- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in the fall of 1971 after visiting recruiters from all branches of the armed forces. The Air Force seemed the most logical, as I didn’t care to serve extended periods on water or as an infantryman.

After completing basic training, I went to the Air Force Security Police Academy, where I graduated as a distinguished graduate in December 1971.

My initial assignments were in exotic faraway places. First I went to Taiwan, and after 27 months, I was reassigned to Madrid, where I spent the next two years. I was learning about life quickly while serving overseas, and I realized that I could become comfortably accustomed to traveling and visiting faraway places while meeting new and exciting people.

After a short stint at a base now closed in Sacramento, Calif., I spent the next four years back in the Pacific, specifically in the Philippines. The long overseas flights wore me out, but when I finally arrived at my new destinations, the flights seemed well worth the time and effort.

The Philippines were eye-opening in many ways. Not only were the people some of the nicest I met anywhere in the world, but I gained some terrific insight into the brave men and women who survived the Bataan Death March and years of solitude as prisoners of war in Japanese camps.

My relationship with the Philippines and Filipinos in general was cemented early in my assignment as I traveled around the nation, meeting many humble and honest people who raised their hands with a victory sign no matter where I visited, be it the city or a rural barrio on a distant island.

It was 1978 when I met the woman who would become my wife, a Philippine government employee, but it wasn’t until 1984, after I returned to America, that I realized this was the woman I wished to marry and live with forever.

Many GIs married overseas, but I dragged my feet, giving myself plenty of time to think about my decision, which I eventually made after I left the Philippines and was reassigned to the Pentagon.

My career took a slight detour when I separated in 1983 as an Air Force technical sergeant and spent 16 months in the Air Force Reserve, pulling my mobilization duties at Edwards Air Force Base. Even this duty was amazing, as I spent many hours conducting physical security of the space shuttle after it landed in the Southern California desert. Who could imagine being able to say he guarded a real spaceship?

While in the reserves, I had a full-time job with the Lockheed California Co. in Burbank, the original home of the Skunk Works, Lockheed’s very sensitive and secret manufacturing plant. During my short tenure with Lockheed in one of its security functions, I had the honor of meeting Clarence L. “Kelly” Johnson, then a Lockheed corporate vice president, but more important, the inventor of the SR-71 and U-2, two of Lockheed’s most famous aircraft.

I was reinstated into the active Air Force and assigned to officer training school, where I graduated in January 1984 as a second lieutenant, assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. My operational duties as a special agent and officer were not only as a criminal investigator, but also as an intelligence officer, while my leadership duties were as a supervisor and, later, commander.

I served in Oklahoma and Texas as a special agent before going overseas, returning to the Philippines, this time tasked with seeking threat information targeting Americans. These duties were far more dangerous than my responsibilities at home, where I primarily conducted criminal investigations and managed people.

No matter where I was assigned, I always considered myself fortunate. Travel, be it domestic or international, always opened my eyes to new places while I met new and fascinating people. Coupled with my growing experiences and maturity in the military, I never dismissed an assignment, especially an overseas assignment, as trivial or boring. My only regret was that I didn’t see more of the world before I retired.

My subsequent Philippine tour was far more adventurous than I anticipated. Americans were being targeted by terrorists, and some were dying, and I was drawn into the war on terror before I even knew I was involved. Those were eye-opening days, and I soon realized that as an American military man serving overseas, I was not only a representative of my government, but also a moving target to countless kooks desiring to make a name for themselves at my expense.

The Philippines provided other exciting experiences, including the volcanic eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, which resulted in me and my family being evacuated from the nation along with nearly 15,000 other Americans. We returned to America, eventually settling down in Texas, where I finished my career in 1993, nearly 22 years from the date I initially enlisted. I retired proudly as a captain.

I never anticipated spending the majority of my adult life in uniform in the service of my country. While doing so, I not only saw the world but also traveled in the footsteps of others I had only read about in glossy travel magazines. I made fascinating friends, and I am still in contact with many of them.

My experiences could never have been matched had I remained in Los Angeles as a policeman, traveling only when I took my annual vacation. My military service not only helped me gain experience, it also helped me develop the maturity of life and gain insight into establishing relationships with others that I could not have experienced if I never had served.

I owe my country more than reimbursement for all the airline tickets for which I was never required to pay. I owe my country my life - literally, because were it not for the Air Force, I never would have developed the life experience and knowledge that I possess. I am grateful to my country and for the people I served with and for.

I also honor all the men and women who served before and after me; they are all true heroes. May God bless America.

EDWARD F. LAWTON
Fairfax

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide