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Bombs falling from the sky. Mountains of rubble, dust, debris. Dead bodies and people shooting on all sides. This is the everyday reality of countless veterans and active military. They see horrors and endure pain deeper than most people will ever know. They do it all in the name of America and the freedom of one of the greatest countries in the world. They’ve given up their lives to protect every single citizen of the United States from oppression and tyranny, and they ask for nothing in return. For the people who have given everything, Veterans Day is a day to honor America’s heroes and thank them for all they’ve done.
Master Sergeant Rebecca Schatzman is a C-130 Flight Engineer from the 911th Airlift Wing in Moon. She joined the service 18 years ago, just months after graduating high school. Growing up in a single mother household with her older brother and sister, she saw the financial struggles of going to college. Since she didn’t know quite what she wanted to do with her life yet, she decided to join the military instead.
MSgt Schatzman said,“I knew I wanted to go into the service, so I went to all four branches of the military to see which one was the best fit for me. How I decided on the Air Force is actually a funny story. I went to the Marines first and they took my polaroid picture and said ‘If you don’t sign with us we’re feeding it to the piranhas.’ And they literally had a tank of piranhas sitting behind them in the room, so I decided maybe that was a little much for me. When I contacted the Navy, they told me they wanted me to be an air traffic controller, and they told me it was the easiest job in the world. Now I knew at the time that air traffic controlling was one of the most stressful jobs in the world, so I knew they were lying right off the bat... I didn’t go that route. Then when I contacted the Army, they ended up coming to my house three or four times trying to get me and I thought ‘Well, if they’re coming here so much there’s probably something that I don’t want to do there.’ When I contacted the Air Force, they wouldn’t call me back! It actually took two or three months for someone to call me to set up an interview. But when I finally got in they gave me a bunch of avenues to go and they guided me and I thought ‘okay this is more on my level.’”
It wasn’t until she successfully graduated from bootcamp that MSgt Schatzman knew the Air Force was what she really wanted to with with her life. After getting through basic training and reaching that first milestone of her life after high school, Schatzman realized the Air Force was calling her. After bootcamp, Schatzman worked as an arms specialist, where she got her piloting background. To be a flight engineer, however, she needed to do some cross training. This proved to be one of her biggest hardships early on.
To be a flight engineer, students either had to have a piloting background or a maintenance background. In a class filled with mechanics, MSgt Schatzman was one of only two students who had piloting backgrounds. She was on a completely different spectrum maintenance-wise than almost all of her classmates. At first Schatzman struggled, but she applied herself and worked extremely hard. Out of all the mechanics who had worked on airplanes for years, Schatzman ended up being awarded distinguished graduate.
“You definitely doubt yourself along the way, but if you just keep at it, and you’re dedicated to learning whatever it is you’re learning then you can come out on top. Everybody falls down, it’s just a matter of getting yourself back up,” MSgt Schatzman explained.
As a C-130 Flight Engineer, MSgt Schatzman has been deployed in areas such as Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Every time she gets deployed, she is gone for approximately 4-4.5 months.
Schatzman says the biggest hardship that she faces as part of the air force is leaving home. But it’s even harder on the family she leaves behind.
“Military families back home are not sure what you go through day to day. There are times when you go without communication for days; they’re just sitting at home waiting for you to call. Relocating was never really a big problem for me because I love traveling, but I know every time I leave my family gets anxious.”
MSgt Schatzman has a husband and a one year old son at home. Her siblings and parents live nearby.
“It’s definitely very hard being away from my family. My husband is a city firefighter. Both of our jobs are very stressful and I feel the same way when he’s gone for 24 hours as he feels when I’m deployed. I don’t know if he’s in a burning building or hurt, and we’re often out of communication for hours and hours. Our son is young enough that he doesn’t understand what it means when one of us walks out that door, but he will soon and we’ll have to face that as he gets older. I know it’s going to be hard on him when he sees his mother leave.”
When MSgt Schatzman got pregnant with her son, she was worried about how that would affect her job in the air force. She didn’t know how everyone would react or even if she’d be allowed to fly while pregnant. After running through all the rules, she found out that she was allowed to fly for a certain amount of time, and during that time all of her male coworkers were great. Every five minutes they would ask her if she was okay and anytime they hit a pocket of air, they all turned around to check on her. They were supportive throughout her entire pregnancy, and when the baby came two months early, that support was unwavering.
“The camaraderie is one of the best parts of my job. There’s nothing like working with 30 of your closest buddies; that’s what work is like on a daily basis. Everybody is very respectful. When it comes down to the mission, everyone is very focused and mission oriented but everyone has each other’s back. There’s no doubt about that. I couldn’t imagine my life without the other guys that I serve with.”
Because she is so close to all the men she works with, Schatzman says there is nothing in life that could have prepared her to see a casket with a flag draped over it, or being in a funeral service where they have to give a flag to either a spouse or a mother. There’s nothing that really hits home quite like that.
She said, “You really can’t prepare for it or train your mind to think differently. At that time your body is going to react how it’s going to react. It’s always at the forefront of our minds because more likely than not, service members will have to attend something like that.”
It’s moments like this, when a service member makes the ultimate sacrifice for their country, that MSgt Schatzman says is why it’s important to remember service members on Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, and every day of the year.
“It’s very important for everybody to understand that veterans have a very big adjustment when they come back. It’s very stressful going away, having that lifestyle for months and then coming back and going to Starbucks for the afternoon and then picking your child up from daycare. They’re at 100% opposite ends of the spectrum. Americans just really need to appreciate all that veterans have done. There’s no veteran that’s going to ask you for appreciation. Everybody I work with and all the stories I’ve heard from World War II...they go to work in the craziest of jobs, just like it’s any other day. They have some intense stories, but you would never know if you just saw them at the grocery store.”
With all the craziness in the world and at home right now, MSgt Schatzman says it’s more important than ever to remember veterans and service members. No matter where you stand on political or social matters, just make sure you have respect for your flag and your anthem. And remember, it’s never too late to thank a veteran for their service to this country.
This article was run, not on Veteran’s Day or Memorial Day, when veterans are already on the minds of Americans, but on a regular, ordinary day to remind people that they should always respect and honor their veterans for all they have done and all they will do for their people and their country.