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60 years.... and counting

Bettye Krieter in front of the headquarters building at Patrick AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chris Calkins)

Bettye Krieter in front of the headquarters building at Patrick AFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Chris Calkins)

Bettye Krieter in her WAF uniform in 1953. (Photo courtesy of Bettye Krieter)

Bettye Krieter in her WAF uniform in 1953. (Photo courtesy of Bettye Krieter)

PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The U.S. Air Force was less than a year old. Gas cost 26 cents a gallon. Minimum wage was a whopping forty cents per hour. It cost three pennies to mail a letter.

World War II was a three-year-look-back in the rear-view window, Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier the year before, Ed Sullivan made his television debut and Harry Truman beat a heavily-favored Thomas Dewey to win the presidency.

The year was 1948 - the year Bettye Krieter began her federal career as a civilian with the Veterans Administration.

Sixty years later this Monday, she's still serving.

"Well, I sure didn't plan it like this back then," she said with her easy smile. While working for the VA, she decided to give military service a try. "Some friends and I heard about a program at Marietta Air Base (now Dobbins Air Reserve Base) where for the first time in any service, non-veteran women were being admitted to the Air Force Reserve," she said.

"We checked it out, liked what we saw and heard, and very shortly afterward found ourselves as members of a Reserve wing assigned to the air base. It was exciting and fun, we got to fly in the airplanes and we got paid for doing it." She and her friends were among the first women to serve in the Women in the Air Force (WAF), which was a United States Air Force program that brought women into limited roles in the Air Force. WAF was formed in 1948, when President Truman signed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, allowing women to serve directly in the military.

Later, in March, 1951, during the Korean War, she was activated for 18 months at Barksdale AFB, La., where she served as the secretary for the base adjutant.

After the end of the conflict in 1953, her position was "civilianized" and she remained there, working as executive secretary to the Air Base Group and Air Division Commanders until 1958.

It was then, she said, that she met her husband Jack, got married and transferred with him to Homestead AFB, Florida.

"This is when I started my 'other career' as an Air Force wife, but I never stopped working for the federal service," she said with pride.

Following her first job at Homestead, she followed her husband to Minot AFB, N.D., where she worked from 1961-1967, then on to Guam from 1967-1969.

In 1969, her husband was shipped to Vietnam. He came home a year later.

In 1969, she began working at Patrick. Thirty-nine years later she still shows up every day. From 1979 to today, she's been at the same job, first as the secretary to the commander, DoD Manned Space Flight Support Office (DDMS), which has since been renamed the Human Space Flight Support Office (HSFS).

"I don't really know what to say," when asked to recollect her favorite memories of the past six decades of service. "All my early jobs and assignments were interesting and exciting in their own way. Since I've been here I'd have to say the highlight of seeing a shuttle launch up close is breathtaking. The countdown is suspenseful and the blastoff almost knocks you off your feet.

"I've seen all 120 of them and it never gets old," she said.

She also remembers when she and her husband were stationed on Guam.

"It's hard to explain the feeling you get standing on the flight-line at Andersen Air Force Base watching the B-52s do the "elephant walk" as they line up to take off for missions over Vietnam. Some things you just never forget," she said with a far-off look.

Her current commander said Bettye is an invaluable asset.

"Bettye's depth of experience is a gold mine for us in Human Space Flight Support," said Lt. Col. Nick Seaward, chief, 45th Operations Group/HSFS.

"Her historical knowledge of our organization has been a great resource as we are reaching back to those who contributed to the recovery of the Apollo astronauts and capsules. She has all kinds of memories of what has worked and what has failed that we draw upon daily. We could not do what we do as well as we do it without her," he added.

Bettye made it clear there have been times when she couldn't have done anything at all if not for the help, caring and support of her superiors and co-workers, especially after the death of her husband, Jack, last April after nearly 50 years of marriage.

"I really don't know what I would've done or how I would've made it through that time without them," she said through watering eyes. "It's one thing to work with special people on an everyday basis for nearly 40 years; it's quite another to have them take care of you in so many special ways ... in ways I could never express my gratitude the right way. I could never, ever, find the right words," she said.

"The 45th Space Wing is such an outstanding organization, I'm proud to be a part of it, and so very proud to be just a small part of the Air Force family."

And the Air Force is proud to have her. For 60 years. And counting.