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|An up close and personal interview with U.S. Air Force Veteran and Togetherweserved.com Member:|
CMSgt Donald Felch US Air Force (1984-Present)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
My Dad served in the AF from 1960-1964 as a weapons control systems specialist at Wurtsmith AFB, MI. He worked on F-101 VooDoos and drove a taxicab on the streets of Oscoda in his off-duty time. Although his service ended two years before my birth, he wore an AF parka often shoveled snow in his issue combat boots with laced-in zippers and stirred his coffee with dining hall spoons (which accidentally found their way into his personal effects).
My uncle (mom's brother) was a Raven. He flew reconnaissance missions in RB47 and RC135 aircraft until his retirement the year prior to my own enlistment.
I was enamored with the Air Force since about the 7th grade. In 1984, after graduating from HS in Las Vegas (where my family had relocated the summer prior), I traveled back to my hometown of La Crosse, WI to find no jobs for recent HS grads. My enlistment was a foregone conclusion. I departed a month after I arrived and landed at Lackland AFB, TX on June 27, 1984. I wouldn't turn 18 until after graduation and arrival at Technical Training in August.
BRIEFLY, WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
I began my service at age 17 as an Aircraft Armament Systems Apprentice at Holloman AFB, NM. I married my bride in 1985 and after less than three years on F-15s, we moved to Andersen AFB, Guam where I loaded B-52G aircraft.
From there we transferred to Nellis AFB, NV for nearly 5 years on the A-10A.
In November of 1994 I separated from Active Duty and moved "home" to La Crosse, Wisconsin where, for a short 7 months, I did not wear a uniform.
In June of 1995 I enlisted in the Wisconsin ANG where I loaded F-16 C/D aircraft as a fulltime technician and deploying three times to the Middle East. I attended NCOA in-residence in 1998 and it changed my life. I returned to Wisconsin, very quickly completed my CCAF degree and resigned my technician job to teach Airman Leadership School fulltime.
In the fall of 1999 I returned to Active Duty teaching at the (then) ANG NCOA, McGhee Tyson ANGB, TN. In 2001 we moved to Andrews AFB, MD (once again in the weapons field) where I served as the ANG's Senior Armament Systems Manager, then as Branch Superintendent.
In 2007 I deployed to Iraq as a Weapons Flight Chief, then in September of that same year, I returned to Education to advise the commander at the Barnes Center (Maxwell-Gunter AFB, AL) on all things ANG.
Finally, in October of 2010 I was selected for my current assignment and the family moved in January of 2011.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
This is such a difficult question to answer. I think because we all have different ideas of what combat operations entail.
For the first 13 years of my career ('84-'97) I never deployed, but when serving on a special weapons load crew on Guam from '87-'88, before being selected for Munitions Control, I regularly loaded and unloaded an active B-52G alert pad. Those bombers were poised to launch against the Great Soviet State and would have begun (or continued) something none of us really wanted to think about. Does that count as a "combat" operation?
In 1997-'98, I deployed three times in support of OPERATIONS NORTHERN and SOUTHERN WATCH. During these deployments, we loaded combat-ready F-16s which then flew over Iraq when it was still under control of Saddam Hussein and his Baath Party leadership. A few of our jets actually dropped on anti-aircraft sites. The two bases I was stationed at on those three trips (Incirlik, Turkey and Al Jabber, Kuwait) were never in eminent danger from the enemy. Does that count as a combat operation?
In 2007, I deployed to Balad AB, Iraq with an outstanding group of men and women from several active and ANG bases. I helped lead a weapons shop in Tiger AMU as an Assistant/CO Flight Chief. We were hammered by unguided rockets and mortars almost daily. When we weren't hit for 24 hours, we usually got hit double the next day for good measure. I was never under direct enemy fire (someone taking a bead on my body). These "rain showers" were pot shots from outside the wire. They caused general confusion for a few moments, some property damage and few injuries. Nobody lost an Airman during my rotation. I never served "outside the wire" but often ate at the dining facilities (DFACs) with those who did. They had a "look" about them. They were in combat. Does that count as a combat operation?
I think the technical answer to this question is, yes. I'm certain I don't hold myself up next to those who have been out on patrol, taking direct fire. So in some small ways I've done my part.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
There are so many and they are still accumulating like snow in a blizzard. One vivid memory is a moment of realization. A few months after arriving on Guam as a 20 year-old Senior Airman and Aircraft Armament Systems Specialist (loader), I had completed initial certification on Special (Nuclear) Weapons on the B-52G. My Crew had been assigned its first live load on the alert pad. I was a One Man. Part of my job was to put the aircraft in post-maintenance and prepare it for aircrew acceptance. I climbed a 6-foot ladder and reached between the B-28 gravity bombs in the forward bay. The hairs on the back of my wrist stood on end and I felt warmth from the weapons. This had not happened in the previous month of training. In that moment, reality struck and I realized what we were doing was very very real.
A few years later, before I left the island, the Berlin Wall came down and we downloaded that alert pad for the final time. I have never forgotten the time I came to understand what a bomber on active alert really meant.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
My Master Missile Badge. I earned a Basic Missile Badge in 1986 after serving for 18 months loading AIM-7 Sparrow (radar-guided) missiles on F-15 A/B aircraft at Holloman AFB. Shortly after that, the badge was restricted to "big missile" troops (ICBMs) and those of us loading aircraft-mounted missiles no longer qualified. I wore the basic badge for nearly 20 years without an upgrade to "Senior" or "Master" status, although I subsequently accumulated the time necessary. I loaded AGM-69 SRAM, AGM-65 MAVERICK, and AIM-120 AMRAAM.
In 2005, when I served on the ANG Armament staff at Andrews AFB, MD, the Air Staff finally approved the wear of the Missile Badge once again for armament and munitions Airmen who worked on ANY guided missile systems. The rules were retroactive and all guided missile time in a career counted. The next day, when I pinned on my wreath, it was a good feeling. The missile badge is a unique symbol to all who work on any guided missile systems and all who have done so at one time in their careers.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
(Then) Master Sergeant Kevin W. Myroup, Assistant Flight Chief, Thunder Weapons, Nellis AFB, NV. Kevin was a thoughtful and caring Supervisor. As a leader Kevin was thoughtful, caring, fair & slow to react. He taught me (a young, SSgt and first-time Supervisor) to adopt similar traits when dealing with my subordinates.
To this day, I reflect on his model behavior when I counsel Airmen. He taught me to ask at least three questions before making a judgment or decision. Kevin retired a SMSgt Armament Shop Superintendent a few years ago. I am grateful for his leadership, mentorship and example. My Airmen owe him a debt of gratitude as well and many of them will never meet him.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
I was a Staff Sergeant, it must have been about 1992. About 20 of us were camped on a hillside (sharing a GP Medium) above Las Vegas picking up the pieces of an F-15C that had suffered a life-ending "spontaneous?" canopy ejection (pilot got out safely and stuck to his story). On the first night in camp, the OIC (a captain) sent the 4X4 to town for some beverages and we lit a roaring campfire. A young engine mechanic (name withheld) sat round-eyed listening to our lies (stories). I can't remember who first mentioned snipe hunting. I'm almost sure it wasn't me but the kid's eyes got even bigger. We knew immediately we had one on the hook and none of us was going to stop until we completely landed him! Airmen around the fire pored it on heavier and heavier: It's their season, isn't it? Nothing like a snipe over an open fire! Do we even have any bags up here? Pretty soon we were all out there clicking sticks together on the mountainside as we ran through the high desert behind our victim. When it all fell apart and the young Airman realized he'd been taken, he laughed alongside us. We all rolled until we had tears in our eyes. And yes, I still laugh today.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
I currently serve as Commandant, Paul H. Lankford EPME Center. Our schoolhouse (founded 1968) produces both Airman Leadership School and NCO Academy graduates. More NCOs graduate from the Lankford Academy than from any of the world's 9 USAF schoolhouses. We have a razor-sharp team of motivated, creative and educated faculty as well as industrious operations staff members who make the machine function. I am honored and privileged to work with each of them and pray each day I don't let them down.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
How could it not? Military service IS my life and my career.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
Stay strong my brothers and sisters. I stand ready to assist you in any way I can.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
What an amazing place TWS is. I've chatted with veterans of earlier times, reconnected with fellow Airmen, and met people I've served alongside but never met before. This is decidedly not Facebook or Linked-IN. It's got its own flavor and that flavor makes me think about the past 27 years with a new perspective. Many thanks to the TWS staff who have created this unique gathering place. I often go months without drifting out here, but then when I do "click in" I always feel welcome.
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