Published Nov. 8, 2017
Serving in the United States armed forces turned into a family affair for Mississippi Power’s Gayla Ashley, a senior customer service representative in the Coast Division.
One of seven children, Ashley was the second of five to enlist in the Air Force.
Serving from 1986-90 as a medical materials specialist at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, she purchased medical equipment and supplies, and worked in customer service, contracts and the warehouse.
“Most state-side military hospitals are known for a particular area of medicine, and Offutt is where many retired military go for hip replacement surgery,” said Ashley. “There is also a dental school and an extended x-ray technician school at the base.
“Meeting all of the retirees and knowing that we were helping them to have a better quality of life is one of the things I enjoyed most.”
Ashley’s younger brother was her adviser before she enlisted.
“He had already been in a while and told me to enlist with a job, not to go in and then get assigned a job. He also told me at basic training not to make direct eye contact with any of the instructors, not to volunteer for anything, and to keep quiet,” she said. “That all proved to be good advice.”
Standing 4-foot-11¾ inches, she had to stretch to meet the 5-foot minimum requirement and had to load up on carbs to meet the weight requirement.
Ashley went to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for six weeks of basic training and then moved to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls for six weeks of tech school.
“Basic training is where they drill the rules and history of the Air Force into you and teach you how to salute; tech or technical school is where you learn the skills for your job. I really enjoyed tech school and finished second in my class,” she said.
Ashley is still in touch with friends she made in tech school and visits with them regularly.
“I married a military man and left the service to travel with him on assignment,” she said. “My youngest child was born in Okinawa, Japan.
“If I had stayed in, I would have applied to be a technical instructor, what the Army calls a drill instructor, the Air Force calls a TI. To this day, it drives me crazy to see someone in uniform without their hat in public, which is against regulations.”
Ashley’s four siblings who enlisted are all out of the Air Force now as well. At one time, she had a brother and sister stationed at Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, a brother at Dyess AFB in Abilene and another sister stationed at Keesler AFB.
“My original goal was to stay in for 20 years. If I had only one do-over in life, it would be to have stayed in the Air Force for 20 years,” Ashley said.
“The military helps people grow up and it teaches them responsibility. I recommend it for anyone who is not going to college. It provides so many opportunities to see things outside of southeast Mississippi.”