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Military service a family affair

CASSELTON - When Diane Moderow joined the North Dakota Air National Guard's Happy Hooligans in the late 1970s, the numbers of women involved were "few and far between," she said.

She retired in 2008 as a lieutenant colonel and chief nurse after 30 years of service as one of the longest-serving female guardsmen at the time, she said.

"The military is a family," the Casselton woman said. "Everybody sticks together."

Now, her daughters are following in her footsteps, and Diane said she is so proud that both of her girls have joined the Guard.

"I never asked either of my girls to join," Diane said. "That's a huge commitment to expect somebody to go to basic and make that commitment to their country, but they both came to me and said they wanted to join, which made me very proud."

Her eldest daughter, Skyler, has been a traditional guard member, working part time, one weekend a month, for the past few years. The 20-year-old is also a student at the University of North Dakota.

Shelby, who just graduated from Central Cass High School, leaves for two months of basic training this fall. The 18-year-old will follow that with three months of tech school and plans to attend the University of North Dakota for pre-med in the fall of 2014.

The Moderows' patriotism extends beyond their service. They hold a flag burning ceremony every Fourth of July at which they burn flags they've collected throughout the year (because it's disrespectful to throw flags in the garbage) while Shelby sings the National Anthem, Diane said.

Diane's service was passed down to her just as she's instilled it in her daughters.

Her dad worked full time for the Guard before retiring. Her sister, Senior Master Sgt. Susie Schroeder, is currently employed by the Guard.

Before Diane retired, both her sister and dad, retired Master Sgt. DeLyle Ishaug, had to salute her because she held a higher rank, Diane said.

While her dad was very proud to salute her, her sister did tease her a bit about it, Diane said.

'Right thing to do'

Growing up, Diane's dad asked if she had ever thought of joining the Guard. Diane considered herself a "girlie girl" in makeup and skirts and just couldn't envision serving.

Diane's parents hadn't gone to college, and promised Diane and her sisters they would pay for it if they went.

"I thought, if I could help my dad by paying for one education, that's the right thing to do," she said.

She deliberated for about three months before deciding to go for it. She worried about leaving home to go to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for basic training.

Diane enlisted at age 17, the same age at which Skylar went to basic training.

After basic training, Diane was required to go to a trade school to learn job specialty. She became a medical service specialist until she earned her nursing degree.

That is the same path Shelby plans to follow, while Skyler works as a dental assistant.

When Diane left San Antonio for her trade school training in Wichita Falls, Texas, an F4 tornado hit the area. It killed 42 people, caused more than 1,700 injuries and destroyed more than 3,000 homes, leaving 20,000 people homeless.

"They gave us pillows. They told us to take our jewelry off, our glasses off, put our heads between our knees and pray," Diane said. "It ripped apart the whole town, but it didn't touch the Air Force Base."

She spent the next week cleaning up the town and helping where she could. It gave Diane her first real taste of what it would be like as a member of the Guard.

"I loved the feeling of protecting my country and the feeling of the support of my comrades and helping people," she said.

She knew at that point she had made the right decision, she said.

Gaining confidence

Basic training is incredibly difficult and involves strict routines and grueling fitness training.

"You never forget basic," Diane said. "It's all mental. You follow the leader. You don't ask questions. You trust in the fact that they are educated and they know what they're doing."

Skyler said she called her mom every Sunday crying.

"I gave her the pep talk, and when she got off the phone then I was crying," Diane said.

Week by week it got easier, and by the end Skyler was transformed.

"When I graduated, I felt like I could do anything," she said. "I was so confident in myself, I was thinking I could conquer the world."

Her sister's stories haven't scared Shelby away.

"I'm the type of person who can stick through the bad, and it's definitely worth it in the end," she said.

Plus, she grew up in a military family.

"All I heard were benefits of it," Shelby said. "I never heard anything negative except for basic, which is two months of your life."

Diane said she has two college degrees for which she never paid out of pocket and has traveled all over the world because of the Guard.

And in 30 years, Diane was never sent overseas for war, she said.

She was activated after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but she was activated stateside for 45 days. During that time, she worked as a nurse at the Happy Hooligans base in Fargo.

She also participated in medical missions that took her out of the country, including one to Africa in 2006. While there, she gave a bunch of Barbie dolls her daughters no longer played with to some of the children she encountered.