In observance of Veterans Day, Angie Carlson is reminiscing about her 11 proud years in the Air Force, first as an airman and then as staff sergeant.
Those were some of the happiest years of her life, traveling all over the world and meeting the people who would become lifelong friends.
As an airman, she was a radio operator, talking to crews in airplanes to help ensure their safety, or conducting satellite transmissions; as a staff sergeant, she was in a special operations group and had top-secret clearance.
“I joined when I was 21. My first duty station was in England. I went to Italy for four months. I’ve been all over Australia. I met Seth in Japan.”
Seth, now her husband, was at the same base in Japan back in 2000 when they met at a party at an airman’s club. Three months later, he was sent to Virginia.
“Within a week, he came back to Japan and we got married. We’ve been married 12 years.”
Carlson, now 38, tells me this story in their Winslow home after greeting the couple’s son, Ethan, 7, as he gets off the school bus.
It is a quiet neighborhood in a town Carlson says she loves, even though the California-born, Indiana-raised veteran did not grow up here.
Winslow is Seth’s hometown, and the place they moved to four years ago from Florida where they were stationed last before she took medical retirement from the Air Force in 2006.
“I got diagnosed with MS in 2005, right after I had my son,” she recalled.
While pregnant, she noticed that her gait was off, and she attributed it to weight gain; but the symptoms continued after she returned to duty.
“I couldn’t run with my squadron. My legs would give out.”
Tests confirmed multiple sclerosis. She hated to leave the military, a place she had come to regard as home.
“I loved it. I would have stayed in as long as I could.”
But it was not to be, and her husband also decided to leave the Air Force in 2008, 10 years after joining. That was when they decided to move to Maine, where he now works as a financial consultant.
While many people would shun cold weather, Angie Carlson embraces it.
“I’m heat-sensitive. I don’t get along with heat, so it was perfect,” she said.
In fact, though some people would be downbeat about a diagnosis, she is optimistic, and accepting.
“It’s got its ups and downs,” she said of the disease, which affects the central nervous system. “I was on chemo for a while. I walked with a cane in 2009. Now I’m in treatment once a month and it’s managing it, so I can’t really complain. It’s not a terminal disease. It’s just a frustrating one.”
She smiles as she tells me her life story, just a few days before Veterans Day, and three years before she would have retired from the Air Force at age 41.
The military still plays an important part in the couple’s lives, even though they are no longer in it. They stay in touch with old friends, and one military couple is coming to visit at Christmas.
“I’ve got so many military friends and they are still a family to me, and it’s great.”
She also makes connections with veterans when she goes to the Togus veterans’ clinic for appointments.
“There’s where you see a lot of men. When you sit down, they’re in a waiting room. They start talking about their time in. It’s wonderful hearing them. You can tell there’s pride.”
On Veterans Day, the U.S. holiday that falls on Nov. 11 each year to honor veterans and the anniversary of our signing the armistice ending World War I, Carlson, too, is filled with pride. It’s not only for the service she and her husband have given to the country, but also for others who have served.
Typically, they go to Applebee’s restaurant, which hosts a meal for veterans. They thank those veterans — without even telling them they are veterans themselves.
“My husband loves it and they love it — they love to know that somebody recognizes them,” Angie says.
Today, when many people have a day off from work to observe Veterans Day, she encourages people to thank those who have served.
“Especially the older ones. They went through a lot, so you have to think about them and give somebody a handshake. Thank them for their service. That’s the least that you can do for them.”
Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 24 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]