A Tribute to Our Heroes: Air Force Veteran Pat Jopling
January 11, 2022
In this latest episode of our video series, “A Tribute to Our Heroes,” we talk with Air Force veteran Pat Jopling – a member of the Soldiers’ Angels team!
Pat shares about her influences that led her to serve in the Air Force, how she learned about Soldiers’ Angels, and her work with hundreds of Afghan families who are being welcomed to San Antonio by the community.
View her video interview below.
Video Interview with Pat Jopling
Q. Pat, let’s start from the beginning. Where did you grow up and why did you decide to enlist into the Air Force?
Pat: I grew up here in Texas … and my dad was in the Air Force. He actually came in through the Army Air Corps in 1939 — so couple of years before we got involved in WWII. He transitioned into the Army Air Forces and then into the Air Force in 1947, when we became a separate branch. He was a crew chief on bomber aircraft. So just some stories he told me and going to air shows when I was growing up, you just naturally fall in love with aircraft. So I think it was probably predestined for me to go into the military, to go into the Air Force especially.
Q. You eventually were stationed in Afghanistan the end of 2009. What was your role there?
Pat: I was in logistics, basically monitoring the flow of troops and cargo in and out of theater. And whether it came through our thoroughfares through Rammstein, Kyrgyzstan, Spain, Pakistan, Kuwait, wherever, we had to monitor the flow just make sure everything kept moving okay and [we were aware of] any deficiencies. We had to overcome aircraft breakdowns. So, it kept us busy, every day of the week, seven days a week.
Q. When did you learn about Soldiers’ Angels?
Pat: I started back in 2017 through an internship program that I heard about. I was going through my third back surgery and once I was physically able to start volunteering again I started with our church. But I was also looking to [start] working with a program with veterans, active duty, Guard and Reserves — and I found Soldiers’ Angels. It basically fell into my lap, so it was perfect timing.
Q. Over the past few months, you’ve been the organization’s lead in welcoming the refugees who fled Afghanistan and are now being integrated into the San Antonio community. What can you tell us about your work and the reception you’ve received from the families arriving from Afghanistan?
Actually, I started through our church. We have a refugee ministry through our church here in town, and I started with a lady that heads up that refugee ministry. She works with the refugee center all the time, basically facilitating [the donation of items] they don’t get in donations… such as furniture, which is the biggest obstacle they have. So, I started working with her about five years ago, and it was just a little bit of work here and there, basically where she needed somebody to help go pick up furniture for them. And we worked with refugees from all different types of countries, but right off the bat I was working with Afghan refugees.
More recently, of course without getting into specific numbers, it’s picked up quite a bit. We have refugees, per se “evacuees,” that have been resettled or are resettling here in San Antonio. It’s near-and-dear to my heart because I was in Afghanistan and [I know] their detriment there. When I talk to them it’s kind of like an ice breaker when I tell them I was at Bagram and they smile and say, “Oh, you were in Bagram?,” and I ask them where they’re from and I’m like, “Oh I know where that base is,” so it breaks the ice — it breaks the barrier down a little bit and relaxes them a little bit. So it’s really nice to see a program that has developed so rapidly to try to help them.
And they are in true dire straits. You know it’s like when I was watching a documentary on Viet Nam and the fall of South Viet Nam — there was a gentleman on there that said you can’t understand the amount of humiliation when you lose your country, it’s just a whole different level. And for my part I try to help ease that transition as much as possible, and Amy Palmer, our CEO, has been just fabulous at stepping up to the plate and saying, “How can we help?” So, [Soldiers’ Angels is] basically kind of like an exterior supplement to what I was already doing with our refugee ministry. [Amy] put out a solicitation for different items that they would need. She’s been working with the refugee center as well.
Just helping them get resettled, to me, it serves a great purpose. It kind of helps ease the frustration, the anger, all those emotions [around] what happened at the airport those last few days there. And it’s been a tremendous help to them. I see the look in their faces: they’re a lot more relaxed… It’s just a big relief to them knowing that, yes, they are welcomed here. They’re well-received here. We’re a military community, a military city here, so a lot of the veterans at that live in around San Antonio served in Afghanistan. I’ve met other veterans that have been helping as well and it’s a little bit of a healing process for us, you know. But yeah, I really enjoy working with them.
Q. Before I let you go, I want to ask you what it means to you to be a veteran?
Pat: You don’t really think about it, I guess. You know, the one reminder I get — like I said, being in military city so we have so many veterans here and we all kind of blend in, and it seems like we can recognize each other, point each other out. But, to me, it’s just driving down the highway and whenever I see an American flag blowing, it gives me satisfaction that most people will never understand: how much pride I have in my country and knowing when I look at that flag that I served to help defend that flag, defend my country in any way possible. And so even as a veteran my service is continuing beyond active duty because we’re able to help the Afghan refugees. So, my service is continuing.