Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Former Cheerleader Now Runs Squadron

As a Butte High School cheerleader in the late 1980s, teachers and classmates said Elizabeth (Costilla) Demmons wouldn't survive boot camp, let alone carve out a military career. "The majority of my teachers thought I would never make it because I was one of those students who questioned things," the 1988 Butte High graduate remembered. "They didn't think I would last a week." Not only did Demmons graduate from the prestigious U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., but she recently earned the rank of lieutenant colonel. The 38-year-old now works as commander of the 99th Services Squadron at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where she oversees a staff of 880 military and civilian employees. The daughter of Charlie and Debbie Hughes of Butte, Demmons never imagined herself in the military during high school, but says she always wanted to fly. She took private flying lessons as a Butte teen and was encouraged by her family to consider the Air Force. "I pushed her to go in that direction," said Charlie Hughes. "I knew she had the potential and the opportunity to get into the Air Force academy was a long shot, but when she got in we supported her and made sure she stayed there." While her love for flight brought her to the Air Force, she never did earn her wings, however.
Lieutenant Colonel, Elizabeth (Costilla) Demmons
"I am an inch too short to fly," Demmons said, laughing. At 5'3" tall, just short of the 5'4" height requirement, she could still fly with a waiver. But by the time she graduated from the academy in 1992 with a bachelor's degree in law studies, the Air Force had more pilots than it needed. Her waiver was denied. "It was a little disappointing and I had to reassess what I wanted to do, but there were several other options out there," Demmons said. She was commissioned as a second lieutenant after graduation and found her niche in the military while stationed at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. For the past 15 years, Demmons has organized the feeding, lodging, fitness and recreation for those on base. "It's very much a people-driven organization," she said. "We are in the customer service business." Demmons organizes everything from day care facilities to mortuary affairs, providing briefings to the family members of the deceased. "We say in our career field that we are cradle to the grave," she said. Her job has taken her across the United States and around the world to Korea and Iraq. She met her husband, Ken, during a one-year "remote" assignment in Korea at Kusan Air Base.Their first date had no shortage of conversation topics. Ken is a 1987 graduate of Great Falls High School where he played football at the same games where his future bride cheered on the sidelines for the Bulldogs. "We had never met before but some of my friends from high school were people he went to college with at Montana State," she said. "We knew a lot of the same people but just not each other." Demmons went on to earn two master's degrees, one from the University of South Carolina in hotel, restaurant and tourism administration and another from the Naval post graduate school in Monterey, Calif. The degrees were an effort to run the military programs like a business, she said. "It's all driven by revenue we generate so the taxpayers don't have to pay for it," Demmons said. Her family has lived at the Nellis base since March 2007. She became a lieutenant colonel in May and will become eligible for promotion to a colonel in 2011. Ken and Elizabeth Demmons are the parents of four children: Kelson, 6, Jacob, 5, Nate, 3, and Madison, 20 months. The family recently visited Montana, where Demmons attended her 20th class reunion Saturday in Butte. "We're obviously extremely proud of her and her service to the country," her father said.

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