Van E. Harl
SAD LOSS OF A VALUABLE AIR FORCE SUPPORTER
While attending officer training school as a young future Air Force Lieutenant I was diagnosed with possible breast cancer. Before the day was over I was on an operating table having surgery. I was lucky I never had any other medical issues involving breast cancer. But once a doctor writes cancer into your personal medical record the topic never goes away in your mind.
When the Colonel and I moved to Altus AFB we hit the ground running on the local Altus/Altus AFB social circle and one of the first civilians we met at our first “townie” function was Sandy Nichols. We found out that she was on the recovery side of post breast cancer treatment. I will not try to tell you my limited, rather minor brush with breast cancer was anything close to what Sandy had just been through. But I felt I had an instant connection with her.
For the next three years I ate countless barbecue dinners with Sandy and Rod Nichols at both on-and off-base functions. Sandy was never in the military but she was a Soldier’s daughter and she understood the military way of life, having moved from Army Post to Army Post during her childhood. I don’t imagine that Sandy had any idea the depth of involvement with the Air Force that her life would take on when she and Rod moved to Altus. I can only assume that in the early days no one at Altus AFB had any concept of the selfless, tireless support and just plain non-stop giving that Sandy was going to spend years, bestowing on the men and women of the best Air Force base in the country.
If you did not know about her health issues you would just recognize that she was in attendance at everything going on in Jackson County and an extremely hard worker at anything she was involved in. When you found out that not only did she work so hard, but was also dealing with cancer, you had to wonder how she did it and where did she pull the endless strength from to meet these goals?
Sandy was quite a remarkable lady and she had what we call in the Air Force, “officer omnipresence”. She was everywhere, doing everything and doing everything very well. About a year ago the cancer was back and the long drives to Oklahoma City for treatment started. And still Sandy continued to support the local community and Altus AFB. There were fewer dinners both downtown and on-base. The treatment regiment forced her to cut back on public functions and the draining of her strength kept her away more often, but Sandy was still there serving her community, both military and civilian whenever she could. The Altus Military Affairs Committee and the Committee of 100 are two of the strongest supporters that Altus AFB has and Sandy was out front leading in both of those organizations.
The Air Force obviously needs its active duty members; it must have its civilians and contract employees. These patriots serve their nation while engaged in their chosen life’s work. Sandy Nichols was not a paid member of the Air Force, but she was a patriot. She chose to support her community and her Nation by volunteering countless hours and many precious final hours of her life in selfless support of her Altus Air Force Base.
The Military does not give medals to local civilians who support the mission, but Altus Air Force Base has devised a way to show its gratitude to the members of the community who go far beyond the call of duty. The “Friend of Altus” award is given out by the Wing Commander to those very select few whose efforts have had a profound positive impact on the mission of the 97th Air Mobility Wing. Sandy was a “Friend of Altus” long before she was presented that award.
Sandy Nichols died on 23 August 2007 after an extended battle with breast cancer. To Rod and Sandy’s family, I am deeply sorry for your loss. Sandy’s passing will be felt throughout the civilian community, but from the military side of her life we have lost one of our own. Sandy is a “Veteran.” She did not put on a uniform but she served her Nation as the best volunteer, civilian “air grounds-man” the Air Force has had. We truly lost a “Friend of Altus.” Good Bye Sandy, you have left the mission too soon, you will be missed, but you will not be forgotten.
©Copyright August 24, 2007 by Van E. Harl