NAVARRE — If not for the Air Force, Ruth Alfred might never have written "As Iron Sharpens Iron: A Shepherd's Duty," the fictional story of a military chaplain's struggle to balance deployments, raising a family and counseling his flock.
At the top of the acknowledgements is "USAF Chaplain Gabriel Rios." That's Alfred's father, who until 9/11 had been a Church of God pastor in Puerto Rico.
"When 9/11 happened, he joined the Army National Guard, and then after a year, he got accepted into the Air Force," said Alfred, now married to an Air Force pilot at Hurlburt Field, raising two young sons.
Her father remains an Air Force chaplain at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas.
Gabriel Rios' decision to join the military after 9/11, after the family had moved from Puerto Rico to Florida, was a surprise, Alfred said, that took the family to Texas in her senior year of high school. She wound up at the University of Texas, where she studied architecture. She also studied project management at Texas A&M, and later graduated from Sul Ross State University with a bachelor's degree in business administration.
At about the same time, Alfred's brother was at the Air Force Academy, where he became friends with another cadet, Michael Alfred.
"I always said I was never going to date any of my brother's friends," Alfred said. But even after her brother dropped out of the Air Force Academy, she and Michael remained close.
"He told me he wanted to be a pilot, and I said, 'OK, that's great, go ahead and follow your dreams,' " Alfred recalled.
And then, after pausing for a beat, she said, "We got married during his pilot training."
Soon enough, Alfred began to learn about being the wife of an Air Force pilot, and found a different side of the service than her father's chaplaincy.
"I didn't know he would work at night, fly at night, and come home late," Alfred said. Capt. Michael Alfred flies the single-engine turboprop U-28 for Air Force Special Operations Command.
"I was used to my daddy coming home at 6 o'clock," she said. "I just wasn't prepared or aware of how his career might impact my life."
Alfred started writing "As Iron Sharpens Iron" shortly after she was married, and spent the next five years working on it. In part, she said, the book was an attempt to recapture the simpler Air Force life she had known as a chaplain's daughter. She finished the book last year, while pregnant as her husband was deployed in Afghanistan.
"It touches different topics within the military lifestyle — deployment, separation, death, suicide," she said.
Readers have already asked about a sequel. Alfred doesn't have any immediate plans for one, but she's also not ruling it out. If she does write another book, it will take inspiration from her life as an Air Force pilot's wife.
Among potential storylines are learning to cope with a spouse's deployment, something she's done frequently in her six-year marriage.
"Not being able to hear from him is probably the hardest," she said, "because you want the peace of mind that he's doing OK."
It's also a challenge, Alfred said, to raise two sons — ages 3 and 1 — while their father is away.
"It's probably the most difficult thing I've ever done, being a mom while my husband's deployed," she said.
"As Iron Sharpens Iron: A Shepherd's Duty" can be sampled and purchased online via Amazon, at https://amzn.to/2TPVxVs.