Hildegard Gayer had just completed her apprenticeship as an administrative clerk in the summer of 1954 and was in search of a position to start her career and support her family. Jobs were rare in the war-torn economy and then she heard about open positions at the newly constructed air base.
She took a three-month English course, applied and in a simplified hiring process within the scope of a joint interview with other applicants, she was asked what the color of her blouse was. Completely nervous during her first encounter with military personnel, she blurted out “white!” and landed her first job at 18 years of age on Oct. 12, 1954. Little did she know that she would dedicate her life to the U.S. Air Force and one day look upon a treasure chest full of fond memories of over four decades of service.
Her first position as a secretary was with the 12th Air Force, ACS Personnel Actions Division, writing and maintaining flight records. She sat in a typing pool with three other German ladies, several young Airmen and a very stern female master sergeant overseeing the pool. In a drill sergeant tone of voice, the master sergeant strictly advised the Airmen not to strike up conversations with the young Germans, other than official business, as in her opinion, they always wore the same clothes.
The 12th Air Force then relocated to Sembach Air Base and Hildegard, nicknamed “Hilde” by her colleagues, jumped among several temporary positions in Finance, Supply and then eventually Engineering, which later became permanent. She was always eager to learn, taught herself English stenography and when again fearing the loss of her job due to a reduction-in-force measure, she learned of a vacant position at the 7030th Combat Support Wing/Material Aircraft Maintenance Division. Without prior appointment, she courageously marched straight into the commander’s office, told him of her strengths and completely impressed U.S. Air Force Col. John F. Miller, who hired her on the spot.
During the early years of her career, she did not have a car and it was common for the local national workforce to walk or bike to the air base from Ramstein through the open forest come rain, shine, snow or ice, using a gate in the northwestern part of the housing area, later referred to as the “school bus gate.”
Hilde had many special memories during her tenure with the Air Force. In 1955 Elvis Presley held a concert and base officials organized a shuttle bus so that the German “Fräuleins” could also attend. Dances and musical entertainment were regular events on base on weekends.
Hilde’s time with the Air Force extended beyond her job at the office. Requiring a bit of extra funds after building a house with her husband, she took on a side job as a waitress at the Officers’ Club on weekends and on Thursday Bingo nights. Forgetting to ask her commander for permission to work there, one night she was startled to see him and his wife at a Bingo night, ordering coffee. Taken completely by surprise, she mixed up the sugar with the salt and served the couple a rather spicy evening surprise. Her good natured commander literally took it with a grain of salt and then officially permitted her to work there as long as she fulfilled her regular duties.
Another startling memory was when her division moved into container buildings during the renovation of their building. When reporting to work one morning, she pulled out her electric typewriter, which was stowed in a type of drawer on a rubber mat underneath the actual desk. Suddenly two mice sprang out, scratched and bit her face, and close to a nervous breakdown, she jumped onto her desk screaming and had to be taken to the hospital for treatment and a tetanus shot. After that, the noncommissioned officer in charge had to come to the office 30 minutes early every day to check for combat mice in hiding.
During her time in the Civil Engineer Group she also recalls an exciting incident with a young Airman by the name of Charlie Brown, who, while intoxicated during a Christmas party, decided to pick a fist fight with the base commander. Needless to say, he abruptly ended his career, quickly found himself in jail and the rest of the staff was not allowed to have a Christmas party for the next three years.
Hilde was able to advance her career and was chosen among 13 applicants, to take a position in the newly established United States Air Forces Europe headquarters, working in the Defense Contracting Squadron Logistics within the Directorate of Supply and Services. Three years later in 1973 she moved on to the USAFE Contracting Squadron on Rhine Ordnance Barracks. There she held several positions and was finally promoted to the position of Purchasing Agent and Construction Administrator, where she was responsible for the tender and bidding process for construction measures. The organization also took on U.S. Army contracts and with the enormous workload, she worked from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on a regular basis, with only one sick slip during her 22 years tenure there. Her most notable achievement was during the implementation of the first USAFE Simplified Acquisition of Base Engineering Requirements Contract valued at $25 million, an enormous sum at that time.
Hilde also remembers the introduction to the first computers in the offices in the early 1980’s and was quick to learn the new technology. Surprisingly, she also held a security clearance as a local national employee and once had a mysterious experience. A year after filling out the appropriate forms, several inquiries about her were made by two suspicious looking characters who asked questions and tried to retrieve information about her from her neighbors and other relatives. As it turned out, these were two security forces personnel investigating her integrity.
On the other hand, Hilde also fondly recalls afternoons and evenings with popcorn and American ice cream, considered to be rare treats in Germany in the first decades after World War II.
Looking back upon the years, she says that it was not always fun and games, but all in all it was a wonderful and rewarding time and wouldn’t want to miss a day. She experienced many changes in operations, restructuring and growth of the base, while also growing both personally and professionally.
During her 42 years of service, Hilde was awarded the Sustained Superior Service Award ten times and received numerous other recognitions, including a special award as the “Best Dressed Civilian” in the 1960’s.
She was sent off to retirement in a solemn ceremony on Dec. 19, 1996, and awarded with the Outstanding Civilian Career Service Award in honor of her dedication and long standing service.