Father and daughter airmen stay close in Afghanistan
For precious moments Kimberly Buzzell forgets the heat, the long work days and her war zone's vast distance from her home in Turner, Maine.
"I forget sometimes that I'm in Afghanistan,” the 28-year-old mom and Air Force senior airman said. She texts her husband, Jesse, daily. She talks on the phone several times a week with her daughters and her mother.
And she sees — really sees — her dad every day. Her dad, Air Force Tech. Sgt. John Trujillo, is there in Afghanistan, too.
The father and daughter are serving with members of the Maine Air National Guard's 243rd Engineering Installation Squadron.
They're part of a tightknit team of technicians who deployed from South Portland in April and are working at Bagram Airfield in eastern Afghanistan.
Sometimes the two work together — he's a cable antenna team chief and she's a radio frequency transmissions technician — and often they meet up for a meal, a card game or a quick hug.
“It's just a bonding experience to have my dad here,” Buzzell said in a phone interview last week from Bagram Airfield.
Trujillo said he, too, feels close. But at first, he didn't know whether such a thing was allowed.
"I wasn't even sure if it was legal,” he said.
The U.S. military has a long history of discouraging and even outright banning family members from serving together, though that's changing. In fact, Trujillo and Buzzell's unit also includes a father-and-son duo from Raymond.
That said, the Air Force played a role in the creation of Trujillo's family.
John met Kimberly's mother, Terri, in 1983 while they were serving in the U.S. Air Force. Both were stationed with U.S. units at the Royal Air Force station near Mildenhall in Suffolk, England.
John left active-duty service after six years and, along with their growing family, followed Terri to bases around the world. She retired with 21 years of service. Aiming to be close to Terri's family — she grew up in Gorham — they settled in Turner in 2003.
John continued to serve in the Air Force Reserve and later in the Air National Guard. He now has 26 years of service.
In civilian life, he works for Jacob Telecommunications, maintaining cell towers across Maine and New England. Buzzell works for Time Warner Cable as an installer and repair technician.
When Buzzell enlisted five years ago and eventually joined her father's unit, Trujillo didn't ponder the idea of deploying with his daughter.
"I just took it as if it was never going to happen,” he said.
The order did come, though. They are scheduled to return in November.
Originally, the Air Force sent Trujillo to Kandahar Airfield in southern Afghanistan, but the unit switched teams around to keep the father and daughter together.
It eased the minds of family members waiting at home, including Terri Trujillo, Kimberly's husband, Jesse, and their two daughters, Mackenzie, 9, and Mikayla, 6.
“It's kind of nerve-wracking, especially with the whole region heating up,” Terri said. "But knowing that they are together, should something happen, I know that he would look out for her. But we try not to think about those things. We keep busy.”
Jesse Buzzell agreed.
“It makes me feel better knowing that her dad's there, and he'll definitely keep an eye out and protect her,” he said.
It's the kind of thing John Trujillo thought about as they deployed. But he relaxed as he watched his daughter serve.
“Now, I see her work. She handles herself well. She's very professional,” he said. "I tell myself, 'I don't really need to be here for the reasons I thought.’”
They both miss home. When they can, they Skype with Terri, Jesse and the girls, and Kimberly's brother, Robert, who lives in Leeds.
When Mackenzie turned 9 in April, Kimberly managed to call from Afghanistan. She woke her daughter by singing “Happy Birthday” and, via Skype, she watched her open her presents.
“I couldn't be there, but I could see her expression as she opened her gift,” Buzzell said.
Here, in Turner, the girls keep their mother and grandpa close with nearly life-sized cardboard cutouts.
They take the doppelgangers to family outings, snap their photos and send the images to Afghanistan.
"The granddaughters love to dress me up,” John Trujillo said.
Together, he and his daughter laugh at the photos and visit as they might at home. They ran a foot race together on Father's Day and celebrated the Fourth of July together with hot dogs and burgers.
They remind each other to call home, update one another on family news and simply live.
"We're actually acting like we do when we're at home,” Kimberly Buzzell said. "There's no life change. It's making us more comfortable out here.”
They also savor the little moments.
Trujillo likes surprising people there by introducing folks to his daughter, he said.
And Buzzell likes pulling the daughter card, as she did recently while trying to get his attention as he stood among a group of airmen.
“Hey, Tech Sergeant Trujillo! Tech Sgt. Trujillo!” she yelled.
He didn't respond.
Finally, she hollered, “Dad!”