Why I Joined, Why I Stayed
My family isn't really big on military service, yet there's been a Weatherford (my family name) in the military of the United States of America for every war since the French and Indian War. In fact, there were Weatherfords on both sides of the battle of the Revolutionary War, the Creek Indian wars, the War of 1812, and the Civil War. There was one Weatherford that also fought in the US/Mexican War of 1846, and at least one in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War I, and the current War on Terrorism.
Most of the time, these family members were only in the military during the actual hostilities. Both my parents were on active duty during World War II - Dad in the Army, and Mom in the Navy. One of Dad's brothers served during World War II, and Mom's two brothers also served. I can't keep track of the number of cousins, in-laws, and more distant relatives that served, but there were quite a few. It's kind of a family tradition that if the nation needs us, we gladly serve. There are very few of us that made a career of it before World War II, but a growing number afterwards.
I grew up in a small Louisiana town just north of Alexandria/Pineville, near the heart of the state. The number of working-age people who live there outnumber the number of jobs by about 2.8 to 1 - not a good ratio. Back in 1964, when I graduated from High School, it was worse. It was almost as if someone had to die or retire in order for a job to become available. Most of my classmates either went to college, went into the military, or moved away to find jobs elsewhere.
I got lucky - I received an appointment to the Class of 1968 at the Air Force Academy, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Three weeks after graduation, I reported there for training. Basic training there was much tougher than anything I experienced later in life, but I made it through that and most of the first semester of academics. Then a boxing accident put me in the hospital for the last three weeks of the fall semester, and ended my cadet days.
I went back to Tioga, found a job and started working. The town seemed to have shrunk during those six months I was away. Nothing felt comfortable. Finally in June, 1965, I re-enlisted in the Air Force as a lowly E-2.
I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but I do rate in the top 5% on most tests. That gave me the chance to choose whatever career field I wanted. I chose intelligence, because I liked what the brochure said about it, and I thought I'd be pretty good at it. Shortly after the joke the Air Force calls boot camp was over, I left for Denver, Colorado, and intelligence tech school. While I was assigned to Lowry AFB, I spent a lot of time at the Denver USO, becoming one of the Center's DJs, and ended up President of the Program Planning Committee. There were more than 300 young ladies that served as hostesses there, and I knew them all before I left. I graduated in February, 1966, just a week before I married one of those hostesses!
My wife was an Air Force brat, and knew much of what to expect as an Air Force wife. Long before my first 4-year tour was up, we'd decided we liked the Air Force, and would stay "for 20". I made Staff Sergeant - E-5 - two weeks before re-enlisting for the first time.
My wife and I were apart half of my first five years in the military. The hardest part was being away from home when our daughter was born in November, 1967. After my year tour in Vietnam, however, we were never apart for more than six months, and those periods were usually by choice, not due to the Air Force.
I found I loved the military, and loved my job. I was also good at it, and received a great deal of recognition for it. Jean and I wanted more children, however, and it was almost impossible to adopt a child as an E-5 in the military. The post-Vietnam drawdown made it even more difficult. I left the Air Force after 11 years in 1976, and we moved back to Denver.
We found a way to adopt that circumvented most of the hassles the average state agencies put you through. We worked for an agency that trained us as therepeutic foster parents, and we were assigned anywhere from one to five children that needed extensive emotional or psychological help. We adopted one child through the agency, and received help in adopting another one later. I wasn't happy out of the military, and as soon as I could find a slot, I joined the Air Force Reserve.
Jimmy Carter's "stagflation" put us through the mill. Jobs were hard to come by, and seldom paid all the bills. Between the Air Force Reserve and our payment as foster-parents, we were able to always pay our bills, but never to get ahead enough to have a vacation or do any travelling.
In 1980, I got an astounding offer from the Air Force - to come back on active duty, in my reserve rank (E-6, Technical Sergeant), and take an assignment in Germany with a unit I had high regards for. I don't think it tooks us thirty minutes to make a decision!
Our lives from 1980 to 1991 were spent running back and forth between Europe and the States. By 1989, however, I was beginning to have some significant medical problems. By October, 1990, I knew I was going to have to retire. That happened April 1, 1991 - April Fool's Day.
Not very surprisingly, our daughter married an Air Force troop, but they left the service after about ten years, mainly due to medical problems. My son-in-law is trying to get a VA rating for his bad knees. Our other two children aren't that enthralled with the military. Our youngest hasn't really had that much to do with the military, since she was only four when I retired.
I miss the Air Force. I miss the job I did, the cameraderie, the challenges, and the travel. I know that there's no way I could do the job I did then if I were on active duty today, but I still miss it. I volunteered to interpret the imagery of the December 26, 2004 earthquake and tsunami as much to practice my old vocation as to help out those that needed it. If the Air Force said "you need to come back" today, I would be there as fast as I could, 70% disability and all.