Coming full circle: Crystal’s legacy of service

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kari Degraffenreed
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

On October 13, 1980, at 12:35 p.m., Crystal Perkins entered the world in a United States Air Force Hospital at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

Crystal wouldn’t spend very much time in Altus. Her father, retired Air Force veteran Leroy Perkins, moved away from his first duty station quickly. During his 20-year career, Leroy relocated his family more than 10 times around the U.S. and overseas.

“As a kid, I complained about all the moving, saying goodbye to friends and everything that goes with relocating,” Crystal said. “But looking back, I think it was beneficial to us. We got all this world experience and got to know different cultures and people. I think it has made me a better person.”

While all the traveling was bittersweet, Crystal grew to love the community her father was a part of.

“We were always going to my dad’s squadrons and participating in events with the base,” said Crystal. “I learned about what community truly means to the military, and how it is different from civilian life. I grew to enjoy the military lifestyle.”

Even with all the positives, when Crystal graduated high school, she did not see herself following in her father’s footsteps to serve. She tried college first, but working full-time while being a student proved to be difficult. Crystal then took off to Fort Wayne, Indiana, for some time before returning home to tell her father she’d made a decision.

“He was happy when I decided to join the Air Force,” Crystal said. “But he told me, ‘If you can make it to 10, then you can make it to 20.’ So, from my first enlistment I knew I would be doing a full 20.”

In between all of the milestones there were fun times, stressful times, and really hard times.

“I remember my first deployment was the hardest,” Crystal said, with tears filling her eyes. “My baby was four months old when I left and he was 10 months old when I came home. At that point, he didn’t remember me and as a mom it’s the most awful feeling - when your child has no clue who you are.”

Crystal said the deployments eventually got easier, especially as her kids got older and technology progressed to where she was able to talk to them more often while she was gone.

“Now it’s just, ‘I love you’ and ‘I’ll see you soon,’” said Crystal. “Plus, I really enjoy the work aspect of deploying. There’s a huge sense of fulfillment and job satisfaction while being over there.”

Missing her family wasn’t the only thing on Crystal’s mind during one of her more memorable deployments, though. In 2010, while she was in Afghanistan, Crystal was planning her wedding to Charles Rice, whom she met the year prior in Aviano, Italy.

Between the combined service of her husband, Tech. Sgt. Charles Rice, 97th Civil Engineer Squadron electrical power production noncommissioned officer in charge, and Tech. Sgt. Crystal Rice, 97th Force Support Squadron manpower and organization noncommissioned officer in charge, they have been to more than 40 countries, four continents, more than a dozen deployments, and each has retrained into a new career field.

For Charles, the adventures they have had in the Air Force are priceless and he encourages young Airmen to take advantage of the opportunities they have while in service.

“It’s all an adventure,” Charles said. “It is what you make of it. There’s a big, wide world out there - go experience it.”

Crystal went out and experienced this “big, wide world,” but now it is time for her and Charles to retire. After buying land in Missouri to eventually settle down on, Crystal received orders to move back to her birthplace of Altus.

“When I got my orders I told my family, ‘I’m going back to where it all started,’” she laughed. “Dad started it so I’m coming back to finish it.”

At 3:00 p.m. on June 9, 2023, Crystal, along with her husband Charles, retired at Altus AFB, where it all began for her father, where her life began and where she completed a legacy of service.