Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Peterson Space Observer

Deployment brings high school classmates second chance at friendship

(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Chris Campbell)
Rebecca Smiley, left, and Heather Shuey were two of about 500 graduates in the 1990 graduating class at Shawnee Mission West High School, Overland Park, Kan. Following graduation, they both went on to medical professions in the military. Smiley, now Blackwell, is a flight surgeon and pediatrician in the U.S. Air Force and Shuey is a veterinarian in the U.S. Army Reserves. Although not close during their high school years, thanks to a chance encounter on their current deployment to an undisclosed location in Southwest Asia, and their shared military experiences, they have now formed the basis of a friendship 23 years later.

By Master Sgt. Marelise Wood

386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

SOUTHWEST ASIA — How often do you hear the saying, “it’s a small Air Force?” People change bases, go overseas, change career fields, and inevitably run into someone they crossed paths with at some point in their careers. But, how often do they run into someone they graduated high school with? And no, class reunions or trips back home to visit family does not count.

Lt. Col. Rebecca Blackwell, a flight surgeon and pediatrician, deployed to the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing in Southwest Asia about two months ago from Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. When she got off the bus at about two in the morning feeling tired and disoriented, little did she know that this deployment would result in her reuniting with a high school classmate.

It was day two of Blackwell’s deployment, she had barely settled into her role at the base hospital, was still trying to remember the security codes to the doors, when she learned that the wing had kicked off a base-wide exercise. The veterinarian office staff, led by Army Maj. Heather Shuey, was on hand to provide augmentation to the hospital as they routinely did during exercises. Blackwell, still in a fog from her travels had no idea that this was not her first meeting with Shuey.

“When she first got here, I remember looking at her, because I remember faces…but I couldn’t remember why I knew her,” said Shuey. “I knew her and it was driving me nuts. Finally, we got to talking one afternoon and she asked me where I was from and when I said Kansas, it just snowballed from there.”

Shuey told Blackwell she was from a small town outside of Kansas City, Kan. More questions followed until the fact that they went to the same high school came to light. The fact that they graduated the same year came next. Shuey was the first to put two and two together.

“All of sudden,” said Blackwell, “she’s like…you used to be Smiley [Blackwell’s maiden name]? And I was like Heather Shuey!”

The pair hadn’t seen each other since high school even though Blackwell’s mother and some close friends still live in the area and she’s been back to visit several times.

“When I go home I see my closest friends and family,” said Blackwell. “But we [her and Blackwell] haven’t seen each other since we graduated in 1990.”

Although they may not have been close friends in high school, now as adults who have both chosen military service and are far away from home, they have much more in common.

“It’s been fun having a special friend here,” said Blackwell. “Even though we hadn’t gotten close in high school and even though we haven’t been close as adults, it’s still that someone who at least knew you once; it’s nice to have that feeling. It’s amazing how…that… can make you feel more settled, like there’s someone here for me, who cares about me, who would notice if I’m not right or if I don’t show up.”

Shuey, a reservist with the 445th Medical Detachment Veterinary Services, heads back to Kansas in less than two weeks, but plans to keep in touch.

“I plan on getting to Colorado probably next winter,” she said and hopes to see Blackwell while there.

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