‘Best decision I ever made:’ Airmen past and present reflect on Air Force on its 75th anniversary

The story of the Air Force is more than a story of battles won, technology invented and military bases developed.

It’s a story of people.

As part of the 75th anniversary of the Air Force, the Dayton Daily News interviewed six area people — active-duty or retired — who shared what the Air Force and its 75th anniversary mean to them.

“It is a milestone in what was up until a couple of years ago the newest service,” said retired Lt. Col. Richard Hughes said. “It represents the efforts of all the men and women from the Wright Brothers until now.”

ExploreAir Force 75th anniversary: See how Wright-Patterson played pivotal role

He added: “It represents a lineage of innovation, of service, of dedication, of valor that goes back all the way to Huffman Prairie and the Wright Brothers.”

“It’s the world’s strongest Air Force,” said Senior Airman Dox Salgado. “And I’m very proud to be a part of it.”

‘Their responsibility was a lot bigger’

For Lt. Col. Nicole Schatz, growing up around Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska and watching her uncle serve as a chief master sergeant led to her own 18-year Air Force career.

Today Schatz commands the 88th Security Forces Squadron at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. She knew early on that she wanted to do something different.

“Really, the discipline, the chances that they had to do something that wasn’t a mainstream day-to-day job,” she said, recalling her impression of those serving in uniform. “They had a real responsibility. They were helping and serving the entire nation instead of just a community. Their responsibility was a lot bigger.”

But she wanted an education, so she headed to the officers corps by first attending a small school, the former Doane College in Crete, Neb.

In time, a career in law enforcement also beckoned. She feels a connection to law enforcement brothers and sisters in the civilian world.

“We’re law enforcement for the base,” Schatz said. “Very similar to law enforcement brothers outside the gates, our civilian counterparts. They have a huge responsibility to take care of the citizens that they’re entrusted to protect. It’s the same thing for us.”

The 75th anniversary is more than just a number, she said.

“It’s just leading into the future from those who have served in the past, carrying on that heritage and history,” she said.

‘You’re part of something bigger than you’

A native of the Philippines, Senior Airman Salgado knew he needed structure — and a challenge.

He moved to New York City after graduating from college and met several Airmen serving at McGuire Air Force Base.

That experience turned his head almost immediately.

“I always like to push myself, get out of my comfort zone,” Salgado said. “And I like the feeling of making it — there are some things, you think you can’t do it, but then later on, you’ve achieved it.”

He added: “It’s very fulfilling.”

Salgado, 29, works as a military justice paralegal at the 88th Air Base Wing legal office at Wright-Patterson.

“The Air Force definitely has a structured career field,” he said. “And at the same time, you’re also serving your country. You’re part of something bigger than you.”

‘I wanted to serve the nation’

Growing up in the Youngstown area, retired Lt. Col. Hughes, 56, wanted to see the world.

“The big city was Columbus, Ohio,” he recalled. “I wanted to go, I wanted to serve the nation.”

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

The Ohio State graduate entered the Air Force in 1989 and promptly began to do just that, working in an array of positions, from a strategic bomber squadron, as an ICBM officer in the late 1990s, to posts in Georgia, Virginia, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq, Colombia and beyond.

Today, Hughes is a civilian working at the headquarters of Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson as chief of nuclear systems integration.

The anniversary of the Air Force to him represents a proud legacy.

It also points to the future, he believes. The newest military branch, the U.S. Space Force, operates under the Department of the Air Force.

‘The value of integrity and service’

David Babcock, 69, started his Air Force career barely two weeks after the service celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1972.

“Although I didn’t initially plan it this way, I served for 30 years, as a financial management and intelligence NCO (non-commissioned officer),” he said.

After basic training at Lackland Air Force Base and technical training at Sheppard Air Force base, Babcock had nine “permanent” assignments in places such as Saudi Arabia, Korea, Germany and beyond, and multiple “temporary” assignments all over the globe — Europe, Africa, Asia, Central and South America, including Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

In the course of his career, he managed to pair up with friends and several mentors who helped him reach the top 1% of the Air Force’s enlisted corps, reaching the rank of chief master sergeant.

Said Babcock: “I was just very blessed that I was honored with that rank.”

“My career taught me the value of integrity and service before self and excellence in all we do,” Babcock said.

His travel and educational opportunities were “unmatched” compared to what he might have seen in a civilian career, he said.

“So looking back on my career, I would have to say it was one of the best decisions I ever made,” Babcock said. “I heartfelt and truly believe that.”

Babcock served at Wright-Patterson twice, from 1977 to 1980, then again in the 1990s.

Today he is the president of the Wright Air and Space Forces Association Chapter.

Added Babcock: “Knowing how many opportunities I was given to make a lasting contribution for the majority of those years, it’s just something I’m extremely proud of, and that’s why it’s just a thrill to be a part of this 75th anniversary celebration.”

‘The team that supports the warrior’

John Jannazo, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, is today vice president of defense programs with Aerospace Business Development Associates Inc.

Jannazo, 65, splits his time between Freeport, Fla. and Dayton.

He began his career in Air Force ROTC at the University of Notre Dame, receiving a commission in 1979 before pilot training in 1980 and serving active-duty until 2001.

He started out in a T-33, a Lockheed racer. He flew Convair F-106s from North Dakota and New York, near the end of that plane’s life. And he flew F-15s.

From 1990-93, he worked as a major at the F-16 program office at Wright-Patterson. He had an engineering degree, and he wanted to put it to work at a place near his parents’ home in Cleveland.

“I really enjoyed it.” Advanced avionics and part of the original set of officers present when AFMC was stood up in the summer of 1992.

“I enjoyed the ability to influence technology,” he said. “It’s been a technology service from its first days.

But the Air Force is also people-driven, he added. “A lot of people behind it — many, many people.”

He recalled thinking as a pilot: “Boy, I’m sitting here in the cockpit. There are literally thousands of people who helped make that happen.” Engineers, designers, maintenance crews and more.”

“We would go nowhere without them. That’s one of the things the anniversary should really celebrate,” he said — the team that supports the warrior at the sharp tip of spear.

When it came time to retire, instead of going to the airlines, Jannazo chose industry. He shifted to his current consulting company where he helps clients navigate the Air Force acquisition system. “It’s a big system, lots of moving parts.”

‘The most powerful Air Force in the world’

“I joined the Air Force because I’m a child of the space program,” recalled Jose “Rafi” Rodriguez, 67, a retired Air Force colonel.

He grew up watching the moon shot and the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.

“I was just glued to the TV watching rockets going into space.”

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

That early fascination led Rodriguez to a “26-year, amazing career.” His career led him to work on space launch vehicles and satellite programs, including work on the Titan 4 heavy-left space launch rocket operated by the Air Force from the late 1980s until about 2005. (You can see one today at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.)

That career also included a stint at the headquarters of Air Force Materiel Command at Wright-Patterson.

The 75th anniversary “means a lot to me.”

“I believe my contribution to the Air Force was instrumental in making the Air Force the best Air Force and most powerful Air Force in the world.”

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