An Air Force retiree was the first in her family to go to college, but she was certainly not the first to sign up to serve.
Alice Gaines’ Father was in the Navy, her brothers were in the Army, and they wanted their sister to find a different branch.
Gaines landed in the Air Force.
“We were very close,” Retired Air Force TSgt. Alice Gaines said.
She was talking about her battle buddies.
“We were all there for one thing, getting the mission done, mission complete and we worked together to do that,” Gaines said.
She said when she first went into the Air Force in the early 80’s, things were different for women.
“We were there to do the job the guys didn’t, but then in the career I was in, we drove tractor trailers, my first year was driving ambulances, and so they had to see me as a partner and they had to treat me like the other men,” Gaines said.
That was especially true, as they prepared to go to war in Desert Storm.
“My supervisor did not want to send me, because I was a single parent, and I said this is why I came into the military,” Gaines said.
She said her deployment overseas ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to her.
“I met a lot of people,” Gaines said. “I met a lot of people in the military, I met a lot of people from the Middle East, it was just a different culture, just things that I saw while I was over there, I will never forget.”
She said the comradery with those she served with is also something she will always remember.
“Mentoring and doing whatever I could to help them, because it wasn’t an easy place and it wasn’t an easy time, because nobody wanted us there,” Gaines said.
Gaines reenlisted in the service many times and she would also go on to deploy again.
“I went to a Red Horse Unit, 554th Red Horse Unit,” Gaines said.
She was the first female in history to become part of that unit.
“They had to create a bathroom for me, I was that new,” Gaines said.
What this non-commissioned office, or NCO, did while in Korea, was nothing new to her.
“I was their driver, in Korea,” Gaines said. “We drove buses and traffic trailers, and any piece of equipment they needed me to drive, I was there to drive it.”
She was also there to lead others, and she did just that in an award winning way.
Gaines gathered many accolades during her more than two decades in the Air Force.
“It was an award for a Family Readiness Group, an FRG, as they call them in the Army,” Gaines said.
That’s right Gaines was also honored for helping soldiers and their families during her husband’s career with the Army.
“To know that somebody actually felt, and I made that person feel a certain way, that was special to me,” Gaines said.
Gaines was special to so many she mentored and worked alongside over her career.
“Most of these people have retired, and they are going on starting that second career,” Gaines said.
Gaines found a second calling as well, and one that allowed her to continue to help and serve others.
She now works in social work.
Gaines said while they were in Saudi Arabia the women were not allowed to drive, so when they were off duty from driving, they had to have men drive them.
Although she said there were things that were so very different culturally, she said there were others that were very similar, like the joy on the children’s faces, as the troops passed out candy.