Bratt Couple’s ‘Doomsday Romance’ Was Born On Top Secret Plane, Knowing One Might Not Survive

February 14, 2018

On Valentine’s Day, a Bratt couple celebrated a “Doomsday romance” born in one of the most secure places on earth, where only one member of the couple might survive as one of the last living people on the planet.

Gary and Kayleen Amerson were married in 1991 after meeting in the Air Force and being assigned to the Boeing E-4 Advanced Airborne Command Post, project name “Nightwatch” but more commonly called the Doomsday Planes. If the United States were ever in a nuclear war, the planes would provide a mobile command post for the president, secretary of defense and the nation’s top military leaders. The planes also follow the president as he travels abroad.

The year was 1988, the last year of the Cold War.

Gary was wrapping up a tour at Grissom AFB in Indiana and was anticipating getting out and returning to Bratt to work with his dad.  A distracted driver totaled his car and he bought a new SUV, thinking he had a year to pay it off before leaving the Air Force.  A military “roll back” (which gave airmen a choice of another four years or an immediate discharge) forced his hand, and he had to re-enlist for another tour.  He volunteered to go overseas or to the coast, but was given an unwanted second Midwest assignment  to Offutt AFB outside Omaha, NE.

Kayleen was in Iowa, attending her second college taking her third change in major and, on a whim, visited the recruiter, signing on to “any job that flies”. She requested an overseas assignment and instead was assigned to the nearest possible base to her home — at Offutt AFB, NE.

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Both arrived at Offutt in summer of 1989, assigned to the 1850th Airborne Communications Squadron to serve as airborne communications systems operators aboard the E-4B “Doomsday Planes”.

They lived two doors apart in an exclusive flyers’ dorm that allowed for crews to rest around the clock, since flyers didn’t keep regular hours.

Kayleen and Gary flew the same training flights.  As 20-somethings, they fell between the old married guys that had been around forever and the new young airmen that were too young to drink.

Kayleen took to hanging out with Gary because the younger airmen were afraid of him and wouldn’t continually ask him to buy them beer, so they would leave her alone if she was with him.  By the time they were each assigned to mission teams that fall, they were best friends.  They were engaged that spring and married the following year.

“So both of us were in careers we hadn’t planned, assigned to a place neither wanted to go, and landed right where we were meant to be,” Kayleen said.

“One random afternoon I was hanging out in Gary’s room,” she added. “Gary finally got around to asking me if I wanted to go out … like on a date. I agreed, and then not knowing what else to say, left and went back to my own room.

“A few minutes later there was a knock at the door and there stood Gary, saying tentatively ‘I’m here to talk to my old best friend, not my future date.’ I said ok, slightly confused, and he continued in a new, more excited voice, ‘I’ve got a really hot date and I need you to take me shopping for some new clothes!’”

“The mission kept up a 24/7 hot alert, meaning one airplane was always on, keeping in constant communications with other national command centers. The crew of 60 plus, including flight crew, battle staff and communicators, slept in shifts in the ‘alert facility’ right next to the jet and could be airborne in moments in the event of a national emergency.” she said.

Each crew came on duty on Thursday mornings and would stay with the plane until the following Thursday. Gary and Kayleen were on opposite teams after they began to date and after their marriage, so they worked opposite duty shifts with six days together in between. Their eventual honey moon in June 1991 was the longest period of time they had ever spent together.

They spent hours on the phone when the other was away.

“We learned to live in sound bites. We had to fit everything into a weekend that a normal couple would handle in a month. We had been talking about eventually getting married for a while, which for us was probably weeks. I knew when he got the rings but he hadn’t asked me yet,” she said. “It was a night before he was scheduled to leave and I was doing my darndest to get him to propose before he left because I absolutely did not want to wait another two weeks before our next conversation. I kept trying to maneuver us into what I considered romantic settings to set him up to propose but it turns out he already had a plan, and all my maneuvering kept getting me further and further from the target.”

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Many, many nights, the one not on alert would bring dinner and after the office cleared out for the night create a picnic in the crew lounge. They knew that the one on alert could be called at any time and have to dash out without so much as a goodbye kiss.

“We spent more time together in that building than at home for the first years of our marriage,” she said.

“We watched the first invasion of Iraq sitting on the floor in the lounge listening to Wolf Blitzer on CNN. We watched the Branch Dividian saga unfold and Ruby Ridge shortly thereafter. One of us was on alert when the first reports came in of the relatively unsuccessful car bomb attempt at the World Trade Center when no one knew the name bin Laden. Gary was in Japan following President George H.W. Bush when the president choked at a state dinner, and those of us back home wondered if we’d be scrambling a backup jet to get to a successor. We watched all the big events of the world through the lens of always anticipating a presidential catastrophe or bolt out of the blue.”

They also knew that in the event of an all-out nuclear war, their marriage would die. Literally.

“Gary and I were on separate teams, so only one of us would survive,” Kayleen said.

“Once, I was on shift on the plane and we had an alert for an inbound missile that would impact the United States,” she said. “We ran through the protocol, called the Pentagon, they reacted and we launched. The whole time I’m thinking ‘yeah me, I get to survive because Gary is at home’.” It turned out to be a false alarm.

“We understood each other’s stress, so it was a natural outlet,” Gary remarked.

The Amersons spent their first years of marriage at Offutt when they were reassigned to Andrews Air Force Base. Gary to the 99th Airlift Squadron, Kayleen to the 1st Airlift Squadron — same mission, different planes to fly the nation’s top leaders — the vice president, secretary of state, secretary of defense, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the First Lady.

“There our relationship was largely passing glances and radio calls from different continents,” Kayleen said of their time at Andrews AFB.

Major holidays, like Christmas and Valentine’s, stand out in Kayleen’s memory because they would often be apart. “I would plan ahead and hide things in the house, like 12 different notes for the 12 days of Christmas.”

Kayleen quit flying in 1997 to start a family and work at NSA. They spent 1999-2000 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, went back to Offutt in Nebraska in 2003 and Scott Air Force Base in Illinois until retirement at the end of the decade. Kayleen had the only deployment, to Qater in 2005-2006.

And now they are back in Bratt.

“We used our wedding money in 1991, still at Offutt, to buy the land we currently live on. Bratt was always the plan.”

Both currently commute together for three hours a day, working as cybersecurity consultants supporting the U.S. Navy.

“We have always worked together or in similar, connected jobs,” he said. “There were no secrets between us; we knew the same things. If one of us had been a civilian, there would be things I could not tell her about work.”

“God meant for us to be together. Gary is the only person in the world I am able to stand to be around all the time. We just fit,” she said.

“It’s like the Garth Brooks song Unanswered Prayers,” he said. “God decided that we were meant to be together.”

“It is true that the whole idea of mutually assured destruction was a very real fact for us on a daily basis. So you just create the best forever that you can for however long as you get. We got lucky and got the forever after,” Kayleen said.

Submitted photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Comments

17 Responses to “Bratt Couple’s ‘Doomsday Romance’ Was Born On Top Secret Plane, Knowing One Might Not Survive”

  1. David Lamb on February 15th, 2018 5:22 pm

    Never ceases to amaze me what a small world. Gary and Kayleen, I live in Plattsmouth Ne now but was born and raised in Cottage Hill.My brother Doug married Wanda Amerson. Any relation? My Air Force career started in 1968. In 1973 I was assigned to Offutt. My job…. To work on EC-135 Looking Glass.repairing and maintaining all the electronics and some times flew as an RM. In 1977 DOD moved the E-4B from Andrews to Offutt..and the assigned fleet of E-4B’s were added to aircraft I helped and maintained. I also flew on them. We have probably met in the radio room on board. I retired in Aug 1991. The one picture was taken in the alert facility because you can see an E-4 on the ramp through the window of the room you were in. what a small world!

  2. Jan on February 15th, 2018 7:36 am

    Thank you for your great service and for sharing your wonderful personal story.

  3. Leslie on February 15th, 2018 1:43 am

    Wow! Amazing story, congrats as many don’t make it this far and thank you for your service!

  4. Lisa and Larry Amerson on February 14th, 2018 11:51 pm

    We love y’all! I’ve never heard this whole story. This is such a fantastic story! So fun and heartwarming to read!

  5. Mandy on February 14th, 2018 1:59 pm

    So blessed to have this amazing woman as my sister and Gary as a loving brother-in-law. I have learned what marriage is supposed to look like through them!!

  6. Colleen on February 14th, 2018 1:56 pm

    I’m lucky enough to work with these two!
    You guys are awesome co-workers and reading your story as a couple makes my respect and admiration soar sky high! <<<<see what I did there? ;)

  7. Grand Locust on February 14th, 2018 1:09 pm

    In a world that has gone mad, it is refreshing to be reminded of the high standards of those connected to strategic air command. Mutual assured destruction once was a deterrent to all out nuclear war, but in this mad world we live, sanity is the exception, and not the rule, and it is reassuring that good people are there to make sure sanity will prevail.

  8. Sage2 on February 14th, 2018 9:35 am

    So very appropriate for Valentine’s Day. Have a long and loving life dear hearts!

  9. anne 1of2 on February 14th, 2018 9:30 am

    Not taking each other for granted was the key. Thank You for sharing your beautiful love story, hope it lasts 100 years!

  10. Chuck Lavoie on February 14th, 2018 9:19 am

    Well done Gary and Kayleen. Thank you for your service

  11. Lisa Fuller on February 14th, 2018 8:23 am

    How is it I’m just now hearing this story? Awesome.

  12. Mrs. Ellis on February 14th, 2018 7:57 am

    Oh my!
    We civilians never truly know the sacrifices our military personnel make to keep our nation as safe as possible. Thank you Gary and Kayleen for your service to the USA as well as the example of dedication to your marriage vows. An author could not write a more intriguing love story. May you have many more Valentine days together.

  13. Bama Girl on February 14th, 2018 7:53 am

    What a beautiful story. Happy Forever After to both of you!

  14. ANONYMOUS on February 14th, 2018 7:49 am

    Beautiful story.

  15. David and Jackie Johnson on February 14th, 2018 7:40 am

    Thank you for sharing your love story and thank you for serving our military! May God continue to bless your marriage.

  16. DM on February 14th, 2018 6:56 am

    Great couple! Amazing love story! Sweet friends!

  17. Sharon on February 14th, 2018 6:55 am

    A true love story! And Thank you both for your service to our country, always worth standing up for!





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