By Robb Lingley
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — In 2011, Master Sgt. Jeff Roberts, National Security Space Institute flight chief for Space 300, volunteered to be stationed at Thule Air Base, Greenland, on a one-year assignment. He went there not knowing what was about to happen in his personal life.
Roberts attended Storytellers at The Club on Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, March 9, 2018, as a guest speaker and recounted his ordeal to a room full of Airmen.
“To give you an idea on the type of environment at Thule AB, you’re on an island,” said Roberts. “The closest town to you is a 150-mile trek through snow so you’re not going to make it there. Whatever you brought with you is what you got and whatever you had shipped to you is what you’ll have.”
“Thule is quiet, it’s bright, it’s dark,” Roberts said. “The best way to explain how the light cycle works is to extend a day throughout the entire year. As for the stars at night, you basically see them all.”
Roberts was a couple of months into his assignment when he got a phone call that his grandmother had passed away. Fortunately for Roberts, he was able to see her before accepting his assignment to Thule AB.
A week later he received another phone call that his wife had emergency surgery.
“The good thing was that my wife was able to attend my grandmother’s funeral,” said Roberts.
Roberts was working shifts at Thule AB and had just finished a round of mid-shifts and woke up around 10-11 p.m. when his phone had a double ring, meaning it was coming from off the island.
“I pick up the phone and it’s my wife asking me when the last time I had an HIV test was,” said Roberts. “I told her it was while out processing in the November/December time frame before coming to Thule AB and I tested negative.”
Roberts had no concern for testing positive for HIV because he was in a monogamous relationship, he said. It was then that his wife told him she had an affair and was HIV positive.
“At that time the air got sucked out of the room,” Roberts said. “It was then I started to realize what was going on. This couldn’t be happening to me, not here, not now.”
Roberts said that if he had a list of bad things to happen to him this would be number one. The rest of their conversation was yelling and screaming until he finally hung up the phone.
Roberts said he couldn’t believe what happened so he got on a computer after showering and researched how to get a divorce in Colorado. Afterward he began pacing up and down the halls before he realized that he wasn’t the first person to have this happen to him.
“The whole time that I was walking up and down the hallway the answer was actually smiling right at me,” Roberts said. “It was a picture of the chaplain in the middle of our day room.”
With nobody else to talk to, Roberts decided to confide in the chaplain so he called him around 3 a.m. and the chaplain agreed to come right over to his room.
For the next three hours the chaplain sat there and listened.
Roberts agreed to counseling and was told that he would have to deal with different stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
“The best advice I had ever gotten in my career is that whenever you’re going through stuff that you can’t handle and it’s going to be legal, get a lawyer,” said Roberts. “It saved me and other people I’ve given this advice to.”
Roberts eventually was promoted to technical sergeant June 1, 2012 and then made master sergeant Jan. 1, 2017.
With everything that he had gone through Roberts kept an upbeat attitude.
“The world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows,” said Roberts. “You may be in a nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are, they’ll beat you down to your knees and keep you there if you let them. Nobody is going to hit you as hard as life.”
Roberts said it wasn’t the end of the world but his life was a little bit empty. When he got back to the United States he didn’t have his car, home or his dog. He was planning on moving to Germany but his orders were cancelled. He ended up being stationed at the 460th Operations Group, Detachment 1, at Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado.
While at Buckley AFB he met Sara at his apartment complex. They went on to be married Nov. 15, 2017.
Roberts said that life will push you to your limit. You might think that you’re going to break but you won’t because you’re stronger than that, he said.
“All the stripes you see on my sleeve represent a lot of sacrifices,” said Roberts. “The lowest stripe on my sleeve represents 2011 and I rose out of that.”