By Senior Airman Daniel Brosam, 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 12, 2020
Don Opperman, a U.S. Air Force veteran, right, and his wife, now Col. Anita Feugate Opperman, 341st Missile Wing commander, pose for a photo. (Courtesy photo)
Maria Williford, a U.S. Air Force veteran, left, and her husband, now Col. Russell Williford, 341st Missile Wing vice commander, pose for a photo. (Courtesy photo)
Tammy Harper, a U.S. Air Force veteran, left, and her husband, now Chief Master Sgt. Ron Harper, 341st Missile Wing command chief, pose for a photo. (Courtesy photo)
Veterans Day is a holiday observed each year to honor military veterans who have served in the United States Armed Forces. Veterans Day also overlaps with Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, which are days celebrated in other countries that mark the anniversary of the end of World War I.
This article shares the stories of three United States Air Force veterans who all served on active duty, and who continue to serve and support the military in their daily lives.
Don Opperman, United States Air Force veteran
I started off with Reserve Officer Training Corps at Purdue University, commissioned and went to (intercontinental ballistic missile) training. I did missile crew at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, a small stint of acquisitions down in Los Angeles, back to the school house to teach at Vandenberg Air Force Base, and then Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Air Force Space Command, Air Command and Staff College, The Pentagon, F.E. Warren again and finished at 20th Air Force.
Growing up in the Air Force was kind of all I knew. When I went to college, I knew I was going to join ROTC. My dad didn’t push me in anyway to be in the Air Force. It was something I wanted to do. My brother-in-law was about five years ahead of me and went into ground launch cruise missiles and I really wanted to go into ground launch cruise missiles but a treaty took them out. So I did the next best thing. I wanted something operational so by having my brother-in-law who had done ground launch cruise missiles and then ending up coming into ICBMs after they got rid of (ground launch cruise missiles), it really did influence me into joining how I did and progress through my career.
I grew up in an Air Force family. I went from being a dependent child, to active duty and back to being a dependent or spouse. The Air Force is my way of life. It’s everything I’ve known throughout my life. It’s nice right now to just be able to support Anita and be a spouse.
They talk about the Air Force family – it’s everybody – the dependents, the spouses … I see myself in that role supporting Anita and the command tour she has had, or whatever job she is in. That’s where I see my role. Helping her so she can be successful.
Why I think it’s important (to continue to serve) is because we are an Air Force family. It’s a team effort. It’s the values I was raised with and that were instilled by serving that is ingrained in me to support my family and do what I can.
I know I’m a veteran but I don’t think of myself on Veterans Day. What I think about is my dad and both of my brothers-in-law. All three were in the Air Force. My grandfather was in the Navy. My uncle was in the Air Force as well. Those are the kind of guys I think about when I think about Veterans.
Maria Williford, United States Air Force veteran
My family has had several members who have served in both the Army and the Air Force. My mom’s dad – my grandfather – served. My dad was in the Army Reserves and I have had several uncles (who have served). We have a family history of military service.
My dad recommended when I was checking into college, to look into the ROTC programs. I applied and the Air Force and Army selected and I ended up at the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Portland. After graduation, I started with my nursing program. We started in California at Travis Air Force Base, and moved on up to Minot Air Force Base for four years. I served active duty for 4.5 years and then I did Air Force Reserves as an (individual mobilization augmentee) for another 3.5 years.
Our continued service is very much focused around the spouses and families of our Air Force family. It is a giant family that we have been a part of in the past 20 years of our Air Force service. The family is very important. It’s a larger Air Force family that we are all a part of and they are always there for you whenever you need it. All you have to do is pick up the phone and call somebody … and they have always been there. I really find that it’s important to help to support and improve that Air Force family service because we give a lot of service time. Even though we are not on orders, we are as much a part of that service of our spouse contributing to the greater Air Force and the greater military.
Without our families, our active duty members can struggle in some ways. Whether it’s a family that’s stationed local with them or their extended family that’s back home, or in another state or another part of the world because that is the support that helps them day to day. Finding the different ways to support that family near and far is the most important thing for our families.
Our veterans have given themselves to our country for short amounts of time or extended periods of time. It is a small group of individuals that have chosen to step away from the comforts of home. What was easy or may have been difficult being close to family, they have given up those creature comforts of a familiar part of their life and they have decided to embark on a journey that takes them to all different parts of this world.
It may be areas they may realize are not their number one choice to live in, but in being a part of that community and diving into that community, our veterans learn from that community and give a piece of themselves to that community. In doing so, we are a better part of this world that we live in. Our veterans are a special piece that have given so much of their lives to be a part of this entire world.
I think our communities do a good job of recognizing our veterans, and when they do hear about your service, they are welcoming about the time you have given. I think our generation is lucky enough that we have reaped those benefits of communities that are willing and open to recognizing our service. It hasn’t been that way for all of our veterans over time. I am happy to see it is getting better and I hope it maintains.
Tammy Harper, United States Air Force veteran
I graduated from high school in 1985 and I decided that after that I wanted to go to college. My grades weren’t that great so I went to a community college and I was just basically kind of floating around. I got a part time job. My sister who is younger than me and graduated in 1988, asked me to go with her to the recruiter. Long story short, we go, she doesn’t enlist, I enlist. So in 1989 I enlisted into the Air Force, left for basic training, got my job as a personnelist and my first assignment was at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. From there I have been to England, Oklahoma, California, Florida, Belgium and Virginia, and I retired in 2009. (Joining the Air Force) was the best decision I ever made. The experiences were priceless. I will never, ever forget it. Ever.
I was (married military to military) and once I retired it was really easy for me to transition to being a military spouse and help out all the enlisted spouses I came in contact with.
When I retired in 2009, Ron was deployed and two years later he went to Korea. While he was in Korea I went home to California to stay with my parents. The only way I can explain how I served then was just supporting him, being there for him while he was gone in Korea. Our girls were in Florida going to college. Once he came back and we went to (Kadena Air Base, Japan), there is really where I became involved as a key spouse. We did a lot of things with the unit and the Airmen. That’s how I feel like I’m continuing to serve as a spouse, and continuing to support Ron in his role.
For the spouses, I think it’s important (to support them) because if they don’t have anybody voice their concerns with, I think they’re going to feel isolated. We really need to do a good job listening to them and bringing up their concerns to leadership. And not only that, we need to know that this is new to them. If they are a brand new spouse in the military, it’s strange. You’re taken away from your family, you’re all alone. Who are you going to go to? You have to have a spouse who you can talk to.
Helping Ron, that’s my biggest joy is I love to go with him and see all the Airmen, because I was once in their shoes. You’re at a new base, you don’t know what you’re doing, you don’t know what’s going on. It’s fun for me. It’s exciting to just hear their stories, where they came from, why they joined, and I can tell them why I joined. That is what brings me a lot of joy because I was in their shoes and it makes me happy to see them.
I think we do a pretty good job recognizing our veterans but I think it kind of depends on where you are. If you are in a high population where there are a lot veterans, they have a lot of programs and events that cater to veterans. Some places it’s not like that, and it could be because the veteran population is not as high. Do I think we can do better? Always. I think we can always improve. Do I have the answer on what exactly it could be? No.
We have to remember that if we didn’t have veterans, where would we be right now? A lot of people dedicate their lives to this lifestyle and we should be forever grateful.