Wisconsin Veterans Museum

Oral History Interview with Karen L. Singer

Wisconsin Veterans Museum


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[Interview Begins]

ANDERSON: Today's date is Wednesday, September 14th, 2022. My name is Mary Anderson and I'm talking to Karen Lorraine Singer. Let's just jump right in. Tell me a little bit about your early life, where you were born and raised.

SINGER: So I was born in [XXXXXXXXX]. My father was working on getting, well, he'd gotten his Ph.D. in Oregon, and he had gotten hired on as a professor at the University of Montana. And so that's where I happened to come into the world. And then I had a sister to join me. And then after that, when I was three, we moved to Quebec, Canada, and my dad continued with his research. And then, um, he was accepted at UW Madison for entomology. And so we left Canada 00:01:00and came to Madison, Wisconsin, when I was five. And we've been in Madison for the most part, pretty much all through that. So I went to schools in Madison, graduated from high school in Madison that was until after I got married and I was pregnant myself that we moved over to Columbus, Columbus, Wisconsin.

ANDERSON: Oh, okay. Um, brothers and sisters.

SINGER: I have one sister. Younger a year and a half. She currently resides in Virginia. Um, she grew up in McFarland when my parents got divorced. Same thing, then in the Madison area up until it were done with high school. And she, uh, she did the AFS program. She went to Israel and then, uh, went to UW Madison, got her degree. That was one of the reasons why I joined the military was because I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do for college. Um, my dad's got a Ph.D., my mom's got a master's both in sciences, and, um, there was a lot of 00:02:00pressure at home to go to school. And so I thought, well, I'll join the military and I'll get the GI Bill, and I'll, um, I'll market that GI Bill. You don't have to pay for anything as my segue into not going to college right away. And they bought it and signed a paperwork because I joined when I was seventeen, so they had to sign to give me permission. And when I came, when I was in Canada, their kindergarten program was more like first grade, so that when I came to Madison, I was smarter than the average child. So they moved me up a grade, even though my age wasn't equivalent. So I was always like a year and a half younger than all the other classmates. So I could have graduated high school and I was sixteen, but I actually graduated closer to seventeen, but still pretty young.

ANDERSON: When it, so no inspiration to join the military?


SINGER: Oh, sure, sure.

ANDERSON: Uncle or no?

SINGER: So my dad is a naturalized citizen. He was born in Yugoslavia and his parents had to leave the country because they had caught wind of the Germans. And so they had gone to, they had sold all their um, whatever they could sell and managed to get themselves to Italy. And the Italian government said, hey, if you're not from around here, you can't stay here. So there was a collection of Jews that actually purchased a ship, but there was only two that were purchased before Italy shut that down too. And I apologize. I don't remember the names of them, but they were on the second ship that came to the United States. They landed in Miami. And unfortunately, at that time period, in order to get to the United States, you had to have somebody that would sponsor you. You had to have $10,000, which I don't know what the equivalent of that is, or you had to have sons that could go into the military. And so since they had spent all their 00:04:00money on the ship, um, they didn't have the $10,000. And my dad was three and his brother was eight. So they ended up turning the ship to Cuba and they stayed in Cuba for between five and seven years, I'm not too clear on the timeframe. But they amassed that $10,000 that was necessary and they had met enough people on the ship that those people would vouch for them. So they landed in Miami and they went to Manhattan and uh, that's where they, that's where my dad grew up, was in Manhattan. And at the time he had been interested in the military because at one point this was 1974, uh, the Army had approached him and asked him if he could do some research. So he was in entomology, which is a study of bugs. They had approached him and asked if there was some kind of vector, some entomological vector that they could develop in Iran to use as a a weaponized 00:05:00force. But then when they found out he was a naturalized citizen and he didn't get to go, and I just remember him saying, "Oh, man, that'd be really great. I would have been part of the Army and that'd been really great." I mean, not sure that the work would have been all that great, but, um, so I was like. "Yeah." I mean, really, if it wasn't for America, if it wasn't for the United States, my family wouldn't have had safe haven. I wouldn't have been born with the luxuries that America has. And I just thought that that was worth my time and effort to join and be a part of that. To be a part of a country that, uh, welcomes people that, um, can't stay where they're actually from and make a go. So, yeah, there was, it was more than just, um, not going to college, but yeah. So that did help 00:06:00too, help them sign the paperwork.

ANDERSON: Yeah, that's inspirational. But I'm assuming that your that your dad at least was Jewish.

SINGER: Oh, for the whole family was, nope, yeah, yeah.

ANDERSON: That was that.

SINGER: It wasn't till I got married and switched to Catholicism, but yeah, we were. But the thing with being Jewish is if you're born to Jewish parents, then your children are Jewish. Don't matter what religion you claim. Yeah. So like my kids said, that was quite enjoyable. Claim two religions.

ANDERSON: Yeah. Amazing.


ANDERSON: Where did you go to boot camp?

SINGER: So, I got sent to Lackland in Texas. Went there for eight weeks, six weeks? Felt like eight weeks. And then I deliberately picked services, food service at the time because I couldn't cook worth a darn and my dad was super generous. So now by this time my parents had gotten divorced and I was living 00:07:00with my dad and my sister was living with our mom and I was cooking meals and I was just horrible and stuff was burnt, stuff was undercooked, stuff was over spiced. And my dad would eat all of it and he would say, "Thank you." And I'm like, "This is this is awful." And he's like, "Yeah, it's awful. But he put a lot of effort in it. And so I'm going to appreciate the effort, not the flavor." And I thought, you know, I'm going to do him some justice and learn to cook. [Laughs] So, I went to Lowry, which has been shut down. Lowry was in, um, Colorado and learned how to cook.

ANDERSON: Is that an Air Force base?

SINGER: Yeah, it was. Yeah.

ANDERSON: Let me just rewind half a second. How did you choose the Air Force?

SINGER: Oh, okay. So the Air Force does not park itself in the middle of conflict, so the Marines go in first to any conflict. The Army is right there in 00:08:00the thick of it and the Air Force is on the peripheral edge. And I am not a fan of water. So the Navy was not only there was the Coast Guard ever under consideration. So I picked the Air Force because it seemed safer. So that's how I ended up on there for.


SINGER: The other thing that.

ANDERSON: Is, is services, a capital S, that is a.

ANDERSON: Yeah. And all the other, the other one that made me pick, uh, Air Force specific was. So you have to take an ASFAB test. And I had scored a ninety on administrative. I had scored a fifteen on mechanical. I scored a sixty on general. And I forget what the other one was. But, um, I actually talked to an army recruiter and he said you'd be really good as a truck driver. And I was like, okay, what else? He's like, Yep, truck driver. And I thought, Really? 00:09:00Well, I went to the Air Force and they're like, "Oh, you're really good at office work. But I mean, if there's something else you think you'd like to do, what would you like to do?" I said, Well, I'd like to go into services. I want to learn how to cook." And he says, "Well, I'm, just so you know, people that flunk this test, they go on to food service because you don't have to be very bright about it." And I was like, "Doesn't that make any difference? I gotta learn the skill." And so, yeah, so, you know, like if you washed out of, uh, mechanics, then you would go to food service or. Anyway, but I like the fact that they offered me the choices. They didn't say, Oh, this is good enough for you. So that was helpful as well.

ANDERSON: So you talked about cooking for 300 people. Just describe that. How many dozen eggs?

SINGER: Oh, my Gosh.

ANDERSON: How many loaves of bread?

SINGER: Right, right. Five hundred pounds of chicken. Yeah, it's. It's pretty colossal. It was totally hilarious. One time in the kitchen, we got a carrot, 00:10:00automatic carrot peeler, which was. I don't know who sold us that, but it was a hunk of junk. But it was this great big basin that had water hooked up to it. And you put the carrots in the center and then on the bottom of this bowl was a rotating sandpaper thing. And so we would get these ginormous carrots from the army and we would throw it in there and we'd watch them until they came out like baby carrots, wasted so much. Well, we had very baby carrots and everybody was impressed that in a way we had, we hadn't sanded them down. But, you know, everybody thought we did that by hand. But we had this apparatus that. Yeah, but just remember everybody being, "Oo, aah, it's a carrot peeler!."

ANDERSON: Wow. And how long? So you went in and were basically a cook.


SINGER: Right. So when I first came in, services was food service, and then they started to add more things to it. So services became services and billeting, which is lodging and services became laundry, and services became over time, sports and recreation. So by the time I got done, we had the bar, we had every single sporting event, we had movie theater, we had the food, we had the lodging, we had the laundry, and then we also had mortuary. So we did everything that wasn't involved with an airplane.

ANDERSON: But this is at Lackland.

SINGER: No, this is this was over the time of my career. Yeah. No, it was just services when I went to my tech school. But then our training, once I came back to Truax, involved more and more additional job duties, which was really kind of 00:12:00nice because when we went somewhere we could go and learn new portions of this assignment. But quite honestly, and I don't know what year that was, the Air Force had decided to get rid of their food service Air Force people, and they'd either retired or transferred to different entities, but they were doing contractors for the food service because it was just a cheaper way to go. And so when the guard was available to do food service, we had to go to a whole bunch of interesting places because there wasn't any active duty Air Force food service left.

ANDERSON: When you say interesting places, like what were some of the places that oh?

SINGER: So we went to Denmark, we went to Germany, we went to Alaska, we went to Florida. We went all kinds of places that had Air Force bases, but not food 00:13:00service entities. So that was that was kind of fun. We went to England. Let's see. I think Korea. I didn't actually go to that one. That was reserves. But same thing. They just they needed somebody that was trained in the field to go supply the food.

ANDERSON: And when you say we, who, who was the we? How many, roughly how many people and what ranks and what and?

SINGER: Sure. So when we started off, when I first joined, I think we had fourteen people. And then over time, as the base grew, we ended up with close to forty in our our collection of our flight. But we would just have maybe five or eight people that would go to these locations that needed some assistance. Because if each person can cook for up to 300 people and you have five people, 00:14:00then you can cook up to 1500. That according to their math. Right. But that's as if you they don't have to wash the dishes and they don't have to drive the truck to go pick up the groceries and all that other good stuff.

ANDERSON: And then how about your promotions and that. Did you just rise through the ranks.

SINGER: So in order to get promoted in any of the military branches, you have to be in a spot that actually allows for upward mobility. So thankfully, I was always in a spot where there was a chance to get promoted. And so my rise from airman to staff sergeant was pretty quick because I didn't have any other competition and I was in a slot that could facilitate that. When I got to Tech Sergeant, then there was more competition. More people wanted to be the master 00:15:00sergeant. And so then it was it took a little more time because each of us had to show that we were capable of that position, and then to have the amount of time and rank in order to qualify. And then there's testing involved as well. But as long as you did well on your testing and as long as you had all your training accomplished, you were in the running for getting promoted. So that was, that was pretty good. Um, when I was going to get promoted to Master Sergeant, we had a commander that was, he was new, we had had a commander and he'd retired. He was great, very supportive. And then we got a new commander that was super old school. And he, for whatever his reasons, had decided that because I was pregnant that I wasn't eligible for getting promoted. And so I asked him to put in writing what it was that I needed to do in order to be 00:16:00eligible for that. And so he put it in writing and he did, you know, do impossible things. But I was determined. And so I got everything on the list completed. And then I went to the first sergeant and I said, here's my problem. Here's my written list that says that once I complete these things, I have enough time and grid and I have tested appropriately. I am eligible for Master Sergeant. I'm also in a spot that allows for me to be promoted so nobody has to give me any special favors. Um, the individual that's our commander has said that my pregnancy has something to do with his non-selection. And I want to give you the opportunity as First Sergeant, to voice in on what you think is appropriate. And I will wait for a decision. And then based on what the decision is, then I will either have to say something or I'll be extremely excited about my promotion. And so I want to give you the opportunity so I don't go forward 00:17:00and say something about our unit when you haven't had a chance to say what you think is important. So the three of us had a meeting and again, the commander, one said, "Oh, well, you know, you're going to be a mother. And that takes precedence over anything else so you can't promote you" And I said, yes, but we had the same conversation five months ago when I was pregnant, still with the same child. And here's the list you gave me and here's the things that I've accomplished. Here's the date that I've accomplished, and here's the first sergeant to prove that this is true and correct. And, uh, and I would like you to reconsider. And he said, "No, I've made my decision." And so then, the First Sergeant asked me to leave the room, and two months later I got promoted and he was asked to retire or resign. I don't remember which. Doesn't make any difference. Yes. So that that was really helpful and hopeful because it really 00:18:00meant that things were right, that they were true and correct. And then shortly after that, um, the men's bathroom had more stalls than the women's bathroom. And so shortly after that, they removed the signs and switched them so that the females had more stalls and the men had to make do with the two stalls that were in the other bathroom. So we all thought that was quite hilarious.

ANDERSON: It sounds like you were a trailblazer. Do you feel that way at all?

SINGER: Looking back on it, I would probably say you're correct. At the time I didn't feel that way, but I will say that the women that had had come through after me. There was one particular tech sergeant and she had ended up being promoted to chief and she had retired. And I said to her, I said, "You know, if someone had told me that you would get to retire as chief, I would have said, Oh, that's funny." There is no way, because pretty much Master Sergeant was 00:19:00about the top level that a female could expect really to become chief. It was just like winning the lottery. It just wasn't going to happen. And then she went ahead and did that. And I mean, I couldn't be prouder because she, she wholeheartedly deserved it. And she really did such good, valuable work with our flight and and helping all of the people that had joined to achieve the best that they could with the resources that we had. It just, I felt really good that progress was moving forward. And, I don't know, maybe if I had a piece to do with that, that would be fantastic. But, you know, I might have been the kernal. I don't think I was the whole plant.

ANDERSON: How long did it take to get to Master Sergeant? Was that.

SINGER: It was like six years. Um, I joined in '83 and I didn't get promoted 00:20:00till '93, so it took quite a bit. Ten years, you know, if everything had been going great and dandy, I might have seen it in eight years, maybe. But it all worked out, so it was good.

ANDERSON: Any of all the service services of all the the umbrella services, but of all of the responsibilities, did you have a favorite? Did you have a least favorite?

SINGER: I would say my least favorite was the sports, because I don't know all the rules to all the games. So when you're setting up your your charts for how things went and played through, good grief. But the nice thing is, is because we also, I probably forgot this, we also ran the gymnasium. It was really easy to find sport-minded people that would help us set up that charts. I looked like a superstar and we had excellent games, but so that was challenging. Just because 00:21:00I didn't have enough information in order to be successful, I always needed someone to help me with that. Um, but that went well and I really did like the food part of it that was agreeable and the launching. So, once upon a time we went to an undisclosed location and that undisclosed location was really off in, in never, never land. And we were in a patch of desert that had, it was next to nothing. And so we needed laundry services. And so and originally they had contracted to have those done. And what the individual who obviously was not used to Western standards, but the individual that they hired did, was they got a great big cauldron and the lit a fire under it and they boiled water and they put the clothing in there, the uniforms, the underwear, everything, and they swirled it around with a big ol' stick and then dumped out the water. And 00:22:00because we were in the desert, the clothes dried. And then they said, here, no soap. Yeah. So everything smelled like armpits. It was super duper yucky. [Laughs] Anyway, they were very glad to see us, but we revolutionary-ized and sanitized and happied up the smell of laundry. But one lesson that I learned is if you're going to go someplace that you're not familiar with that location, always bring in thirty pairs of underwear because whatever happens, you'll be all right for thirty days. [Laughs] Although I did have a first sergeant that said, "Oh, you don't need that many pairs underwear as you can get four days out of a pair of underwear." And I said, "How?" Well, he goes, "Front back, inside out, turned around." Oh, I'm taking thirty pairs of underwear. [Laughs]

ANDERSON: I guess I as I am assuming the this might have been Desert Storm or 00:23:00Desert Shield?

SINGER: So it was Iraqi Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. So that was. Yeah, the Iraqi Freedom was the, the cauldron bit.

ANDERSON: How long were you there?

SINGER: So for, for OEF, we went to Saudi Arabia and we were, thankfully we were only there for five months. That was at, really we were at Prince Sultan Airbase, which has now been set up as condominiums after that prince expired and that land was resurped back in the country. But it was a really nice facility. It was really well set up. It was easy to navigate. And then that was more of a training exercise. It wasn't particularly dangerous, which was nice. But the second. So, about fourteen months later I got in voluntarily activated. So the 00:24:00first time I got activated, because they don't like to send people with lots of stripes on, it's expensive. But the first time I was an alternate because that person that had been picked, ended up being pregnant. So I was an alternate because I wasn't pregnant. The second time we went to Oman, which is south of Saudi Arabia and a lot closer to the equator. And it is hot, oh my gosh. [Laughs] So, I was an alternate to the alternate, so the original person had a bad pap smear. I don't know how that turned out. And then the second person, they had a pregnancy issue. So it was just luck of the draw. But that, that base was called Thumrait and we called it an undisclosed location because unfortunately what had happened was, well, this is a long-winded story, but we were guard going in to replace active duty. So guard can replace active duty, 00:25:00but only for those slots. We can't replace active duty somewhere else. We just go in, do our thing, and then we come out. Well, what had happened is when we got to Thumrait, they claimed that they didn't need us there, that they needed us in Baghdad. And we were like, well, they were active duty. And the unfortunate thing with active duty and I don't know why this exists, maybe for lack of experience or lack of interaction, but active-duty Air Force and I can't say this is everybody, but where we were was specifically pronounced activ-duty Air Force looks down on Guard and Reserve because they claim you don't do your Air Force job every day. But the Guard and Reserve are like, yeah, but I'm a cook and and, and, and, and so for me, I'm a cook and a postmaster. I'm a cook and I'm doing all these other things. So I'm a lot more flexible and my critical 00:26:00thinking skills are a lot more advanced. And so I'm looking at them and I'm thinking, if all you can do is cook, well, gee whiz, you're not very useful. So, there was the second class citizenship thing going on. Well, the management team that was active duty from Kansas, when they found out that they couldn't just get their friends from Baghdad to come in and get us to replace their friends in Baghdad, what they did was they stole our seats on the planes. So everything is superknit, double-naught spy. Bleached out so they don't actually use our Social Security numbers. So what had happened was they had stolen our seats and replaced their Social Security numbers with our Social Security numbers. And they flew back to Kansas under our, our numbers. Now, the person that was at our base in Truax, she knew we were lost. She knew we weren't in Kansas. She she saw 00:27:00that we had flown to Kansas, but she couldn't get a hold of anybody to say where nine of us were. She didn't want to say anything to the commander at Truax like, "Hey, I lost these nine people." She did not lose those nine people, but she did not know how this happened. And so she thought it was her mistake. So she's trying to fix, trying to find us. We're in an undisclosed location. Nobody knows where we're at. All they knew was we flew into the theater, but they didn't know where in the theater, which, of course, is five different countries. And so we were supposed to be there for a short period of time, obviously, but we ended up staying there for a year. And it was a really gruff location. We were in tents. There was no hardened shelter. We had a monsoon where everything was just waterlogged. So here we are. We don't know why. We need to go home. We don't 00:28:00know when we're going to get home. Our orders say we're on for a year. So, we just we're just like, okay, I remember. We'll make the best of it. We didn't know that our numbers had been taken. And then when that command team left and the new team came in, they didn't know who we were because we weren't on any rosters. And then they were like, Oh, you guys are guard. Yeah, we don't have to worry about you. You're not active duty. And so one of the, one of our nine. Her husband had a blood clot in his leg that was super dangerous. And so he had to go in for surgery. And she said, I my family wants to contact the Red Cross and they really want me to get home because the if if that blood clot moves, I could lose my husband and I. I don't want to be in this stupid desert. If I'm going to lose my man, I need to go home. And so they started contacting the Red Cross, and the Red Cross was like, Who? Who are you looking for? What? But they 00:29:00couldn't find us? So the individual calls and says, I'm right here. This here, this is where I'm at. Well, I bribed a person to get on the Supernet, which I didn't have access to and I didn't have. And so I was able, through their log-in to contact Truax and say, "We're here, Fort Near Zabu." and so then they reissued us airplane tickets and we, we got out shortly after that and she didn't even have to use the Red Cross. They got her home. We were done with our orders, but it was kind of interesting when I came back to find out that we had actually been lost. Lost, like super lost, like nobody knew where we were. And I was like, Well, you didn't say anything. And she said, Well, but I thought I did it. So I didn't want to say anything because I didn't want to lose my position. I didn't want to lose my place. I was so close to retirement and I was like, you 00:30:00know, it's, it wasn't your fault. I know exactly who took our stuff. And I know, now I know the whole story. I only knew pieces of parts. There was a whole lot of friction between active duty and guard. So no one would, no one would would own up to what had happened. And then I don't know if the new command team figured it out or did or they just didn't care.

ANDERSON: It just went away?

SINGER: Well, that I will tell you, I lost a little0. faith in humanity out there because that base was so harsh and it was so competitive for resources that, you know, I don't know. For me, when you see somebody, you say hello, because this is our community and we're part of this community. You go into the bathroom, it would be full of women and you'd say good morning and everybody would stop talking like freeze where they're at. And actually zero eye contact, absolutely zero recognition that something had been said. And then it was just 00:31:00like, oh, okay, all right. And they just went back to what they were doing in it. And I asked somebody, I'm like, Why is everybody so uncomfortable when you greet them and say, "I acknowledge you, I see you, how are you?" And they're like, "People whip in and out. This is active duty. People whippin' in and out of location. They don't want to build a relationship because it hurts too much to say goodbye. So now they've become so jaded that they refused to build any kind of relationships with new people because it's just so much easier to leave without having to say goodbye." And I thought, I don't really like that. I don't like that at all. I think I'd rather have a broken heart and have a relationship that I could enjoy for the amount of time that I had it than to have nothing, because we had absolutely nothing out there. And so that kind of explains why 00:32:00when I went to command and said, Hey, there seems to be some kind of problem, they're like, "What are you talking to me for?" I mean, it wasn't it wasn't like they didn't take the time to listen to what I had to say, but they just didn't do, they didn't act on any of it. And there just wasn't any, any concern for how the person's feeling of safety or reliability or anyway. So there was that, that, that kind of messed me up. I have a disability rating because of it, because it just it didn't jive with anything that made sense to me, you know, that just that didn't make sense to me. How can how can you not be interested in people that you're part of the same organization? I just, that blew a gasket. [Laughs] I still can't really wrap my head around that. The harshness, that kind 00:33:00of apathy with with our own, I don't know.

ANDERSON: So. And. And. This is sort of a back, way backtracking. But as part of the reserves, your normal schedule was like, what, one weekend a month.

SINGER: And then we had two or three weeks of training.


SINGER: Depending on.

ANDERSON: How often you were you, how often when you're on the base? You were at Truax. How often were you on the base?

SINGER: So once every month. Right. Once weekend a month, but then there would also be like scheduled training so that you could upgrade. There would be trips where they weren't mandatory, but you could go and help not only encourage your skill set, but then also be a part of things that were going on in the world. So that was kind of exciting. So, I mean, there. We have career travelers where 00:34:00they're always signing up for whatever is available and that's basically their job. But then, yeah, so the expectation was that you would have no less than two weeks of training somewhere, but oftentimes it'd be closer to four or six weeks.

ANDERSON: In the summertime.

SINGER: Right.

ANDERSON: And you were always stationed at Truax?

SINGER: I was. Yeah. Okay. Yeah.

ANDERSON: And then what did you do? And, in the other time?

SINGER: So when I. When I got back, I for a very short period of time, I was doing food service in the dormitories at UW. And that, and that was interesting. But what I realized was, I really do like cooking. And when you take something you really like and you make it your job, it kills the joy. And so I decided, you know, I do like food service and I do like cooking, but I think I'm going to save that for myself and I think I'm going to do something else. And one of the 00:35:00things that I always enjoyed because my parents were scientists is I always enjoyed being outside. I always enjoyed seeing the seasons change. I always enjoyed seeing plants get bigger, bugs, all that kind of stuff. And so I thought, okay, so how can I be outside doing stuff? And so I decided to take the test and I became a letter carrier for the Postal Service. And so I did that for fourteen years. And unfortunately, I miscalculated how cold Wisconsin winters are. And after being frost bit more times than I care to remember, I realized, you know, this outdoor stuff is great, but only sometimes. So thankfully, I had built up, enough built up enough relationships within the Guard that a couple of people, one person in particular was the chief. They also worked at the post office. They also had been letter carriers with me. They also saw me at guards. 00:36:00And so I had decided to apply for a position as postmaster in Reeseville, which is a hop and a skip from Columbus. And I had no practical postmaster experience. I had no accounting background, I had data tracking. I loved stamps. I loved anything that had to do with the Postal Service so that I had going for me. But my soon to be new supervisor, one called the chief, this man that I had worked closely with at the guard base and said, if I give her this position, is she going to fail? And he said, "Nope, nope. She's a sturdy character. She'll do right by you." And then he called me and he said, "Oh, don't flub this up. I put my reputation on the line." But, um, the other interesting thing was, is that the person that thought they should get the job in Reeseville had filed a grievance that, that there was some partiality. But then when I showed all my 00:37:00military experience up to that point, it was way more than what was necessary in order to manage the post office. And while it took probably about eight months for me to get the hang of that whole accounting thing, everything else was quite simple managing employees and managing sales and postal operations, because once I became Master Sergeant, I became the on-the-job training instructor. And so my position for the last couple of years. Four. So I retired with twenty-one years, but instead of being finished, they went up to the ready reserve. And so the ready reserve gives you an additional retirement years, but you don't actually go to guard base. You don't actually get paid either. But if they run out of everybody that they want to activate, they'll use the ready reserve. So I had an 00:38:00additional five years. That's how I ended up at twenty-six, but I had twenty-one actual years at Truax and then five on paper. But for those four years I get to test people and see what the forte was and then put them in those places that they did best for all the different things that we did. Even though they got basic training for the food or basic training for the lodging or basic training for all the other responsibilities that we had. So that was, it was nice to keep current and then to figure out different learning methods so that people could be the most successful. And that really was a remarkable skill to take it to the workplace and help employees be as, to get the most out of their employment as possible. So that I was postmaster in Reesevillel and then I was slightly 00:39:00embarrassed because was going through a divorce. So I asked my supervisor if I could be somewhere else so that the gossip wouldn't be that. So, she made it. Yeah, well, I think they would have been generous with me. I was just, I, I was complaining so much about the whole situation. I didn't want to be that person. I didn't want to be the person that complained about my life. Because even though my relationship didn't work out and I had a lot to do with that whole transition back from home, and so my reintegration back into civilian life was just very confusing because. I didn't I didn't have support at home, but I had support from strangers. And that part was a little wonky for me because my then husband thought that it was important that I get justice for the things that had 00:40:00happened to me, and I didn't see the value in doing that. And he decided that because I was so upset that, um, well, he decided things, I just put it that way. He made some assumptions that weren't true. And I thought, you know, um, I can't deal with that. So my boss helped me to transfer to Milwaukee so that I could not have to deal with, fight at home and not have to deal with complaining about how things weren't right. And, uh, click and ship had just started. And so that was a entity with the Postal Service where you could buy postage online. And the design was to get businesses buying their postage electronically so that they could have the ease and comfort of their letter and carrier coming to pick things up. Except that a lot of businesses were too busy running their business 00:41:00to figure out the whole computer angle of that. So, my position was to ask letter carriers if they had any businesses on their route where the business person had said, "Hey, I'd like to figure this click and ship out but I don't know what I'm doing. Tell me who they are. I'll ask them if they'd like some help. Show up at their business, show them how to do this, that and everything. How click and ship can be useful and helpful and then maybe raise some postal value."

ANDERSON: So your work, this is when you're working for the post office, but your station, your your guard duty is in Milwaukee.

SINGER: Well, no, I was assigned to Reeseville but I did. It's called the OIC, officer in charge. Okay. So it's like a try it before you buy it. So they had a opening at district. So the district level was in Milwaukee. So I went there to help promote click and ship with the Postal Service.


SINGER: Still in the guard. Still doing those things. And so my budget, they 00:42:00expect me to raise $280,000 in new revenue through this electronic service. But apparently I was pretty good at it, so I got $2 million for them. But postal math is hellish stupid. And so they're like, "Hmm, you get $2 million. You know what? Next year get us $4 million." Now, this was 2008 and nobody was buying anything and businesses were going out left and right. And what really just, I could have had a V-8 bonk my head, what really slayed me was headquarters went and said, look, we got to find some more people to sell stuff on eBay. And I said, You don't understand the customer. A person that sells on eBay is cleaning out their grandmother's house, cleaning out their own garage, getting rid of stuff in the basement, in the attic. And when they're done selling, they're done. They don't come back because they satisfied what they were trying to do. 00:43:00We, this is not a career. eBay is not a career. If you're putting all your eggs in the eBay basket, you really don't understand how what. It's time for me to go. That's what you think is important. Yeah, you, I got to go. So I did some looking around and I realized that if I became postmaster of Fall River, I'd only have to raise $300,000 in postage. And that I could do. So, I went from assigned to Reeseville to Fall River, and I was in Fall River for about three years. And then they needed some help at Sun Prairie. So they, I was assigned to Fall River, but they put me in Sun Prairie because the post office was going through a transition where they were consolidating. So the whole click and ship thing was kind of like The Wizard of Oz curtain thing where they're trying to 00:44:00get rid of people and so they're trying to get rid of clerks. If people were buying the stamps online, they didn't have to have people on the front window. And then at this time then I was like, "Yeah, I think I'm going to retire because I have twenty-one years in the post office. No, on the military here at the nineteenth year I got sent to Saudi Arabia. On the twentieth year I got sent to Oman. Every fourteen months my unit was going somewhere. The next rotation was to UAE, wherever Dubai is.

ANDERSON: United Arab Emirates.

SINGER: Yes, that place. Right. And I was like, I can't do another free trip to the desert. I can't do it. And so what I decided was I have to be done with this because I really can't go back, not with the situation I had to deal with and not with the feelings that are bouncing around my head. So I went into the ready reserves. So, on, at the unit I retired, but um, for paper I, I had another five years.


ANDERSON: So, typical of those two desert tours.

SINGER: Mm hmm.

ANDERSON: Was, you said five months? Each tour was five months?

SINGER: Well, the first one was five months. The second one, we were on orders for a year, and it took about a year for them to find us and get us home. And yes, but we should have been about four months once they realized they didn't need us out there.

ANDERSON: That's a long. time that they.

SINGER: Time. Yeah. Yeah, it was. Yeah. Yeah. And that's you know, that's the other unfortunate thing about activation is, you know, if you get married and you have a family, have three children, you don't get married and have children, so you can spend a long time away from them. And so that time away, you know, my oldest was in middle school, my youngest was still in elementary school. That time away was, um, it's not helpful for any of us to come back together after 00:46:00all that time and then just pick up where we left off because too many habits had been developed that excluded me or didn't include me. And that's just the lay of the land. So there's that was the other thing that was my concern was, you know, I didn't want to lose the relationship I had with my children because I didn't want them to think that I just picked up and left. They had to fend for themselves. What I saw was that my then husband had put my oldest daughter. Now, mind you, she's in middle school, put her in charge. Well, she's a child. So, you know, I come back and I'm in competition with a twelve-year-old and I'm like, you know, you don't serve your brother and your sister breakfast. That's, that's a parent's job. You sit down and you eat breakfast. And so there was a whole lot of unlearning that she had to do to just be a child. Um, and it caused her a lot of anxiety. She's constantly worried about stuff that like, Honey you 00:47:00don;t need to worry about that." But I don't, you know, I don't know how to take that away from her. I mean, the good news is, is they're really strong team, the three of them, and they they really go out of their way to make sure that each one has the resources they need to be successful. So for that, I'm really proud of them. But it was really uncomfortable because when I decided that I couldn't stay married anymore because what my husband had decided was that, uh, my being assaulted meant that I had, had sex with another man, which is technically true, but not logical. So it's like. But I didn't have any choice in the matter. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And he's like, "Well, you're an adulterer and you're." I gotta go. I can't even have this conversation. I don't even know 00:48:00what to do with this conversation. I don't, I don't understand that.

ANDERSON: Okay. Yeah.

SINGER: Yeah. So when I left, when I went to Milwaukee, he got a lawyer that had argued that I had abandoned the children and that, um, I had no interest in placement. Thankfully, I had a lawyer that said, "Well, you wanted that in writing because I want to send that to our legislative panel in Congress and let them know that you think that anyone that's been activated because remember I said I was an alternate to the alternate, says that in my orders. It says I was not first pick. I did not volunteer." He goes, "If you're going to go ahead with that line of thinking," he goes, "I'm going to make sure that everybody knows that you said that." So unfortunately, because I had left and I was having difficulty with reintegration, there was a lot of time I didn't get to spend 00:49:00during the divorce with my children in placement. So it ended up I was pretty much a day and a half every other week. So, I got to see my kids for about four days a month, which was it was difficult on all of us. But as time went on, my oldest got her driver's license and she didn't allow her father to manipulate the schedule anymore. She just threw the kids in the car and drove. And so, you know, over time, that became a lot more comfortable. But that transition between having to leave the military because I was just going to get activated again. I just couldn't bear that. And then at the same time, when I became supervisor in Sun Prairie in the post office was consolidating. I got a discontinued service 00:50:00retirement, which basically means you're paying too much money for what you're doing. So we've removed your position, you no longer have that position, but you can come back at a lower grade and a lesser pay if you'd like, or we can give you the severance package. And I'm I'm at a point where I'm like, I'm not somebody's wife. I'm not somebody's military member. I'm not somebody's employee anymore. Who am I wouldn't mind. I don't I don't have answers. So, you know, I went to the VA and there was a lot of talk therapy and I am still trying to figure all that out. But, um. Hey, I like being able to say that I have tagreeable things in my life and I like I really like to say that I have a really strong relationship with my children that. It's, it's come around. It's 00:51:00been helpful. And, you know, like I said earlier, I don't know if I said it on my shoulder, but if I had it to do over again, I'd probably do everything exactly the same because there was just so much that I got out of it that was beneficial. So when I came back from the desert, I qualified for the VFW. And so now I was eligible to join. And I am forgetting her last name, but Patty had been the secretary for the VFW headquarters, and that had been on my mail route. And she had always said to me, If you ever get activated overseas, you have to join the Lowell post office, which is just down the road from me. She goes, That is the best group of guys you could ever meet. They're just full of. They're just full of good energy. And really, if you got to go, you got to go overseas with your military, and then when you come back, you gotta join these guys. And 00:52:00I was like, Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, then I went overseas and I came back and I'm in re still and these men would come in and say, Hey, how's it going? And I'd be like, Yes, not so good. And they're like, Yeah, I went to Vietnam. I know what you mean. And the thing that was a super duper blessing was I really appreciate that when I go to the VFW and I talk to my comrades, I don't have to start at the beginning and I don't have to end. I can just talk about the peace that's bouncing around in my head and they will either say, I hear you, but I believe them, or they will they will offer some kind of condolence that isn't insulting. And I just I really felt connected to them. And not once did they ever ask me to join when they stopped in the Post Office to say, hey, I'm a member. And, you know, I'm just I know you're a veteran. Hi, how you doing? And they generally wanted to hear what I had to say. And I felt I felt 00:53:00that I was heard and I felt important. And I felt that I was part of that collective that I was looking for in the desert and never found. And they really helped me get centered and um, currently, currently I'm the District two commander for Dane, Jefferson, Waukesha. And, um, I know, I'm forgetting.

ANDERSON: It's Columbia?

SINGER: Yeah, Columbia. Right. County. And there's currently thirty-three posts that I get to go and visit and talk with and, and, uh, you know, it's, it's just, it's nice. It's nice to go to Randolph. It's nice to go to Mayville, it's nice to go to Beaver Dam. It's nice to go to Columbus.

ANDERSON: 8-0-9-0, in Columbus.

SINGER: And I know and yes. Right. And and see my people and feel welcome and feel like what I did was a part of something that mattered and still matters 00:54:00and, uh, that I'm being honored.

ANDERSON: And so how long either officially or not officially. And however you want to define it, have you been involved with the VFW?

SINGER: So I didn't join until 2004. So after I came back from my second trip, that's when I joined. But I wasn't an active member until probably 2008.

ANDERSON: Because you got out in 2009, right?

SINGER: That's right. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

ANDERSON: When we spoke on the phone, you talked about being in food service and then you got recreation.

SINGER: Mm-hmm.

ANDERSON: And then you said. And you said it so beautifully said. And then I got mortuary. I wanted to make sure that we took care of them when they were alive and when they were not.

SINGER: Right.

ANDERSON: Can you talk about that a little bit?



ANDERSON: Someone says you're now in charge of mortuary. What happens? Well, to your head/

SINGER: I mean, quite honestly, I actually enjoyed that. I like the fact that we would always have something to do. We had job security. There was no way they were going to cut us out of the whole circle. And even though active duty no longer has food service training and food service, active duty, Air Force, all these other things are still viable and important. And so what they decided was if we couldn't feed them and we couldn't house them, then we could we could take care of what happened next. And so we had a plethora of exercises of at Tomah where we would pretend all kinds of things had happened. And then what were we going to do about who was going to take care of this, like pre-FEMA right now? Now, they've really figured out how to make sure that a disaster gets taken care 00:56:00of as quickly and as succintly as possible. But, I mean, I would be involved in the mock plane crash at Truax where they would bring in this fake smoke. And and, you know, we'd all pretend that, you know, somebody was dying or half dead or whatever. But the thing I liked about mortuary was by the time they would bring the person in and we would put them in a bag. There was there was no, there was actually no confusion about why they were in mortuary. Like, there wasn't anything you needed to do that had to be life savings because that all of that was taken care. It was a task to do. And I, I like the black and white of it, like you're dead. And this is the process. You're dead. And this is how we make sure that we give you, what's left of you dignity and respect. We made sure 00:57:00that all of your personal effects were documented. We made sure that all those things stayed with you. We made sure that whatever identification we could get, fingerprints or maybe an ID card or any of that other stuff, was marked on our papers. We made sure that the bag was sealed and that there was a chain of command or continuity, as they call it, where you have to sign in order that.

ANDERSON: Chain of evidence.

SINGER: Yeah, yeah. Whatever that chain is. Right. But just like the order of that, just like how black and white that was. And I actually I had a job recently for three years with the Dane County Medical Examiners as a transport driver. And my job was to go pick up people that needed to have an autopsy because they died mysteriously or or something happened where they had to make sure that whatever caused it didn't need some investigation. And it was, it was 00:58:00really kind of sweet. How so Barry Erwin was in charge at that time. He's since retired. I think they brought him back, but I don't know if he's still there. But he said, "You know, you're you're always so calm and you never get agitated." And I was like, "Yeah, but I never have to worry. I know what my job is. I go, I pick up a person." I don't have to worry about any life saving, any, you know, like my girlfriend is a 9-1-1 operator and she's got all kinds of anxiety because the woulda, coulda, shoulda, but there's no woulda, coulda, shoulda. Just drive safely and repeat. [Laughs] Bring a plastic bag and some, yeah, I mean, you know, because blood doesn't bother me and you know, some of that stuff that, that part of stuff doesn't bother me because it's the after-effect. I just know what the process is next. It's nice and black and white.


ANDERSON: Do you have to talk to the survivors, like in the military, did you?

SINGER: um, At the hospital? Yeah, I did at the hospital. Because, you know, the really nice thing about working for Dane County was we're business professional. We're always in a suit. We're always in our Sunday best. So if a family member sees us with their person, they're going to remember that somebody that was well dressed took their person away. So that was nice. You know, there was no bib overalls or, you know, hayseed nonsense. And, um, and that was mostly what it was, was I would tell the administrator, you know, this is the last time they're going to see their person until they go to the Dane County facility. So, you might want to redirect them to a waiting room or away from me, tossing the, I want to say stroller, but the.



SINGER: Gurney, thank you. Back into the van and then strap it in. Yeah, that's not really a beautiful thing to see. [Chuckles].

ANDERSON: No, No, you mentioned that. You said I if I had it to do all over again, I would. And, and you've told me some you've talked about some things that are very emotional. How about some of the upbeat stories?

SINGER: Well, I mean, the chance to travel for, you know, no cost.

ANDERSON: Favorite countries?

SINGER: Denmark was my absolute favorite. So we're in a Danish space and they speak English, which is really, um, makes us very lazy, but so they speak English. And so we just assume that what we say they understand what we're saying, that their comprehension is right as rain, without even acknowledging the fact that they have different customs and different ways of eating right. So 01:01:00we have this advance party and the waitress comes by and she says, "What would you like to order? He says, "I'll have eggs and toast." And this plate comes and he's got a plate of eggs and cheese and he says, Oh, where's the bread? She goes, "You didn't order bread." He goes, "Oh, I ordered toast." And she said, "Ohst, is cheese." But that's in their language. Well, so we get into the kitchen and Charlie tells me, "Oh my gosh, I got a plate of cheese and eggs. I don't know what happened to the bread." So I was like, the toast didn't register. So we're making breakfast and I running around the kitchen and they're running around the kitchen. I'm trying to find all the equipment, and I realize there's no toaster. And so I find the person that's in charge of the facility. And I said, I cannot find the toaster. And she goes, "Oh, I'll show you where it is." Oh, good, good, because we need to make some toast. People got to have a toast with their breakfast. And she walks over to the oven and she taps the oven 01:02:00and she goes, "It's right here." And I said, "Oh, that's the oven." And she goes, "Yes." And I said, "Oh, the oven is where we bake things." She says, "Um hmm." And I said, "The toaster is where we toast things, not bake things". And she goes, "Oh what's the difference. She goes, you put the toaster oven on a cookie tray, you put it in the oven and you leave it in there for a couple of minutes and it comes out hard. And then you guys eat it and it's toast." And I'm, "No, no, toast is more magical than that. It heats both sides and the inside is warm and squishy." And then she brought out some Danish pastries, like, if you've ever had a really good croissant, this was even better than that. And I said, "You know what? How about you put that on our tab? You can keep the bread and we won't have toast. We'll have these pastries and there will be zero confusion." Because it was absolutely delicious. And now you can buy 01:03:00that Kerry gold butter. That's like super, super duper. That was their regular butter over in Denmark. I don't know how any of them are walking around without being super large. Same with Paris.

ANDERSON: And having heart attacks.

SINGER: Yes, but what they eat for breakfast is just wonderful. But that.

ANDERSON: How long were you there?

SINGER: We were only there for three weeks. Oh, two weeks in the, on the Danish base. But the thing that was absolutely magical was we were on the fjord that had Copenhagen. We were on the next one over and they rarely have any English speaking people from an English speaking country come. Now, they learn English in school, but if you don't use it, there isn't anybody to practice with. So when they found out that we were from America and we spoke English, we were like movie stars, and people were buying us coffee and buying us lunch and asking us to sit at the table and talk to us and just. Just to speak English to say 01:04:00anything you want. We could have repeated ourselves. They didn't really care. But it. I mean, the food was delicious, the countryside was beautiful. The people were just, it's like being in the 1950s. I mean, everything was just so, everyone was so trustworthy and, and trusting, I should say. You know, people are walking around, riding their bikes. Hardly anybody is driving. It just it was it was kind of magical.

ANDERSON: And you were there, we have a base there.

SINGER: Or the Danish had a base. It was like a sister relationship.

ANDERSON: Yeah. And so what, what was the reason that you were sent there?

SINGER: So I believe it was part of a NATO meet and greet. And so we were sharing our at the time we had A-10s. So, we were sharing our A-10 technology with them and they were sharing their European understanding of their theater, and we were getting valuable shared information from our, our allies.


ANDERSON: Okay. And the same is true of the other places that you went. You talked about.

SINGER: The Prince Sultan Airbase. We were doing night missions where we were actually taking people out. And I don't know if you remember, but there was an altercation where the Americans had taken out some Canadians. I don't know if you remember that, but that actually happened at our base. And the individual that made the decision to take out the Canadian airplanes was really kind of.

ANDERSON: That when they said take out, blow up all them up. Yeah, they were.

SINGER: They were removed from the sky. There was some kind of transmission issue. They weren't on the same channel. Um, there was a whole bunch of flub ups and the Air Force didn't have the proper equipment in order for us to speak with 01:06:00the Canadians. But they blamed this particular individual that had made the final decision, not the big. Yeah. And I just remember sitting in the dining hall because that's what we were. That's what, you know, I was part of, I was part of that whole management team for the dining hall in the gymnasium. And I remember sitting with him and he was just going over all the things that had happened and all the decisions he made and trying to figure out how he could have made a better decision, but he didn't have the right equipment so that he never was going to have satisfaction. So they court martialed him, he was from Florida and I know he, he fought it. He got a lawyer and it was in the papers for a while, but it just pretty much ended his career. But it was one of those things where, you know, when you take somebody out, it's it's unsettling, especially when it's somebody it wasn't supposed to be. Yeah. So, you know, I 01:07:00think it really helped. I don't know if helped is the right word, but it it really acknowledged what we were doing over there was destroying pieces and parts. Yeah. So it's, it's not as harsh as the Vietnam War because we had a lot more protection where we were at. But it's the same kind of, "What are we doing here? Why are we doing this? What are what are we fighting for?" You know, for them it was communism for us it was oil. It just seemed ridiculous. So, I think that's one of the reasons why it's easy to talk with people at the VFW, because we all have our, we all are proud to have served. We still have our opinions on how things could have been a little better.

ANDERSON: Well, so how, how do you want people to to recognize your service and 01:08:00to acknowledge it? But I think that if you want people to know about serving for twenty-six years and you're serving the country.

SINGER: I think if they want to thank me either individually or as a, a greater gratitude towards people that join the military, I think it's important that they consider what it is that they're thanking me for, because otherwise it's just a platitude, like have a nice day or how are you? It doesn't really it doesn't really help build connection between what they're trying to share with me and what I'm hearing. Because when you say thank you for your service and it's just a jumble of words to me, it's just like, "Can I get out of this conversation? Because I don't really I don't really have the words to say 01:09:00anything other than thank you, but I don't really mean it because what I'm really trying to say is stop talking. [Laughs] "But I think if they would say, wow, you know, that's really impressive that you chose to represent America or, you know, something for the greater good. I think I don't know if you can put that in a soundbite, you know, like four words or less. But I like when somebody says, you know, I could never join the military. That to me makes me feel much more proud than if someone were to say thank you for your service. Because to me, they're trying to build a connection with me based on trying to find a middle ground. Even though they can't fathom joining the military, they still took the time to say something. But it's more out of curiosity, not out of negativity. So I don't know. I mean, I know what we're trying to do is we're 01:10:00trying to let those people that went to Vietnam know that what they did was of value and of service for the greater good. And I do know that a lot of them do feel that it's necessary to hear that they were appreciated. But like I said, I find it a little, and this is my personal history, too, but I find it a little unsettling that the people that I thought love me, that were part of my tribe dismissed my military service as a problem. And people that I don't know were just overwhelmingly satisfied with my going overseas. Because when I first came back, I know I went to General Casualty and they had decided to ship boxes of goods to our location. So they sent cookies and bars of soap and phone cards and 01:11:00letters that said, Hey, you're great and candy and tampons and just stuff that just wasn't available. It was just the amount of love in those boxes from somebody I didn't even know. It just really helped bring hope that where we were was miserable and how I felt was miserable. But there was hope that when I came home that it was going to be okay. We figure out a way to make it okay because it was okay right now. And so I wanted to go to General Casualty and tell those people that had participated in that how much it really was a value. It wasn't just a nice thing. It was a great appreciated. Hopefully it just really inspired Hope and I and I wanted to share that. It wasn't just just, you know, like, hey, 01:12:00let's go do this. It just really mattered. It really mattered that they took the time to participate in the things that they sent really were useful. And, you know, keep it up. And thank you. Great. Cause I mean, that that was, like, the most enjoyable, "Thank you for your service." But, you know, it's it's expensive and it's time consuming and it takes organization. So, I mean, I'm not saying everybody should go out do that, because I do know when I, so that when I was in Saudi Arabia, the, um, some church in Wisconsin had because while I should just say it's some church in Wisconsin, it was all over the United States, but they had written letters, had their children write letters to the soldiers. And so I was pawing through this box full of letters to soldiers, to any soldier. And I 01:13:00had pulled out this one that had a Wisconsin return on it and was a bunch of boys, I think, and they might have been maybe ten. And so the the young man had said, yeah, I'm from so-and-so, Wisconsin, and I'm part of this church group, and they're making me write this letter. And I don't even know what to say. But, um, what I like to do is to go out, shinging deer. And I forgot what else they said, but it was, it was so funny, and the letter was so brutally honest. Anyway, the Saudi Arabian money was just worthless paper. You could get hundreds and hundreds of their dollars for a buck. And so I got a bunch of them. I got six of them and I mailed it back. And and he was complaining about his brother. His brother was begging and was trying to write this letter. And I said, here, here's three for you and three for your brothers, but if you keep 'em at all, I won' t know. But thank you for the letter. So, I mean, there's things that citizens, American citizens were doing to try and help us be connected. And so I 01:14:00think that needs to be acknowledged. That was genuine. Hey, I really like things that build a relationship and add to the community. I thought that was. The Red Cross was involved with that. That was pretty cool.

ANDERSON: This is emotional for you. Mm-hmm. Yeah.

SINGER: But you were asking me about the things that I remember that were great. That was great. It was great to get a letter from a random person that, you know, told me about things that were going on in Wisconsin, even though I was so far away. And, um, it was, it was nice because, you know, my children were too, either too young or didn't have the resources in order to get a letter to me. So, um. It was nice. It's nice to fill the space in between waiting, because I think at that time, every three days we could have five minutes on the phone. 01:15:00And I think that's how about the role out went. And then, you know, you got four people that are answering the phone and it doesn't give you a whole lot of time to say anything about it. E-mail was censored, so it was difficult to get any communication out to like a Yahoo address or any of that. But, I'd say mostly, you know, just being able to see different places, meet with different people, different people from all over the United States and then different people from where we were stationed. So when we were stationed in, um, the desert, we had, we call them PCNs, but that's an acronym for third-country nationals, which basically means individuals from Pakistan or India or Southwest Asian areas. And what they would do is they would go into villages and they'd say, look, we'll 01:16:00give you a whole gob of money if you sign up and be basically an indentured servant for three years. And then at the end of three years, you get all this money, you get to go home. So those indentured servants were the ones that were washing our dishes and cleaning our floors and doing all the busy work that's necessary to keep a kitchen going. But not, uh, you know, they weren't, they weren't touching any food because then we don't have to worry about poisoning. And there, you know, there was all that kind of stuff.

ANDERSON: Because the Saudis are paying them. Who was paying them?

SINGER: I think the, uh, the Air Force had contracted with an individual that agreed that they would get X number of people to come on board. And so then they would go in those countries and find those people. But the thing that was really amazing was they would, they had access to whatever food they needed in order to 01:17:00make their meals. And then they had access to our kitchen and our equipment. So there was actually some chefs, I mean, like, you know, Michelin star chefs that were in this group, even though they were the dishwashers. But during lunch, they could cook their own traditional meals. And the thing that was absolutely amazing was to eat what they would normally serve themselves. And it was just new and different and exciting. And I learned that Lady Fingers is actually okra. And the other thing that was interesting is when they make a chicken dish, they don't spit anything out. They just chew it all up. So if you wanted to have some of their lunch, you had to take it with you somewhere else so they couldn't see you spitting out a knuckle or throwing out a. I mean, they took the big bones out, right. But, you know, like some parts of the chicken wing would still. Yeah, it's like, yeah, this is great. I'll take it to go. But I'm getting 01:18:00a chance to to try new dishes that aren't available here, haven't been Americanized. The other thing that we got to try when we were in Saudi Arabia was they had you picked your meat and they fried it in, in like a wok, and then you would put spices on it and vegetables on it. But I couldn't tell you what the spices were, and I couldn't tell you what the vegetables worked 'cuz it was all local for them. So, when we were in Saudi Arabia, we had blood oranges and we had mangoes and we had all kinds of things that were available for that part of the country. But it's just like super rare or not available, it was just super common down there. So, it was a very pleasurable taste experience to be able to have access to foods that are normally, especially in Wisconsin, normally available and fresh. And I think, Mongolian Grill, I think is what they 01:19:00called it. But I don't know what it is for them. I don't know. But that's their version of like McDonald's, where you order your meat and you and these are in carts out on the street. It's like a street food thing. But yeah, that was that was very exciting. all of it was delicious. And the the funniest memory I have from Saudi Arabia was there was a young man from Arizona and my then aunt had worked at Babcock and I don't know how, but she managed to send me about four pounds of cheese. And of course it got hot and melted and solidified. But you know what? If you haven't had cheese really long time, you don't care. And so I was like, "Oh, we have cheese. Okay, so I'm going to slice up some pear with this kind of white cheese, and I'm a slice up some apples with this kind and the 01:20:00cheddar cheese." And everybody just thought that was just, wow, who does that? Everybody in Wisconsin? So then I was like, "Okay, I'm gonna make another traditional Wisconsin dish. I'm going to make apple crisp and we're going to put cheese on top of it." And they're like, "Oh!" So, this, this guy from Arizona, he's like, "I have never eaten this before." And I said, "Oh, yeah, it's really common from where I'm at." Yeah. And he, he calls me a couple of months later and he goes, "Karen, you'll never believe what I did." And I was like, "Well, what happened?" He goes, "I took that crisp idea that you had, and I made pear crisp," and I was like, "Well, that's great. I hate to break it to you, but you can do it with peaches, too." [Laughs] He was so proud of himself. [Laughs] But yeah, it was it was really, it was really fun trying to get the ingredients together and to try and to make a dish. And, you know, of course, I only made a 01:21:00pan big enough for the people in the kitchen. So, you know, it was nice and special. But yeah, I just remember the the cheese. Everybody is like super impressed with that. And then also because I really like mail. Um, so when we were in Saudi Arabia, the communication was a lot easier and we got letters and we got e-mail and we got. Well, everybody was getting a letter and then we would have like a mail call and we'd all sit around the office and if somebody got a letter, we would read what had happened back home and, and we'd share. And it was really kind of neat because there was a tech sergeant from Pittsburgh and he came over to me and he goes and he said, "You know, we've been here for a couple months now, and, uh, one of our guys never got a piece of mail, and he's an older fella, he's married, he's got children and grandchildren, but nobody seems to write it." He goes, "What do you think we should do? And I said, I think we should send him a letter." So they come around with mail call and they're 01:22:00calling off names and they call off this guy and he goes, "What?" And they're like, "Yeah, you got a letter." The give it to him. And we're all like, "Hey, read it. What's it say? What's it say?" So, everybody wrote a sentence in the letter about how much they appreciated and working with them. And, well, you know, they like the stories and, you know, they just like shared all the stuff that he had shared with him. Anyway, we really brought him to tears and which wasn't we were trying to do. But he said that was the most thoughtful thing. And he said the problem was, is that, uh, his family, I didn't know how to write. And so they don't write letters because they're not. All right, he's from a indigenous area. And so it was like, oh, well, you know, they love to write. And he is like, Yeah, yeah, yeah. But, cuz he didn't even get emails either like, yeah. So it was kind of neat to use the Postal Service that way because mail was free. So I'm sure whoever sorted it there was like, "From Saudi Arabia to Saudi 01:23:00Arabia. Okay." [Laughs]

SINGER: So you're talking about your kids. Do you think at this point they do understand what mom was doing?

SINGER: I think so.

ANDERSON: And why?

SINGER: My well, so, you know, they, uh, they experienced, um, 9-1-1 and it was very upsetting for them because, um, unfortunately I was getting my postmaster training in Green Bay, so I was not home when that happened and the entire world just stopped what it was doing and watched TV. And that included the teachers at school. And so all, my son, even I think he was he was either kindergarten or first grade, very little. All my son saw what's all this stuff on TV and all of these adults were all upset and mom wasn't home and so he didn't know what was going on. He was very worried. And so I asked him to draw some pictures about what he had thought had happened. And then we talked about those pictures. And I 01:24:00don't know if they. I mean, I'm sure they've asked me questions, but I don't know if they've, you know, harbored anything. I think we've talked enough over time that whatever they want to say, they have said or can say. But I don't, I'm don;t ever hear 'em make a snide comment. I say something about I'm going to be in this parade with a flag or I'm going to wear a uniform for a funeral, or I'm going to represent the VFW. Or I was in the military. I mean, I have an "I love me" wall. So, an "I love me" wall is, you know, the placards that we get for all of the things that we're doing. I had a marine that told me that because you have to have a logo meanwhile. So, I mean, when they walk into my house, they see the awards I got when I was overseas. And you can read what it was that I 01:25:00did to get the award. So it's not it's not a big cover up. And I'm sure they've read it and they've been in the house long enough, but. That's a good question to ask.

ANDERSON: Anything else you want to talk about? You've actually ended up talking about some pretty tough things.

SINGER: Yeah, well, that's what happens over time. I mean, you know, life lessons. But, yeah, the the adventure and the, the things that I learned were just really useful. And having a successful life, VI think.

ANDERSON: When was the last time you cooked for 300 people?

SINGER: Well, ehhh, it has been a while. It has been a while. Good question. 01:26:00Hmm. I think the most I've cooked for is 150, probably not 300 since my military days.

ANDERSON: But you do it again.

SINGER: Yeah. Yeah. The one thing that I learned that was really helpful was the line of traffic around food. You have to make sure that if they're going to put condiments on something that's a completely separate table and that whatever you have that's putzy that means its own table, too. And so now when I go to, you know, like a a taco bar or something like that where they have it at work and somebody just threw it all on the table and everything's all bottlenecked. I mean.

ANDERSON: You're not going to try to fix it.


ANDERSON: So what are you doing now in your life right now? What's Karen up to these days?

SINGER: So I took my accounting skills that I got at the Postal Service and I 01:27:00move that forward. I worked for the Department of Revenue. I worked for lottery. So I am the Vanna White of Wisconsin. I draw the winning numbers every night on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night for all the games. And I'm the cooler. So I haven't given much money away. We have a man there. His name is Mo. We call him "Mo Money" because most of the time when he works on shift, that's when somebody wins. But it's really exciting. It's really exciting to be helping taxpayers get a little bit of relief and doing the data tracking that's involved with playing the lottery. And as I said, I was working for the Dane County Medical Examiner's, but then the Department of Revenue offered me some more hours, and so I decided to swap one for the other. And I was reading meters in Sun Prairie for good three years. But then my dad recently passed away and he left me a 01:28:00little money. So I don't need all those jobs anymore, it's just kind of nice. Such a shame he's gone. But right now I am a substitute teacher for sixth and seventh art class at Columbus Middle School. So I get up early in the morning and I help kids understand art. And then I take a nap and I eat a little and clean a little, maybe more of one, and then I go to a lottery. But it's a really it's a really nice working environment. It's a lot of people that are, um, I like to use my hypervigilant skills to make sure that nothing is amiss. And I like the fact that my coworkers are very attention detail oriented so that we can have successful game time in a timely manner. So I feel. I feel that's a 01:29:00good use of my skills. And then, like I said, I've been voted as commander of Second District. So when I have a free moment, I'm running around meeting people at the VFW, so that;'s fun too. And then, uh, tomorrow? No, not tomorrow. Tomorrow is Thursday. Friday, my son is getting married to Vietnamese woman, and they're having a tea ceremony where he is going to ask her family for her hand in marriage, and all the immediate family gets together and then they share wisdom so that the bride and groom can be successful. And then they're going to have a traditional wedding on Saturday, which has been a long time coming because of Covid So that's pretty exciting, too.

ANDERSON: So the world can heal. He's marrying a Vietnamese woman. And that's wonderful.


SINGER: It is just very exciting. And I love the food that she's introduced to us. That's been a lot of fun. So they, the really kind of fun thing is sort of she didn't have any knowledge of Christmas or the Christmas celebration. And then my youngest daughter was dating a Persian man. And of course, he doesn't have any understanding of Christmas either. And so my son and my daughter, they're like, "Hey, uh, can we bring our partners? They want to come to Christmas, but they don't know what they're supposed to be doing." I was like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah." I said, "Tell them they're going to get gifts. They don't have to bring gifts." Then when they came to the house, I said, "If you get any gift and you don't want it, you just say thank you, and then you just leave it on the table and you forget to take it when you go." And then if somebody reminds you that you didn't take that, you go, "Oh, yeah, okay. But you just, never pick it up." And so was talking about that to a coworker and they're like, "Really? You can do that?" "I don't know, but But we did it at our house. Then it just becomes a white elephant for something else. [Laughs]


ANDERSON: And then we have a garage sale.


ANDERSON: And none of your children wanted to go into the military.

SINGER: My son was talking about going to the army, and I told him there was better things that you do with his life. You know, they are such intelligent and capable people that I think they'll be successful in their own right. I mean, I, I joined the military because I wanted it to have that additional edge, that that reputation, that that ability to get further ahead than I wouldn't have. But I think, I think they'll do all right without military service at this day and age. I think it's, um. Well, quite frankly, I think it's too dangerous. So I'd rather than they didn't. And if they were going to that they at least thought as an officer, like is being enlisted, you don't get paid very well. [Chuckles]


ANDERSON: Just to confirm to you, you left the service as a master sergeant.

SINGER: Yes. That's enlisted. Yes. Right. Okay. Yeah, yeah. I didn't graduate from college till 2019, so. Yeah, I did use the GI Bill. I didn't lie to my parents and just for a really long time to get there.

ANDERSON: And where, did you you go here?

SINGER: Right. So, when I went to high school back in the eighties, having math and science wasn't important for a young lady. So I didn't have any of that in high school. And so I had to qualify at college level for them. So I had to go to Madison College. But it took me fifteen years to get a two-year certificate because I only took one class a semester. But then once I got that finished, then then things picked up real fast and I got to be a transfer student at UW. And I finished my degree.

ANDERSON: With a degree in?

SINGER: In, fine art, I have a degree in fine art.Yeah. So, I was one of the 01:33:00artists for the "Buckys on Parade," and mine was number eighty-three, so I guess that was my capstone project. Yeah, yeah. That was really that was a lot of fun being involved in community and tourism and placemaking. That's the newest art term where you make a place with art. So what it does is it draws people into an outdoor location, outside of a museum, outside of their homes, outside of the galleries, and they can have conversations with other people that are enjoying being outside and enjoying art. And it was really it was really kind of neat how wide reaching that was. And I had been part of this military group, red, white, and blue. And there was an individual, I was doing their book club for until my 01:34:00hours changed, but there was an individual that said, "Oh, there's a Bucky book." And I said, "Yeah, I know, I've seen it." And he goes, "Well, I got my picture taken with my family in front of one of the Buckys and he goes, "My kids just thought that was the greatest thing." And I was like, Yeah, I know, it's great. It's like too. But he wanted me to sign his book, which I thought was really kind of fun. I don't know whether it will amount to anything, but you know, it was kind of cool. But yeah, so I had a lot of notoriety. Oh yeah, that's the Bucky artist. So that was it was neat to be involved with something that some people are going to have some lasting memories about that's really brought people to Madison to see, see the area. And they were I mean, they were scattered everywhere, like kind of nice the way they did that. Mine was located at Hilldale, but there was two of them that were in Sun Prairie, so that was kind of hard. And then this one in front of a police station and one across the 01:35:00street, you know, Park Place, and that was that was that was nice. It was a nice way to use my art skills that I learned. But what I learned going to college was I'm a better art critic than an art creator, and I really like sorting things. And that's why I like working for the Department of Revenue, because I'm doing a lot of data sorting and I, I find that pleasing. And I sort my crayons and I sort my pencils actually, my supplies.

ANDERSON: What an amazing life you've had.

SINGER: Yes, I agree with that. Yeah. It's been a good ride.

ANDERSON: A lot more to go.

SINGER: Yes. Yes, indeed.

ANDERSON: Thank you.

SINGER: Thank you.