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The Mosleys' Way: Greensboro couple meets, marries and works together while in Air Force
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The Mosleys' Way: Greensboro couple meets, marries and works together while in Air Force

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GREENSBORO — They bonded over travel and camera equipment.

Her extrovert to his introvert.

A reverence for the uniform.

"He says my story isn’t correct," Barbra Mosley, 66, says with the kind of laugh that instantly draws people in.

The two were at a pickup basketball game at Norton Air Force Base in San Bernardino, Calif., in 1980, where they were both assigned. She was watching.

"He came up to me, one of my friends and I, and he gave me his watch and a ring or something and said, 'Can you hold this until the game is over?'" recalls Barbra, a Dudley High School graduate, of her introduction to King Mosley. "I looked at him like you don’t know me like that."

But she held onto it.

"And we started dating shortly after," she says with the kind of smile that still melts the Birmingham, Ala., native's heart.

But King's orders changed the next year.

"I ended up leaving California, going to Korea, and it was over there that I started missing her, and I said I think that's the person I want to spend the rest of my life with," says the voice behind "King Mosley's Smooth Jazz Cafe" on WNAA 90.1 FM, N.C. A&T's radio station.

"It was a couple of phone calls later that I think she agreed," King, now 68, says.

And 39 years later, the military veterans still thank God and Uncle Sam this Veterans Day for the life they've lived. They are like a lot of families having had to adapt to the career of a military spouse. In this case, two.

Changing trajectory

Back at A&T during her junior year, Barbra had decided she wanted to go to law school after taking a political science class. Only she felt that it was too late to start preparing.

Instead, she went to the military recruitment office then downtown and enlisted in the Air Force, which required a high school diploma or GED. If she wasn't going to law school, she would travel the world, she thought. She told her foster brother, home on leave from the Army. But she didn't get the kind of reaction she expected. He was angry.

Their mother intervened.

"He said, 'Mom, I'm trying to tell her she's going to get a college degree. She needs to go in as an officer."

She hadn't thought about that.

Her brother then took her to the ROTC office at A&T — a building she had never paid attention to.

The officer in charge told them that if she could give them two years, he could guarantee her a commission as a second lieutenant, which would give her more pay and the ability to hone her leadership skills.

To do that, she stayed in school to work on her master's in educational media.

After nearly completing her master's, she was commissioned in 1977.

Then came the assignment: Germany.

The job: munitions maintenance.

That wasn't what she wanted to do.

What followed was six months of munitions training at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado, where people she met on base suggested she try to "wash out" or fail her competency test. It brought the opportunity of being retrained but also the risk of being sent home.

"When the test came up I failed the test and the instructor called for me after class," she recalls of him knowing something was wrong as she had been a good student. "He said, 'Barbra, if you are going to fail a test, fail the durn test.' "

She had failed by just a point. Even by going down the list of questions circling any answer.

But after a review board listened to her appeal, she got the chance to be retrained in another place where people were needed.

One of the options was photo intelligence school. The other was the Air Force Audio-Visual Center at Norton Air Force Base, where films were produced for military training and public relations. 

Within 36 hours of arriving there, her first assignment would take her to Hollywood to record a script for a project that she would be working on.  

It would be a trial by fire, though she also had the work toward her master's degree from A&T to help guide her.

She picked up the script, a set of keys to a government car and a map and set off on what looked to be an hour drive between San Bernardino and Hollywood, with a tape of Rufus and Chaka Khan's "Which way to Hollywood?" in the deck.

But nobody told her the traffic would be horrendous. She arrived at the production house three hours later. The soap opera actor hired for the job let her know it. He told her she was wasting his time.

"I couldn’t show fear," she recalls.  "I said, 'According to the contract I have you are under contract for how long I need you.' He said, 'Do you know who I am?' "

She let his words hang in the air.

One of the staff engineers later pulled her aside.

"We are going to love working with you," he told her.

From there, she would go to different bases throughout the United States with sound technicians and a camera person and lights. Sometimes, it was just her and a camera person. She still cannot talk about some of the U.S. Department of Defense assignments even to this day.

There would be other stints, like Hill Air Force Base in Utah, which at the time had the best television production operation in the military.

But before Utah, she was holding onto King Mosley's jewelry at that pickup game.

Career moves

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King left Birmingham at the age of 18, looking to the Air Force both as a career and a way to get away from home.

He had an uncle in the Air Force who wasn't sure he could adapt to the rigidness or discipline.

"I could be head-strong," he admits.

All the travel the older man did appealed to King and he enlisted to pursue photography.

"But my first permanent assignment was at Vandenberg Air Force Base and it seems I got stuck there," he recalls.

His roommate told him he should find a career field facing a shortage of people and ask to be retrained.

It worked. He retrained as an air traffic controller and was shipped to RAF Lakenheath Air Force base in England.

There, he encountered an incident that haunts him until this day.

"I was controlling a flight of aircraft one day and when I contacted the tower I told the tower they had a flight of two coming in," King recalls. "They're usually sitting there with binoculars looking for what's coming in. They called back at the 5 mile point and said we can only see one."

One of the planes had been hit by a lightning strike and crashed before it got to the runway.

"It still haunts me today because the person flying that airplane and I had simulator training together," King says. "Some nights I wake up and see his face. After that incident I said I can't do that job."

He was shipped to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, where his photography caught the attention of the Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron known as “The Thunderbirds.”

He turned it down because he refused to give up his mustache. There were rules against facial hair.

Without his mustache, he looked boyish.

"I had a few people tell me I was crazy to turn down such a prestigious assignment because of that, because you also get to fly with them occasionally," he says of a group that he continues to admire. "I still look at them with pride."

At the time, the Air Force was looking for people to move from photography to television production, a field that would take him to California, where his then-future wife was already stationed. Only he hadn't met her yet. When he did, he didn't think she cared a whole lot for him.

"She thought I was a very arrogant person because I don't say a whole lot," Mosley says. "We are complete opposites. She's magnetic. She has a tendency to draw people to her. With me, it's fine if I'm not even seen."

Though they bonded on adventures.

"It was nothing for me to wake up on a Saturday morning and just start driving," King says. "Just ride until you get somewhere."

She liked that, too. 

"I think God was working in the background a little bit," King says.

They had found their soulmate, even if it broke military rules.

The military looks down on fraternizing between officers and enlisted people. Barbra was still a second lieutenant. But they stuck together, eventually marrying in 1981. Their commander, who knew, was a family man, who saw how professional they were in their jobs even when they ended up being put on the same assignment if he was the only qualified cameraman who could go.

"Most people wouldn't have known we were a couple unless they paid attention to the name tag," King says.

"We tried not to stay underneath each other to bring attention to that fact."

But there could be problems if they left his command for other opportunities.

King decided to retrain in a different job, which ended up being communications.

He would soon get several assignments while she stayed at Norton.

But she kept busy as she earned the rank of captain.

After participating in TOPS in Blue, a military traveling ensemble  entertaining airmen and women and their families at the various bases, she took part in an all-female group of singers that would go on the road to perform at the bases.

"Send me on the road performing and pay me, too?" Barbra says. "I loved it."

She left the military in 1985.

When King was sent to Korea for a short stint in which she couldn't go, she went back to A&T to finish her master's degree. Later, he was assigned to a base in Japan, and she went along. While he was busy at work, she made her way to a base recreation center, where she took a class in conversational Japanese and went on short cultural trips around the city with people she met, such as taking in a bonfire held by local monks.

"I loved it and King would say — 'Now, you are going where this weekend?'"

She ended up also taking a job on base as an educational counselor helping members of the military and their significant others continue their education.

King's last job was supervising a mainframe computer system. He had spent much of his career working through the Armed Forces Network documenting training activities to train and prepare fellow soldiers for conflicts and their jobs, and sometimes providing the audio and video recordings from high-level officers sending messages and encouragement to those on the front line.

Having earned the rank of technical sergeant, King retired in 1991. They decided to move to Greensboro, where Barbra's parents still lived.

Civilian life

In Greensboro, Barbra worked on a doctorate in instructional design and technology at Virginia Tech and as an associate professor in A&T's  education school, where she earned a teaching excellence award.

King, who has a large collection of music, went to work at the post office — and was persuaded to try his hand as an on-air personality at WNAA.

"I'm a music junkie, just like the wife," King says.

They continue to venture off the main roads of life — both literally and figuratively.

On a drive down to Savannah a few years ago, they saw a historic sign along the highway about a monument to Tuskegee Airmen, the first black military aviators.

"I look back sometimes," Barbra says of signing up to serve her country, "and I am thankful for the path I took."

Contact Nancy McLaughlin at 336-373-7049 and follow @nmclaughlinNR on Twitter.

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