Front and Center with Laura Henshaw

I met Laura Henshaw (formerly McLaughlin) or, as I’ve almost always called her, McFly, when she was a Senior Airman and I was a Second Lieutenant. We were stationed together at Shaw Air Force Base and it didn’t take long before a certain incident earned her a permanent place in my memory and, now that we are both out of the military, my circle of friends. Here is how she describes her experience at Shaw and that incident in particular:

“I learned so much about life at that assignment. I’m still close friends with several of my fellow Mustang intel buddies, including this blog’s creator. I call her El-Tee to this day, and she still calls me McFly. As a high-and-mighty E-4, I told the then O-1 butterbar El-Tee that she couldn’t make me do a particular task. Very quickly, El-Tee taught a naïve McFly the precise difference between a commissioned officer and an enlisted Airman. She is one of my dearest, most loyal friends now, solely based on the way she handled my insubordination.”

McFly is smart and hardworking and, as you may already have guessed, honest and sassy as well. Despite this incident, or perhaps because of it, she became one of the best airmen I ever had. She would go on to serve just over ten years in the Air Force. After working with the F-16CJs at Shaw, she worked as Security Manager for the entire 20th Operations Support Squadron before moving on to the 612th Air Intelligence Squadron at Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona, doing an unaccompanied short tour at Osan Air Base, Korea, and finally ending her service as an E-6 at the AFNORTH/A2 shop at Tyndall AFB, Florida.

Here is what McFly had to say on the topic of service:

Me: People join the military for a number of reasons. For some, it’s a need to serve their country. For others, service isn’t a motivating factor, at least not initially. What were your motivations for joining?

McFly: I decided to join when I realized I needed a swift kick in the pants to grow up and learn what it means to be a responsible member of society. At 21 years of age, I dropped out of state college in the middle of my junior year, because I was too immature to balance my course load with my social life. I luckily realized the path I was headed down was not like any future I wanted for myself. I joined the Air Force, because my parents sat me down and told me it was the best move for me, given the direction I was headed at the time.

Military service is a big deal to my family, and most of us subscribe to the idea that every able-bodied 18-year-old American citizen should be required to serve at least one enlistment in any of our military’s branches unless they earn a college degree. That mandatory service would do at least one of two things: a) represent an act of selfless payment for our nation’s freedoms and our Constitution thanks to all those who served before us, and b) teach much-needed life lessons to those of us who failed to figure it out on our own.

My family enforces that rule, and it works well for us. My brother and I both dropped out of college, so our choice was to get whatever job we could find as high school graduates and be relatively unhappy or join the military. We both headed straight to the recruiter’s office. My children are aware they will be given the same ultimatum should the need arise. At ages 13 and 10, they both plan on graduating from college, but are not opposed to military service.

Me: While service seems to be a core value in your family, it doesn’t look like a desire to serve was necessarily the driving factor for your enlistment. At what point would you say that changed and service became part of your motivation?

McFly: Honestly, the willingness to serve has always been rooted in me. I’ve always been extremely patriotic. I can trace the veterans in my bloodline back to the American Revolution and have had a relative serve in every war in which the US has been involved.  My dad…voluntarily enlisted in the ‘60s, instead of being drafted. He chose that path specifically so he could have more of a choice in his job selection. Ironically, he worked in Intel as well, in Signals Intelligence. He served his time in Vietnam.

Also, military life had always intrigued me, pre-enlistment. I would watch movies and TV shows like Full Metal Jacket and M.A.S.H. just to try to learn as much as I could about that unique world. It is truly its own little club. If you haven’t served on Active Duty…or been a military dependent, then you probably won’t ever really understand the life. The constant sacrifices and struggles associated with PCS’s, TDY’s, unaccompanied tours, deployments, et cetera, were the parts I couldn’t truly grasp until I experienced it myself.

Me: After you left the military, you took the concept of serving with you. In what ways have you contributed to your community since leaving active duty?

McFly: My husband was my inspiration to serve my community immediately after I separated in ’09. Scouting has been a big part of his life, so he got both my kids involved, too. I knew practically nothing about the scouts before I met him. My daughter joined a Girl Scout troop first, because my son was still one year too young to join Cub Scouts. The first year for her was my introduction. It wasn’t until the second year, though, immediately following my separation that I got heavily involved.

Her troop needed a “Craft Mom,” so I volunteered to help out by finding, planning, and organizing crafts associated with activities they were doing and badges they were earning. One of the leaders was PCS’ing, so I then volunteered to replace her when she left. My involvement steadily grew until I was the main leader for my daughter’s troop when the other leaders needed to take a break or moved away. I volunteered with my son’s Cub Scout Pack during his second year, and have been heavily involved ever since.

Me: Besides introducing you to the concept of service, in what ways did the military prepare for you these contributions?

McFly: The military introduced an even deeper level of service. My military training and background were useful for the required personal organization, the ability to follow through on the job, the military bearing sometimes necessary in dealing with unruly scouts and parents, the attention to detail required to track everyone’s progress towards their goals, the communication skills necessary to keep everyone in the loop, the computer skills to manage the derby races, and the ability to put service before self because in scouting, the kids are the sole reason we’re there.

Me: How would you say this continued involvement in something “bigger than yourself,” as service is often described, has helped your transition from active duty to veteran?

McFly: My involvement as an adult volunteer in scouting was life-saving for me, to be honest. I think it is important for me to point out the imperativeness for veterans to find an activity of some sort that is truly personal to them to help fill the suddenly-empty hours during the day and the empty, gaping hole left inside upon separation or retirement. I had no clue to expect those sorts of feelings. I didn’t realize how much of a shock it would be after I left the service. The finality of my separation felt like a death to me. I had to move through all the grief stages, and turning to community service helped me dramatically. Without an activity that was very important to help fill my time, I would’ve handled the grief process in a very unhealthy way.

For those of you reading this blog, please know I’m completely serious. If you are nearing the end of your military service, I urge you to re-read this paragraph and take those words to heart.

© 2013 – 2020, Sarah Maples LLC. All rights reserved.

Sarah Maples is a former Air Force intelligence officer and an Afghanistan veteran. She is a freelance writer and editor, specializing in veteran, military, and defense topics.

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