Yesterday I was standing on a stage at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, AL speaking to an audience of family, friends and Air Force Officer Trainees. Fourteen years ago I was there as the wife of a young freshly commissioned second lieutenant named Troy Gilbert on his graduation day. Yesterday I was there to dedicate the academic building, Gilbert Hall, in his memory. We walked into the beautiful new auditorium and there he was, big as life, on the jumbo screen. With those amazing green-hazel eyes looking over the crowd. A photograph taken of him in the Czech Republic next to his jet. His name in big letters stretched across the building front.
I remember just being so proud of him that cold January morning of his graduation. He was a distinguished graduate. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant but he did look awfully distinguished in that uniform so I would concur. My absolute favorite photo taken of us was snapped that morning of graduation. It has always seemed somewhat timeless to me.
“But don’t forget this one thing, my dear friends; With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day.”
As I walked up to the front of the grand building amid visitors, guests, media, etc… a young woman up to me. She handed me a lovely card and bracelet. She told me her name, JoRie, and that her husband was at Maxwell right now in school. I could tell she thought I recognized her and then she could tell by the blank look on my face that I did not. She sweetly told me she was the little sister of DeLynn Jeffries. The fog started clearing and I realized who she was. Her big sister, DeLynn, was one of my 1st grade friends in Portales, NM. During that school year, DeLynn was hit and killed by a car as she ran out in the street chasing a ball. I clearly remember my mom unloading the dishwasher and hearing her talking on the phone to another mother in our class. When she hung up she sadly told me that my little friend had been killed. I was Bella’s age. Wow. And then 33 years later here is her little sister standing before me so thankful to share a part in my day. Her card read that my family and I had been in their prayers continually. She had married a fighter pilot as well and made the connection of who I was when I lost Troy. She heard about the building dedication and decided to come. What a blessing to me. I explained to her I have told my children the story of her sister to remind them to never run into the street chasing anything. I am sure I am not alone in that. JoRie and DeLynn’s mom has always kept up with me. I would occasionally bump into her while I was still living at home in Clovis, NM and she would hug me tight. I knew she must always be imagining what her own daughter would be like as she did so.
Imagining what they would be like. What those that have gone before us must be thinking or feeling or seeing. I couldn’t help but speculate as to whether Troy was looking at this huge building with his name and photographs and story covering its’ walls and wondering what all the fuss was about. He was a humble guy. Not self-seeking or self-serving. I guess that’s probably the whole reason he is the one whose name is up there in big giant letters. If he had been self-serving that day in late November in the battlefields of Iraq, he would have flown high above the fray and out of harm’s way. He knew it was dangerous to be doing what he was doing but he did it in anyway. He was about others. Always. Sometimes that used to get on my nerves. He would put someone else’s schedule at work before his own. He would come early and stay late at church to help with set up because someone didn’t show up. I should have appreciated that trait in him more.
I am thankful he was recognized, yet again, for his devotion and sacrifice. When these moments of dedication for him occur, I always wish he was there to see all these fabulous honors he has been bestowed. Yet, truthfully, I doubt he cares much now.
This one makes me think no, those that have passed away before us will not. Yet this one makes me wonder if they do:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
“And I heard a loud voice (God’s) from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with hem and be their God. HE will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Yesterday, after the ceremony and the reception I was trailing behind everyone and ended up alone in the foyer of the building. Suddenly it came to my awareness that a familiar song was playing throughout the hallways. I waited to see if it really was the song I thought it might be. Indeed it was. Chris Daughtry’s hit song, “Home”.
“I'm going home to the place where I belong
where your love has always been enough for me
I don't regret this life I chose for me
But these places and these faces are getting old
So I'm going home
I'm going home to the place where I belong
Where your love has always been enough for me”
Troy just had to reassure me, he’s right where he belongs. He’s home.
Link to photos taken from the dedication: (if clicking on it doesn't work, then copy and paste it)
My speech for those interested:
Troy grew up in a proud and loving Air Force family. His grandfather served in _the army WWII and his father retired as an AF Senior Msgt in 1993. His mom, Kaye, for years worked on base as a secretary. Troy, his sister Rhonda and his mom, Kaye, were a picture of that devoted military family. Just like many that see around you today.
I met Troy in college in Texas and he seemed so worldly and mature because of his military travels and experiences versus my small town upbringing. Military life was a completely foreign concept to me. After graduating from college, marrying and both us beginning careers in the civilian world, he found himself longing to have that military life back. He said he missed it. I can concur. When I lost Troy in 2006, after 10 years of being a military wife, I found one of the many extraneous things I grieved for was knowing the Air Force lifestyle I had grown to love – that unfamiliar thing that had become so familiar to me would be changed or possibly lost forever. That thought made me sad.
My love for the Air Force grew from Troy’s passion for it. See, once he set his mind on serving he had some obstacles to overcome. He walked into a recruiting office in West Texas ready to apply for OTS and he was told his best route would be basic training and to enlist. Troy knew he was dealing with someone who had never handled an OTS package before and that the bulk of the work would now be on his shoulders if this was really something he wanted to achieve. So, as usual when Troy was faced with an obstacle he began looking for ways to overcome it. He made the phone calls, did the research and completed all the paperwork involved in the application process all by him. It took dedication for a civilian to maneuver their way in and around the military system. After months and months he finally got accepted. And around that same time he got a great job offer in Canada working in the natural gas industry. But he felt called to military service and turned down what seemed like a dream opportunity with good pay and travel benefits.
What inspired Troy, however, was not money or glamour or glory. He was inspired by people, by service and by the mission. His parents and I recalled how they dropped him off here at OTS in the fall of 1994. And when we all drove out three months later to meet him for graduation he seemed to have grown. Not physically mind you as he was at the lowest weight he would ever be. But mentally and emotionally, he was stronger. OTS introduced Troy to a taste of what the AF would ask of him. And he responded with a dedication to country that I had not seen in him prior to that. As his family knew well before I did, Troy was always the very focused, driven and determined one. Okay, maybe just a teensy bit stubborn. But all of those traits became fine-tuned here at OTS. Yes he wanted to be a pilot. He wanted to fly. But above that, he wanted to be an AF officer. At that point in AF history, there was a low demand for fighter pilots. So he knew going in that though flying was his dream, he would do whatever the AF asked of him. That is exactly what he did. He left here and became a personnelist and then a protocol officer. And then with much determination and most of our second lieutenant salary he got his private pilot’s license at the Aero Club in Lakenheath England. After almost four years of dutifully serving in a non-flying position his lifelong dream of becoming a fighter pilot in the AF became a reality. But he knew he was a better pilot because he knew it took much more than just pilots to run the AF.
Troy never looked at his career in the military as a job. He looked at it as a way of life and what he was meant to do. Troy’s core was solid. His heart and motives were always pure. His priorities were always in the right place. He put God and family first. But what OTS and the Air Force did was help refine and give direction to the mission and path that was meant for him.
I will never understand why such a godly man, loving father and husband and great AF officer was taken Home so soon. But I know he left an amazing legacy behind. For his children. For the men and women of the Air Force. Big footsteps to follow. But would any of us really want to follow anything less?
I am a blessed woman today. God provided a new and different but wonderful life for me and for the kids with another amazing godly husband and father. I remarried a year and a half ago. His name is Jim Ravella. And wouldn’t you just know he is another Texas boy. Another son of Air Force family. Another graduate of OTS. Another AF officer. Another fighter pilot. This Air Force thing gets in your blood, I guess.
We never know what direction our lives will take or what the future holds. But today, in this place, we can see that what we do with the time we have on this earth matters. Troy’s heart for service began here at this training facility at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery AL. Obviously it was much less grand at the time. But never the less it began here and continued on until the afternoon of November 27th, 2006 near Baghdad Iraq when again his tireless dedication for the people of the AF motivated him to perform courageous feats to save their lives. And that he did.
Thank you for all who worked so tirelessly to bring about this very special day for me and for the rest of Troy’s family. We wholeheartedly agree that Gilbert Hall was the very best name you could have chosen for this magnificent AF facility.