AKRON, Iowa | As a teenager, Lynette Kiger dreamt of the day she could explore the world beyond her family’s farm near Akron, a quaint Northwest Iowa community where she knew her options were limited.
“(I was a) kid from a small town here; not a lot of opportunities here unless you’re going to take over the family farm and girls usually don’t do that or at least they didn’t back then,” said Kiger, 60.
“I just wanted opportunities that weren’t here for me so I chose to go to the (U.S.) Air Force and find them.”
Kiger had heard firsthand from an uncle and cousin, who both served during the Vietnam War Era, about how much they enjoyed their time in the Air Force. She thought it sounded like a good fit for her.
“It was interesting to know their experiences,” Kiger said. “They got to go to all these different places and do good jobs.”
In February 1975, during her senior year at what was then just Akron High School, Kiger enlisted in the Air Force Reserves. By August she transitioned into an active duty role.
That decision panned out and provided Kiger all the travel and career opportunities she couldn’t imagine were available to her growing up on her family’s 500-acre farm.
Her first destination was Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, where she underwent basic training, something she noted wasn’t as challenging for her as it was for other recruits.
“For me, it was easy because I grew up on a farm,” Kiger said. “I was strong, I had been in track, I could run — don’t ask me anymore to do that — but I was very physically fit at the time so that part of it was easy.”
In addition to being physically fit, Kiger said she just followed whatever instructions she was given and it worked out.
Following basics, she attended a technical school in Wichita Falls, Texas, where she trained as a medic.
After her training, Kiger was stationed at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, where she worked alongside doctors and other medical specialists.
Although she was barely out of high school at the time, Kiger felt prepared for her duties.
“We were starting IVs, we were doing catheterizations; you could do a lot of stuff with the proper training and oversight that someone just going through a little training program like EMT or CNA or something just wouldn’t get,” Kiger said.
After three years in Oklahoma and four years of service, Kiger arrived at a crossroads.
“They said, ‘Hey, are you really done with us or do you want to go on another adventure?’” said Kiger, jokingly reenacting the pitch to get her to reenlist. “They offered me an opportunity to go to Howard Air Force Base in the Panama Canal Zone.”
Exploration was one of the primary reasons Kiger signed up, so she willingly reenlisted and spent the next two years in Panama.
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Kathleen Osterman does a plank in a studio at Northwest Iowa Community College in Sheldon, Iowa. Osterman, a Vietnam War veteran who served as an operating room nurse in Da Nang, teaches yoga classes in Sheldon and Sibley, Iowa, where she resides. The Storm Lake, Iowa, native served 23½ years with the U.S. Army and Army Reserves.
Veteran Lois Wright walks her dogs, Rocco and Leah, in front of her rural Moville home in late October. Wright served in the U.S. Navy in information technology and is currently commander of the Wink-Sparks American Legion Post No. 303 in Moville, Iowa.
Veteran Lee Ann R. (Parker) Muilenburg works as a certified nursing assistant in the intensive care unit of Mercy Medical Center-Sioux Cit. Muilenburg enlisted in the army in 1981 when she was 17-years-old.
Veteran Angela Miller is shown at the USD Barnes & Noble bookstore that she manages on the campus of the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. Miller served in the U.S. Army and comes from a military family, noting how she's an "Army brat, Army soldier, Army wife and Army mom."
Veteran Roberta Pendleton, 99, leans on her walker while sitting for a photo in her Sioux City apartment. Pendleton, whose maiden name was Stock, served as a Navy WAVE from 1942 to 1945 and left the service as a full lieutenant.
Army veteran Jen Steele rolls a bowling ball down a ramp at Regency Square, where she is employed as director of life enrichment. Steele enlisted at age 17 after seeing news footage of the 9/11 terror attacks and said leadership skills learned in the military made her able to do the job she has at the retirement community.
Army veteran Cynthia Aden handed out American flags along the parade route at a combined VFW and American Legion entry in the University of South Dakota's annual Dakota Days homecoming parade. Aden served in the Army from 1975 to 1978 and is Clay County, South Dakota's, veterans service officer.
Veteran Nadine Ruden clutches a Quilt of Valor in the sewing room of her rural Hinton, Iowa, home. Ruden estimates she's created about 20 quilts, but prizes the Quilt of Valor that a friend had made for her. Ruden served as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve from 2008-2017 and was deployed to Germany for a year treating wounded soldiers.
Mapleton, Iowa Mayor Donna Shaw said her military uniform continue to her pride. A 21-year U.S. Navy veteran, she said all young people should spend at least one hitch in the military because it will teach them discipline, determination and the importance of teamwork.
Vera Varner, 84, co-owns a Pronto gas station in Ida Grove, Iowa. The Air Force veteran worked in the Pentagon in the 1950s as a teletype operator.
Molli Griffin, pictured in her classroom at Kingsley-Pierson High School, where she teaches biology and agriculture, served a one-year tour of duty in Iraq as a member of the Army Reserves. Griffin, who discharged from the Reserves this summer after 15 years of service, is raising a puppy for Partners for Patriots, an organization that provides service dogs for disabled veterans.
Army veteran Ranae Reed plays with Valentine, her 11-year-old German shorthair dog, at her home in Sioux City. Dogs were an important part of her service while deployed in the DMZ in Korea -- both as companions and as unofficial guard dogs. Reed served from 1980 to 1995 as a nuclear, biological and chemical defense specialist.
Navy veteran Marjorie Culligan is shown with her poodle, Allie, during an interview in her Sheldon, Iowa. Culligan, 93, is a Navy veteran of WWII and Korea.
Lynette Kiger left her hometown of Akron in 1975 to join the U.S. Air Force, which provided her with an abundance of opportunities she wouldn't have had otherwise. She returned home in 2014 and joined Akron EMS, a volunteer ambulance service that serves the town of nearly 1,500, and became the group's director in 2016.
Coast Guard veteran Mary Lou Guthridge is shown with her motorcycle Oct. 4 at Stone State Park in Sioux City. Guthridge is an American Legion chaplain and Legion Rider who will be organizing a Legion Riders tour of fall colors. In the Coast Guard she was stationed in New York, Alaska and Indiana.
Veteran Virgina Linneman helps residents play Uno on Friday at Pleasant Acres Care Center in Hull, Iowa. Linneman, a veteran of the U.S. Air Force, keeps active in the community though the Sioux County Veterans Affairs Commission and by volunteering at the care facility.
Veteran Brenda Miller at her rural Hinton, Iowa, farm. Miller served in Saudi Arabia when her U.S. Army reserve unit was activated. She is currently the chairwoman of the Plymouth County Veterans Affairs Commission and has served as a poultry superintendent at the Plymouth County Fair.
A runner and a walker of the nature trails that surround her Sergeant Bluff home, Woodbury County Commission of Veteran Affairs executive director Danielle Dempster said her own stint in the U.S. Army was just the beginning of her service to fellow veterans.
Veteran Margaret Jessen talks about her service as a Marine during World War II. Bored living in Homer, Neb., after her high school graduation, Jessen said she enlisted in 1944 because she "wanted the action."
Vicki De Witt, a retired member of the 185th Air Refueling Wing, is shown in her home near Lawton, Iowa on Wednesday. De Witt served in the Army Reserves and Air National Guard during a military career that spanned 31 years.
World War II veteran Claire O'Brien sits in her Sioux City home on Thursday. O'Brien, 95, logged more than 2 years, 6 months of service after enlisting with the U.S. Naval Reserves W.A.V.E.S., which represents Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. After the war, O'Brien returned to college and spent her career as a high school teacher and counselor.
Her time in Central America marked the last time she served on active duty, but it also provided a jump off point that set forth a nomadic lifestyle that continued for the next 35 years.
Next up, she spent three years in Omaha, another two in Panama, followed by 16 years in Arizona, then three years in the Quad Cities, and finally eight years in northeast Kansas.
In 2014, after nearly 40 years away, she moved back home to Akron.
She noted her parents — Clifford and Shelly Waag — were getting older and she wanted to be closer to them. Her family also is the reason she joined the Akron EMS team shortly after her return.
Both parents and her brother have needed the local ambulance service in recent years and she thought a good way she could pay it forward was by joining the team.
When the previous director stepped down in 2016, she took on that role as well and has embraced the challenge, much like she did during her time as a civilian contractor with the military following her service.
During her time away, she worked various jobs, but the one that stuck was with the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command or NETCOM, a portion of the U.S. Department of Defenses information networks.
She started off as a NETCOM officer manager at Fort Huachuca in Arizona in 1990 and retired as a supervisory information technology specialist at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 2014.
So even when she wasn't in the military — her service ended in 1984 — Kiger still devoted a good portion of her life to America's armed forces, a relationship she hopes was symbiotic.
From touring U.S. Navy ships and submarines to living in a foreign country to participating in Air Force training flights, Kiger agrees the military gave her everything she hoped for and more.