TOPEKA — In a snap, Jamie L. McGuire would pull on her U.S. Air Force uniform and return to the nearly 14-year career and camaraderie she loved in the service.
At the same time, she’s locked in a battle with the injuries she suffered during the last of eight service deployment tours.
Besides the heavy work and long hours in the air force, McGuire saved two lives and faced 13 hours of enemy fire during an attack in Afghanistan.
McGuire, 34, grew up in Towanda, graduating from Circle High School in 2002. She enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on May 6, 2003, and lives in Topeka.
She enlisted because “my daddy was in and I wanted to follow in his footsteps.” Her father, Bill McGuire, was in the Air Force for four years. After the Air Force, Bill McGuire worked as a machinist at Boeing in Wichita. Her mother is Shelly McGuire.
In the Air Force, McGuire was a “port dawg,” service slang for the airmen who transport everything. Formally called air transportation specialists, they also call themselves “aerial porters.”
They move medical supplies, vehicles, explosives, hazardous materials, household goods and “anything that needs to be moved,” McGuire said.
Sometimes that includes transporting the bodies of military personnel, she said.
The port dawgs build up the cargo loads and pack the prop-driven C-130 Hercules, C-17 Globemaster jets and the giant C-5 transport planes, which dwarf the C-130s.
She also loaded KC-10 refueling tankers and helicopters. If need be, she boarded the aircraft to fly to the destination to unload the cargo.
“I loved it,” McGuire said of her Air Force service. “I miss it every day. If I could go back to it, I would. It was everything I ever dreamed of.”
McGuire liked the morale, the camaraderie and the brotherhood.
“We were always there for each other,” McGuire said, adding it’s grueling work and not for the faint of heart.
As a staff sergeant and a supervisor, McGuire at times worked 14 or 15 hours a day, six days a week.
“We worked hard and we played hard,” McGuire said.
“You have to have a thick skin. I learned to cuss like a sailor,” she said, laughing. “You have to pull your weight and show them you can work hard. It is very rewarding work.”
McGuire enjoyed a four-year assignment at the Air Force base at Mildenhall, England, which is two hours north of London.
“I’d go back tomorrow,” she said. “I loved the people, the environment, the unit. It was the best time of my career.”
During her Air Force career, McGuire also served six- to eight-month stints in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
At times in her two deployments in Afghanistan, McGuire traded her loading duties to carry an M-4 rifle due to hostilities.
McGuire well remembers Dec. 8, 2015, when she was under fire for more than 13 hours when the Kandahar air field in Afghanistan was attacked in the dark.
Heavily armed Taliban forces, some wearing suicide vests, attacked the base, a UPI story said of the attack. McGuire and a senior master sergeant took cover behind a concrete barrier.
“We ended up taking (small arms) fire for 13 hours,” McGuire said.
But under the rules of engagement at that time, they couldn’t return fire because they couldn’t positively identify the target on the other end, she said.
“Oh, yeah, it’s scary,” she said. “You’re getting shot at.”
On other occasions, McGuire saved the lives of two airmen, one who was severely injured in a loading accident and another who was threatening suicide.
On April 18, 2016, McGuire was severely injured while on “active duty” at Travis Air Force Base, Calif.
On Feb. 26, she was medically discharged from the Air Force after serving 13 years, 9 months and 20 days. She had suffered multiple traumatic brain injuries, has daily pain from metal in her body, and has lumbago, nerve damage and post-traumatic stress disorder.
She receives services from a VA medical center, works at the Federal Highway Administration Division office in Topeka and is training to compete in the Wounded Warriors games in 2018.
Personal trainer Chris Sandlin is impressed with McGuire’s don’t-quit-don’t-give-up attitude in her training for the games.
“Her mental standpoint is that she’s not going to quit, that she’s not going to let the hard part of her training stop her,” Sandlin said.
Sandlin coaches her twice a week at a west Topeka fitness facility, and she works out three more times a week.
Sandlin, an eight-year U.S. Army veteran who served in Bosnia, focuses McGuire’s workout on exercises to prepare her for the February 2018 Air Force Wounded Warrior Team trials in Las Vegas, then perhaps the 2018 Department of Defense Wounded Warrior Games.
McGuire is seeking to compete in archery, air rifle, track and field, and rowing.
McGuire has high praises for the Wounded Warrior organization.
“They’re amazing,” she said. “They’ve been my lifeline.”