Frank Haight, retired community news editor for The Examiner, writes this weekly column. You can leave him a message at 816-350-6363.
You won’t find too many U.S. servicemen and women excited about being deployed to Iraq in conjunction with Operation Iraqi Freedom.
But Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Elizabeth Melahn is the exception. The former Elizabeth Perez of Independence, a 1978 graduate of William Chrisman High School, is looking forward to serving her country in one of the most dangerous places in the world.
Elizabeth is excited and ready for the challenge, she says, because she wants her fourth and last deployment to a Middle East country to be her “last hurrah” before she retires in December with the highest enlistment rank in the Air Force.
Elizabeth, though, won’t be retiring alone on Dec. 11. Joining her at the retirement ceremony at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., will be her husband of 19 years, Chief Master Sgt. Jeffrey Melahn.
The Melahns are ending a highly successful 30-year military career that began when the young Missouri woman and the young man from New Salem, N.Y., both joined the Air Force in March 1980.
Jeffrey and Elizabeth could have gone their separate ways after completing basic training – their paths never to cross. But that didn’t happen. Jeffrey and Elizabeth were both assigned to the same technical training school at Lowry Air Force Base, Colo.
Elizabeth was attracted to Jeffrey. She thought the handsome airman was someone she might like to date. But with two of her girlfriends already fighting over him, Elizabeth opted to get out of the picture and let the other suitors fight it out over Jeffrey.
A relationship that never evolved at the technical school, flared into a full-blown romance nine years later, when Jeffrey and Elizabeth ran across each other at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas.
What started out as a rocky relationship in 1989 ended blissfully on April 26, 1990, when Jeffrey and Elizabeth exchanged their wedding vows.
Assigned to the 2nd Logistic Readiness Squadron at Barksdale AFB, Elizabeth will undergo combat skills training in Wisconsin before her deployment to Iraq in March.
The extensive training involves all the combat skills needed to survive in a combat zone, she says, such as how to drive a Humvee, how to shoot at moving targets with an M-16 rifle, procedures to use if attacked, what to do if wounded by an incendiary explosive device, how to put an IV in somebody and much more.
During her six-month deployment, Elizabeth will be working with the Civil Engineers RED HORSE team. (RED HORSE is an acronym for Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineer.)
The team is responsible for all construction projects, she explains, ranging from building pipelines and roads to schools and bridges.
As chief master sergeant, Elizabeth will be in charge of the building supplies. She also will be “looking out for the morale and welfare of all the airmen on the team.”
Jeffrey didn’t accompany his wife on her deployments to Saudi Arabia (October 1991- April 1992 and May-September 2001) and Afghanistan (May 2006 - June 2007).
Nor will he accompany her to Iraq. Instead, he’ll continue his duties as first sergeant of the 2nd Maintenance Squadron at Barksdale AFB.
When not on duty, Jeffrey says he’ll be at home in nearby Denton, La., watching his three dogs and the squirrels. But his thoughts will always be on Elizabeth, who is going to Iraq with his full support.
Jeffrey and Elizabeth are tops in their fields, attributing their successful Air Force careers to “working hard.”
What kind of a chief is Elizabeth?
“If you ask the airmen in my squadron, they would say I am very tough about dress and appearance and customs and courtesies and abiding by the regulations,” she said in a recent interview. “But I hold people to high standards. I expect a lot from my airmen.”
On the other hand, Elizabeth says, “People I have helped will tell you in a heartbeat that if you ever need the Chief’s help, she’ll give you the shirt off her back and bend over backwards to help her airmen. And if someone has been wronged, she will fight to right the wrong.”
Looking back over her career, Elizabeth believes her deployment to Afghanistan, where she was promoted to chief master sergeant, was the highlight of her military career.
“I think that deployment helped me make chief and to fulfill 30 years of service to my country,” she explained.
For Jeffrey, becoming a first sergeant brought him the most satisfaction.
“I think it (the rank) fits my personality and what I like to do, which is to look after and take care of the airmen and their families,” he said, explaining the most rewarding thing is when you get a thank-you from someone or some family you helped out.”
What does retirement have in store for the Melahns?
“Travel,” Elizabeth says laughing, “as if we haven’t traveled enough. I want to go to Europe because I have been to every other place in the world except Europe.”
That’s fine with Jeffrey. But he wants to tour the United States and visit all the sites that he and Elizabeth missed seeing in the military by spending their vacations visiting friends and family members. In between trips, the Melahns plan to take life easy for at least the first six months of their retirement.
“Then we will get bored and go out and find jobs,” Jeffrey said.
Best wishes Jeffrey and Elizabeth for a happy, successful and enjoyable retirement. Thanks for your love, devotion and commitment to your country and to each other.