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Air Force enables courtship

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Harry Brexel and Capt. Casey Staheli
  • 913th Airlift Group
It has been said that simple acts of kindness can change the lives of people worlds apart. Maybe it was kindness, luck, or even destiny, but such is the story of Jeff Walston and Eva Klimentová.

Jeff’s story

Most people would describe Jeff Walston as stubborn, defiant and someone who marches to the beat of his own drum. But beneath the rough exterior, honest personality and sarcastic sense of humor, most people find him to be an oddly funny man of integrity, with an unwavering positive perspective.

Additionally, Walston is a U.S. Air Force Reserve Master Sergeant with more than 37 years of service in two branches of the military. He first joined the Navy in 1977, in his hometown of Tyler, Texas, shortly after graduating high school.

“The U.S. Navy was the quickest way to get out of town,” Walston said. “But, when I enlisted I didn’t get a guaranteed job, so after being accepted into submarine school I had to make a choice.”

Walston asked himself, ‘What would John Wayne do?’ He decided John would be the captain or a torpedoman’s mate, so when the decision came around, he chose torpedoman. Unfortunately, the Navy had different plans and Walston’s dream became a nightmare when he found himself being trained as a cook.

His first assignment was on the USS Cavalla (SSN 684), a fast-attack submarine stationed at Groton, Connecticut. His first submarine deployment was to the Mediterranean. But once again, things did not go as planned.

“I got injured and they left me in Italy. They literally left me there. I was dumped in Sigonella, Sicily, and flown to Naples, where it took about 30 days to recover from my injuries. I was then flown to Olbia, Sardinia, caught a bus to the coast where I took a ferry to the island of Maddalena to catch up with the boat just in time for the New Year’s Eve celebration with my shipmates. It was very traumatic,” Walston said with a smile.

The Cavalla and her crew eventually transited the Panama Canal and pulled into the shipyard in Bremerton, Washington, for a refit. Afterwards, the boat was to be homeported in Hawaii, forcing Walston to make some major choices.

With the end of his initial enlistment rapidly approaching and a potential change of station, Walston called his fiancé, who convinced him to leave the Navy and return home. However, after a long drive from Seattle to Texas, he never made it into the house. She broke up with him as soon as he arrived at her door.

“I still don’t understand why she couldn’t end it over the phone.” Walston said. “It ruined my plans to go to Hawaii.”

Despite the break-up, Walston pushed forward. He joined the Navy Reserve, managed restaurants, worked as a bouncer in local nightclubs, built a house in the country, started a company, and became a successful artist, photographer, comedian and movie producer.

“Life was busy and good, but a tad bit lonely,” Walston admitted.

Although, he continued to date, he never married, and this was a subject his Italian mother broached on numerous occasions.

In late 1999, the Naval Reserve Center in Tyler, Texas, was deactivated. Walston, not wanting to lose his 22 years of service, later joined the Air Force Reserve at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, in February 2001. Unfortunately, a recruiter’s mistake created a similar situation for Walston, and he began his Air Force career as a cook.

After a short time, Walston transitioned from a cook to a photojournalist and entered the public affairs office in 2004. He learned his trade and in July 2008, deployed to Iraq for six months. After returning, he took a positon as an Air Reserve Technician in April 2009, and moved from Texas to Louisiana.

Eva’s story

Eva Walston is level-headed, soft spoken and wise. Born in a small town on the banks of the Bílovka River, near the slopes of the Nízký Jeseník Mountains in the Moravian-Silesian Region of Czechoslovakia, she spent the first few years of her life under communist rule.

“I was so little when communism fell apart that I only have a few unhappy memories, such as standing with my mom in a line to get some exotic fruit such as bananas, oranges or tangerines,” Eva said. “We couldn’t even choose the best looking pieces of fruit. We just got what the salesperson had under her hands, but we didn’t mind. We were just glad that we didn’t wait in the line for nothing. More than once it happened that we got home with empty shopping bags.”

Buying food was just one of many challenges Czech families faced under communist rule. Trying to purchase appliances or household goods also complicated daily life. Stores received limited numbers of certain items and salespeople often kept those items for their own relatives or friends.

“I remember walking home with my mom when she saw somebody with a (deep fat) fryer box. When she found out where the person got it, she grabbed me and ran with me back to the store. She was so happy to get her first fryer,” Eva said.

When Eva was in kindergarten, Czechoslovakia was transforming from a totalitarianism state into a democratic one. School administrators and parents realized that as borders began opening, the future was in learning foreign languages.

As Eva entered grade school her parents paid for English classes after normal school hours. Unfortunately, in the beginning, most English teachers were self-taught.

“Teachers were rarely more than one lesson ahead of their students, and therefore unable to answer questions about English grammar, and so I struggled,” Eva said. “One day, my high school English teacher told me I would never be able to speak or understand the language. After that comment, every English class was 45 minutes of misery.”

Eva’s view of English changed when she entered college.

“My major was Political and Cultural Geography and many of my studying sources were in English. Since I enjoyed my studies, and read often, my English skills improved,” she said.

Eva dreamed of travelling the world and writing news articles as a journalist. In June 2010, she got her chance when she interviewed with the biggest newspaper in the Czech Republic.

“They liked my writing, and I passed their knowledge test, but they didn’t offered me a job because my English speaking skills were not as good as they wanted,” Eva said. “I didn`t want that to ever stop me again from reaching my goals.”

Two unlikely paths cross

In September 2010, a B-52 Stratofortress and aircrew from Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, traveled to NATO Days, the largest air, military and security show in Central Europe. The event is held annually in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

After the B-52 Airmen returned home, Jeff’s supervisor tasked him with responding to an e-mail from an individual who met members of the aircrew and wanted to express appreciation for their visit. In the e-mail, the person asked, why their comment on the wing’s public website was not showing up.

Jeff did his duty, found the problem and approved the comment for publication. He responded and let the individual know the comment was now visible. A couple of weeks later he got another email from the woman asking him if he would help her with her English. He agreed, and one message turned into many, as the two got to know each other.

“I’ve liked having penpals since my Navy days because it guarantees getting mail,” Jeff said. “I hadn’t had one in years, so I was happy with exchanging e-mails.”

Although the emails went back and forth for almost a year, Jeff and Eva never exchanged photos or ages, but talked about families, traveling the world, cultural differences, histories, movies and other topics of interest. Though they never met, the Air Force would soon ensure the two penpals would get the chance.

“My vice commander said he wanted me to go with the B-52 aircrew to NATO Days in 2011 and I jumped at the opportunity,” Jeff said.

Jeff and Eva arranged to meet at a bookstore in Ostrava, where public meetings with different aircrews were held as part of the international show.

When Eva arrived at the bookstore and saw Jeff, she hesitated.

“He had an austere look on his face, and appeared a little angry,” Eva said. “After a while, I introduced myself, since he had traveled all that way.”

Even though there was a slight language barrier, and Jeff was twice her age, they hit it off. She went to see him both days of the security show and took him on a sightseeing trip to the mountains.

Before Jeff left the Czech Republic, they assured each other they would continue communicating.

They sustained their friendship by email, and after a while Eva planned to travel to Canada or the U.S. to attend an English as a Second Language class so she could get a better job back home.

“I needed to improve my English very quickly. I couldn’t think of any better way to do it than spending a few months in an English speaking country,” Eva said.

Jeff volunteered to assist her in finding a class in Bossier City, Louisiana, at the local community college, and Eva started the biggest adventure of her life, taking a journey half-way around the world on a 90-day visa.

Over the next three months Eva’s English improved, as did her relationship with Jeff. The two got to know each other better as they travelled and experienced life together.

The 90 days went by fast. Soon, they found themselves hugging and kissing as they said goodbye at the airport, neither knowing when, or if, they would ever see each other again.

“Maybe that kiss is when we fell in love,” Jeff said. “She’s intelligent, beautiful and easy to converse with. She’s the whole package, and so different from the American women I’ve met. She is simple in her needs, and complicated in her emotions. I like that.”

Six months later Eva returned to Louisiana and continued her English studies. During this visit, love blossomed and the two married in January 2013.

“Jeff is funny, nice, and I trust him completely,” Eva said. “I do miss my family a lot, but I’ve always wanted an exciting life and to travel, and unexpectedly, I found the right man to enjoy all of it together. So, they’re supportive of my decision.”

“We spend a lot of time travelling,” Jeff said. “There are a lot of things I want to show Eva. We’ve already been to 19 states, and I want to show her even more of her new country.”

As Eva adjusts to her new life it’s not all play. She has excelled in her employment as a bank teller and a supervisor for the base exchange, and is still eager for something bigger and better.

In December 2016, she received her American citizenship and believes it will open up more opportunities.

“I had to wait a few years, pass the test and pay fees, but I’m finally an American citizen,” Eva said. “I’m very excited. I now have the same rights as all Americans and can get a job where I can apply my degree.”

Jeff plans on in 2018, and leaves on high note after being selected as the 913th Airlift Group’s 2016 Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year. Once out, the couple plans to head back to their home in Texas, where Jeff will finish writing a book about his 37 years of adventures and interesting experiences, while Eva plans on managing the photography branch of Jeff’s movie production company.

“It was fate that our paths crossed. I truly believe she was sent from God,” Jeff said. “I waited a long time for the love of my life and finally found her. I just wish Mom could have known her. She would have loved Eva.”

It’s difficult for Jeff and Eva not to be optimistic. The two found true love, despite being separated by cultural differences, a language barrier and the Atlantic Ocean. The couple looks forward to their future, and are forever grateful for the Air Force that brought them together.