When I joined the Air Force I had one criteria… Be around Airplanes. Well, duh.. it was the Air Force. I had a really high ASVAB score so getting in the Air Force was easy enough, but with the build-up to Desert Storm, there was a waiting list to get in. So I told them I would take whatever job they had (as long as it was with the planes) to get in sooner.
Air transportation specialist (605 or 2T2) was where they placed me. As part of this field was a huge opportunity to do so much; I was quite happy. That was until I got my first assignment, more on that later. The career field included working the fleet services, air terminal, air cargo loading, cargo processing, air terminal operations, crew chief and combat controller.
Growing up under a career military man was an experience in itself. Everything needed to be done in a specific order and everything was goal oriented. Lectures were a daily practice that I now appreciate greatly. I joined the military because after I got out on my own, I lacked, and missed, that daily structure. However, once IN the military I soon found that my Father’s military and the one I had joined were 2 completely different things. There was no unity, no brotherhood; in fact, it was every man for himself.
I was often punished for helping another finish a run or even teaching them to shine shoes (skills I learned in ROTC). I had high hopes that once I left basic and into the real Air Force it would be different… and it wasn’t. Every day, every task and every deployment was the efforts of individuals looking to out perform each other. At Shepherd Air force Base where I took my training, it was the same. Chastised publicly for tutoring people who’s grades were down, I started to see that this wasn’t going to be the career my father spoke so well of; for all those years.
Pope Air Force Base
Pope Air Force base would come back to haunt me as I told them “any job around planes”. I landed Fleet services with the 3rd MAPS. Fleet services cleaned the planes, latrines and brought meals to the flight crew. It was a nasty job, but I did it to the best of my ability. After a point I was moved to Checkpoint where I worked with troops and loading aircraft cargo. This was at least a better job.
I used every moment I had free to take as many courses and classes that were available. I volunteered for everything that came down the pike; truly wanting to make a career out of whatever was handed to me.
While I was on this assignment there was a call for a select group to work with the Special Operations group out of Fort Bragg. These guys were the cream of the military crop and those selected would train with them; so we could cater to their load needs and work with their sensitive material. I really enjoyed this assignment as these guys represented a group, a team that my father spoke so well of.
These guys wore no rank or identification of any type and were great to work and train with. I also trained in different forms of martial arts, tactical defense and worked out consistently to prepare for the possible deployment that might be necessary as part of that operations group. This is also where I would work with blacklisted materials that we would learn later; contained agents that would cause a rapid decline in my health.
As a desire to continue with this I answered the call to join the Air Force Honor Guard and Rifle Team requested through the new 23rd TAW “flying tigers” that had come to make Pope AFB their home. This detail would be done along with my regular duties but did turn into a 6 month full time appointment. We would provide saber drill teams, weapons performance drills and military funeral details. It was as part of this assignment that I received my orders to Germany.
Ramstein AFB, Germany
When I received orders to Ramstein AB I had no symptoms and no issues. I would consider myself, at that time, the best physical shape I could be for my size. I could lift my body weight, smash concrete with my fist, could do an inverted leg press 3 times my weight and run for hours with no problems. (and did as a regular part of that unit). Stationed to work in the warehouse at Ramstein I jumped right in. However, a few months after being there I started to feel fatigue and discomfort in my workouts.
I started visiting the base medical center; getting motrin and sent back to work. Shortly after the humanitarian missions to Bosnia started to gear up. We unloaded, packed and prepared thousands of pounds of meat, flour and oil on pallets to be air dropped in. When I came home each night I looked like the Pillsbury Doh Boy… I also would fill in for checkpoint airmen that called in sick often working 16-20 hours a day during this mission.
The more I did the worse I seemed to get. Base medical finally send me to Landstuhl hospital for further treatment. After 3 days of tests the Doctor was like “I wish we could have caught this sooner”. By this point damage to my joints was already done. The nervous flashes, twitching, chronic pain, exhaustion and lack of strength were quickly becoming part of my life as my health rapidly declined. My NCOIC recommended a transfer to a different department as I was basically just taking up a desk in his department, not able to lift anything or drive a forklift in the braces the Dr’s put me in. The more tests the Dr’s ran the more confused they had become (not yet knowing a cause of Desert Storm Syndrome, especially with my not being “in country”) So every week it was a different Dr, a different test and a different GUESS.
Data records and processing is where I was assigned during my “light duty” time. The NCOIC there always had a chip on his shoulder feeling that he always got the “defective airmen”. However, I took the same attitude here as I did every other assignment. As I was one of a handful of people in the squadron that had worked nearly all off the parts of my career field I was required to work multiple shifts while “healthy people” were getting deployed. As a result I worked 20 hours a day for months. My wife was allowed to visit me at 3am in the morning, I slept on my desk rather than trying to go home.
I always looked for areas where I could benefit my country, earning 2 additional meritorious service metals for monies recovered and instituting new processes for data entry. This lead to the Squadron commander meeting with me to request helping me stay in the Military. (With not being able to get around very well I could no longer be “mobility certified for combat deployment”) I agreed and he pulled my medical records to buy some time. I took this opportunity to travel as much as I could going to different places like France, Bulgaria, Belgium and more… all just a few hours drive away.
However, this arrangement would eventually catch up with me. Once the medical review board was convened I was on a plane back to the US in 2 weeks flat.
During my time I was stationed at Pope AFB and Ramstein AFB with light deployments for months locally and abroad. While I never went to the Gulf, my duties placed me in direct contact with the chemicals and gear that was coming back from the Gulf to the various units at Fort Bragg. I also worked one-on-one with the Special Operations Group (no designations) and their “uncategorized cargo” for approx. 9 months. (this is where the lawyer thought the main exposure occurred) I also worked with the incinerators frequently, as all overseas trash and open materials needed to be burned. I regularly received vaccinations because of our continued exposure to overseas aircraft. (They even came out to the flight line to give us shots rather than making appointments because there were so many)
Coming back home was a bitter sweet thing as I had to deal with my new physical challenges AND try to find a new civilian life. We were held up at customs flying into Miami as, for some reason, I was not on the flight manifest. What made it more confusing was that I wasn’t in any database… anywhere! After 8+ hours of interviews and strange looks they decided that this was beyond them and sent me along with paperwork to fill out.
We processed into the Veterans Administration in Jacksonville, FL. we thought it was going to be as easy as they said it would be in the out-processing briefing; not so much. My records could not be validated and I was directed to Scott AFB. This is also when I contacted my Dad to see if he knew what was going on. He made a few calls and got at least my name and social security # found. But every call to the VA was hit with a roadblock.
A Glimmer of Hope
In spring 1999 we visited the legal center at Pope AFB (where I was previously stationed) and spoke with a legal defendant (Lt. Ted __) who told me that there have been many unexplained illnesses from the time which I served. He said that a case was being prepared that we could be apart of; they were trying to get the VA to help process several airmen who had similar stories like mine.
We were very excited to hear this news. 2 weeks later I was informed that the case was not going to move forward and that the lawyer that established the case had left the military. No further pursuits were being considered.
After that I basically gave up on getting any assistance but my wife did not. She called government offices and even senators trying to get someone to help… the end result was a not so polite call that we’d better drop the issue… “or else”.
I have been blessed to work for companies that have worked with my mobility issues. My mom helped get me a wheelchair and I have just learned to “deal” with it. I was evaluated by different neurological centers in Lexington, KY (2003-2006) but not really understanding what was going on, they were trying to diagnose paralysis rather than muscle weakness and fatigue.
My wife started to contact the VA again in 2006. They were very nice about saying there was nothing that could be done without the medical records and a validated DD 214, so she started filing out online requests regularly until… in Jan. 2012 we actually received my DD 214. She immediately called the VA in Lexington KY (where we lived at the time) and was told we could process, however there was a 3 year window to diagnose service related conditions so all it would do is give me an ID card. (No word on if the medical records were ever found).
Since then we have been told every story under the sun as the rules change with every person you speak with. Honestly, I have lived so long like this… I frankly don’t have much confidence or desire to go through all that again.
As this is an overview I don’t want to bore people with every little detail of those 6 years that fundamentally changed the course of my life. Many of the details have been long forgotten. My memory was extensively damaged as a result so I rely on the things I have written down over the years, my wife and pictures to keep things straight. I don’t remember names and few faces, places I’ve lived, most of my kids growing up.. It’s been a real struggle. In the meantime I use what I retain to the best of my ability. I watch documentaries ALOT to help exercise my brain. I know that stuff is still in there (I spoze) I’m hoping to get some of it back one day.
Down But Not Out
Perhaps I could’ve sat around and felt sorry for myself, but alas; I didn’t. (too much) I have held a full time job, went to several bible colleges while I worked. I have worked for One Stop Auto Parts, Autozone, Advance Auto Parts, Don Jacobs Oldsmobile, BMW, VW and Honda where I achieved some of their highest training and service honors. I also ran an advertising company while I worked as a Public Safety Chaplain, volunteered for several local public safety programs, ministered in nursing homes, worked with children’s ministries, Pastored a church and more.
There was even a period of time where I was in (what I felt was) remission of symptoms. Except for the Chronic fatigue I felt pretty good. It was this period that I launched my business and got back into martial arts working with the IOTF. A stroke would bring about conditions amplified. Later Diagnosed as MS.
2 years ago I stepped down from public life to work full time from home and assist ministries where I can.
To preach or do a Sunday school class requires 10-12 hours of rest and I nearly collapse when I get done. However, when I preach or teach I feel little pain, it’s kinda hard to explain. Managing my health is now a full time thing. I am blessed to be able to work from home using the experiences and knowledge I have gathered, and continue to learn; through Modern Web Studios.
Maybe a Touch of Pride
Except for some placards on my wheelchair and an occasional hat I wear I don’t rub in the fact that I was in the military. We didn’t really take any images of me at all for a really long time, I didn’t want to be thought of as a person who was “disabled”. I was extremely thankful for the time he gave me to be able to walk and function, and I tried to use that time to be as productive as I could; but that was at a cost. God has used these events to shape my focus on so many different things. I look back at my life and seem so many different things that I have done that, perhaps, I did in spite of my condition. I worked so very hard to not let some medical condition take away my joy and desire to accomplish things, motive my children and be a good provider. Maybe it’s just a touch of pride.
Sure I’ve sacrificed, but so has my wife and family. My wife has pushed my wheelchair, dragged me up stairs, brushed my teeth, helped me go to the bathroom and stayed awake all night to make sure I stayed breathing (yeah, that was a thing)… if we are going to talk about sacrifice… I don’t compare to what she and my family has sacrificed for me. So if you see me out and about and want to wish me a “thank you for your service”.. Skip me and give my wife and kids a big hug and a well deserved thank you.
During my time at Pope there were quite a few “events” that took place that were at best, memorable. Below is one of them.