War on Terrorism

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tennessee Air National Guard mother, daughter share Thanksgiving together overseas

By Air Force Master Sgt. Cynthia Dorfner
376th Air Expeditionary Wing

MANAS, Kyrgyzstan - This holiday season as deployed troops serve far from their family and friends at home, one Air National Guard member will see a familiar face here - that of her daughter, also in the Air National Guard.

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Terri Gill and Air Force Senior Airman Audrey Gill, assigned to the Tennessee Air National Guard, will be together for the second deployment. The first was in 2008 in Southwest Asia.

When people around the Transit Center, where Terri works, learn of their family connection, the notion seems a bit strange.

"People ask, 'how did get you get to deploy together?' or say they don't think they could handle going with a parent or child," Terri said. But for her, leaving home with her oldest daughter just seemed natural.

In fact, they seek out occasions to go together. For this one, Terri learned of the opportunity and called Audrey, the oldest of her three children, who eagerly volunteered.

"We're a close-knit family," Terri said. "And the military commitment runs through us."

It was Audrey's father who suggested his daughter join the service when she mentioned she wanted to go to college. Terri's husband understands their service. Having spent 26 years in the military - half as active-duty Air Force and the other half in the Army National Guard - he's always supportive when they volunteer to go.

This six-month deployment even has the pair working in the same section as security escorts in the 376th CES. They work different shifts, however, and despite the fact they live together at home in Bean Station, Tenn., they don't share a room here.

"We asked to share a room, but because I'm an [noncommissioned officer] and she's an Airman, they thought it better we didn't," said Terri.

When talking about rank, Terri is almost shy to acknowledge she's in charge because of her rank, but audibly beamed when parlaying that experience into one she knows well – mom.

"A big part of my job here is looking out for everyone," she said "That's easy. I'm a mom!"

She said when she sees younger folks outside in the cold without a jacket, she tells them they need one.

"They tell me they're not cold and I tell them I'll watch their [contractors] while they go put on their jackets. Then, they say 'OK, Mama Gill.'"

Audrey said wherever they go, those who surround them end up as part of their family. Around other security escorts, it's almost like being at home.

"If I do anything, someone will say 'I'm gonna tell your mama!'" Audrey said. "It's just like having a lot more brothers and sisters."

When Audrey decided to join the Air Force in 2008, she put a twinkle in her father's eye, Terri said. Audrey said she plans to stay in at least until her mom retires. She loves the fact that her mom is higher ranking and can give her advice. And, she said it's nice having someone here who knows her so well.

"One day, I forgot my jacket and I was about to call mom because it was raining, when all of a sudden, she came running," said Audrey.

"I saw the weather and had a feeling she didn't have her coat, so I found her, got her key and took it to her," said Terri.

Even though they work opposite shifts, the two have dinner together every evening and see each other in the mornings. When Audrey plays in sporting events here, Terri is there in the crowd, cheering on her daughter.

"It definitely helps with not being so homesick, to have not only someone I know here, but that person is my mom," Audrey said.

In the dorm dayroom, Audrey and Terri sit on the couches - each doing her own thing. A friend walks in and there's the feeling if this were the Gill house back in Tennessee, this is exactly how it would be - all of Audrey, Tony and Kimmi's friends just hanging out.

"It is like this at home," Audrey said. "Our friends are always coming over - never knocking. We're all just one big family."

While mom and daughter will miss being home for the holidays with the rest of their family, they'll have dinner together and call home.

They said they'll spend Thanksgiving being thankful for what they're doing here and the bond they share as airmen.

"We may not be on the front lines," Terri said, "but we love the honor of being able to wear this uniform."

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