Single parent with two children and no child support, sounds like what many women were struggling with.  Yet, it was me in that predicament — financially supporting and parenting twin nine-year-old girls.

After two years of juggling graduate school, work and parenting, I had an epiphany: I needed a real job. After sitting in seemingly endless classrooms and writing enough papers to please a platoon of professors in the army of academia, I’d obtained a couple of college degrees. Now I was ready for corporate America or something like it, Denver however, was as competitive in the business sector as it had becoming a DJ in the Capitol city.  A well paying relative secure job in the Mile High, I would learn, seemed to be even more elusive.

Of all the resumes I sent, and I sent a lot, the most promising response came from Utah. Just one state west, but a world away, I sensed.  

I left the great state of Colorado to apply for a Public Affairs Officer (PAO) position at Defense Depot Ogden, Utah (DDOU).  I was interviewed by the Vice Commander with the Commander sitting in; it went very well, and I was hired on the spot.

Although it was not official, because of my pending security probe and going through the motions of government hiring. The good news, you’re hired. Bad news, the Depot may be closing. On the radio, Hit Me With Your Best Shot by Pat Beneatar rang out.

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Causeway on The Great Salt Lake.  (Utah Convention & Visitors Bureau)

 

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Swan house in North Ogden Utah with view of Great Salt Lake. (Swan archives)

I had worried about the new job, Mormons and the state of Utah unnecessarily, I liked them all very much. I had also worried about ever getting another date being in the conservative state of Utah.

Then I met Lucinda (pseudonym) at the nearby Hill AFB public affairs office. I was the envy of many who had tried unsuccessfully to go out with her and just men in general.

Utah, for me, was a great state for dating and skiing. There was a good run, just a fifteen-minute drive from our house in North Ogden.

 

As for my new job, I had one employee at my disposal. She was a lady in her mod-50s who had “Public Affairs Assistant” in her job description, but the previous PA used her as a secretary and general flunky.

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Want to be in my picture? I worried needlessly about the dating pool in Utah. Don with a friend at DDOU Officers club in 1981. (Swan archives)

Image her surprise and consternation when I told Betty (pseudonym) she was expected to assist me in PA activities. Fast-forward: In less than a year, she was writing good articles for our monthly newspaper.  She didn’t exactly tell me how grateful she was for me making her do her job, but her attitude changed for the better. She was proud of her work, especially her photography.

The worst part of my job was the workday that began at 0730 on mahogany row, where the Commander and his Deputy, Legal,  PA, and other senior staff had offices. The workday ended at 1630, but I was rarely out by then.

DDOU provided items to all branches of the U.S. military units worldwide.  Some of the supplies we shipped were mundane, others were sophisticated and critical. Our parent command was the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) located in Alexandria, VA. DDOU was one of several depots located throughout the U.S.

In staff meetings, I sat at the “big table” with the Commander and other principles within the command.  Other members of staff occupied chairs farther back. I’m telling this because a lieutenant colonel who sat in one of the seats behind me became my best friend. He provided me with invaluable advice on how to work within the bureaucracy that included both civilian and military members.

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Scene from Wayne County, Utah. (Wiki Commons)

Col. Tom Kirkham was a practicing Mormon (and continues to be) who fathered  9 children with his wife, Mary.  Tom is a Vietnam veteran of the U.S. Air Force and had some interesting assignments in Southeast Asian countries. At the time I met him, some of his clandestine operations were less than 10 years old and were still classified but downgraded from Top Secret SCI/SAR to Secret.  

All I can say about his missions (now fifty years past) is that they were extremely dangerous and daring. Don’t feel left out — you might be better off not knowing any details of those operations.

He had other jobs in the Air Force that might seem boring after his Southeast Asia adventures, but no less critical. Tom was a Battle Staff officer on Looking Glass (so nicknamed by the crew) an airborne EC-135C that would provide command and control of U.S. Nuclear forces if ground-based control of those weapons were destroyed or otherwise rendered inoperable.

The general officer on board Looking Glass would assume the role of (the) National Command Authority and have direct control of and capacity to launch nuclear weapons. You read that right; pretty heady stuff. One of these EC-135Cs (Boeing 707) Looking Glass jets was always in the skies over the U.S. from 1961 to 1992.

Tom made full colonel (less than 50% of the qualified lieutenant colonels do) before he left DDOU. He held command positions within DLA before his retirement in 1987.

I’m convinced Tom would have made an exceptional Brigadier General (the next grade above Colonel). Competition is fierce; records indicate less than five percent of eligible colonels make the grade of brigadier-general, and only then when an assignment is available for their rank. All general officer promotions require approval by the Senate and the President.

Tom and I have remained friends over the years, despite our assignments that didn’t coincide. We stayed in touch because our friendship is fervent, and we took pride in having served in the U. S. military before it became popular.

Tom is a great American to be commemorated for what he was: a guardian of our freedom and for what he is:  a genuine patriot. In retirement, he continues his service as a leader in his church and community.  I hope that in some small sense, I am remembered that way as well.

HOW DO YOU SOLVE A PROBLEM LIKE MARIA’S?

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Back to the reality of my new position at DDOU. The Commander, my boss, told me I had free rein on how to structure my job; good news, indeed. There were also some mandatory requirements I was responsible for publishing the monthly newspaper for our workers, keeping the media informed of our mission, and answering their queries. I also met and stayed in touch with community leaders, local and elected officials, which became more important than ever since DDOU was on the hit list for closure and the loss of 2,500 jobs, including mine.

On my way to visit the editor of Ogden’s Standard-Examiner, Kim Carnes’s Betty Davis Eyes reverberated from the small speaker on my staff car. On my annual year-end countdown, Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen was my #1 song of 1980.

Even with my responsibilities at DDOU, I managed to make time for teaching Public Speaking and other communication courses two nights a week at Ogden’s Weber State College (now University).

Just out of graduate school, I made a good impression on Senator Hatch when I was briefing him about DDOU. Keeping him and other Congressional delegates apprised of our specialized workforce, the unique service we provided the Department of Defense, and why we should remain open.

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(Swan archives)

When the White House job didn’t come to fruition (see above), I was offered political appointment jobs in agencies like EPA and Agriculture at three grades above my present rank. But moving again so soon with the twins already in a good school with friends there and in the community, I choose not to accept. Had it been the White House, I would have made an exception.

U. S. Congressman Gunn McKay, (Ogden native) came to DDOU about two years after the announcement of the possible closure (and me becoming the Public Affairs Officer) with good news: DDO would remain open for the foreseeable future. In our depot newspaper,  I ran at 72pt headline DDO TO REMAIN OPEN for the accompanying story.

I was given some credit for the success of DDOU not closing because of my community involvement and my reports to the Utah Congressional delegation. Although I received top performance reviews, there was no promotion potential in my job. So after two years as PAO, I began looking for a job with advancement possibilities.

I had enough connections at nearby Hill AFB to get a seat on a USAF T-39 (executive jet) flying to Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio, where I had a job prospect. After my interview with the lieutenant colonel, who was the Chief of PA for the 2750th Air Base Wing, I was offered the job as his deputy, GS-12, one step above my grade at DDOU. I accepted.

This would be the second move for the twins since they came to live with me in Colorado four years ago.

Ready for more responsibility in Public Affairs, a position with USAF in 1982. (Swan archives)

 

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