Humans of Grand Island: the Veterans Day edition

Today is the day when people stop their normal routines and honor veterans. The one that I honor the most is my dad, Roy Gerard, who was a U.S. Army veteran. A World War II veteran, my dad was in signal intelligence. His job was to monitor German broadcasts on the radio. He passed away in 2012 at the age of 92. I miss him so much. I wanted to honor his memory by interviewing a veteran.

I looked around for a veteran to interview, and the first one that came to mind was my friend, Vienna Laurendi Haak. She is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. She and her husband Dale work as a real estate team here in Grand Island. Here is Vienna’s story.

What motivated you to join the Air Force, Vienna?

Basic training photograph

I was not a good candidate for college and I had a lack of other alternatives, in terms of moving out of the house and getting a job. Fortunately, in my senior year of high school, my business teacher excused me from class, due to misbehavior on my part, and, as fate would have it, an Air Force recruiter was waiting to speak to anyone who would talk to him. That, as they say, is history.

When did you join?
I joined in the spring of 1993. I was delayed enlisted because of a heart condition. I have an atrial septal defect that was corrected by surgery in 1979, but the Air Force had to put me through a battery of tests to make sure that my cardiovascular system could handle the stress that being in the military puts on the body. Once the Air Force surgeons cleared me, I was good to go and was shipped off to basic training.

Tech school photograph

What was your experience in the Air Force like?
After basic training, I was sent to technical school to learn how to be a cook. Originally, when I went to basic training, I was signed up to be special forces or a cop. During basic training, they teach you how to use an M-16, and I failed the target test. So they told me that I couldn’t be a cop. I had to be a cook. Truth be told, I was very relieved. 

Vienna makes friends with a Saudi camel. It turned out to be the only time that she ever had the opportunity to meet a camel.

But, once I got to tech school, I realized that there was more to my position than just being a cook. Our career field, which at the time was called Morale, Welfare, and Recreational Services, included five essential areas of taking care of all military members. We were responsible for feeding everyone by successfully operating all food facilities. We had to ensure that all soldiers remain in good physical condition by successfully operating the base fitness centers. We also ran the lodging facilities, the laundry facilities, the recreation departments, and the mortuaries.

Vienna: This took place in the summer of 1996. The photo shows me standing at the bottom of the building. It was a disastrous situation. We lost nineteen soldiers that day.

Fortunately, I never had to work hands-on in the mortuary, but I did have to carry out the skill throughout my tenure.

Vienna and her superiors at an Air Force hangar in Ta’if, Saudi Arabia, discussing U2 aerial recon.

After my training, I felt really good about my new position in life. I was permanently stationed in Las Vegas, Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base. But I was able to do some traveling overseas. I’ve spent time on the island of Haiti. I was stationed for a short time in Ta’if, Saudi Arabia, as well as a few bases around the continental United States for training purposes. Overall I have no regrets on my choice to join the United States Air Force.

Vienna: This is me, trying to keep my chin up after a huge storm came in while we were hosting a peacekeeping mission in Haiti.

How long were you in the Air Force?
I served two tours of duty and was in for eight years. There are some days when I wish that I had stuck it out for a full twenty or even thirty years. I separated from the service in 2000, and I moved back to Grand Island to be with my family. I brought back with me a new husband and a six-month old daughter. I would encourage any high schooler to sincerely take some time in investigating what serving their country can do for them as an individual.

What has serving in the military done for you personally?
I feel very disciplined. I am a do-as-I-say, say-as-I-do style person, and I may have been like that in my youth, but I didn’t discover it until my military service. Serving your country builds very strong character. You learn selfless duty and responsibility for all your community.

Is there anything else that you would like to say?
I would like to thank all of my brothers and sisters who have served and who continue to serve. The military community is in itself an enormous loving and strong family. I miss all of my fellow service members terribly but, thanks to Facebook, we all remained close. I would also like to encourage all of my fellow Americans to continue to support all military branches, regardless of their political affiliation. Seek out community groups that are sending out packages this Thanksgiving and Christmas. Support from back home, no matter what type of support it is, is crucial for all soldiers’ morale. God bless America!

Thank you, Vienna, for taking the time to talk to me and for supplying the photographs to illustrate your story.

3 thoughts on “Humans of Grand Island: the Veterans Day edition”

  1. Nice to meet you, Vienna! Thank you for your service. Sounds like the Air Force was a good experience for you; I'm glad of that.

  2. It's so wonderful to read about the experiences in military. My dad and brother both are in armed forces. The skills and discipline learnt in millitary stays for life long. Loved this post.

  3. Thanks for sharing this interview Alice. It was great to know about Vienna. Being in armed forces and serving the nation is a huge privilege and honour . And civilians should acknowledge their sacrifices time and again.

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