Life Here

October 21, 2022 By Darlene Alexander

Duty at the White House

My first Air Force (AF) assignment after completion of the Communications-Electronics (CE) officers’ course in 1967 was to the Communications Squadron at Malmstrom AFB in Great Falls, Montana. One of my duties as the Cryptographic Custodian was to support the Minuteman Missile sites located across North Dakota with current key cards. A job that was never dull and a great learning experience. Their duties were supervising the data message center and the weather communications systems.

Then, as if I had not been exposed enough to the Arctic world, I was assigned to a 15-month tour to the Communications Squadron at Goosebay AFB, in Labrador. A rare assignment, particularly for a female (a first as I later found out)—lucky me! Two assignments back-to-back with frequent snow and blizzards. As the Squadron Chief of Operations, I was responsible for overall operation of Communications Electronics operations and functions, to include a teletype and Autodin (the services secure email system) data relay center which services all bases in the North Atlantic, Airlift Command Post flight info on MAC aircraft movements, cryptographic support and timely status of the Distant Early Warning Line , a system of radar stations in the far Northern Arctic region of Canada which my team and I visited frequently for quality control. Goose Bay was brutal, but I survived and as a reward I was assigned to hot and steamy Washington DC to the Communications Group located in the basement of the Pentagon (you have to start some place). I was a fledgling AF Captain when I received a call from the Military Assistant to the President, Richard Nixon (speechless and incoherent comes to mind). The General told me I had been selected to be the First ever Female Military White House Social Aide. My duties were collateral to my military duties, but the White House duties took precedence.

Here are just a few of the more memorable social functions that I participated in:

  • Tricia Nixon’s wedding, where I escorted the guests to the Rose Garden and set up the receiving line in their proper protocol order, which is not easy, believe me.
  • Escorted the now King of England and his then wife Diana in a tour of the White House when they visited the President.
  • A dozen State dinners (including one of which Elvis Presley provided entertainment (guess who got a kiss on the cheek), met numerous Heads of State including her excellency Indira Gandhi, other foreign dignitaries, and cabinet members.
  • A Christmas Party for the children of the foreign Embassy families, a function I was in charge of. This was a lot of fun as you can see from the photo.
  • A very special event when I was honored with an invitation from the First Lady, Pat Nixon to join her luncheon with the Shah of Iran’s wife, Farah Pahlavi. Pahlavi was interested in spearheading a Women’s Corp like our WAF.

As a special reward for my services, my follow-on assignment was, you guessed it, Tan Son Nhut AB, Saigon, Vietnam for a year.


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