Air Force veterans share more than service

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Diane A. Rhodes
Writer 

Before Dick and Heather Nester of Menifee fell in love with each other, they each found a love for the United States Air Force. After having served a combined 65 years in the military, this month the couple will enjoy celebrating their 26th Veterans Day together as husband and wife.

Heather Nester chose the Air Force on her father’s recommendation that the branch “houses you better and feeds you better.” She joined in 1975 alongside her husband at the time as part of the Join Spouse assignment program, which allowed them to be stationed together. A few years later, she was widowed but stayed in the military.

“I loved the camaraderie,” Heather Nester, 65, said. “They push you for your betterment; there was always something more they wanted you to achieve. No matter what I was assigned to do; I felt I had a purpose.”

She said she thrived in the environment and attained honors status in the technical school classes she was required to take.

“I was an average student in high school because I didn’t apply myself, but I excelled in my military career,” Heather Nester said, who served for 37 years and retired as a senior master sergeant. “I’m an ‘attention to detail’ person so the military came easy to me.”

Dick Nester said he was always around airplanes in one way or another his whole life, even building model planes as a child.

“After I joined the Air Force ROTC at Ball State University, I realized that being a math teacher wasn’t my future like I thought it would be,” Dick Nester, 76, said. “It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a teacher – I just wanted to be a pilot more.”

He graduated from college and got his commission to the Air Force on the same day in 1965. He served all but about three years of his 28 years of military service in active duty, including time with the Air National Guard.

Married right out of college, he and his former wife had two children together. Mostly stationed in the southwestern United States, he also did tours in Germany and Thailand during the Vietnam War.

“It was fun and scary all at the same time,” Dick Nester said of flying an F-4 into a war zone.

The Nesters first “met” over the telephone and conversed for a couple of years before they ever met in person. Dick Nester was stationed at March Air Force Base in Riverside, which is now March Air Reserve Base, and said he often had reasons to call for officers at the Sacramento area base where Heather Nestor was working as an executive secretary. She said she noticed him because he did not identify himself by his rank first which all the others did and that stood out to her. Dick Nester retired as a lieutenant colonel.

“I was working with high-level generals and colonels, and Dick always made a point of saying hi to me before asking to be connected to one of them,” Heather Nester said.

The two had their first face-to-face meeting at March AFB during a staff assistance visit, but she soon transferred to Salt Lake City. One day, Dick called to see how she was doing, and they began to talk more often and saw each other a few times. In 1991, she transferred to March AFB.

Two years later, the couple married at the base’s chapel in what Heather Nester describes as her “fairy-tale” wedding with the chaplain and groom in full uniform. Both agreed the most meaningful part of the ceremony was when Dick sang his vows to Heather: the lyrics to Alabama’s “Forever’s as Far as I’ll Go.” They said their marriage works because they share “patience and understanding and the realization that love conquers all.”

Heather Nester said when she served as a senior non-commissioned officer, she always ensured her personnel were taken care of. As a commander, Dick Nester said he learned the importance of taking care of his people because he feels they are the greatest asset of the military. 

Diane A. Rhodes can be reached by email at valleystaff@reedermedia.com.