OKEECHOBEE — Dena Ricket was born and raised in Jacksonville, and after high school, found herself kind of at a standstill, working in a liquor store, she said. She was in their assistant manager program and she talked to the assistant manager who had been there for nine years but who wasn’t moving up in the company at all. The woman didn’t see a store in her future, and when Ms. Ricket was driving home after their conversation, she passed a recruiting station. She decided to stop in there, and she said she told them she did not want to be a secretary or a yeoman. She only wanted to be an electrician. Her father was an electrician in the Navy, and his father was an electrician on street cars in Jacksonville. Well, they agreed to her terms, and she signed up to be an aircraft electrician in the Navy. “Afterward, I was like, what have I done,” she said. When she got home that day, her mother asked her how her day went, and she said, “Oh it was good.” Her mom asked her what she did, and she replied,” Oh, I joined the Navy.” It was kind of like following in her dad’s footsteps, she said. They were always very close.
She remembers when they went down to the testing station, they told her they were going to take her over to a hotel and the bus would pick everyone up in the morning, but the hotel they wanted to put them in was one of those rent-by-the-hour hotels, she said. She told them she just lived down the street and asked if she could go home for the night if she promised to be back in the morning. That place was nasty, she laughed. So they agreed and she called her mother to pick her up.
“I told my mom to come get me because they didn’t want me,” she said. She was there within five minutes, very indignant on her daughter’s behalf until she explained.
Her basic training was in Orlando, in May. It was hot, hot, hot, she said. “I kept thinking, what did I do?” she said. “She tells everyone who goes in now that boot camp is not the military. It’s not what it will really be like,” she explained. They are just trying to find out if you can follow orders. See if you will fit in.
During one of her basic training weeks, she had to work in the galley, and she did not want to do that, but she got lucky, she said, because they asked if anyone knew how to type and she did. They put her in with a chief, in his office, and he was sitting there reading a paper. He asked her where she was from, and she told him Jacksonville. She said, “I see you are reading the Times Union.” He asked if she wanted to read it, and she said, “YEAH! That’s like home, and home seems so far away right now.”
After basic, she was able to go home for a short leave, and then her first placement was in Millington, Tenn. for A School. She started with basic electricity and electronics. After her father got out of the Navy, he became a science teacher, so she flew home every weekend, it was cheap back in 1978, to ask her dad to explain her assignments. “I don’t understand any of this,” she would say. So he helped her through all of it. At that time, there were a lot of women going into the service, she said. “They started freezing some of the ranks for a time. Women were taking a lot of the shore billets and guys were having to stay at sea longer so I was the last woman they took in there then. I was the only woman in my class.” She was top of her class, but the last test they did, she missed one question, and on that test, they were allowed to pick their duty station by their ranking on the test. Well, she came in second. She wanted to stay in Jacksonville, but she ended up in San Diego. She said one sergeant came in and said, ”You just cost me 20 bucks!” He had bet someone she would ace the test, and she didn’t.
After she graduated from there, she went home for a couple weeks, and then went to Meridian, Miss., “a little tiny base out in the middle of nowhere,” she said, “no water anywhere around it.” This was for FRAM School to familiarize her with a particular aircraft she would be working on in California.
When she got to California, she first had to learn some other things before she began working as an electrician. Her squadron was right next to where Top Gun was, and they ran what was called a “Spin School,” and they could duplicate any spin an aircraft could do except for the flat spin that killed Goose in Top Gun, she said. So, they always had new pilots coming over to learn this kind of thing. They also did dog fighting in Yuma, Ariz. You had a choice. You could drive over there, or you could get back-seat qualified and fly over there. “I was like yeah! I get to fly in a jet,” she said. She was only in California for seven months. Her mom had ovarian cancer, and she got orders to come back to Jacksonville.
She was out at Cecil Field, and it was kind of like a regular job, she said. She’d get up in the morning and drive to work, and get off in the afternoon, and drive home. She spent four years on active duty in the Navy, but during that time, she married and she was about to be transferred overseas but her husband was not. They decided she would leave the Navy. She went into the reserves and spent four more years serving as a combination flight attendant/electrician. They used electricians and mechanics as flight attendants because there was limited space on the planes. This way the flight attendants could fix any problems that came up.
She moved to Okeechobee after her daughter was grown. Jacksonville just got crazy, and it was time for a change. She has been here for about eight years.
Taking the oath to defend our country against all enemies both foreign and domestic actually meant something to her. They weren’t just words.
“It’s something you keep with you forever,” she said. “A lot of people don’t like President Trump. That’s fine. He’s still the commander in chief. He’s still the top of the military. So was Obama. So were the Bushes. No one is going to like everybody. You may not like your boss in whatever department you are in, but still, you took an oath to obey the order (lawful orders) of the officers appointed over you. Every time I see somebody kneel, I think, you need to go serve a couple years. I think everybody should serve a couple years after they get out of high school. It’s important. It’s a big thing,” she said.