Vallecito veteran recalls wartime service, working on military aircraft

Julie Hollars holds a photo of her as a first class petty officer aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln with her leading petty officer in charge of Trouble Shooters.

When Julie Hollars enlisted in the United States Navy, women were not allowed in combat. As the world changed, so did the rules. Hollars soon found herself aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln as F-18 fighter jets launched the first air strike into Iraq from the flight deck.

Hollars was raised on her family’s fifth generation farm in Vallecito with two older sisters. She attended Michelson Elementary School and Bret Harte High School. She thoroughly enjoyed sports ranging from volleyball to softball. Auto shop and wood shop also caught her interest; both skills she would apply later in life.

“I remember when I was a junior I knew I wasn’t ready for college, so I went to the local recruiting office and spoke with recruiters from every branch,” Hollars said. “It was a hard choice. The Air Force required the highest ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) score, yet the Navy seemed to have more to offer for someone who likes to work with their hands.”

Hollars had told her parents of her interest and her mother had begged her not to join. Yet at 18 years old, while a senior in high school, Hollars enlisted in the United States Navy on a delayed-entry program so she could finish high school.

“It was odd; while everyone was worrying about the SATs I was looking forward to my future in the military,” Hollars said.

There was one painful hiccup.

“When I returned home from MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station.) I asked my dad where my mom was,” she said. “He told me she had cried all day. I knew I wasn’t in trouble, but I knew she was hurt and scared; she’s a mom.”

After graduation, Hollars worked in a local cabinet shop applying her woodworking skills while she awaited boot camp.

On Oct. 5, 1988, she was off to boot camp.

“It wasn’t that hard,” she said, “I knew how to march because I had been in a fife and drum corps when I was younger. I knew how to take direction, how to swim, how to work hard, and the food was actually really good.”

During boot camp Hollars was meritoriously promoted to E2.

Without a guaranteed job, Hollars worried what her future would hold.

“When I was asked what I liked to do and told them I liked working with my hands, they suggested aviation; in hindsight, I know that was God looking out for me,” Hollars said.

So began her 20-year career in aviation.

Hollars began with HSL-45 (Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 45) in San Diego, working on Sikorsky SH-60/MH-60 Seahawk helicopters.

“I spent my first three months cleaning the poopers,” she said with a laugh. “But after that, I had to learn the aircraft inside and out. It was here I knew I wanted to become an aviation machinist mate.”

Hollars was transferred to Barking Sands Kauai missile range facility in Hawaii about six months after hurricane Iniki had hit the islands.

“Due to the remoteness of the facility and the isolation, we received isolation pay,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘I come from a smaller town than this. This is not isolated.’”

She spent four years in Hawaii, and with urging from Master Chief Hoevker, transferred to Lemoore Naval Air Base in California with a rank of second class petty officer, where she had her first introduction to fixed-wing aircraft with the Aircraft Intermediate Maintenance Department.

Soon she was assigned to VFA 115, a United States Navy F/A-18E Super Hornet strike fighter squadron.

“I had never worked on a fixed wing in my life; this was a huge transition,” Hollars said. “Let alone it was the first time I was on a carrier. I was scared for me and for my men; the U.S.S. Cole had just gotten bombed. I knew we were going to war.”

Aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, Hollars’ job included troubleshooting the Super Hornets (F-18), checking aircraft prior to launch and repairing.

That deployment was 10 months of standard operating procedure, which included sorties and launching aircraft.

After 10 months, the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln took port in Australia to resurface the flight deck.

“We were curious as to why they were doing that, but received the answer from CNN. There it was, on the television, announcing to the world that the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln was heading back to the Persian Gulf. It was on CNN before our skipper announced it on the IMC.”

While cruising back to the Persian Gulf, Hollars was informed she had been awarded Seaman of the Year, and was requested to go back to San Diego to represent her squadron against four other nominees.

“I remember thinking, ‘Wow,’ but immediately thinking, ‘I can’t leave, I have a job to do,”’ she said. She was quickly flown to San Diego via Amsterdam and returned within a week to her squadron.

Though honored with the award, she was happy to be quickly back aboard the Lincoln, where strikes against Baghdad were soon launched.

“The first airstrikes came from aboard the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln; that is what we train for, that is what we do,” Hollars said. “My (uniform) flag went with the first airstrikes.”

Upon returning home, the crew was advised President George W. Bush would be visiting them.

“Again, I found myself thinking, ‘I have so much to do and now I have to get out of my greasy flight deck uniform into a clean uniform,’” said said.

“I’m glad I made the effort. We were all allowed to ask one question. I pondered what in the world do you ask the president of the United States? The most powerful man in the world. So I asked him, ‘What’s the first thing you do every morning?’ He responded, ‘I bring my lovely wife a cup of coffee.’ Could I respect that man anymore?”

After two deployments on the Lincoln, Hollars returned to Lemoore as an E7 with the Commander Strike Fighter Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet “inspecting squadrons and everything to do with aircraft.” A few short months after arriving, she was promoted to E8 – chief and transferred to Strike Fighter Squadron 146, which she retired out of in 2008.

“I loved aviation; I loved it,” Hollars said.

Once again living on her family farm, Hollars enjoys the simplicity of farming.

“It was a tough transition from the structure of military life, but I am enjoying it now. It’s hard work, but everything we grow is sold,” she said.

Hollars thanks the military for funding her education and now holds a bachelor’s degree in science.

“I would never trade any of it,” she said of her service. “My service pulled potential out of me I didn’t know I had. When you think you can’t, you can.”

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