After more than two decades of service to the Air Force, two master sergeants exited their military careers just as they had served — together.
Master Sgts. Michael and Kirsten Smith retired in a dual ceremony Friday after serving a combined 46 years in the Air Force.
Kirsten Smith grew up in Pembine, Wisconsin, and entered the Air Force after graduating from high school in 1993. She went through basic training at Lackland Air Force Base and then technical training at Sheppard. Smith was a dental technician at Dover AFB, Delaware, and then at Yokota, Japan. She was stationed at Wright Patterson AFB, Ohio, where she met and married Michael. At Sheppard, Kirsten was a first sergeant, an adviser for enlisted personnel, with the 362nd Training Squadron, Air Education and Training Command. In this position, she was responsible for the morale, welfare, discipline, quality of life and professional development of 231 permanent-party enlisted personnel, civilian staff and instructors. She also provided leadership and guidance to 4,000 technical skills and advanced students annually.
Michael Smith graduated from high school in Buffalo, New York, in 1987 and joined the Air Force one year later. He enlisted as a structural specialist but left active duty five and a half years later to pursue educational goals. He joined the AF Reserve in 1998 as an aerospace medical services technical. Smith returned to active duty in 2001. He was deployed more than 13 times in his career to countries including Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Iraq and Croatia.
Kirsten's first impression of Michael was less than stellar when he accompanied his then-boss for a dental procedure at her department. Michael left the office when he was supposed to remain with the patient throughout the procedure, and Kirsten had to go find him and bring him back. They later met on better terms, married in 2006 and now have two daughters, Sophia, 5, and Kerris, 1.
The couple said the decision to retire at this time was a mutual one.
The unique dual-retirement ceremony gave time to honor each of their unique histories in the Air Force. Tears streamed down Kirsten's face as she received a special honor as a first sergeant and her fellow first sergeants formed a symbolic diamond formation and saluted her.
They each had very demanding jobs requiring long hours, so they said they are looking forward to spending more time with their children.
The family will be moving back to Dayton, Ohio, where they own a home. Michael said he is going back to school for a business management degree, and Kirsten hopes to start a "cocktails-and-canvases" type of business.
Down the road, the couple said, they would like to live somewhere in the southeast, perhaps Florida.
Aside from the good fortune of meeting each other, the Air Force brought numerous other opportunities they would never have had elsewhere, Kirsten said.
"We learned a sense of teamwork, camaraderie, good values that we will carry throughout our lives," Kirsten said.
"We hope to make out way to somewhere warmer, like the beach, but really the community Sheppard and the city of Wichita Falls has been great. I'm really going to miss the civilian community — they have been a huge support for my family. It's a really nice sense of community you don't get other places. I wish we could just pick up and move Wichita Falls closer to the beach, and then it would be perfect," she said.
The tearful speeches and multitude of friends, co-workers and family who came to the ceremony for two clearly shows they have affected many lives throughout their careers and serves as a testament to two lives of service well lived.