RICHMOND HILL — Evelyn Valesquez Uhrig is a fascinating young woman who happens to be married to Haley Uhrig, the executive pastor of the First Baptist Church in Richmond Hill. Although her parents are from Medelin, Colombia in South America, she was born in Los Angeles. Haley hails from Huntsville, Ala.
Evelyn is a petite and personable newlywed with beautiful brown eyes and an infectious smile, but she has also served for a decade in the United States Army as a CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilot and was promoted to the rank of Captain during the course of her military service.
Evelyn explained, “I lived in Los Angeles for eleven years; and my memories of living there are amazing. I remember having a happy childhood living with my mom, step-dad, and three siblings. I had many friends and loved to play outside on my bike and in a playground we called ‘the circle.’
“I loved going to school. Because my parents spoke Spanish, I started school as a part of the English As A Second Language (ESL) Class. However, when I was in the second grade my teacher discovered that I could read English, contacted my parents, and had me immediately switched out of the ESL group.”
Introduced to the military
When Evelyn was a freshman in high school her family moved to Miami where she joined the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC). She stated, “That was my introduction to the military. JROTC was my sport and I worked and trained hard at my sport.”
As would be true of the vast majority of people in South America, Evelyn grew up in the Catholic faith and had her first communion before she was 10 years old.
She recalled, “Although I grew up in a Catholic home, my mom willingly permitted me to try different denominations; and so I would go where my friends invited me. I enjoyed going to church with my friends, but I didn’t really know Jesus.”
JROTC was my sport and I worked and trained hard at my sport.”
However, some years later as a part of the U.S. military, Evelyn made her peace with God. She testified, “It wasn’t until I was in the army and stationed in Texas and went to my sister’s church that I finally saw Christ for who He really is and received Him as my Savior. Even after that, it took me a while to really walk with the Lord and serve Him.”
In 2011 while stationed in Savannah, Evelyn was offered a job to be a commander of a Company. She reported, “Being offered that job was a big deal for anyone in a Junior Captains career and I took it, but I was deployed that year and it was a challenging time in my life. I knew that the Lord was my refuge and strength so I began serving with the unit chaplain, joined the Sunday services, and even assisted in a women’s Bible study.
“These things kept me grounded and made me forget the things going on where I was. One night I got on my knees, submitted myself to the Lord, and resolved to do His will in my life. That was the beginning of a deeper walk with Him.
“I had an overwhelming desire to get baptized, and once I returned from my deployment I joined First Baptist Church in Richmond Hill and was baptized there.”
Evelyn admitted that she always wanted to be a Naval Officer; and tried enlisting in the Navy right out of high school, but was denied because of what she described as a “non-existent medical issue.”
“I decided to go to college (Florida International University) and work instead, but one day as a sophomore, I was driving on campus and decided to take a different route and saw a sign to the FIU ROTC building.”
Evelyn decided to check out the ROTC program at the university and it did not take her long to conclude that she should pursue a career in the military.
She recalled, “Our class instructor, LTC Stauffer, was my mentor and asked me one day if I was interested in taking the Army Flight Aptitude Selection Test (AFAST) and I said ‘Yes,’ even though I didn’t know if I wanted to be a pilot. Because of my psychology background, I was leaning more toward military intelligence.
“A week after the test, I went to Washington State for training and during one of our missions we were picked up in a Blackhawk and dropped off at a remote training sight. That is when I made my decision to become an aviator. It was an amazing experience.
“However, the one thing that would have disqualified me in becoming an aviator was not having my medical waiver in on time. My waiver had to go all the way to Washington D.C. for approval and back through different medical surgeons.
“As a general rule it is a process that takes no less than 120 days. My waiver was approved in two weeks. I got a call from one of the departments letting me know that it was approved the day I needed to send my application packet for aviation selection.”
Evelyn moved through several phases of training in the aviation program and selected the CH-47 Chinook Helicopter as the one she wanted to fly. She observed, “It is the biggest, fastest helicopter in the Army. It is the coolest helicopter I know.“
The little lady from Los Angeles reminisced, “The most rewarding thing about flying a Chinook was to see the faces of the soldiers we were transporting when they noticed a woman was flying them around. When I climbed out of the cockpit, took my helmet off, and they saw this petite person with a braided ponytail come out they would elbow each other, point in my direction, and look incredulously surprised. This made me feel proud.”
Captain Valesquez, who flew numerous missions as a Chinook pilot in Iraq, admitted, “Every mission ‘out of the wire’ (leaving the base) was potentially dangerous, because one never knows what can go wrong. There were many long and tiring missions and the most demanding responsibility for me was ensuring that my soldiers were safe.”
When I climbed out of the cockpit, took my helmet off, and they saw this petite person with a braided ponytail come out they would elbow each other, point in my direction, and look incredulously surprised.
In time Evelyn was chosen to command an Air Traffic Control (ACT) Company. She soon learned an officer has to wear many hats and that when they are in a commanding position, they are responsible for “whatever happens or does not happen” within the unit.
Then Captain Velasquez stated, “The general public thinks a military officer must lead by barking orders and demanding compliance. However, I chose to lead with my heart. That was my style of leadership. I took the command position and emphasized that the men and women under my charge were not just soldiers and minions, but my family.
“I knew that during our deployment we needed to be brothers and sisters, completing the mission, and returning home all in one piece. That was the promise I made to their parents and spouses and I praise God that I was able to keep it. I also had millions of dollars of government property and equipment under my name and I made sure that it was all cared for and in good safekeeping.
“My company was a young and highly intelligent bunch. We deployed to Afghanistan and came back home with many accomplishments. The company was the first to field the prototype Mobile Tower System (MOTS) and kept its operational readiness rate at 99 percent during the deployment. This mobile tower was unique to our mission in setting the standard for the many more systems in production along with conducting normal flight operations.”
A partner with whom to serve
In reflecting on her military service Captain Valesquez declared, “As I reflect on my 10 years of service, I do so with honor and pride. It was such an honor to have served this country and I have a deep sense of pride to have been a vital part of all the great things we were able to accomplish.
“I completed Airborne training requiring me to jump out of a C17/C130, had my strength tested during Survival Evasion Resistance Escape school and Dunker School, and to top it all off, I had the best aviation training in the world and qualified on the Creek TH-67 and CH47 D/F model Chinook.
“I am blessed to have been able to touch so many people’s lives and have met so many great people that have aided me in shaping my life.”
In early 2016 the Army Captain met the executive pastor of Richmond Hill First Baptist Church through the effort of some friends who cleverly arranged for them to meet for lunch with neither of them knowing the other one would be there.
Although Evelyn admitted that it was not exactly “love at first sight,” Haley asked her to join him in leading the college student’s Bible study and she accepted.
“The Bible study allowed us to spend time with each other and get to know each other better,” Evelyn noted. “He finally built up enough courage to ask me for a date, and I, of course, said, ‘yes.’ I was impressed with his humor, lightheartedness, love for Christ, determination, and hard work. Haley is the man for whom I had prayed for years.”
“He asked me to marry him about one and ½ years later at the Forsyth Park Fountain in Savannah. He tricked me under the pretense that we were going to an Auburn University football rally. The park was practically empty. He finally admitted that it was a ploy to get me there, got down on one knee, and proposed. I was in such shock and so speechless that he had to ask twice.
“I said ‘yes’ and the people nearby congratulated us He took me on a romantic carriage ride and a very fancy dinner. We got married six months later.”
Evelyn believes the best way she can enhance her husband’s ministry is by simply being a good wife. She explained, “I am fairly new at it, but I do know that a successful man must have a good and faithful wife. I know if Haley is secure in our marriage and our home life he can focus without distractions on the ministry.
“I support him intellectually and spiritually and I am prepared to close any gap whenever I am needed.”
Evelyn works in the children’s ministry at Richmond Hill First Baptist and has recently moved from teaching second and third grade girls to directing the Kid’s Program. She is also a leader in the women’s ministry and has helped to facilitate several fellowship/service groups to enhance that ministry.
The marriage of Haley and Evelyn is a merging of the ministry and the military, a marriage of a bride with roots in Columbia, South America and a groom who is from Huntsville, Ala., the marriage of an Auburn Tiger and a FIU Panther, but a marriage made in heaven and a couple with a future as bright as promises of God.