Proud to Serve - A Veteran's Story

I am a second-generation military veteran, following in the footsteps of my father who served over two decades in the U.S. Air Force as a munitions maintenance specialist, loading weapons on our nation's warplanes. I was honored to carry my father's legacy forward, and proud to serve my country. Dad's career took us all over the world. I was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, my mother's hometown and an early duty station for my father, deployed to what was then Chennault Air Force Base (AFB). A year and a half later, we were headed for America's Last Frontier, the state of Alaska, which I'm sure was a shock to my mother, still in her teen years and who'd never left home before. Three and a half years at Eielson AFB (Fairbanks) and Elmendorf AFB (Anchorage) began a series of moves for my family, with transitional stops in Lake Charles in between, the length of which varied depending on Dad's duties. One of my two brothers was born in Alaska.

From Alaska, it was Bunker Hill AFB, Indiana (Kokomo), which later became Grissom AFB before being realigned and renamed Grissom Air Reserve Base. That's where my sister was born and where I graduated from kindergarten.

From there, it was across the Pacific to Tachikawa AFB, Japan (Tokyo), where I spent my first two and a half years of elementary school. I still remember walking outside our apartment and looking to the horizon to see Mount Fuji hovering in the sky; what an awe-inspiring sight! My younger brother was born there.

After departing Japan and spending some time in Lake Charles while Dad finished up his duties in Asia, we were transferred to Mountain Home AFB, Idaho (Mountain Home) and Holloman AFB, New Mexico (Alamogordo) after that. We spent about a year in Lake Charles while my Dad deployed to Thailand, and we were then transferred to Torrejon AFB, Spain (Madrid). It was during that tour that I decided to join the Air Force Junior ROTC program, which surprised my family. I was a skinny, bookish and shy teen who no one ever pictured in a uniform, but I benefitted greatly from the experience and actually became a social human being as a result!

In the middle of my junior year in high school, we moved to what would be my Dad's last duty station, Dyess AFB, Texas (Abilene). It was there that I graduated from high school, left to briefly attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, an experience for which I was ill-prepared, and eventually landed at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. The children of veterans stationed in Texas were offered the in-state tuition rate, $4 a semester hour at the time, so I couldn't pass it up.

All told, we moved nine times before my 18th birthday. While some would offer sympathy for our nomadic lifestyle, and I noted in later years the existence of military dependent support groups, I felt no stress whatsoever. In fact, I loved the opportunity we were given to travel the world and collect memories, and I'm a better, more adaptable person for my travels. In college, I started out in the Army ROTC program but switched to the Air Force version after I fell for a girl in blue. I graduated with a commission in 1982 and, in 1983, deployed to Lowry AFB, Colorado (Aurora) for air intelligence officers school.

From there, it was on to Offutt AFB, Nebraska (Omaha), the headquarters of the fabled Strategic Air Command, where I monitored the Soviet Navy and provided intelligence information to the command briefers for their presentations to the SAC commander-in-chief (CINCSAC).

My ability to stand on my own two feet during those presentations was noted and I ended up as a command intelligence briefer myself, still a second lieutenant and chosen over several more senior officers. I briefed the SAC assistant chief of staff for intelligence and CINCSAC on breaking intelligence affecting national security.

While stationed at Offutt, I married my long-distance girlfriend of three years whom I'd met at Texas Tech when she was a foreign student on a semester abroad in the U.S. Not long after we married, we were notified of our first overseas assignment to the Tactical Fusion Center (TFC) in Boerfink, West Germany. We would be only two and a half hours away from my wife's home village in France. Also, It was there that our first child would be born.

My assignment to the TFC was the best of my Air Force career. We were the American intelligence contingent supporting the warfighters of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's (NATO) central region. The bunker where I worked was the primary war headquarters for NATO's allied army and air force commanders in central Europe.

The highlights of my tour were the incidents I helped to manage as an indications and warning officer, to include the bombing of a nearby Army surface-to-air missile detachment by the Red Army Faction terrorist group, the U.S. air attack on Libya in 1986 (Operation El Dorado Canyon), and the near-shootdown of a U.S. Army helicopter by a Czech warplane patrolling the border between West Germany and Czechoslovakia. I later ran the U.S. air and air defense analysis unit and provided daily intelligence assessments to NATO fighting forces.

My last tour of duty was at Patrick AFB, Florida (Satellite Beach). Two more children, the purchase of our first home in nearby Melbourne, and a relatively quiet tour at an Air Force science and technology center, punctuated by two near-deployments to Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm, marked the end of my Air Force career. I decided to pursue other dreams and received an honorable discharge on July 1, 1992, having attained a regular commission and the rank of captain.

All told, I was either a dependent or a service member for the first 33 years of my life. I don't expect that my children will follow in my footsteps, although my son fits perfectly in my old uniform. His Dad? Not so much. I keep the uniform as a reminder, however, of a life that shaped me and a nation that inspired me to offer myself to her in service, whatever the sacrifice.

I am blessed to be an American, and even though I don't fit in the uniform anymore, I still "solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic." The oath never dies.