Continuing a legacy of service

Natasha Young knew from an early age that she wanted to join the military. What she didn't know, even when she joined, was that she was continuing a long legacy of military service that stretched out on both sides of her family. That legacy spread through history and around the world until it finally reached all the way to Natasha and an F-35 jet with "Green River, Wyoming" printed on its side. 

A desire to serve

For Green River native Natasha, the desire to serve her country was closely connected to her relationship with her dad, Dustin Young. They recalled watching military movies like "The Guardian" and "Taking Chance" together, and Natasha said she felt like a switch was flipped and she knew what she wanted to do. 

"I just wanted to help people, and I thought the best way to do that would be joining the military," she explained. 

The decision of which branch to join was something she also discussed in detail with her dad, who had a definite opinion influenced by his own desires. 

"I wanted to join the Navy back when the Missouri was still in operation and I wanted to work on a battleship, and I lost that opportunity," Dustin explained. 

He admitted that, since he was unable to join the Navy himself because of decisions he made in his youth, he may have driven his daughter towards fulfilling his dream. 

"It was definitely a push towards it, but I definitely wanted it, because the Navy seemed like the best option," Natasha said. 

She explained that she's always been good at working with her hands, having done things like welding and woodworking in high school, and she's always enjoyed fixing things, as well as being outdoors and traveling. Joining the Navy brought many of these desires and talents together in one place as she became an aviation structural mechanic working on Navy aircrafts. 

"I've taken out engines, I put engines back in, I've worked in the cockpit," Natasha explained. "I've definitely done a lot of everything."

A special recognition

Much of Natasha's time in the Navy was spent as a plane captain. This position included prepping jets, fueling them, doing maintenance, and launching pilots. Her command worked on F-35 fighter jets specifically, which was new for them. A few people were chosen to be able to put their names and hometowns on a jet as a reward for the excellent quality of their work, and Natasha was among those chosen.

Jet 434 now says "Young" and "Green River, Wyoming" - a first for this kind of representation for the Cowboy State. 

"Because my command was so new, what I was told is I was the first person from Wyoming and, by default, I was the first person from Green River to put my name on a jet for my training command," Natasha explained. "That will stick with that jet for a long time."

Photo courtesy of Dustin Young

A US Air Force F-35 fighter jet has Young's name and "Green River, WY" on it.

Natasha served in the Navy for four years before being medically retired due to health concerns after being exposed to radiation from the jets. She considered herself a "for-lifer" and didn't want to leave the military, fighting to stay despite the risks, but she ultimately had to retire. Still, she ended up marrying an Air Force man who also works on F-35s. Natasha also knows that the impact her service had will stay with her.

"I definitely think that it's something that molded who I am as a person," she said. 

She explained that her service helped instill good morals in her, taught her how to have a strong work ethic, and made it possible for her to make connections and find family with people everywhere. 

Building family connections

Natasha's service also helped her start building bridges and making connections to her own biological family that she never expected. 

"I don't know if family destiny is a thing," she said, but she pointed out that once she started understanding all the connections, "the coincidence was just so great."

Natasha and her family only recently began to learn about and connect with her mom Andrea's side of the family, but once they did they started noticing similarities. 

"All of them were in the Air Force and they all worked with aircraft, and it was before I ever knew them," she explained. "And somehow I joined the Navy and worked on aircrafts."

She admitted it was a little weird to start realizing all of the coincidences, but she's also thankful for it. 

"It definitely makes me feel a lot more connected with [my family]," she said. 

Dustin pointed out that he always felt like Natasha joining the military was an honor and continuing a legacy of service, but it was just the starting point. 

"That's how I felt when she joined, and then we started finding out more and more," he explained. 

Tracing a legacy

For Dustin, taking a deep dive into family history and tracing it back has been a way to keep make more connections and continue to honor that legacy of service. 

"I started getting into the history of it, and then finding out the history of our family went back before the nation was founded, so that made it even more sentimental," Dustin explained.

Over time, Dustin has gathered old photos, newspaper clippings, service papers, wills, and anything else he has been able to find and save from family members who wanted to throw it out. He has researched both his side of the family and his wife Andrea's side to track the connections back to Natasha. In doing so, he has uncovered information about family members on both sides who have been part of nearly every major conflict over the last 250 years. 

Family history as old as the country

On Dustin's side of the family, the legacy starts with his own father, Natasha's grandfather, US Army Corporal Dean E. Young, who served during the time of the Vietnam War and was a communications specialist in Germany. 

Photo courtesy of Dustin Young

Dean Young

There are also those in the Young family who made the ultimate sacrifice. Kenneth Leidecker, Natasha's great-great-uncle, was killed in action in Southern France during WWII. A newspaper clipping from June 14, 1945 reveals that he was killed by an exploding road mine at 21 years old. He was part of the 66th Infantry Division, which was known as the Black Panthers and awarded a Bronze Star by General Dwight D. Eisenhower. 

Jumping back further in time, Dustin's family connections lead to Isaac Smith, who fought with the 191st Regiment of the Ohio Infantry in the Civil War.

Photo courtesy of Dustin Young

Isaac Smith

Isaac Smith's regiment was part of conflict in locations including Harper's Ferry, Charleston, and the Shenandoah Valley. Later, he was forwarded to Camp Chase and became part of the 186th Regiment. Smith's son, Isaac Smith Jr., later served as a guard at the US Capitol. 

Some of Dustin's ancestors were even involved in conflicts in other countries, such as Thomas Giles, father of William Giles. A newspaper clipping of an obituary for William explains that he was born on a boat returning home after his father Thomas was  "a soldier under Wellington, and was one of the Guard that had charge of Napoleon Bonaparte at St. Helena." 

Around the same time period, Dustin's ancestor Conrad Emery fought in the War of 1812 with the 134th Regiment of the Pennsylvania Militia. Prior to that, John Emery fought for the nation's liberty with the Pennsylvania 5th Regiment in the Revolutionary War. This regiment was involved in major battles including Brandywine, Monmouth, Springfield and Yorktown. 

A legacy connected to aircraft

On Andrea's side of the family, the tradition of working with aircraft has strong roots for the past three generations. 

More recently, Natasha's uncle and Andrea's brother, Bryan Fay Irene, also served his country for two tours in Iraq.

Before that, the aircraft connections were seen with Andrea's father and Natasha's grandfather, Robert Scott McNabb. He received a four-year US Air Force scholarship to become a fighter pilot in 1975, and ultimately became a B-52 pilot. The B-52H Stratofortress is described by the Air Force as a "long-range, heavy bomber" that is "capable of flying at high subsonic speeds at altitudes of up to 50,000 feet." 

Photo courtesy of Dustin Young

Robert Scott McNabb

Robert Scott's brother and Natasha's great-uncle Richard Brian McNabb served as a Colonel in the Air Force. He was assigned to the 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron during the Korean War. According to the Air Mobility Command Museum, this service was "credited with 996 combat saves in the Korean War and 2,780 in the Vietnam War." Richard also joined the 55th Special Operations Squadron as a flight commander and participated in Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, and Northern Watch.

Robert Scott McNabb's father and Natasha's great-grandfather Robert Lee McNabb was a US Air Force Senior Master Sergeant who joined the Air Force at 17 years old. He started as a radio operator on Boeing KC-97, a "refueling tanker version of the C-97 Stratofreighter, a 74-ton multi-purpose airplane," according to the Smithsonian. Robert Lee later served as a crewman on an HH-43 Huskie rescue helicopter and was part of the 44th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. Later still, he served as a maintenance supervisor on F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircrafts. 

Photo courtesy of Dustin Young

Robert Lee McNabb

Robert Lee's father, William Guy McNabb, was Natasha's great-great-grandfather, and was a US Air Force Senior Master Sergeant who served in the Vietnam War, Korean War, and World War II. 

Photo courtesy of Dustin Young

William Guy McNabb

Natasha's great-grandfather through Andrea's mother's side also fought in World War II. Fay W. Bryner was a Staff Sergeant who served as a waist gunner on a B-17. The Air Mobility Command Museum explains that the Boeing B-17 Bomber Flying Fortress was "America's most famous heavy bomber during WWII." Fay Bryner flew 47 missions and received multiple medals. 

"His plane was the first to make a shuttle raid from Italy to Russia and return, flying over German-held territory heavily defended by anti-aircraft guns and fighter planes," a newspaper clipping explained before continuing: "Sgt. Bryner's plane was reported shot down over nazi-held Russian territory." 

Fay Bryner was a prisoner of war after being shot down. He eventually returned home and connected with his family, one day meeting and holding his great-granddaughter Natasha. 

A deep sense of pride

Tracking down the history of Natasha's ancestors on both sides of the family has led to remarkable discoveries, not just of facts but of preserved pieces of history. Natasha recalled finding photographs taken by her great-great-grandfather William Guy McNabb during the Liberation of France in the summer of 1944. The small black and white photos look like something out of a history book as they show large crowds, tanks, trucks, and officers gathered to celebrate at the Champs-Élysées and Arc de Triomphe. 

Photo courtesy of Dustin Young

William Guy McNabb took photos of the Liberation of France in World War II.

"I remember when I found those and I showed my dad and I was like, 'Dad, you're gonna want to look at these,'" Natasha said. "He looked at them and goes 'Shut up.' He just lost it. He thought it was the coolest."

Photo courtesy of Dustin Young

William Guy McNabb took photos of the Liberation of France in World War II.

For Dustin, tracking down family history is not only fascinating and exciting, but personal and emotional. 

"It's a really deep pride to see this, to just know this is me," he said, thinking of the history he's found.

That pride extends from his own connections to his daughters, his love for them, and seeing where they're at now. Natasha was the only female in her class who served, and from what Dustin can tell is the first female in her long family lineage to serve. 

"For me it's just the pride of everything it took for us to get here," Dustin said. "Just to know that it might have passed me but it's continuing on, the patriotism and serving your country for a greater good. There's a bigger picture." 

Dustin has tracked down the graves of many of the family members he's researched. Looking at their headstones, he's considered how they would feel about their so-many-greats-grandson keeping their memories alive, and their so-many-greats-grandaughter continuing their legacy. 

"It just goes on," he said. "These people would be so proud." 

 

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