commander, Detachment 26, 3rd Weather Wing at Grissom Air Force Base in Indiana and Commander, Central Command Forward Base Weather Station in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, during Operation Desert Storm. Truth be told, I joined to get a better job — but the job tends to grow on you! Traveling around the country and the world taught me as a young man exactly how awesome this country is, blemishes and all. Coming back home to the U.S. was always the best part of my deployments. I’d gladly serve again any time!