We can all keep serving

“Neither of my parents graduated from high school, so our family placed a large emphasis on education and service. My uncle was a Naval aircrew member who was lost in the Pacific theater during World War II. My father was an Army infantryman with the 78th Division and walked across Europe in that same war. My family believed that service to country was very important. I determined in the 7th grade that I was going to go to West Point. When I didn’t receive a Congressional appointment to West Point, my football coach helped me get into the Virginia Military Institute. I went there from 1963 until 1965 when VMI submitted my name to the Air Force Academy as an Honor Military School nominee. The Academy accepted me and I attended USAFA from 1965 until my commissioning in 1969.  

“I went to pilot training at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia. Our graduating class had only one fighter in our selection block and that went to the number one graduate. I chose to fly the C-130 because I knew it was the fastest way to get to Vietnam. There was a war on, and I wanted to go. I was eventually assigned to AC-130 Gunships at Ubon, Thailand. My tour coincided with the draw down in South East Asia and Secretary Kissinger was negotiating the peace terms at that time. I remember one evening on the runway ready to take off for a mission and having to taxi back to the revetments because we were told that things were happening back in Washington. It was very frustrating; all we wanted to do was our job and help the troops on the ground.

“I served in the Air Force for 24 years and got to travel extensively and see the rest of the world. I had many great assignments – enjoyed the many hours of flying, was in a command billet, served in AF Legislative Liaison, was a Presidential Advance Agent, served on the Air Staff, and served as Chief of Staff for the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee for the first Clinton inauguration. All of these experiences confirmed my belief that the USA is the best country on the face of this earth.  

“An interesting story was one that occurred when I was Secretary Kissinger’s Military Aide during the first Reagan inaugural. We were traveling in a car one evening and he asked me what had been the most frustrating thing about being over in South East Asia. I told him about being on the runway and having to abort our mission and that it was a Washington decision. He laughed and said, ‘That was you?’ and I looked back at him incredulously and said, ‘Sir, that was YOU?!’ He is a very intelligent man with a great sense of humor and an unbelievable way of understanding people. He taught me that we don’t have all of the answers, and most importantly, the United States cannot impose our morals and ethics on cultures that do not understand them and have no interest in living under the same limitations and acquired freedoms. He also strengthened something my father always told me, and that was, ‘I never learned anything while I was talking.’

“I was lucky to fly C-130s all over the world, and doing really important work. But I’m not special. Like my football coach and coach Belichick say: ‘Do your job.’ And I did. I have friends in Texas, California, Maine, and Florida – all over the country. And whether it’s been 1 day or 10 years, when we get together it feels like the separation has only been seconds.    

“I miss the people in the Air Force, and of course, the flying. Flying with those whom I respected the most is so memorable. But now I spend time volunteering and serving on the Board of Directors of the Warrior Foundation/Freedom Station, an organization totally dedicated to our soldiers who are severely wounded and suffer from conditions such as PTSD. The Warrior Foundation is a great organization that represented the US Navy and won the 2015 Spirit of Hope Award, named after the entertainer, Bob Hope. Every dollar we receive goes right back to these incredible men and women who need it. We are an all-volunteer organization where no volunteer accepts reimbursement. The founder, Ms. Sandy Lehmkuhler, is a Navy wife who started the efforts by asking for enough money to buy five electric shavers for returning veterans. It is now an organization with more than $4 million in assets. Giving back to those veterans… well it’s been the most enriching and rewarding experience of my life. Here I sit with no physical deformities and they have wounds they’ll have to work through for the rest of their lives. Serving our country in the United States Air Force is one of my proudest achievements, but we can all keep serving, long after we hang up the uniform.”

To learn more about the Warrior Foundation, please visit www.warriorfoundation.org

  

No one left behind

  
“My daddy, Captain Robert R. “Bear” Barnett, was a pilot in the United States Air Force. I was nine years old when he died. It was April 7, 1966. I remember coming home from school and seeing men in uniform sitting with my mother. I knew she’d been crying. She took my older sister and me into her bedroom and told us he wasn’t coming home. I ran back to school because I just wanted to see my teacher. It was all so surreal.

“We really didn’t get any information. We were told the plane he was flying had gone down in Southeast Asia, but the rest of the details were classified. We had a memorial service for him and they put a marker in the cemetery, but without his body, we didn’t have any closure. I used to have dreams that he would come to my classroom and that everyone had been wrong about him dying. As the years went on, the dreams faded. I have snippets of memories with him. Mostly, I remember him through the stories of the people that knew him well. He had a huge, generous heart. He’d pick up hitchhikers and he kept a log book of everyone he met. When he’d pass through a town, he’d look people up to see how they were, and see if they could share a meal. He never met a stranger. He’d leave to run a quick errand and wouldn’t come home for hours – he’d offer to help someone on a project or run into a friend. He was just that kind of man.

“I remember being in junior high and there was so much dissention about the Vietnam War. People were so critical of anyone who had fought in it. My mother told us not to tell anyone that our father had died over there. She wanted to protect us from being called names or spit on. It was so hard. He trained other pilots how to fly. He loved being in the Air Force. He died exactly the way he would have wanted to — serving his country fulfilled his life.  

“In 2005, they identified the crash site of my father’s B-57, in Laos. His plane had been shot down and they think that when he knew he was going to crash, he targeted the anti-aircraft gun site and he destroyed it. We were told that they were going to excavate the area and that these things could take a long time. We went to a family briefing about once a year with updates, but it didn’t seem like they were going to find anything. We were pretty disheartened.

“In December, I was sitting at my desk at work when my phone rang. I don’t usually answer unidentified calls, but when it said Dover, Delaware, I picked up. It was the Air Force Mortuary Service. They had identified Daddy’s remains and they wanted to set up a meeting to discuss funeral arrangements. I kept having him repeat it; I just couldn’t believe it. I hung up the phone and cried for an hour, before I could call my mom, my sister, my husband and children. It was just so much joy and relief, and confirmation that he isn’t with us. All those years of not having closure. We will have a full military funeral and burial for him on April 7 — fifty one years to the day that he died. I have so much pride in our government and our military. They promised us they’d never stop looking for him; that no one is left behind. We never forgot him… and they didn’t either.”

   
 
  

We always wanted to be pilots

“My brother and I always wanted to be pilots, not unlike millions of other kids. Several of our Dad’s friends from the Navy had been pilots, so it didn’t seem unrealistic to us. It was still just a childhood idea until a visit to the Naval Academy focused the goal when I was in 3rd grade. 14 years later, as a midshipman, I lucked into a training tour with a helicopter squadron in Virginia, and was hooked from there.  A childhood dream was starting to become a reality.

“Like anyone else who has a handful of deployments under their belt, one tour stands out against the rest. We all reminisce about our first deployment, but I’m lucky. I get to go back in time. I’m stationed with the same squadron and am now the Officer In Charge of the same detachment I first joined over eight years ago. The mission and ship have changed, but I’m following in the footsteps of leaders I admired and revered, hoping to somehow inspire a generation making its first marks on the Navy. 

“Honestly, this is not where I saw myself headed the first time around. I wasn’t yet sure if the Navy was in my ‘ten year plan,’ and I certainly never thought I would end up in Guam again, much less the same detachment. 8 years of flying and incredible friendships in Guam, Fallon, and San Diego had a way of changing those plans.

“Nearly 2 years ago, I was struggling with the decision to stay in the Navy or start a new chapter in my life. My always wise and lovely wife, Maddie, asked me this poignant question: ‘What are the chances that you’re going to find something out there that you love as much as the Navy?’ The question suddenly seemed so easy. I going to stay in. I was going to take orders to Guam. And I was going to do it with a love of flying, and pride worthy of flying the flag. And today, we did just that. Three helicopters, with nothing but clear skies around Mt. Fuji so that we could fly the flag.”

A midnight call

  “My husband was deployed and we had very little contact (maybe got to talk every two to three weeks for a few minutes). I wasn’t expecting to hear from him for awhile and was at my parent’s house for the holidays. 

“Five minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve their phone rang…it was my husband! He wanted to end the year talking with me and start the New Year the same! It was such an awesome unexpected call! I know he pulled some major strings to be able to call. He safely came home that following March, a few weeks before our son’s first birthday. It was a great year!” 

Who does that? He did.

  “What a difference a year makes. So blessed to have my very own hero as a Dad. A year ago we watched a few reels of slides and saw photos I had never seen before. This was many of them that I just loved. 

“Yesterday Dad took his last ride down Main Street with a Police escort from one of my high school best friends, Omar. He blocked all roads and traffic and saluted the motorcade as it pulled to the church.

“My brother, uncle and nephews, Brandon and Aidan, and Camden and Carson were all pallbearers. My niece Brittany and nephew Aidan did great readings from the Bible and my sister did a eulogy that I could never do in a Million Years. She was so strong and told amazing stories of my Dad that most didn’t know. My Dad was a humble hero and never really looked for fame. The other night my brother and I found a letter he wrote requesting to go to Vietnam in the early 60’s… who does that? He did. Thankfully he was turned down and was able to meet my Mom. A few years later he would go and go a total of 2 times.

“My amazing niece Keelin belted out a Catholic version of Hallelujah. OMG it was simply amazing and I can tell you there was not a dry eye in the house. Then we headed to the cemetery. Omar stopped at our house on Main Street and hit the lights and siren for one last time at my parents’ house. I knew what he was doing. He loved my parents and knew just how to give this guy a special sendoff. Once we arrived at the cemetery we were met with a full military detail. An Army Command Sergeant Major and his team provided the ultimate farewell to my father with a 21 gun salute & TAPS– they were perfect. I know many of his friends from around the world and around the country could not make it but I wanted everyone to know it was AMAZING! God Bless you Timothy Francis Casey: Best Son, Big Brother, Husband, Uncle, Dad, Grandfather and Friend anyone could ask for.”

Rest in peace hero. Thank you for your 26 years of service to our country and dedicating your life to our freedoms and your family.

That’s why people keep saying ‘I Do’

  
“We were married nine years ago today, the day after a snowstorm. I always thought we’d have a summer wedding, but we knew he’d have leave between Christmas and New Year’s. We’ve celebrated four anniversaries apart; this is our fifth spending it together. You definitely feel the absence on the big days when they’re gone – anniversaries, birthdays, holidays – but sometimes it’s in the littlest moments that the distance is the hardest. 

“As a military spouse, you often hear some iteration of ‘you knew what you were getting into,’ but I’m not sure that’s the case. No one walks into marriage knowing that someday they’ll watch their other half battle alzheimers or cancer or a brain injury. No one really knows what their life will look like together – in marriage, parenting, life. I think that’s why people keep saying ‘I do.’ For the hope. For the happiness. For the love and optimism, committment and adventure that those vows promise. 

“I didn’t know what I was getting into. I didn’t marry the military — I married the cute guy I sat next to in high school biology in Colorado that I ran into at a bar eight years later in Florida. And when I fell in love with him, I didn’t know how hard deployments would be on toddlers. I had no idea that someday we’d move to Guam, California, Virginia. And in my wildest dreams, I couldn’t fathom the unbridled joy of watching my kids run to their daddy at homecoming. I am so proud to be a military wife. And nine years in, I can tell you I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat. I can’t wait to see what’s next.”