Italy resident Karen Maida Mathiowetz follows a long line of family members who served in the United States military. Both of her parents and four uncles served in various branches of the military.
Mathiowetz enlisted in the United States Air Force on July 28, 1972. After completing her basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, she was assigned to Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina where her career field was communications.
Her responsibilities included working the switchboard and teletype as messages were sent from there to the com center. Mathiowetz later changed her career field and was then in administration serving as secretary for the communications commander and first sergeant.
“While at Charleston we were required to march in a parade off base," Mathiowetz recalled. "After we finished the 5-mile march, we were allowed to walk around before returning to base. A woman walked up to me with a look of hatred on her face and spit on me. The disrespect I felt was horrible. But, I was serving so she was assured of the freedom to do that."
A few weeks later, Mathiowetz recalled meeting Sgt. Carson Hufstetler "while working there and before long we were married. Shortly after that, we were transferred to Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia."
At Moody, Mathiowetz worked in communications which involved working with the air traffic controllers. “I loved watching the screens,” she said.
She even had the opportunity to meet the Air Force Thunderbirds, which is a memory she cherishes to this day. “It was awesome watching them perform,” Mathiowetz added.
At Moody Air Force Base, there would periodically be readiness training and alerts would be issued.
“One night I was working on the switchboard and the general called,” Mathiowetz recalled. “When I answered he asked me to pull all three flight squadron lists. I did and he asked me to begin calling but stay on the line so I could go to the next person.
“I knew then it was not an alert or drill. When the service member would answer, he would tell them to get their gear and they had 10 minutes to get to the base. When I had placed the last call, he thanked me for doing a good job.”
She recalled then asking, “may I ask you a question, General?”
“You can, but I probably cannot answer it,” he responded.
“Can you tell me where they are headed?”
“No mam, but what I will tell you is most of them may not come back, so pray for them.”
Looking back on the conversation, Mathiowetz said, “I have never forgotten that night or those that lost their lives.”
Mathiowetz got pregnant while at Moody Air Force Base. Shortly after receiving the news that she would soon be a mother, Mathiowetz learned there were new orders for her to be reassigned.
“The orders were opened-ended orders for me to go to remote Turkey six weeks after my child was born. I was told that my husband and son, Carson, who was born on January 31, 1975, could not go with me,” she said.
Being a new mother and having to leave her son and husband behind while she was thousands of miles away wasn’t something Karen wanted to do, so she submitted a request to discharge. The request was granted and she was discharged from the United States Air Force on July 14, 1975.
Mathiowetz currently lives in her hometown of Italy with her family.