CMSgt William Hamilton U.S. Air Force (1977-Present)
Read the service reflections of US Airman:
CMSgt William Hamilton
U.S. Air Force
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
I was born in the Air Force. My father was stationed in Waco, Texas when I was born in an Air Force hospital. I grew up moving every year to a new assignment with my father, mom and sister. I loved living near the airplanes and the annual airshows was one of the best days of the year. By the time I started high school other things had peaked my interest, mainly sports and girls and not necessarily in that order. This was the late 60’s and Vietnam was in the headlines every night. My older classmates were joining up or getting drafted and it was a noble and honorable thing. By my graduation year in 1970, the war had turned ugly and the media and public were protesting it nightly. My father had retired from the Air Force and we lived miles from any air bases. I had a fairly high draft number and sat out my “draftable” year in college without any concerns about military service. Within a couple of years, I got married, got a job and started my adulthood. By 1975 I really started thinking about the military again. I’d watch aircraft contrails fly high overhead and wonder where they were headed. I started reading aviation books and magazines again. I went to the Air Force recruiters and took the AFQT to see what I was qualified to do. I did well but recruiters have a job and that is to put people in career fields that have shortages. I held out for a while as I learned more about jobs which would allow me to fly initially.
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
I wanted to fly. As an enlisted person, my options were limited. Aircraft loadmaster was one of the few jobs that allowed me to fly so that’s what I signed up for. I became a C-141A loadmaster and enjoyed it greatly. After about 8 years and 5000 flying hours I became a MAC ALCE loadmaster for about 10 years and got a much better view of the big picture through the Wing, numbered AF and HQ deployments. I then became an Air Reserve Technician and returned to the flying squadrons as a Scheduler/Training NCO and Flight Examiner. I later became the squadron loadmaster supervisor and then squadron superintendent before moving to the group retiring as a group enlisted superintendent for six squadrons.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
In 1979 and early 1980 I flew several support missions which were part of the Iranian Rescue mission attempt. It was all very secretive and since it was not successfully executed, not much ever came out publicly. I flew several support missions into Grenada after the invasion in 1983. One of them was dragging back several Army helicopters shot up in the operation. Also flew several missions into Panama after the successful invasion there in 1989. In August of 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, I deployed as an ALCE Loadmaster for nearly three months. We got the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) from Fort Stewart, GA shipped out of town and over to the desert. I then deployed forward for nearly nine months as the ALCE Superintendent in the 1610 Airlift Division in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. By 1993 I returned to flying full time as a C-141 loadmaster and flew combat support missions into Bosnia in the mid-90’s. I flew into the Kosovo Theater in 1999 during NATO operations following my transition to a new C-17 squadron. Following the 9/11 Terrorist’s attacks, I flew many missions supporting combat operations into Afghanistan and later Iraq when we went into there in 2003. All my wartime service was significant to me.
WHICH, OF THE DUTY STATIONS OR LOCATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED OR DEPLOYED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?
Being assigned to the 1610th Airlift Division during the first Gulf War in 1990-91. I really had a great sense of accomplishment with what we had done when it was all over.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
Going to Saudi Arabia in 1990 was probably the most rewarding assignment of my career. Throughout the late 70’s and 80’s we built up our military and trained as though WWIII with the Russians could start at any moment. By 1990 we were be best trained and equipped military the world has ever seen. All that training paid off and we continued to train in that desert environment until we picked the time and place we wanted to start the operation. I worked over 120 days in a row at one point with no time off. We worked 12-hour shifts but with travel time it became 14 to16 hour days. When I returned home in June of 1991, I was very proud of what we had accomplished and that all my training had finally been utilized.
WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?
I received a Bronze Star for my service during Operation DESERT STORM in 1991. I was awarded the Aerial Achievement Medal for flying combat missions during the NATO Operation in Kosovo in 1999. During Operation’s ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM I received several Air Medals. Like everybody else, I was just doing my job.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
The Bronze Star Medal in 1991 for Operation DESERT STORM since it was my highest. I deployed to Saudi, Kuwait, and Iraq and saw much of the carnage the Iraqis had inflected on Kuwait as well as the aftermath of our bombing operations on the Iraqi’s. The medal was totally unexpected but helped open many opportunities for me later in my career. However the Air Medal was the one I always coveted as a flyer. I didn’t get those till late in my career but the wait was worth it.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
No doubt that would have to be my first boss SMSgt Art Dodgins. He was a rough gruff WWII vet who I thought was a hundred years old at the time. He smoke unfiltered Pell Mell Red cigarettes and drank Scotch with just a splash of water. He mentored me without me having a clue what he was doing. He watched after me early in my career and told me when it was time for me to be an instructor and flight examiner and later leaving the unit and becoming an ALCE Loadmaster. It wasn’t until I became a SNCO that I realized what he was doing and I’ve tried to lead other young airman down that path. He knew what it took to get promoted and he made sure I was ready when the time came.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
There are many since I’ve had a long career and I use them to keep my troops on the right path and out of trouble. Hopefully the statute of limitations has run out by now but one time I dropped a roll of toilet paper out the back of a C-141B and it draped over a bridge in a small town up in the mountains of Tennessee. I didn’t realize there was a small town near the bridge and actually it was in the middle of the small town. They reported to the authorities that a big green camo’ed B-52 had done it. It made the front page of their local paper complete with a picture. Camouflaged jet cargo aircraft was something new at the time and we were the only camo C-141 flying that day. My squadron commander was an old SAC guy so of the three C-141’s doing drops that day on different DZ’s, he knew which one it was and who the loadmaster was in the back. He called me and the young Captain AC in and proceeded to chew my butt up one side and down the other. Never actually accusing me but knowing full well I was the most likely culprit. We had a new FCIF (Flight Crew Information File) come out the next day that basically quoted my commander in that, “Nothing had better ever come out the back of the aircraft unless a parachute was attached to it”. He never said a word to the AC but I think he was more scared than me as he didn’t have a clue why we were seeing the commander.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
I am still waiting on that second career as I finish out in the Air Force as a Group Superintendent and 35 plus years service.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I join everything. I’m a lifetime member of the AF Sgt Association, the AF Association, The Airlift Tanker Association, the Professional Loadmaster Association, and several others like the VFW. Most of them give a political voice plus a chance to associate with member and former members of our military profession. Plus the VFW is a nice place to get a cold beer on a Sunday afternoon and visit with other old members telling war stories and lies even though most, including mine, have gotten bigger and better over the years.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
Initially it was a great adventure. I couldn’t imagine being paid to do what I would gladly have done for free. The longer I was in, the more I began to lose former class and squadron mates through aircraft accidents and war. Two former tech school classmates were killed in separate C-130 accidents. One of our squadrons lost a C-141 and 12 crew members were killed. Then my squadron lost a C-141 and 8 squadron mates were killed. Each time I became a little tougher mentally. By the time DESERT STORM ended, I had been subject to numerous missile attacks and several close calls. Having a AC-130 shot down with the loss of the entire crew plus a rocket hit the barracks in Dhahran killing many troops, gave me a better appreciation for life. I came back home more willing to forgive and forget old grudges as I was the only one being hurt by them. I’d like to think I’m a better person for it.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
Do the best job you can and be the best airman you can. You don’t have to be the first to volunteer each time but when the tough assignments come up and nobody steps up, give it a few seconds and take that step forward yourself. Never wait for an opportunity to open up to prepare yourself for promotion. Be prepared ahead of time, do your PME, take the tough assignments so when the opportunity arises, you’re ready to step up.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
Having served allows you to walk with your head held a little higher. When you speak with other former military members you have a bond between you as well as present members. A type of brotherhood that those who never served can’t understand, whether you were drafted and served two years or a lifetime of 30 or more years, you’ll always have that bond between you.