BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — They make up just 10% of the total veteran population, but women remain a big part of military service in America.
Erica Krebsbach is one of them, and she spent more than two decades in the Air Force.
Her story began in September of 1997 in San Antonio, Texas, where she began basic training.
“They want to weed out the weak, mentally and physically,” Krebsbach said.
The same training that has psychologically altered emotional stability, and social function for many Krebsbach said that they wanted to see if you could make it.
What was considered to be a traumatic experience for some, Krebsbach says she lived in that moment for what is now considered a short six weeks, as new recruits now have seven and a half weeks of training.
Krebsbach had proven her capability as an Airman as she served for more than 20 years, starting as a radio operator. It’s their job to monitor the bomb group’s frequencies for changes to the flight plan and to enable the pilot to broadcast to other planes in the formation according to the Army Air Corps.
“And then my job changed drastically, I went from talking on the radio to working with the B-52s at Minot, so it was like going to a new job without very much training, but it still fell under the umbrella of my job title,” Krebsbach recalled.
After only four years of being in the Air Force, Krebsbach was stationed at Andrew’s Air Force Base in Maryland during the 911 Attack, where she could see the smoke from the Pentagon and ironically in June of the same year, she had just taken pictures in front of the World Trade Center.
Those weren’t the only scary times for Krebsbace, she was also stationed in Saudi Arabia for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom right after September 11.
“The reports had just came out that most of the terrorists were from Saudi Arabia and so we weren’t allowed to go off base. Security was very strict,” Krebsbach said.
That wasn’t the only scary part of her career.
“North Korea were launching, I think they launched about 15 to 16 missiles that year, and I was very worried because I also brought my family. So I had my child in South Korea and I was losing sleep and packing bags and was wondering if I had made the right decision,” Krebsbach explained.
North Korea launched its missiles constantly during Krebsbach’s and her Airmen’s exercises.
“They launched a missile as a show of force, kinda like, it looks like you’re trying to go to war,” Krebsbach said.
Although she was only stationed in South Korea for about a year, it definitely left a strong mark on her and her family.
“I called my family and told them that my family may come and show up at the door and to not ask many questions. And it just means things are going to get very bad,” she said.
But through all of that, Krebsbach was able to have some good times as well.
“I worked with aircrew members at the B-52 and they let me fly with them once and they let me fly the plane, so that would probably be one of the most memorable or biggest memories of my career. They blocked me for an hour to fly and I flew for about five minutes and I said ‘I’m done’ because it was so stressful cause I kept, he kept saying ‘You have the B-52 in a dive’ and I’m like ‘Okay, now I need to pull up’ and he was like ‘Okay, now you’ve exceeded the altitude’ and then he was like ‘Okay you have the plane in a dive’ and I was like ‘Olay, I’m done,'” said Krebsbach. “So, I unstrapped and went to the back of the plane. I was like ‘I don’t want anybody to throw up because I’m terrible at flying.'”
But through the ups and downs, she stuck with it, persevered, and with over 24 years of knowledge, she just retired two years ago.
Erica now lives in Bismarck and is an advocate for the ‘Stop Soldier Suicide’ effort. It’s a veteran-led nonprofit that provides free trauma-informed mental health and wellness care to veterans and service members in the U.S. Their goal is to reduce the military suicide rate by 40% by 2023.