After nearly 30 years of serving her country, an air force vet retires to serve her family.
Colonel Judi Hughes, a former commander in the 628th medical group, says retiring was not an easy choice, but with family in mind – she decided to make Charleston her home.
“If anything happened in the world, I’d want to be part of it,” she said.
Hands made to serve. “This was my opportunity to do something.” And a heart made to selflessly love.
Colonel Judi Hughes is a retired Air Force commander.
Nearly 30 years ago, she set out on a mission to serve her country as a nurse after college
“I love taking care of people, that’s why I chose nursing even over being a doctor,” she said.
Climbing the ranks; “Went to first lieutenant, captain, major, lieutenant colonel, and full bird colonel, I was really blessed,” she noted.
Serving for 27 and a half years, Hughes went on 14 assignments, taking her family including her daughter, son, and spouse all over the world.
Hughes sat down with me and says out all of her assignments, her deployment to Bagrahm Airbase in Afghanistan was pivotal in her career. A mission she volunteered for.
“This was my opportunity to do something. We saw incredible trauma, I was blown away by the sacrifice,” she recalled. “We saw two major injuries that someone would have lost from an IUD. And then they would say things like, it’s okay, it’s alright, that level of sacrifice made me want to do anything for those people.”
Hughes and her family made their way to the Lowcountry shortly after her 7-month assignment in Afghanistan.
A move that would change her and her family’s life forever
“That was a big decision,” she said. That decision: retiring in Charleston.
“I really thought about it and was like I don’t want to retire, I still have some work in me.”
Typically, people in the service have until the end of December to let the air force know they are retiring. But this time was different for Hughes.
“They opened up this little window, to give people an opportunity to say they want to retire again, I felt like it was a sign from God. Why did this window open up? In 27 years there’s never been a second chance.”
At the time, her daughter was going into her senior year at Academic Magnet which changed everything.
“My daughter had a unique history; at 11 she was in a jet ski crash that left her with a traumatic brain injury. For 2 weeks she didn’t know who we were, she couldn’t read, she couldn’t communicate… and here she is at Magnet, working on a thesis, I couldn’t pull her from it.”
She talked to her daughter about retiring and her daughter actually told her not to do it, but…
“I really wanted to enjoy her senior year, so the last day of that little 2 week window, I said I’m going to retire.”
A decision she doesn’t regret. “I don’t regret it, I miss it, I loved what I did.”
Hughes said it was time to put family first. “I really felt like my family paid a price, and it’s time to put them first.”
Now, this mom and retired colonel has lots of memories to share. “I actually kept a blog.”
Recounting her time in Afghanistan and other assignments, Hughes turned her blog into a book of memories.
“I do grab my book every once in a while and sit and reflect on my time there and the people.”
Whether it’s going through books filled with memories or glancing at her retirement table with her uniforms, unit coins, medals, ribbons and other cherished tokens, Hughes says all she has to do is look in the sky for a c-17 airplane as a reminder.
“I just love seeing those planes fly over and know that they are going to do amazing things for country.”
Just as she did for 27 and a half years.
Hughes has not stopped serving yet. In her off time, she volunteers at local consignment shops and local organizations because she says she was born to give back.