Sen. King interviews pioneering Air Force linguist about her time in the Air Force during the Cold War

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Sen. King interviews pioneering Air Force linguist about her time in the Air Force during the Cold War


See the interview HERE.

BRUNSWICK, ME – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today released his latest episode of Answering the Call: Voices of Maine Veterans, Senator King’s interview series in which he shares the stories of the lives, service, and sacrifices of Maine’s veteran community. In the ninth interview in the series, conducted in partnership with the Library of Congress’ Veterans History Project, Senator King spoke with the Gardiner Outta Maine resident who served in the Air Force as a Russian linguist during the height of the Cold War. During the interview, Auta shared with the senator her story of joining the military to support her family, the high-stakes job of linguistics and communications during the Cold War, and what it was like to serve as a closeted gay woman in the 1970s .

“It was an honor to speak with Auta Main and hear the story of her courageous service on this episode of Answering the Call: Voices of Maine Veterans.” From joining the Air Force to support his family to his current work with veterans, Auta continually demonstrates what it means to selflessly defend our nation and the principles of our founders.” said Senator King. “Along with her critical work as a Russian linguist during the Cold War, Auta helped the country deliver on our promises of equality and opportunity. As a gay woman serving in the 1970s, she paved the way for the current generation of LGBTQ+ service members to live openly without fear. Her life of dedication is a true inspiration and I am grateful that she was able to join me in sharing her story.”

Auta Main grew up in Dresden, Maine with her seven siblings in a house with three bedrooms and only one bathroom. They were a rural, working-class family, her father working as a pipe fitter at BIW. Auta had two uncles who had served in Korea, but she never considered military service until she realized her college scholarships wouldn’t be enough and that her older sister was struggling to pay her college bills. So when an Air Force recruiter approached Auta, it was a way to support both herself and her family, and she enlisted in 1976.

Leaving the state for the second time in her life, Auta took her first flight for basic training in San Antonio and recalls the physical, mental and emotional trials that left little time for nostalgia or worry. More importantly, she recalls a strong sense of purpose, camaraderie, and duty that she quickly grew to love. As she and her colleagues began to choose their fields, Auta, who knew members of the Russian community in Dresden, decided to become a Russian linguist. Air Force linguists were trained to intercept and translate Russian radio frequencies, a post that would take Out to Germany.

Auta served almost 3 years in Augsburg, Germany, where she worked to intercept Soviet radio communications. While the frequencies she intercepted were mostly military exercises and counterintelligence, she became skilled at recognizing the types of vehicles they used just from the background noise. At the height of the Cold War, it was clear that this work was being closely monitored by Soviet intelligence and was critical to keeping the peace.

Auta’s time in the Air Force was also a time of personal discovery. She had signed up with a male fiancé waiting for her back in Maine, but the first time she fell in love was in the Air Force, with a woman. As she began to fully understand her sexual orientation, she faced the threat of expulsion if she was ever brought out. Auta saw other queer women being threatened and pushed around and said homophobia was a big part of why she decided to leave the Force. Auta married his wife just two weeks after the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, and now they live happily together in Maine. As she reflects on LGBTQ+ rights in the military, she notes, “Let the people who want to serve, serve!” and is glad to see so many service members today who can celebrate their identity without shame or fear. She now works to help veterans transition from military to civilian life.

The Veterans History Project is an effort by the Library of Congress to collect, preserve, and disseminate the personal accounts of America’s war veterans so that future generations can hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war. Interviews and primary documents from the project are then used by researchers, historians, students and filmmakers across the country. Senator King joins many other members of Congress who have participated in the project.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator King is a staunch advocate for America’s service members and veterans. Over the past year, he has worked to honor and preserve veterans’ stories with his Answer the Call interview series in partnership with the Library of Congress and Honoring Purple Heart Recipients Act of 2022 which will honor and recognize the sacrifices of Purple Heart Medal recipients. King also recently celebrated the Senate’s passage of the PACT Act, which will provide veterans exposed to toxic hazards with the health care and benefits they deserve through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).


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