By Luke Brantley
WINFIELD — Ed and Rachel Tramutolo met on a blind date in Winfield and would eventually get married in 1988.
Ed and Rachel both have something in common that you don’t always see in married couples—both of them served in the military.
Ed joined the Air National Guard in 1986. Before that, he had grown up in Denver, Colo. A man he had worked for and became good friends with moved to Winfield, and Ed followed him in 1984.
“That was a big adjustment to make, moving from a big city to very rural Alabama,” he said. “When I moved here, there wasn’t a Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Huatulco, Subway, Sonic or Chinese restaurant yet. We did have the drive-in, but it wasn’t called Cardinal yet.”
Ed had a family history of service. His dad and an uncle had both served in the army, but it was his mother’s brother-in-law, who served in the Air Force, that had the most impact on him.
“My mom’s brother-in-law was in the ai force, and he probably influenced me as much as any of them,” he said. “He was in strategic air command, and he was a tail gunner on a B-52 and served two tours of duty in Vietnam when I was born in 1957, so I was in that 10-12 range about that time, and that made a big impression on me.”
Ed went through air force basic training at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas, and was then sent to Chanute Air Force Base in southern Illinois for six months of technical training.
Ed was trained in avionics instruments (flight controls), along with inertial navigation systems and fuel quantity, and how to maintain those systems.
When Ed got back to Birmingham, his unit worked on RF-4C Phantom II’s, designed for reconnaissance work. Eventually, those would be swapped for KC-135s, which are aerial refueling aircraft.
That change happened in the early 90s, but a few years later, things would get much more serious.
“I spent 90 days active duty right after 9/11, as a lot of others were at that time. We went to Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and stayed there living in tents for 90 days.
“I ended being active duty for one day shy of a year, then I came back and worked at Continental. Then I got called back into active duty in 2003 for Iraq. I didn’t spend extended periods of time over there at that point, but I did get activated. It was challenging to be away from my family for that long.
“It was important, especially after 9/11, because our tankers, being there at Incirlik (meant) it was our job to keep cargo planes refueled as they came across.
“When the military was getting things ready to go after 9/11, one of the very first things they did was build a tanker bridge, because you had to be able to get those aircraft from North America to Asia. That’s how you do it, is with aerial refueling. The planes have the range to fly that far, but not when they’re carrying that much cargo, so it was an important mission.
“Most people that serve are not combat veterans. Some are, and I have the respect that they’re due for it. But a lot of veterans never saw combat. They were in support roles of some kind, but that’s how it works. You have guys at the tip of the spear doing the actual fighting, but you’ve got all kinds of support and logistics personnel behind them so that they can do that.”
Ed retired in 2011 as a technical sergeant after 25 years of service in the Air National Guard.
Rachel grew up in Muscle Shoals and said that she just always wanted to wear the uniform and be in the service.
She went to Judson College in Marion, Ala., where she enrolled in ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps). She was also dual-enrolled through the Marion Military Institute, where she became part of the Swamp Foxes, the institute’s special forces program taught by the Green Berets.
They were expected to go back to Vietnam, as this was in the 1970s, and training focused on navigation, hand-to-hand combat, repelling and other skills they would need.
Rachel was the first woman to ever earn her beret at the institute. She said it was a fight the whole way through her career.
“I was a woman in the 70s, and we had just gotten rid of the WAC (Women’s Army Corps), and that was a done deal, so it was the all-volunteer army when I got in,” she said. “Well, the men didn’t want us in, and they did everything they could to dissuade us. They gave us a hard time while we were in there and tried every way in the world to get rid of us.
“That’s why it was so hard to become a Swamp Fox, because they’d never had a female in there. I asked one day what the rules were to get in, and they showed me, and I asked where it said I had to be a man to get in. So I made it through all the physical stuff, and all the men showed up because they were hoping I wouldn’t make it. But I made it, and they had to give me my beret. It was a fight the whole time I was in, though.”
After that, she went to Fort Riley for basic training for officers, before going to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, where she was an armament maintenance officer.
After that, she went to Fort Hood, Texas, and served as an S1, meaning she was responsible for all of the personnel on the base, along with being a platoon leader and numerous other roles.
“It taught me how to be a good manager and learn how to treat people fairly, because I had all those men I had to take care of,” she said. “You just learn to deal with people, basically. I had three phone lines on my desk that I had to answer all the time and take notes. The main thing is people. You learn how to treat them fairly, like you want to be treated. And I learned a great respect for those who went before us and gave their lives that we could be free. So it means a lot to me.”
Rachel said her role was an unusual one for a woman, especially at the time, but she enjoyed it.
“It’s odd that a woman would be in charge of the weapons for the military,” she said. “In my class, there were only three women. There were no men. That was odd. I remember I fired most everything at Fort Riley they had in the inventory. Most people wouldn’t do that. I fired weapons, I threw grenades, all of that. Some people didn’t want to throw grenades because they were terrified of getting killed, but every time they asked who wanted to fire something, I was the first one up. It was just interesting to me.
“When we were trained in small arms, they would hand us an AR-15, and we would tear it down and find anything that was broken, torn up or whatever, then order new parts and fix it, including the paperwork to make sure it was correct, then when we would fire it. If it worked you passed, and if it didn’t you failed. Mine was the only one in that class of three girls that fired.”
Rachel served in the Army for five years, from 1975 to 1980, so she was out by the time that Ed went in.
“It was hard,” she said. “When he was deployed, he wasn’t here a lot, and it was hard with all six kids and everything. I was out by then, so it didn’t affect his life. But it had a big impact on us, that’s for sure.”
Ed said that while he was active, sometimes Rachel and the kids would come stay at a nearby hotel, just so they weren’t so far away.
See complete story in the Journal Record.