Like many veterans, Technical Sergeant Susan “Susie” Goebel, U.S. Air Force (Retired), hesitated to talk to me about herself. She views her 15 years of service as nothing special or heroic. In fact, she’ll tell you she was just doing her job. To Susie, the family separations, the inspections in the middle of the night, and the drills in Saudi Arabia in full chemical protective gear barely warrant mentioning. To the rest of us, they sound like quite a sacrifice. Here is Susie’s story.
Susie’s dad was an oil man – he started out as a roughneck working on rigs, taking his family wherever there was work. On one such trip from Wyoming to Oklahoma, the family had to stop in Nebraska because Susie’s mom went into labor and Susie was born. The family eventually settled in Nowata, Oklahoma, about fifty miles north of Tulsa. It wasn’t permanent, though. Susie remembers living in Casper, Wyoming, around the 3rd and 4th grade and falling in love with the Rocky Mountains. They returned again to Tulsa where Susie graduated from high school in 1975.
After high school, Susie completed a couple of years of college, but it wasn’t what she was looking for. What she really wanted was to join the Air Force. Her father served in the Army Air Corps in the Pacific Theater during World War II, flying over China, Burma and India and earning the Distinguished Flying Cross. It was only natural for Susie to want to follow in his footsteps.
Initially Susie’s dad didn’t want her to enlist, but he didn’t say anything about it to her directly. Instead, on her 22nd birthday, her mother took her out for a night on the town. After a few drinks, she told Susie that she and Susie’s father didn’t want Susie to enlist. Susie said it was too late for that and was on her way to boot camp five days later. From that point on, Susie’s mom and dad were incredibly proud of her, with her father not missing the opportunity to wear an Air Force t-shirt or hat recognizing Susie’s service. Out of the five children in the family, Susie was the only one to serve in the military.
Susie reported to boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base on January 29, 1980. The only part of basic training that shocked her was the physical training. She soon developed severe blisters from wearing combat boots and had to wear flip-flops for a week, which really embarrassed her. She made up for it a week or so before the end of boot camp when she was permitted to put on Airman First Class stripes, while everyone else was still an Airman Basic. Susie received the promotion because she had completed two years of college before she enlisted. It resulted in her receiving higher pay and being treated better when she reported to her first command.
After boot camp, Susie reported to supply technical school at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver. Supply would be her field for the rest of her career in the Air Force. Denver also rekindled her love for the Rockies. Every morning, the very first thing she did was open the curtains and admire the mountains. Only after she had her fill would she start getting ready for work. Supply school at Lowry lasted approximately six weeks.
After supply school, Susie reported to her first duty station, the 601st Tactical Control Wing in Sembach, Germany. The Wing provided support for the OV-10A, a twin-engine aircraft employed primarily to provide forward air control for U.S. and allied forces. Susie worked in a warehouse receiving, storing, and issuing everything the OV-10A squadrons needed to keep their planes flying.
During Susie’s tour in Sembach, her command routinely drilled and participated in exercises. In one such exercise, Susie had to wear full chemical protective gear with her gas mask at the ready, waiting for an alarm to sound. Unfortunately, she happened to be on the outside of the warehouse when the alarm sounded. Suddenly, the warehouse’s big bay doors closed and Susie was locked outside. She put on her gas mask and took shelter between a trash dumpster and a wall, watching planes do tactical maneuvers over the base. When the siren sounded again indicating the simulated attack had ended, Susie had to pound on the doors until someone let her back in the warehouse. The exercise seemed all too real.
Susie’s oldest son, Justin, was born in March 1983. Shortly after Susie returned from maternity leave, the Wing sent her to a five-week inspector school in Denver. Toward the end of the school, Susie’s husband brought Justin to Denver to see Susie and Justin didn’t recognize her – it took him a little while to get used to her again. Needless to say, family separations were hard. Susie’s second son, Nick, was also born in Germany in May 1984.
After Sembach and now a Staff Sergeant, Susie reported to her second command, the 443rd Military Airlift Wing, in Altus, Oklahoma. She stayed there from 1984-1989. In 1989, she reported to 314th Military Airlift Command at Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, Arkansas.
In 1994, while Susie was at Little Rock and now a Technical Sergeant, she received a call telling her that her next assignment would be Iceland or she would have to retire – she was given no other options. Reluctantly she chose to retire. However, one month later in August 1994, she deployed on very short notice to Saudi Arabia. When she got off the airplane in Dhahran, the temperature seemed like an instant 120 degrees. She went to her barracks in Khobar Towers to check in and then was put in charge of the Repairable Assets Control Center, or RACC, at King Abdulaziz Air Base. That meant she was in charge of the operation receiving parts needing repair and either delivering them to local workshops to be repaired or shipping them back to the United States for depot level work. Her team operated around the clock, working twelve-hour shifts.
While Susie was in Dhahran, word circulated that Saddam Hussein might be making another move to cross into Kuwait (Iraq had been pushed out Kuwait by U.S. and allied forces during the Gulf War in 1990-91). Susie relays that although there was some fear of Iraq firing chemical weapons if a new conflict flared-up, leadership did not want service members to carry their chemical protective gear because they did not want to alarm the local population. Susie had her people stow their protective equipment in the vans they drove anyway. She didn’t want to have to write a letter home to some parent saying their child had died because they didn’t have their protective gear available.
On occasion, a bus would be available to take airmen from Dhahran to Bahrain, where drinking was permitted. The only caveat was, if anyone got sick on the ride home after drinking too much, they would be punished at an administrative hearing known as an Article 15 hearing. All of the airmen looked out for each other, and all carried plastic bags so in case anyone got sick, they could still keep the bus clean.
Toward the end of Susie’s three-month assignment in Saudi Arabia, she was given another option for follow-on orders. Instead of Iceland, she was offered orders to South Korea, and she would have to report there directly from Saudi Arabia. Given that she was now retirement eligible, she opted to retire. She did not want to put her boys through another extended family separation.
Susie returned to Little Rock Air Force Base on November 28, 1994, and retired from the Air Force on January 31, 1995, after fifteen years of distinguished service. She continued to work at Little Rock Air Force Base as a civilian, working with C-130 flight simulators and assisting with other training responsibilities.
Susie is active in American Legion Post 71 in Cabot, Arkansas, where she currently serves as the Post Public Relations Officer. She had a very positive military experience, noting that everyone she worked with looked out for each other. She believes every young man and woman should spend two years in the military or similar service to learn more about our country and the Constitution, and to develop a sense of personal discipline.
Voices To Veterans salutes Technical Sergeant Susie Goebel, U.S. Air Force, for her years of dedicated service to our country. Not only did she make her mother and World War II veteran father proud, but she made us proud, as well. Thanks for your service!