Lothes traveled the world as an Air Force intelligence specialist
Editor’s note: This article is part of The Inter-Mountain’s Unsung Heroes series for 2018, which features veterans in our area sharing first-hand accounts of their military service.
ELKINS — An Elkins woman traveled the globe during her 25 years in the military.
Wilga C. Lothes served as a member of the United States Air Force from May 30, 1990, through her retirement as a major on Dec. 1, 2015. Much of her time in the service was spent in the intelligence field.
From February 1991 through August 1992, Lothes was stationed at Iraklion Air Station in Crete, Greece, where she issued more than 300 tactical intelligence reports, that she said were sent to the White House.
Following her time in Greece, she began working at The Air Force Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Agency, in San Antonio, Texas, before being deployed to Saudi Arabia in 1994.
She spent four months in Saudi Arabia generating tactical reports, receiving information from aircrafts and identifying threats to American soldiers.
In September 1995, she was deployed to Osan Air Force Base in Korea, where she served as an advisory warning analyst, monitoring air craft activity and looking for potential threats.
From 1996 to 1999, she was stationed at the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland, where she also monitored and reported potential threats, before being deployed to Turkey in 1998.
While in Turkey she was in direct contact with fighter pilots, providing them with coordinates for firing on enemy forces.
After her six-month stint in Turkey, she reported to Officer Training School in Montgomery, Alabama, after her commander insisted she be recommended for the program.
“When I was deployed to Turkey the first time, my commander said, ‘You have two masters’ degrees, why aren’t you an officer?’ and I said, ‘Well, I love my job,’ and she said, ‘You can love your job as an officer,'” Lothes said. “She said ‘I’m taking my three-day break and writing you a recommendation letter and you’re applying.’ The day I got back from Turkey, back to NSA, they called me and said ‘Congratulations, you’re going to OTS (Officer Training School).'”
From November 2000 to July 2001, Lothes moved on to Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas, to further her training in Intelligence Officer School, where she successfully completed a graduate-level program in preparing intelligence officers to employee intelligence at the tactical, operational and national levels.
She then became the officer in charge of web dissemination at Langley Air Force Base, near Hampton and Newport News, both in Virginia, in July 2001. Her duties included providing information to military personnel through access to intelligence systems and databases.
In August 2002, Lothes returned to Turkey and was stationed at Incirlik Air Force Base. There she was an imagery collection manager and monitored Iraqi military forces poised as a threat to American forces.
Lothes moved on to Wright Patterson Air Force Base, in Ohio, in January 2004, as a signals intelligence collection manager. During this time she developed new intelligence collection strategies for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
In July 2005, she became chief for the Regional Integration Branch which integrated air, space and information operations all-source intelligence and data analysis in support of joint operations.
She was then deployed, as an intelligence officer, to Afghanistan in April 2007, where she again monitored threats, this time to both United States and Afghan forces.
Lothes said a highlight of her career was her time working in Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan, everything about it. I loved the people. I worked with the (Afghan National Police) and the (National Directorate of Security), which is like our CIA, and Afghan intelligence officers,” she said. “We would share information and plans to chase bad guys. Then, I would convoy out to all the different district centers and meet with all the governors.”
After roughly a year in Afghanistan, Lothes returned to Wright Patterson Air Force Base in August 2008 as an weapons system intelligence officer, where she contributed to numerous aerospace capabilities on a variety of aircrafts.
In July 2011, Lothes was deployed to Yongsan, Korea, as chief of the Air and Air Defense Analysis Branch, before joining Joint Chief of Staff – South, in Suffolk, Virginia, where she remained from 2012 through her retirement in 2015.
During her time in Suffolk she was a war gaming intelligence officer and was involved with annual war games to develop new strategies based on a wide variety of different scenarios that could take place during wartime.
Lothes said a memory that sticks out in her mind is an experience with a 12-year-old boy in Afghanistan that taught her not to take things for granted.
“There was a little boy and every time I would go down to Laghman Province I would say ‘OK, you be my translator,’ so we would walk around talking to people and I’d give him $5. Before I left Afghanistan I told him ‘I want to get you a gift for being my interpreter while I was here,’ and I said, ‘Tell me what you want and I need to know now in case I need to get it from the states or something. Whatever you want I will try to get it for you,'” Lothes said. “You know what he said he wanted? He goes ‘I want that stuff that makes your teeth white.’ Toothpaste and a toothbrush. You tell a 12-year-old boy he can have anything he wants and that’s what he wanted.”
She added while she was in the military she learned the importance of family. She also noted her father, John Lothes, who served for more than 25 years as a member of the United States Army, was her hero and who prompted her to serve the country.
“My dad, he is my hero. I always wanted to be just like him,” she said, noting that she signed up to serve the same year her father retired.
While she was born in Elkins, Lothes said from the age of 2 years old she spent 27 years traveling with her family while her father was in the military.
Lothes holds two master’s degrees — one in business management and one in managing information systems — both from Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri.
She is the daughter of John Lothes and the former Wilga Betty Pirner of Sulzbach-Rosenberg, Germany, of Elkins. She has four siblings — Frances, Rebecca, Ramona and Johnny.