~Spangdahlem AB, Germany. June 2, 1400 hours~
Kylie Shaffer walked across the ramp and sure enough, it was blood. Damn, she thought. We just had a nose bleed yesterday. Stupid old jets are falling apart.
She approached the old F-15E Strike Eagle and saw the coagulation underneath the radome and the “blood” slowly dripping from where it met the fuselage. She and Noah exchanged glances; no words needed. They knew it was another radar antenna, this old hydraulic powered, colloquially called 031 had sprung a leak. Based on 1970 technology, these old antennas had yet to be upgraded to newer electronic phased-array antennas. For as long as they still operated, they would spring leaks, and the rotting-crayon smelling, deep-red hydraulic fluid would bleed from the aircraft’s nose.
Kylie belonged to the 494th Fighter Squadron from RAF Lakenheath in England currently deployed to Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany to support NATO’s Joint Defense Aggression Response Exercise or JDARE. Kylie loved Germany. She knew of her German heritage and loved seeing the land once graced by her ancestors. Decades ago, Germany was a stop along anyone’s military career. Outposts and bases from all four branches dotted the former West German landscapes like lampposts across a city. Such light, at one time, helped Germany recover from Nazism and resist Soviet aggression into reunification. But now deserted and re-assimilated bases such as Spangdahlem’s one-time sister at Bitburg were but shadows of those former wars. But war never ends, and Kylie did everything necessary to ensure a successful mission should aggressors again threaten old alliances.
Halfway through replacing the antenna, the expeditor drove up and shouted at them. “Hey, don’t forget Commander’s Call today. You need be there by 1630.” And then not forgetting his other job, he called out, “you guys doing all right, need anything?” Kylie and Noah shook their heads and waved a thumbs up. The expeditor drove away.
Having finished replacing the antenna and completing a full radar operational check, Kylie and Noah packed up their tools. It was 1620 and neither had time to get cleaned up. Hydraulic fluid stained their uniforms and dirtied their hands. “Oh well,” smiled Kylie, “just another day in the bush.” Noah returned her smile. Kylie took pride in her hard work. Her sweaty blond hair and dirtied fair skin mirrored her own midwestern nature. Work hard and be who you are, and she was nothing if not fiercely her own. She never relented her duty, not even to the boys in technical school who sought her favor by doing her work. She shined her own boots back then, and she now carried her own tools in regular nylon/suede maintenance-free combat boots back to the hangar for Commander’s Call.
Regardless of her unwashed hands and disheveled appearance, her boss seemed relieved to see her take her place in the formation. She wondered why. It’s not like she would have been missed among the mass of both day and night shift personnel.
“Squadron, Ten Hut!” shouted their chief, and the formation all snapped in unison to attention. The Squadron Commander walked up, returned the chief’s salute, and took his place in front of the formation. “At Ease,” he ordered, and the formation softened its posture.
Speaking about their mission and what they have accomplished. The Commander expressed pride in their performance. He thanked everyone for their sacrifice away from friends and family and further outlined the expectations for the next phase of their mission into Eastern Europe. At the end his briefing, he started to call out certain names for recognition. After a few names, Kylie’s ears tickled: “Senior Airman Kylie Shaffer!”
Kylie stood for a moment shocked but quickly gathered her composure and stepped to the right of the formation and up to the front where she saw the Commander’s right hand extended towards her. She looked at his eyes that glanced down at her hydraulic stained hands and back up in a proud yet stoic recognition of her hard work. He extended his right hand into hers and she felt the small, hard, plastic square fall into her hand. She quickly transferred it into her left, snapped to attention, and saluted her Commander. Departing to the left, she reentered her spot in the formation.
After they were dismissed, Noah turned to her, “Can I see it?”
“Sure,” said Kylie.
Noah admired the commander’s coin still encased in its plastic sleeve. It displayed a superimposed American Flag onto a weird looking cross reminiscent of the those he saw on old German warcraft. He handed it back to Kylie, “I told you that identifying a physically damaged radome causing radar birds would get you recognized.”
“It was an easy fix.”
“To you, yes. But the senior technicians couldn’t solve the problem. You did. They spent weeks trying to fix that bird.”
Kylie smiled and said, “well, I was just doing my job.”
“And that you did Ke.”
Kylie rolled her eyes at Noah. “The names Kai Lee.” She then smirked, “see you tomorrow, No.”
After work, Kylie got cleaned up, ate dinner, and then used her iPhone to FaceTime back home in Iowa. “Hi Mom!”
“Hi honey, how are you? Also look who is here.” She turned the phone towards Kylie’s grandmother.
“Mom, Grandma, I got an award today. Look at this,” and she placed the coin in front of her face. “Is that the German Iron Cross?”
“It certainly looks like it; what do you think Mom?”
“Can you bring it in closer dear?” And Kylie brought the coin closer to the phone.
“What do you think Grandma?”
She looked at it closely, “That looks like an Iron Cross. But it’s a little, I don’t know, skinnier. You know, your third great grandfather received one for valor during the Franco-Prussian War.”
Kylie asked, “Do you still have it? Do you know why he won it?”
“We do have it. But we don’t know why.”
“Why, wasn’t he proud of what he did?”
“We don’t know dear, all I know is that my grandfather told me his dad, your third great grandfather, would only say it was for Minna.”
“Was that his wife?”
“No sweetie, her name was Adelaide. We never knew who Minna was.”
At this time Kylie’s grandmother returned the phone to her daughter. “Hey, while you two were talking, I googled the cross, and what is on your coin is not the Iron Cross, but the new German Badge of Honor. It was designed after the old Prussian Military Merit Cross.”
“And now, I have one.” Kylie smiled feeling an intense connection to the past. “I love how our family history lives on.”
“We are very proud of you dear.”
The conversation turned to other matters. When Grandma questioned Kylie about boys, Kylie replied “Grandma, please. I’m here serving my country, not man hunting.” After a few more minutes Kylie said goodbye, “please give my love to Dad and Granddad.”
“We will. Goodnight dear.”
Kylie decided to stay in that night. She laid in bed and fantasized about her history and its future. Maybe also a little about Noah. Soon the night came, and dreams carried her away.