Pam Flynn, Air Force veteran of 25 years, sees respect, kindness from Kalona community

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Pam Flynn loves being outdoors in the sunshine. She loves riding around her Kalona neighborhood in her golf cart, visiting with her neighbors and bringing toys and treats to her nieces and nephews. She likes to go out to her family farm to be with the animals. She has a happy hour with her own cats every day, where they get treats and she enjoys a beer.

Kalona, she said, is an awesome place to be retired.

Flynn served in the United States Air Force for 25 years, retiring as a Senior Master Sergeant in 2002.

“This time in my life is a lot slower than it was,” Flynn said. “When I was getting close to retiring, all my peers told me, ‘Pam, you’re not going to be able to cope with not being busy all the time.’ But the first day of my retirement, after the ceremony and the whole nine yards, after my family had left my house and it was just me and the cats… I just felt like I was free. Every weight in the world was off my shoulders.”

Flynn enlisted in the Air Force when she was 19 because she wanted to see the world. She was a student at the University of Iowa at the time, but felt stuck in Iowa and wanted more diverse experiences.

Out of basic training, Flynn was assigned to Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) and, after about a year of additional training, was stationed in West Berlin, Germany during the height of the Cold War. Flynn worked to track Soviet bombers and collect information regarding their payloads and communication.

“We were in a building on top of a hill and the Soviet guards were right across the wall. They were looking at us and we were looking at them. What it all boils down to is a bunch of 20-year-olds — we’d probably all get along just fine if it weren’t for the higher-ups,” Flynn said.

After that, she Flynn was sent to San Antonio, Texas, where she was a flight test analyst and spent most of her time in test ranges in the deserts of Nevada. By that time, she was a staff sergeant and had her own team, testing the efficacy of Air Force signal jammers.

When Space Systems started to become more prevalent in the early 1980s, Flynn went to space school to learn telemetry and started working with satellite technology in San Vito dei Normanni, Italy.

After several other assignments, Flynn was then sent to Korea, where she was the site superintendent overseeing a large intelligence-gathering team.

“I loved being the boss,” Flynn said. “And on top of me being the site superintendent, the commander was a female and all the other people below were men.”

Finally, Flynn was assigned to Space Command in Colorado Springs, where she had previously served, and where she eventually retired from in 2002.

During her career, Flynn met and shook every sitting president’s hand: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. She even spend time with Clinton, having a beer with him when he visited the Osan Air Base in Korea.

Flynn said, most of the time, her gender didn’t affect her work or how she was treated.

“I had to prove myself, I definitely did,” she said. “But I don’t think it was so much of a sex thing; there were men couldn’t lead, there were women who couldn’t lead. There were men who could lead and women who could lead. Respect came from how you carried yourself, how much you tried to learn, and how well you could do your job and whether you respected others.”

Flynn said the communities around Kalona have been supportive and appreciative of her service, that veterans are well respected considered an important part of the community. Flynn did say, however, that some people have told her she’s not a veteran.

“I think they think of a veteran as some old guy drunk at a bar with a cigarette hanging out of their mouth, but 95% of us aren’t just sitting at that bar,” Flynn said. “A lot of veterans do quite well after they leave the service because they learned a lot of skills during their time. It’s definitely something that changes your life.”

Flynn said Veterans Day is an important day for her to reflect on her career in the Air Force and how it has impacted her life.

“I think it’s important to have a day to honor veterans. I think of my ancestors who served in WWII, WWI and the Civil War. I think of the veterans who didn’t make it home. And I think of the veterans that have severe PTSD and are having a hard time… I think of those people who are less fortunate than I am, who don’t have a community that embraces them and treats them with respect like [Kalona] does.”

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