Local Air Force major meets Obama in Afghanistan

A San Luis Obispo woman met President Barack Obama last week, in less than normal circumstances and very far from home.

Air Force Maj. Heidi Gibson had her picture taken with the president Tuesday at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, where he made a surprise visit. With military vehicles at his back and troops as his audience, Obama’s speech focused on the future of U.S. involvement in the region.

The speech was given on the first anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden and focused on the eventual withdraw of American forces from Afghanistan.

“It was pretty exciting,” Gibson said in a phone interview. “Basically, we were chosen to be part of the backdrop for his press conference.”

Afterward, the troops were invited to meet Obama, take photos, shake hands and have their hats signed.

“We thanked him for coming; he thanked us for our service,” Gibson said. She couldn’t really talk to him because of all the Secret Service agents, she said, but she had her picture taken with him.

Gibson has served for more than 25 years. Straight out of high school, she joined the Air National Guard.

“I was actually what you’d call a bomb loader,” she said with a laugh. “I did that for maybe five, six years.”

When Gibson received her degree in architecture from Cal Poly, she went on to officer training school, was commissioned and went into the civil engineering division.

Now she’s on a six-month tour in Afghanistan — her first tour and her first time in the region. She oversees about 20 construction projects on the air base.

But when she isn’t at work, “the monotony over here kind of gets to you,” she said.

When Gibson returns home in July, she will come back to her job as a principal architect at Studio 2G. Her business partner, Laura Gough, has been managing the firm since she left.

Gibson will also return to her husband, Mike Gibson, 10-year-old daughter Grace and 8-year-old son Gannon.

“When she gets back, she’ll need a few weeks to decompress and readjust. Just a little family time, we’re not planning anything special,” Mike Gibson said.

Originally published May 6, 2012 in the San Luis Obispo Tribune.