By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer
From 1998 to 2002, Cindy Hufford’s life was a rotation of living on ships, naval bases and counting down the days until her four-year stint with the U.S. Navy would come to a close.
A decade after her active duty ended, Hufford, 36, a fifth-grade teacher at Eagle Heights Elementary, looks back on her time in the Navy with a fondness toward the comradery, travel and growth she was able to experience as she served her country.
“I had to grow up a lot,” she said “I’m appreciative of the things I have. I’m appreciative of all the people who came before me.”
The Clinton native enrolled in 1998 after graduating from Scott Community College.
She wanted to serve her country, travel and eventually get money back to school, and the Navy supported that goal.
After enlisting, Hufford left Clinton for boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Base in Chicago for general aviation. Following boot camp, she was flown to the U.S.S. Enterprise, which was stationed in the Persian Gulf.
“It was two scary things. You go to boot camp and you don’t know what to expect. Then, you do make friends and you’re all sent to different places so it’s like starting all over again,” Hufford said. “I hated it.”
While in the Persian Gulf, Hufford served as a plane captain on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier. In her role she was responsible for fueling the jets, chaining them down, prepping for the air crew, and other work.
That was her life for three months until she was stationed in Virgina Beach, Va. where she became an Aviation Administration Admin. She was there for a year and a half before being deployed to the Persian Gulf again, this time on the maiden voyage of the U.S.S. Truman. While she was more familiar with what her life would be like, it didn’t make the experience more enjoyable.
“It’s not fun living on a ship for six months. You’re living with 80 some other women, in a room a little bit bigger than this,” she said motioning to her classroom.
During her time serving, Hufford was able to fulfill her desire to travel, going to Greece, Italy, Bahrain, Turkey, France, The United Arab Emirates and St. Tomas. The friends she served with became family. Still, she missed Clinton.
“Yes, I’m getting to see this beautiful country and do things that most Americans won’t be able to do, but at the same time I don’t have the comfort of home,” Hufford said. “I don’t think I really appreciated it until I was done.”
After returning to Virginia Beach, Hufford was preparing for her final year of active duty in the Navy when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred.
“I just remember one of the Chiefs running upstairs and saying ‘A plane just hit one of the World Trade towers,’ Just thinking it was a horrible accident. Then a few minutes later he ran up and told us another one had hit,” Hufford said.
After Hufford was out of active duty, she started to earn a degree in elementary education from St. Ambrose University. Although she received a request to return while she was on her four years of inactive duty, Hufford did not end up returning, and finished her degree.
Hufford is now in her fourth year of teaching fifth grade at Eagle Heights Elementary School and working on a Master’s degree, which like her teaching degree, was funded by the GI Bill.
Although it’s been a decade since she was on active duty and four years since her inactive duty, Hufford hasn’t left her days in the military behind. Outside her classroom, she’s displayed her three Navy uniforms and tries to share the lessons she’s learned with her students.
“Everyone needs to play their part. I try to instill that responsibility in my students. People aren’t going to hand you what you want, you have to work for it and pay it back.”
If Hufford could go back to 1998, she said she would make the decision without hesitation.
“I would do it again in a heart beat. I’m a better person because of it.”