Thank you for your service
BY CINDY JONES
Strong and self-sufficient from a young age but headstrong and tumultuous in her teenage years, Jessica Amber Rodriguez-Mitchell was seeking stability and direction after high school. A close friend convinced her to join the Air Force. She started basic training in March 1995, just three days after she turned 19.
She was first stationed in North Carolina at Pope Air Force Base, located on the outskirts of Fort Bragg, with the 82nd Airborne. At Pope, she worked in logistics, driving aircrew and supplies out to military aircraft. In a male-dominated career field, Jessica felt empowered. She drove massive tractor trailers, loaded and unloaded cargo, and changed tires; some tires were three times her own size.
Jessica met her husband, Charles Patten Jr., at Pope in 1997. Also an Airman, Charles worked in air transportation, and the two would talk while she dropped off the aircrew and he loaded planes with cargo. They both received deployment orders at the same time; he went to Portugal and she was sent to the opposite corner of the globe in Okinawa, Japan. The two later married, and, eventually, Charles was stationed in Okinawa with Jessica.
Their first son was just six months old when she received deployment orders. Feeling called to her duty but guilty about leaving her infant son, she filled the 2002 deployment to Saudi Arabia, where her squadron served as logistical support for military support missions during Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM.
In 2005, Jessica was mobilized to Baghdad, Iraq. Jessica worked in a volatile area known as “The Green Zone,” which was the governmental center of the Coalition Provisional Authority during the occupation of Iraq. Although her work was considered an office setting, the area was constantly under attack. Each day she left for work, she wasn’t sure whether or not she’d return home.
After her deployment in Baghdad, Jessica felt irritable, angry, and easily triggered. She wasn’t aware she had Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at the time but felt a kind of numbness she hadn’t experienced before. Her second son was born in 2006.
In 2009, Jessica was deployed again to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait. She became part of a specialized team known as Air Force Combat Truckers, specially trained Airmen who were tasked to assist the U.S. Army in convoy security and line-haul missions. Convoy security consisted of operating military armored vehicles mounted with 249/.50-cal machine guns and driving up and down the convoys to scan for potential threats. Once their vehicles crossed the border from Kuwait into Iraq, they were deemed “outside the wire” and no longer fully secured by a military installation.
During her service as a combat trucker, she witnessed the U.S. Army transition fully to convoy security while the Airmen continued on with the line-haul missions.
After her two deployments serving as an Air Force combat trucker, Jessica’s squadron ran one of the last convoys to pull out of Iraq in 2012. She retired after 20 years of honorable service from the Air Force in 2015.
The Pattens then moved to Utah in order to take advantage of resources that would help facilitate their oldest son who had been diagnosed with autism in 2009. Jessica began working for the George E. Wahlen Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), where she found solidarity, purpose, and healing in working with veterans.
Today, Jessica works at Hill Air Force Base with the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) team as a full-time victim advocate. She completed her bachelor’s degree in social psychology and plans to obtain a master’s in social work.
Thank you, Jessica Amber Patten, for your service, your desire to help others heal and grow, and for sharing your story.