Sharla Fossen -- She rose to every challenge

Sharla Fossen of McGregor spent eight years in the U.S. Air Force prior to returning to the McGregor area with her son Michael in 2014.

Sharla Fossen is a resident of McGregor and a veteran of the United States Air Force. She is petite and feisty, and has overcome many challenges to create a life for herself and her son Michael.

Fossen is the niece of Barb and Glen Watson of Palisade.

UNSETTLED CHILDHOOD

Born in Texas, Fossen  moved to Palisade with her mother as a toddler, to be near relatives. Her parents divorced when she was 2 years old, but her father remained in Palisade.

Fossen spent much of her childhood moving back and forth between her mother’s home in Nevada and her father’s in Palisade. She graduated from high school in Nevada a year early and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.

Why enlist? She was attracted to the opportunity to travel, as well as having a comfort level with military life because her grandfather was in the Air Force and her stepfather was in the Marine Corps.

In the service, Fossen was trained in airfield and airport management. She explained that her job usually entailed taking flight plans from pilots, reviewing and filing them so that the aircraft could be tracked. An airfield manager also coordinates driving and construction on the airfield, ensures signs and markings are up to Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) Standards, and coordinates emergency response on the airfield when aircraft incidents are called in by air traffic control.  

Responding to emergencies involved calling out the emergency response teams; Fossen would work as a team with another staff person, one manning the phones and one physically responding to the incident.

Her first assignment was to Whiteman Air Force Base (AFB) near Warrensburg, Missouri.  It was while she worked there that her son Michael was born.

ASSIGNMENTS

Fossen was stationed at the Incirlik, Turkey AFB for 15 months, during which time she was deployed to Qatar on a four-month assignment.

Incirlik Air Base is a Turkish air base of slightly more than 3320 acres, located in the Incirlik quarter of the city of Adana, Turkey. The base is within an urban area of 1.7 million people, 10 km east of the city core, and 32 km inland from the Mediterranean Sea.

Edwards AFB in Calif. was Fossen’s last assignment; she separated from the Air Force there in 2011, after 8 years of service.

“I would have made a career in the military if I hadn’t started to have health problems,” said Fossen.  I loved military life and would have retired in the service. I recommend everyone do at least four years in the military — learning respect, professionalism and experiencing the world.”

ACTIVE DUTY EXPERIENCES

Recalling exciting incidents in her career, Fossen spoke about a time when a cargo aircraft landed with its refueling boom down — sparks flew and the complete emergency response protocol was initiated.

Another time, during her time working at Edwards AFB, Fossen recalls that two N.A.S.A. space shuttles from the aerospace program landed at the base between 2009 and 2011. The shuttles were diverted to Edwards because of bad weather at the Florida landing site.  

“You hear an enormous sonic BOOM as the shuttle enters the atmosphere,” said Fossen. “I especially recall the way the shuttle would then glide in really smoothly to land.”

The movies Transformers and Iron Man were filmed at Edwards AFB while Fossen was stationed there.

“It was pretty neat to be able to watch as they filmed some of the scenes on the base,” she recalled.

PRESIDENTIAL VISITS

While working at Edwards, Fossen was deployed to Baghdad, Iraq to do airfield management for six months. She was there for a President George W. Bush visit, and coordinated part of his arrival. During his press conference an Iraqi man threw his shoe at the preseident, an incident that made international headlines.

She recalled, “The base had a Good Neighbor program with the community where we were based in Iraq.  Air Force staff would get relatives in the U.S. to send clothing, toys and other age-appropriate gifts for the Iraqi children. The kids were so intrigued with our cameras,” she said.

“I liked being deployed rather than working in the United States,” Fossen said. “You get to know the country much better than you would just being a tourist. We made friends and really got to see the local culture. One time a family invited us to dinner and their daughter dressed to the nines in traditional clothing in honor of our visit.”

Were there any close calls working in the Middle East?

“The base in Baghdad was attacked by terrorists a month before I deployed there and again three weeks after I left, so I was fortunate not to have to experience anything like that.”

PERSONAL CHALLENGES

Really, the most challenging thing for Fossen was being an active duty single parent.

“I was terrified of not being able to get child care for my son,” she recalls. “Because I moved a lot, I was having to hire people I didn’t really know to care for Michael, and sometimes they would quit without any notice. Not showing up for work was not an option, so there were many times that I would be scrambling to get childcare at the last minute.”

MOVING ON

After separating from the Air Force in Jan. 2011, Fossen obtained a Business Management degree. Since returning to Minnesota in 2014, she has started two businesses: Lily and Lace Events and a Color Street Nails business she calls Sharla’s Glam Nails. Fossen also writes a blog called Minnesota Country Girl (@mncountrygirl1) on Facebook.

With those businesses to manage (she does an average of one craft show per week) and being a home schooling mom to Michael, Sharla Fossen doesn’t have a lot of free time on her hands.

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