The day had finally come for Kendra Lauruhn to officially enlist in the U.S. Air Force after she had signed up for delayed enlistment while attending Gering High School. When she woke up, she had no idea what had happened that morning until her phone rang.
“I don’t think you’re going anywhere,” her mother said.
It was Sept. 11, 2001, and planes had flown through the World Trade Center.
The acts of terrorism didn’t cause second thoughts for Lauruhn, who would officially enlist on Sept. 18.
“I knew I could travel, I knew I could get an education,” she said. “The benefits it offered and having my uncle in, I knew it was what I was going to do.”
When Lauruhn arrived at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, security was heightened, but she admits that she didn’t know any different.
Because of the events on Sept. 11, an entire basic training class was delayed, making Lauruhn’s group larger than usual.
“We had two bays and every bed was taken,” she said. “It felt like a lot of chaos.”
On the way to basic training, a recruiter on the bus began yelling at the airmen on board to give them a taste of what they were about to experience.
“I thought, ‘Oh, I can handle this,’” Lauruhn said.
When she got off the bus, there were Senior Airmen waiting to yell at the group. Still, Lauruhn wasn’t intimidated.
“I went in and there was a staff sergeant who started yelling at us and I was like, ‘Whoa, this is the real deal,’” she said.
Another 9/11-related delay occurred with the groups uniforms, leaving all of them in civilian clothes for the first week. Eventually, though, Lauruhn got her uniform and began to settle in.
“After you get into the first couple weeks, you understand the flow of things,” she said. “Your TIs (training instructors) start coaching you through what life will be like in the military, instead of just yelling all the time.”
Although it came with challenges, there were parts of basic training that she enjoyed.
“The marching part was very fun,” she said.
Commands would be called out and the entire group would react in sync.
“That was the one time I felt like we were a group that worked together,” said Lauruhn. “If someone did something wrong, we all heard about it. It felt like an accomplishment when we all did well.”
After basic training, Lauruhn was given two career options: a dental assistant or a plumber.
“I thought, ‘ew, gross, neither,’” said Lauruhn.
She decided that the dental field would be a better fit and she headed to Wichita Falls, Texas, for tech school.
“Things were still kind of backed up from 9-11,” She said. “We spent lots of time stripping floors and polishing them because classes were backed up. I spent a whole month doing cleaning detail.”
Following tech school, Lauruhn was shipped to Little Rock Air Force Base in Jacksonville, Arkansas.
“That’s where I started my job as a dental assistant,” Lauruhn said. “That’s where I was getting into the true Air Force work force.”
It was similar to a civilian dental office, she said, except there wasn’t much concern about money.
“Military members were required to come in every year,” she said. “They have to be ready to deploy at any moment, so it was never about money, it was about whatever the airman needed.”
She quickly realized that being a dental assistant was something she enjoyed. She stayed at Little Rock for two years before heading to Eielson Air Force Base, which is southeast of Fairbanks, Alaska.
“That was my only ‘overseas’ tour,” Lauruhn said. “I spent three years there.”
Then she was off to Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma, before heading to Florida to attend school to become a licensed dental hygienist.
“I was a full time student for two years,” she said. “I still had to take my annual PT test, I had to take leave and report to base in the summer when there was no school.”
She had already learned how to clean teeth as a dental assistant, but getting her dental hygiene degree would allow her to pursue that career as a civilian.
After she graduated, she was shipped to Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas. This would be her last stop.
She was required to give three years of her time back to the Air Force in exchange for her college degree being paid for.
She fulfilled her duties and after 13 years in the military, she made the decision not to reenlist.
“My husband and I had our first baby,” she said. “I never deployed during my time, but there was always that chance that I could. I could end up being sent somewhere that I couldn’t take my family. I was just not willing to be away.”
Her family moved back to the area and she said she has no regrets.
For Lauruhn, being in the military was a positive experience overall.
“There’s a lot of hard times, but there’s a lot of good times,” she said. “I met some really great people.”
In fact, every few years, a group of women from her time at Little Rock Air Force Base get together.
“You’re all going through the same things together — good or bad,” Lauruhn said. “You build strong friendships.”
As a civilian, Lauruhn works for the Panhandle Public Health District where she is the dental health program coordinator — something she never would have anticipated when she was asked to choose between becoming a dental assistant or a plumber.
“I really love it,” she said.