I can remember exactly where I was when I learned my next assignment would be at Dyess Air Force Base deep in the heart *clap clap* of Texas. And, I’m embarrassed to admit, that it was not an overwhelmingly positive reaction.
In January of 2016 I was stationed at Lajes Field, Portugal, a base located on the Island of Terceira in the Azores, about 800 miles West of mainland Europe where I ran the installation’s public relations. I had just received my future assignment by way of a very personalized…automated Air Force email. At which point I burst into undignified tears. A Judge Advocate friend of mine was with me at the time and she helped me pull myself together just as the commander knocked on my door requesting legal and Public Relations assistance immediately. An ominous indication in any organization that the day was about to go from bad to worse.
Due to El Nino, or other weather related black magic, there was a hurricane forming up the Eastern seaboard that had decided to take a 90 degree turn last minute towards our small island outside of the traditional hurricane season. In the middle of January. We had an estimated 24 hours before the projected storm made landfall and the base sprung into emergency procedures including my relocation to the installation emergency operations center, for what would end up being a 36 hour shift. The hurricane shifted North at the last minute and the end of a climactic process ended in a few thunderstorms and downed trees. The lack of emergency action resulted in my continued sulking about being forced to move to Abilene, and my creation of the soon legendary “Lajes Field We Will Rebuild” meme with a photo of an overturned lawn chair in the devastating wake of Hurricane (I cannot make this up) Alex.
Needless to say I was not in the best mental frame of reference when I moved to Abilene, and I was convinced the Air Force was punishing me for some unknown indiscretion through this assignment process.
If you haven’t guessed by now, it took very little time for me to turn my attitude around after I moved here. I can’t put an exact date on when I truly felt like part of this community, but a few months into living here I called my boss and stated, not asked, that I would be late to a staff meeting because I had to cheer for the Wylie team as they headed out for the State Championship game. Fortunately, he took it well and said it was a great day to be a Wylie Bulldog!
What melted this New Yorker’s heart of ice? It was hands down the people. The culture of service and hospitality is sewn into the fabric of this city. Within weeks of moving here I was not just thanked for my service as I went out to lunch, but invited into strangers’ homes and hearts.
Life in the Air Force and having to move every few years is difficult, and it can feel like you’re a transient part of the community. However, Abilene is a place unlike any other I have lived which encourages engagement from its members from all levels: young professionals, long-standing citizens, and even military members. They invite you to be a part of the discussion of the future of Abilene and offer opportunities to help work towards that shared vision.
Although not originally from Texas, I got here as quickly as I could. I have forever been changed for the better for having the opportunity to be a part of this community, and no matter where the Air Force sends me next Abilene and the people here will always have a special place deep in my heart.