United States Air Force

Service Reflections of Lt. Col. Ryan Rowe, U.S. Air Force (1995-2021)


The following Reflections represents LT COL Ryan Rowe’s legacy of his military service from 1995 to 2021. If you are a Veteran, consider preserving a record of your own military service, including your memories and photographs, on Togetherweserved.com (TWS), the leading archive of living military history. The following Service Reflections is an easy-to-complete self-interview, located on your TWS Military Service Page, which enables you to remember key people and events from your military service and the impact they made on your life. Start recording your own Military Memories HERE.

Please describe who or what influenced your decision to join the Air Force.

Cadet Rowe

I had always had an interest in military things. I was the kid who never stopped playing with GI Joe’s! My dad was in the Navy, and I enjoyed his stories. But, in the end, it was a personal decision based on patriotism and wanting to give back. And maybe, also looking for the respect that wearing the uniform brings.

I had wanted to join the Navy, like my dad. But, I knew I wanted to be an officer, and I applied for the US Naval Academy and NROTC scholarships but was turned down for both. I also applied to the USCG Academy but was turned down there, also.

A USAF enlisted recruiter came to my high school, and I asked her about officer opportunities. She told me there were some AFROTC scholarship applications with the guidance counselor. I got one, filled it out, and lo and behold; I got a scholarship. So that is why I joined the USAF.

Whether you were in the service for several years or as a career, please describe the direction or path you took. What was your reason for leaving?

Lt Col Rowe

I served for 26 years, almost exactly. When I was about to be commissioned, I filled out my dream sheet (job preferences). My first choice was Security Forces. Then Intel. Then aircraft mx, supply, and I got aircraft maintenance. By the way, Aircraft Mx was recommended to me by one of my AFROTC instructors.

I considered getting out several times. I even paid for one of my master’s courses so I would not incur a service commitment while at Eglin (instead of using tuition assistance). I had a very, very bad deployment to Iraq from 2006 to 2007, and I was adamant then I was getting out. Only a school slot kept me in. I was going to retire in 2019 when I was put on the VML, but my boss managed to get me a job at the F-35 JPO. This was timely because it was at the same time Erin was diagnosed with cancer, so it allowed us to have the stability to work this without trying to transition to civilian life.

In the end, it was just time to go. I had 26 years in, with seven in the NCR. It was time to leave to make room for the next generation.

If you participated in any military operations, including combat, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, please describe those which made a lasting impact on you and, if life-changing, in what way?

Wreckage of F-16 90-0776 at Balad, which killed Maj. Gilbert

I participated in six named Operations. The first two were to Al Jaber Air Base, Kuwait, with the 75th Fighter Squadron, to support the no-fly mission for SOUTHERN WATCH. The first one was in 1996-7 and was the first time I’d ever flown overseas. We left NC, with stops at Gander, NF, Shannon, Ireland, Cairo, Egypt, and then Kuwait City. We took buses for the 1.5 hr trip to Al Jaber. This was a 93-day deployment and was fairly routine. But it was here that I learned I get testy while deployed! The second was in 1997 and was much the same. However, during this one, Saddam threatened to shoot down the U2 flights. So our unit was part of a major strike package to escort the U2s on their next flight.

Interestingly enough, we dropped the AGM65D EO mavericks we had been flying and loaded AGM65G IR mavericks (I think that was the designation), brand new, from the crates. Funny that the Ds were fine for day-to-day flying, but they had us load the shiny new ones for this mission. End the end, Saddam backed down, and nothing happened. This was about a 60-day deployment.

The next deployment was in 2004 to support Operation IRAQI FREEDOM. I was at Hurlburt Field at the time, and we took a C-5 with an MH-53 and about 20 Mx’ers (after about five tries…never deploy on a C-5) to Baghdad via Dover and Moron AB, Spain. We missed our slot times in Baghdad, so we stayed in Moron for about 4 or 5 days with no access to our luggage, and we could not go off-base. We were housed in an old supply warehouse with bunk beds as far as the eye could see, with one TV at the front and a latrine trailer outside. There was a shoppette on the base where we all bought gray sweats. It was humorous because we looked like prisoners, all in gray sweats, sitting out front of our lodging! We finally made it to Baghdad, which was interesting because we did a “combat” landing (corkscrew down over the airfield) with lights out and body armor on. It was surreal to set foot on Iraqi soil for the first time after having deployed twice for OSW and, of course, being in high school when Desert Storm happened. This was the first time I was rocketed and mortared. I took a picture of a small crater and some shrapnel damage. During this deployment, MH-53 tail number 797 was shot down. Several were wounded but no fatalities. I remember the chaos when we lost 797. At first, we didn’t know if it was mechanical or a combat loss. Fortunately, their wingman was able to land and rescue them. Again, it was surreal to watch the MX’ers mop up the blood from the MH-53 when it returned. Coming home was comical because the C130 was supposed to take us from Baghdad to Al Udeid but instead dropped us off at Kuwait City. I learned then to always ask the aircrew where THEY are going, not what the ATOC says they are going. This was a 64-day deployment.

My next deployment was to Bagram AB, AFG, in 2005, supporting Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. Again with Hurlburt Field. I flew commercial from FWB to Atlanta, then first class to Gatwick, UK, then to Doha, Qatar. I tried to blend in, but I was a foot taller than most everyone else. Of course, my ride wasn’t there, and the phone to call them (as prescribed in the instructions) at baggage claim did not work. In the end, a nice US contractor let me use his cell phone to call the base, and they came and got me. I stayed in Al Udeid AB for a day or two before hopping on a ride on a C130 to Bagram, which was about a six-hour ride. I fell asleep and slept well to the drone of the T56s. It was January, so it was cold and snowy. Here I was with AC-130s, MC-130s, and a slick C-130 used for electronic warfare. The was a USN P-3 also that was a secret squirrel. We had our own compound (OCF, or “Other Coalition Forces” with our own gym and housing, but we had to use the base’s chow halls. I was in the TOC (tactical ops center), and it was cool to listen in to the AC-130s supporting the guys on the ground. One very unique thing was that the Khyber Pass was closed due to heavy snow, so we started running out of fuel.

We did a very cool mission: we loaded up an MC-130 with gas and flew it to an Army FOB to re-supply them. We used the MC-130 because it had good radars to navigate the bad weather. Another cool experience was we got intel on an HVT (high-value target). They brought in about six little birds on a C-17, offloaded them, and flew them to our side of the ramp in about an hour. We loaded two each in two MC-130s. It was cool to see them tucked in the back of the MC-130s, with the M-4s strapped in the cockpits. In the end, by the time we got permission to do the hit, the target had disappeared, so the mission was scrubbed. I do not know who the target was, but I assume it was across the border in Pakistan since it required such high-level approval. This was another 60-something-day deployment. I ended up flying home via C17 through Turkmenistan and on to Ramstein, Germany. We caught a bus to Rhein-Main to try to catch a rotator, but none were coming for about a week. We got permission to fly home commercially, so we spent the night at the Sheraton airport (talk about culture shock! Going from wooden B-huts to this hotel!), had schnitzel for dinner, then caught a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to BWI. This was about a 60-day deployment.

My next deployment was in support of OIF again. I was deployed at Balad AB, Iraq, from Sept 2006 to Jan 2007, for about five months. I was the maintenance squadron commander. This was my first experience with a C-RAM, and we got rocketed and mortared A LOT. We also lost an F-16, the 524 FS flagship, and Maj Troy Gilbert was killed. Two other Airmen were killed that I know of. A CE captain from Cannon drowned when his CH-46 crashed at a dam, and an SF troop was killed by a sniper while manning a turret on a Humvee. The wing commander was a tyrant and, frankly, an asshole. He told me twice, at wing-level meetings with all the other commanders and wing staff present, what a “leadership failure” my first sergeant and I were because one of my guys broke his ankle while skateboarding and had to be medevaced to Germany. The second was because one of my ADCON troops (not even OPCON!) got pregnant by some army dude. I hated living there. I’m pretty sure this is where I got my PTSD from. I also helped load the wounded onto Medevac C17s at night. I saw everything from walking wounded to folks with no arms and legs in a CCAT (critical care air transport–in flight ICU). I took a C17 back to Al Udeid, with a stop at Al Assad AB (USMC). What was supposed to be a 45-minute ERO (engine running offload) turned into about 2 1/2 hours because the dolts loaded what needed to come off at the front of the airplane, so everything had to come off and be re-loaded.

My last “deployment” supporting a named operation (FREEDOM’S SENTINEL) was in Crystal City, supporting the Periodic Review Secretariat (PRS), which basically supported GTMO detainee ops. I did get to go to Cuba for about 2 1/2 weeks which was really cool. I did not get to go inside the prison, but I did get to go into the compound.

Did you encounter a situation during your military service when you believed there was a possibility you might not survive? Please describe what happened and what was the outcome.

Wreckage of MH-53 797 after being shot down near Fallujah, 2004

Yes, my deployment to Balad, Iraq. This was my third deployment to a “hot” combat zone, and I was starting to think, “Third time’s a charm,” and my luck might run out. Also, we got mortared and rocketed A LOT. Plus, with the deaths of Maj Gilbert and the others, it was very real. This was also my first deployment as a father, so I felt extra vulnerable. I can’t say I had any “near death” experiences here; it was just that death was all around.

I guess I did have one more experience, which was when I was in Baghdad. We were flying in an MH-53 to Balad at night when all of a sudden, the flares started shooting off automatically. I could see the fireballs, and I thought we were having an engine compressor stall. In the end, the crew said it was probably someone welding in their garage, and the heat sensors picked it up as a possible missile motor. I’ll never forget seeing the ramp gunner swinging his .50 cal from side to side, scanning for threats. On the way back, I flew in a USN MH-60, and apparently, we got lit up by something because the crew did some crazy maneuvers. I just remember the ground and sky switching places quite rapidly!

Of all your duty stations or assignments, which one do you have fondest memories of and why? Which was your least favorite?

Andrew Lipina and me, 35 FS, deployed for Keen Sword in Japan

Favorite: Kunsan. It was a true brotherhood of working hard, playing hard. Mountain bike rides, sweeps, squadron bars, the mission. Just good people, good leadership, good mission. Of course, I did not have kids at the time.

Eglin was also a good one. It was a nice break from deployments and exercises. Except for the time I was the Ammo Flight CC, it was great. In ammo flight, our group commander was a drunk tyrant named Col. Scott Berry, who liked to make grown men cry. He liked me for some reason, but man, he was mean.

My least favorite: Cannon. Hands down. Good people, a good mission, but it was in the middle of nowhere, and I was deployed to Balad about 90 days after I arrived for almost five months. Plus, right when we got there, I found out Erin was pregnant with Andrew. I thought being a squadron commander at Cannon, I would not deploy, but that was not the case.

From your entire military service, describe any memories you still reflect back on to this day.

80 FS
  1. AFROTC field training….how ludicrous it was
  2. “Nightmares” about having not met all the requirements for graduation and/or commissioning
  3. “Amateur Night” at the country bar in Wichita Falls
  4. The deployments
  5. Wave runners at Hurlburt, esp. the after-work rides in the sound
  6. My little fishing boat at Eglin
  7. Just going to the shore at Eglin, or the top of King Hangar, just to relax and get away
  8. The smell at Cannon
  9. Kunsan and the people
  10. That asshole, the 332d AEW Commander
  11. Capt Fecteau at Field Training….another jerk
  12. Mainly the people I met over my 26 years…

What professional achievements are you most proud of from your military career?

My Dad at the National World War II Memorial
  • Getting commissioned
  • AFMC Lew Allen Winner
  • ALL the awards I got at Eglin
  • Logistics degree from AFIT
  • 4x Squadron Commander (Cannon, Bagram, Balad, Offutt)
  • Getting Dad to the WWII memorial
  • My F-16 rides

Of all the medals, awards, formal presentations and qualification badges you received, or other memorabilia, which one is the most meaningful to you and why?

  • AFMC Lew Allen Award — Major Command level award
  • Small Arms Expert Ribbon — proves I’m a good shot
  • Kunsan “Wolf’s Cranium” — only 8FW alumni have it
  • My “with valor” award

Which individual(s) from your time in the military stand out as having the most positive impact on you and why?

Col Carlson, 55 MXG/CC with my dad and me
  • Lt Col Travis Osbourne — my first real boss and just a good, good boss and person. Despite the unfortunate events in his retirement
  • Major Frank Bruno — at Eglin. Another really good boss
  • Chief Doug Bieber
  • Col Bob West — a really decent boss
  • Col Gary Bryson — somewhat gruff, but a good boss
  • Col Carlson — 55 MXG/CC; really good boss
  • My shirts at Offutt

List the names of old friends you served with, at which locations, and recount what you remember most about them. Indicate those you are already in touch with and those you would like to make contact with.

Squadron Photo while Deployed…I wonder where they are now?
  • Andrew Lipina — a good friend from Kunsan and AFIT. Keen Sword
  • Rob Hughes

Can you recount a particular incident from your service, which may or may not have been funny at the time, but still makes you laugh?

Sneaking up on the Chief!
  • The flight from Baghdad to Kuwait City…wasn’t funny then. Funny now.
  • Working as the 46 MXS Ops Officer during the exercise…”I need results…not excuses!” LOL!
  • Recovering the F-15 at Eglin that went off the end of the runway

What profession did you follow after your military service, and what are you doing now? If you are currently serving, what is your present occupational specialty?

In Alaska with my son while on a business trip with my new company

I am the logistics manager for CEA Technologies. So yes, I’m a slimy contractor…

What military associations are you a member of, if any? What specific benefits do you derive from your memberships?

I’ve been in the AFA on and off, and I’m in the Logistics Officer Association. I thought about VFW since they helped me with my VA claims, and the benefits have been iffy at best. The LOA gives me some professional references.

In what ways has serving in the military influenced the way you have approached your life and your career? What do you miss most about your time in the service?

Me about to get hosed down after my Kunsan
  • OMG! When things get serious, I turn into a different person. Normally I’m pretty passive, but when things get serious, I turn into a very directive, mission-oriented person
  • “Life is too important to take seriously.”
  • “Do what you can afford to do”
  • I’ve brought my military experience to bear in my new job

What I miss most about my service is the people. By and large, they were committed and dedicated. It is interesting in the civilian world, where most folks are just in it for the money.

Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to those who have recently joined the Air Force?

Eighteen years old and ready to conquer the world!
  • Show up to work on time and do your best
  • Use manners
  • Pace yourself
  • Volunteer for not-so-popular things, like Korea. You might be surprised

In what ways has togetherweserved.com helped you remember your military service and the friends you served with?

This record of service is pretty awesome. It has given me the impetus to do what I always wanted to do, and that is to write some of the more impactful things down.

I am still working on the connections. Being an officer, a lot of the folks associated with the units I was enlisted in, and so I did not have a deep connection with them, except the SNCOs.

Boot Camp, Units, Combat Operations

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Tags: Al Assad AB, Al Udeid AB, Bagram AB, Cannon, Eglin, F-35 JPO, Kunsan, Lew Allen Award, Logistics Officer Association, Operation Iraqi Freedom, SOUTHERN WATCH, TWS, US Naval Academy and NROTC, USAF, USCG Academy


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