Barbara Vaughn of Venice served 28 years as a member of the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and active duty U.S. Air Force. She retired from the service in 2003 as an Air Force master-sergeant after years of service in the Middle East during the First Gulf War in 1991 and later.
She was an Air Force brat. Her father was a B-17 bomber pilot shot down on a bombing mission over occupied Greece in World War II. He spent the better part of two years in a Luftwaffe POW camp in Germany until war’s end. After 40 years in the service he retired as a lieutenant-colonel.
Married at 16, by the time Barbara was 20 she was a divorced mother with two children. “I was working for a realtor and home builder in Savannah, Ga. where I grew up.
“It was 1975, just at the time of the Mayaguez incident. Not many people today will probably remember the American freighter and crew that got captured,” she said. “I got so upset over their capture and just snapped.
“One of my friends told the recruiter for the 165th Airlift Wing Georgia Air National Guard I might be a likely prospect for the Guard. When the sergeant called me I told him, ’Sergeant, how quickly can you be at my office?’”
Within an hour he was there and signed her up for the guard. She took the entrance exam for joining the military and passed with flying colors.
The better part of a year later, after a considerable amount of technical training, she became a digital equipment repair person. The guard outfit operated a couple of vans full of punch card equipment, forerunner to computers. It was Barbara’s job to keep the machines operational.
When she was sworn into the guard in Savannah, because she was so well known around town, it became a local happening attended by many of the locals.
“A reporter from The Jacksonville Times Union newspaper covered the event. The next morning the paper had this headline on the front page of the local section: ‘Divorced mother of 2 joins guard.’”
“I became ‘Enemy Number One’ for recruiters all over the country,” Barbara recalled. “The last thing they wanted was a bunch of divorced mothers signing up for the guard.”
After basic training she spent 10 months at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Tex. learning to be a repair person.
“My children and I lived in a little apartment off base. I was in a classroom from 6 a.m. until noon,” she said. “One of my neighbors saw to it that my children got on the school bus every day. I was home when they got out of school in the afternoon.
“We had a lovely year at Sheppard. Every weekend my kids and I were in this rattletrap car I bought for $300 exploring the territory,” Barbara recalled.
“One day a notice on my computer said they were starting a new Air National Guard unit at Mc Dill Air Force Base in Tampa. Since my parents had retired to the Venice area I decided that’s where I wanted to be.
“I came down to Mc Dill and checked out the new outfit at Christmas time. I became one of the first 25 people to join the 290th Joint Communications Support Squadron. I became the PR person for the new unit. “
After finishing her first tour with the National Guard, Barbara went to work for Central Command that operates out of Mc Dill, too. Central Command oversees U.S military activities in the Middle East.
“At that point I transferred from the Air National Guard to the Air Force Reserves and was assigned to Communications Security,” she said. “We managed the secret orders and distributed them to the right people.”
While working this post, Barbara was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal. The award was for findings thousands of dollars of Air Force material scattered all over the Middle East.
She went to Kuwait before the First Gulf War in 1991. At one point she worked as a PR spokesman. In May 1991 she went to work for the Chief of the Office of Military Cooperation located in the embassy in Kuwait. She did more PR.
Later on she got a civilian job in 1992 woking for the Office of Military Contracts in Iraq.
“The main thing we did was oversee military contracts between American companies and the government of Kuwait,” she said. “I spent five years in Kuwait.
“Then I returned to the U.S., to Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida and joined the 482nd Fighter Wing U.S. Air Force Reserve. There I became a chaplain’s assistant.
“I gave cultural briefings to pilots and maintenance support people who were about to go to the Middle East. I told them how not to get themselves in trouble when they went into town over there,” Barbara explained.
“I spent a year in Homestead. In 2003, at the start of the Second Gulf War. I sat there in my office watching TV and decided I had to go to Iraq,” she said. “I told my boss, the wing commander, I wanted to go to Iraq. He didn’t want me to go.
“I told him, ‘In December my current enlistment was up. I’ll retire and then go to Iraq and get a civilian job. Every day I was on my computer looking for a job there. After a year of looking for an opening I got a call from Baghdad and the Joint Contracting Command. I handled paper work for U.S. personnel. I worked a year for the Joint Contracting Command as a Department of Defense civilian. Then a young lady with the State Department wooed me away with higher pay and more benefits. I went to work for the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office in Baghdad. I did administrative work and prepared briefings.
“I moved the American Embassy located in what used to be the Republican Guard Palace, a huge facility in the Green Zone in Bagdad,” Barbara said. The palace was close to the river and at 4 every morning, after the other side was done with morning prayer, they would bring their Toyota trucks up to the other side of the river and shell us.
“I would have eight seconds to get from my desk to a safe place down the hall. We were shelled three or four times a day by the enemy. The one time I was really frightened was when enemy mortars came within 50 feet of my desk.
“Not too long after Ambassador Ryan Crocker came to visit us in Iraq I got a call from a friend who worked for the U.S. Treasury Department in D.C. who wanted to know if I would come work for them. Long story short, in a month’s time I left Iraq in 2007 and went to work for the ‘Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S.’ I worked for the man who chaired the committee.
“Two years later, in February 2009, I decided to retire from my civil service job in D.C. In September of that year I moved here. Donnie and Sherry, her two grown children, live nearby on Florida’s west coast.
Name: Barbara Vaughn
Hometown: Norfolk, Va.
Currently: Venice, Fla.
Entered Service: 1975
Discharged: Feb. 2009
Rank: Master Sergeant
Unit: Central Command, Tampa, Fla.
Commendations: National Defense Service Medal, Air Force Training Ribborn, Joint Service Achievemearms Medal, Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, Air Foce Outstanding Unit Award, Armed Force Reserve Medal, Air Reserve Forces Meritorious Ribbon.
Battles/Campaigns: Served in Deseret Shield/Storm Iraq
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, March 19, 2018 and is republished with permission.
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