Rewards of service: Craig couple grateful for lessons learned in Navy
CRAIG — U.S. Navy veterans Kris and Hannah Wood got to know one another — and learned quite a bit about life in the process — when neither was very far removed from high school (though Hannah had attended a year of community college by that time).
They met while serving in the same squadron in Washington state. They’d known each other for “a couple of years before that,” Hannah said, but on deployment, “we both kind of discovered who the other one was.”
They were married after Hannah left active duty in 2013.
About three months ago, the couple relocated to Craig, Kris’s hometown, from Texas, where Hannah was born and where Kris was serving his final active-duty tour as a recruiter. He retired from the Navy in 2017 with 20 years of service.
Hannah remains in the Navy Reserves, but with their son, Miles, who’s just turned 3, and a second child due in about three weeks, life has moved the couple beyond the military, and Hannah plans to complete her service in March, after a total of 11 1/2 years.
“I’m really going to miss it,” she said. “I loved being in the Navy.”
Their service took them around the world — several times.
“We re-po’ed aircraft,” Kris said, which Hannah explained refers to “repositioning.”
It’s “where you fly one aircraft to a location, pick up another one, take that one to another place, pick up a different aircraft, and fly it home,” she said. “So we basically flew around the northern hemisphere — all the way around.”
They weren’t pilots, but their roles were no less critical; Kris served as a flight engineer, or FE — one of several jobs he held in the Navy — and Hannah, as an in-flight technician.
“We were pretty much glorified in-flight mechanics,” Kris said. “If it breaks, we had to get it in a configuration to where we could land safely or get home.”
Hannah added the path to becoming an FE is rigorous, and many who begin either drop out or fail out.
“They basically run the airplane, not the pilots,” Hannah said with a laugh. “I mean, the pilots set power and actually fly the aircraft, but the FEs are the ones that push all the buttons and monitor all the gauges.”
“Yeah, we ran all the systems,” Kris agreed. “We controlled the fuel, the engines, the air conditioning, hydraulics — pretty much everything it takes to keep an airplane in the air.”
Hannah’s role was different, though no less important.
“On the flip side of that, I was an in-flight technician,” she said. “So, I did all the electronics and all the mission systems and communications and navigation.”
They said their jobs were often challenging, as the aircraft they served on were often older.
In particular, they mentioned the Lockheed EP-3E, the same model of aircraft that was involved in an aerial collision in April 2001 and initiated an emergency landing on China’s Hainan Island.
“That’s the same aircraft,” Hannah said. “I flew that plane on my last deployment. We still fly that plane. They fixed it up and sent it back out.”
She added that a friend of hers told her she’d seen parts of the same aircraft in a museum.
“Yeah, there were parts in a preserved aircraft we had on ours.” Hannah said.
“They update them constantly, but there are still plenty of malfunctions,” Kris added.
While many of the skills the couple mastered in the military are translatable to certain sectors of the civilian world, both Kris and Hannah said the true value they received from having served is to be found in the more non-tangible things they learned.
“The things I took away from the Navy aren’t really the technical things I learned,” Hannah said. “But I used my GI Bill to get a master’s degree.”
But even that isn’t at the heart of why both Kris and Hannah say they are grateful for their time in service.
“I think the biggest thing I took away from the Navy is how to make friends, how to work hard, how to stand up for myself, and how to see something bigger than myself,” Hannah said. “I mean, not just me matters; not just what my unit is doing matters. It’s a really big picture, and I’m just a little piece of it.”
She said she would recommend the military to any young person approaching graduation, not because she wants to recruit for the military, but rather because she knows first-hand the tremendous advantages to be had from service.
“Going through all the training teaches you how to have a backbone and how to stand up for yourself and how to have pride in yourself and in your job and what you do,” she said. “I could not recommend it enough.”
She added that, as a woman, it was “neat” to do the same types of work as her male counterparts “and sometimes do it better.”
“As a recruiter, I was in high schools all the time, talking to students, and they thought they had their life planned out, but when you ask them how they’re going to pay for college … they have no clue. … The military gives you a job. It gives you the training on top of the travel and the experience and schools. If you’re able to get in now, you should go in.”
Our grandson, Kenny Prather, loves peach cobbler. He even requests it on his birthday, in place of cake. This week’s column features my favorite peach cobbler recipe. It doesn’t seem possible, but the batter that you put in the bottom of the pan ends up on top.