Navy officer stops in to visit Ridgecrest kin

Ann Cousineau

Lt. Cmdr. Tara Refo may be a fourth-generation graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, but she can’t be accused of being all work and no play. She recently took a break from her life as a Navy E-2C pilot and commander to visit her treasured grandmother, Sybil Turner, and mother, Jill (Turner) Refo in Ridgecrest.

The visit followed on the heels of a summer “Tiger Cruise” from Hawaii to San Diego, with mother and daughter sharing close quarters aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN 72) as Tara completed her deployment to the Middle East.

Tara Refo also brought her fiancé to meet her family here. Lt. Cmdr. Juston Kuch is an FA-18 fighter pilot who returned in August from deployment with USS Abraham Lincoln.

Tara’s recent visit was the first time her 84-year-old grandmother met Juston. “I think this is a God thing. He’s a keeper,” she said during an interview at the News Review.

She confirmed that she and Juston have more than flying in common, they share the exact same birthday—July 12, 1978.

“I still remember when I first saw Tara,” Sybil recalled. “I didn’t realize then, when I was holding her as a baby, that she’d be flying.”

“I’m the fourth generation and first female in the family to graduate from the Navy Academy,” said Tara, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., in 2000.

“We always prayed for Tara, especially when she was at the academy. I believe all is in God’s hand. I know it wasn’t an easy road for Tara. I’m proud of all she’s become,” Sybil said.

Tara, who serves as plane commander for an E-2C Hawkeye, led an all-female combat mission on Jan. 25 this year. When asked how she feels about the historic flight, the 34-year-old was quick to respond.

“Thankful! I have these two hardworking, independent Christian women to thank. They supported me every step of the way, loved me and raised me well,” Tara said.

“There have been other historic all-women combat flights,” she added. “What is special with this is that, in addition to the entire plane’s flight crew being female, all maintenance and launch crewmembers on this mission were also female. It was a first for the Hawkeye E2C community.”

As her deployment drew to a close this summer, Tara had made arrangements for her mother to travel aboard ship with her to its home port in San Diego.

Before going aboard ship, Jill enjoyed a mini-vacation with her daughter in Hawaii. They had fun just being together.

“I loved it — loved it all,” Jill said. “I loved the Hawaiian hotel, the beautiful water and the special time with Tara.”

Once aboard USS Carl Vinson, Tara began sharing what she does every day when she’s on duty — sleep, eat and pursue a unique work schedule. It was a life without cell phones and basically no luxuries while on deployment.

Tara admitted that with rank comes some privilege. As a commander she does have a two-person room, so Jill was able to bunk right in her daughter’s quarters. Tara slept on a cot and gave Jill her bed. “It was the gentlewomanly thing to do,” said Tara, laughing.

“It was really special,” Jill reflected. “As a mom, it was great to be there in the Ready Room for 45 minutes and really see what a young woman Tara has become as she served as operations officer. I was in awe, but not surprised. It was touching to see her on the job.”

After enjoying breakfast with the ship’s admiral, Jill was invited to sit in the admiral’s seat high above the flight deck.

Story First Published: 2012-11-07