SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. --
I never really imagined ending up as a career Airman when I started my Air Force journey after high school in 1986. I was a small town kid from southern Illinois who needed someone to pay for college, and luckily got an opportunity to join the Air Force through AFROTC program. I received my commission at the University of Southern California, the “real USC” despite what South Carolinians say, and got the opportunity to go to pilot training. I was lucky enough to get assigned to fly my first choice -- the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
At F-16 training in Arizona, I sort of crashed a wedding with my friend (who was the best man), and I met this amazing woman named Kay. Her mom actually introduced us, and after about 3 years of dating, Kay and I were married. We have two amazing sons, Jake, 21, and Zack, 18. I am so grateful for going through this Air Force experience with them. I couldn’t have succeeded in my career without their constant love and support.
Air Force life can be hard on families, but it also has some real positives. For instance, by the time Jake and Zack were 12 and 10, respectively, they had been to five of the seven continents. By the time I was their age, I had been to St. Louis five time -- it was only 30 miles away! The Air Force provided them a great perspective on the world around them. They have a worldview that is so much broader than I had as a small town kid, and that makes them better people. And, the friends we’ve all made in the Air Force are what really makes this experience special.
I’ve been lucky enough to fly for most of my career, and while it takes a whole base to execute the flying mission, Kay normally likes to thank two specific groups of Airmen, so I’ll take this opportunity to thank them publicly: maintainers and aircrew flight equipment, or “life support”, Airmen. She thanks them because the maintainers kept me safe every time I flew, and she knew if something beyond the maintainers’ control ever went wrong, my life support equipment would save me. Luckily, I never needed the parachute and I ended my flying with the number of landings equaling the number of take-offs thanks to awesome maintenance and life support Airmen! I owe a lot of thanks to a lot of Airmen from all specialties, but I owe my life to maintainers and life support Airmen -- thanks!
Kay really made a huge positive difference throughout my career in many ways. She’ll be humble and dismiss any praise, but the fact is without her I couldn’t have been as successful as I was. And, she didn’t only support me, she supported and mentored other spouses. She got engaged wherever we found ourselves and worked hard to help others. I like the fact that she preferred to do it behind the scenes, not drawing attention to herself. She made a big difference -- more than she’ll ever know.
I’ve been blessed with more than 11 years in command, over a third of my career, and I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of taking that command responsibility and trying to make a difference in not only the mission, but also in the lives of our Airmen and their families. I learned very quickly as a wing commander all the things I complained about as a younger Airman were now my fault! But, I also had many authorities and resources to fix those things, and I enjoyed having that responsibility.
I may have joined the service to pay for college, but in the end I stayed because of the people. It is always about the people. I’ll never be surrounded by a more competent, caring, and devoted group of people than Airmen, civilians, and families -- that’s what I’ll miss most in retirement.