HOLTON (KSNT) – Retired Air Force Veteran Tammy Askren started her military career when she was in college.

“Money got tight and the Airforce says, well we’ve got this great program called bootstrap,” Askren said. “You come in and we’ll pay for the rest of your nursing.”

For Askren, the opportunity was an answer to many prayers, but she never imagined it would have quite the impact that it did.

“I don’t know how much further you can be from being a nurse other than working on asphalt and concrete but that was uncle Sam’s plan,” Askren joked.

She was sent to Edwards Air Force Base in Palmdale, California, and trained as a civil engineer. One of the highlights of her career happened during this time when she and her crew prepared the landing strip for the Columbia space shuttle.

“We’re up on the hill waiting for it to land and all we’re hoping for is it doesn’t trip on its nose,” Askren said. “And it landed and we were all happy and life was good.”

The good life continued in Palmdale for Askren for several more years, until she later moved on to the next stop which was McConnell Air Force base where she worked in asphalt, concrete and airfield repair. She later transitioned to special weapons working on Titan missiles in the air reserves; at the time, the reserves were setting up a small unit of civil engineers that Askren was proud to be a part of.

“CE’s trains for what you hope will never happen,” Askren said. “We train to make a bed down area with nothing more than an airfield and a source of water, and my team and I could do that.”

After 30 years of service, her training was put to the test when her commander asked her for help on a major mission during the United States military’s last surge into Afghanistan.

“I need you, and I need you now. He says we need to build a bed down area for these guys,” Asken recalled.

Thousands of soldiers were traveling out of the war zone and into Kurdistan and needed places to stay. So, with a small crew, Askren and her team built a tent city in 43 days. It’s an emotional memory that Askren will never forget.”

“This young marine…with a sixty-mile stare, walks into my tent and his whole face lit up, and he smiled and said ‘we have electrical plugs. I can call my mom and let her know that I’m ok’,” Askren said. “That’s why I did what I did for all those years. For that kid.”

Askren got home to Wichita in 2011 and was touched by the support she and other returning soldiers received.

“They just made us feel so welcome back home,” Askren said. “It was a tough six months. We didn’t get shot at, we just worked really, really hard, but we got it done.”

She retired after 36 years of service and now lives with her husband, Don, a fellow retired veteran.

We’re highlighting veterans in our community every week just like Tammy. If you’d like to nominate someone for our Veteran Salute Segment, please email Kelli.Peltier@KSNT.com with the subject line VETERAN SALUTE. Include the veteran’s name, military branch, rank, years of service, a short biography and a number to contact them.