Nina Petru was working in an operating room as a surgical assistant when she decided it was her turn to serve her country. After a few visits to the Air Force base at O’Hare she knew she had found her next calling.
“When I was out there with those folks and watching them socialize and the camaraderie, and listening to the stories and the travels, and the things that they did and the transporting of patients, just being in that whole environment, I knew I had to be a part of that,” said Petru.
At the age of 27, Petru joined the Air Force as a reservist. Since she had worked in medicine during her civilian career she wanted to stick with it and joined the Med Evac Unit. After 15 years of service and at the rank of Master Sergeant, the base at O’Hare closed.
“When they close, you couldn’t just go somewhere, you had to find a spot that you could fit into that would work your rank,” she said. “I couldn’t find anything. The higher you get up, the fewer positions there are.”
Petru had no choice but to retire. On the day of the retirement ceremony she got offered a position in Wisconsin where she became the Chief of the Command Post. While there, her daughter got off active duty and joined the flying squadron.
“She was a flight engineer and I did get to sit back and watch her fly one time,” said Petru. “That was pretty exciting to see your child up there between those two pilots in her seat doing her thing. It was a pretty proud moment for me.”
After a few years, that base also closed she moved yet again and volunteered to go to war in 2003. At the age of 51, Petru was off to run the flight line in Kuwait.
“Initially planes would come in from other bases,” she said. “Everything would take off from their safe places, they would come through Kuwait, pick up troops and people and stuff, they would fly into the Sandbox, pick up rotating troops or human remains, we had human remains everyday.”
While she was overseas, American troops captured Saddam Hussein.
“It was pandemonium, yelling out to the guys on the flight line, and everyone was going crazy,” she said “You weren’t there but you were there. It was pretty amazing.”
When Petru returned home, she immediately wanted to go back. But her Commander said it was someone else’s turn to serve. So Petru decided it was time to retire, this time for good.
“Once you’ve deployed you don’t want to come back and be that clerical office person, you want to be over there with your peeps,” said Petru.
Petru is now a proud member of the Judd Kendall VFW, helping the young men and women serving today have a voice.
“You read now they want to freeze their wages,” she said. “Veterans come home that are wounded and they only partially pay for their medical bills, are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? We need to have a voice, we need to be heard. We need to make sure these young men and women are still motivated, there’s something there that makes them want to sign up and support our country like we did.”
Petru and the members of the VFW stand proud on Veterans Day, but say Memorial Day isn’t for them.
“Memorial Day is for those people that weren’t as fortunate as us who came home, we can’t ever forget them,” she said.
Later this year Nina Petru will be named the next Commander of the Judd Kendall VFW.
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