BIRMINGHAM, Ala. --
It’s hard to believe that my military service is coming to an end. Just a couple more months and I’ll be hanging up my boots. As I look back to October 1983 when I raised my right hand and took the oath at age 25, I never really thought much about how long I would serve. Retirement didn’t even cross my mind, but nearly 35 years later, the time has come.
My career began as a Continuous Photo Processor, you know one of those guys who worked in the PPIF, the Photo Processing and Interpretation Facility. We would receive huge rolls of film from the RF-4C, that’s right “FILM”, process it and pass it along to the photo interpreters also known as PIs. It wasn’t a very hard job, but it was a very important job. During Desert Shield in 1990, we lost two of our finest aviators. It was a shock to us all and a sad day for our unit.
The F-4s were phased out in 1994 along with the need for the PPIFs. All of us processors were reassigned to Recce Tech. Our new mission, “aerial refueling” was about to begin as KC-135R Stratotankers began filling the ramp.
Shortly after the conversion I decided to transfer to the Communications Flight where I accepted a job as a graphics specialist and later became a videographer. I had been working at NBC 13 at the time so the transition was pretty easy.
On September 11, 2001 the unthinkable happened and we were back at war. This time it was on our home turf. Tensions were high and uncertainty loomed. As a way to get involved I volunteered as an augmentee to backfill deployed Security Forces personnel.
Around 2010 I faced another change in status. The Air Force had decided to merge the Multimedia shop in the Communications Flight with the Public Affairs shop at the Headquarters building. I wasn’t sure if I was up to the challenge. I already had 20 plus years of service, but an opportunity came my way and I decided to stay a little longer. I was soon selected as the new full-time Base Visual Information Manager in the Public Affairs office in 2011 and was fortunate to pin on the rank of Senior Master Sergeant in 2013.
As I near my 60th birthday I often wonder what my life would have been like without the military, but there is no doubt that it would not have been as fulfilling. I’ve traveled the world, experienced different cultures and made more friendships than I can imagine.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve been serving at this wing for nearly 35 years. I’ve seen a lot of changes not only here but around the world. I’m truly blessed to have had this opportunity and wouldn’t have done it any other way.
Senior Master Sgt. Ken Johnson