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NEWS | Nov. 20, 2012

Our story is generational

By Senior Airman Jarad A. Denton 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The crisscross pattern of olive green fabric felt rough against my fingers as I held my father's old U.S. Air Force uniform.

It was a different time in September 1973 when Airman 1st Class Tom Denton arrived at Langley Air Force Base, Va. to start his career as a weapons control systems technician on the F-106 Delta Dart. Now, nearly 40 years later, my father said a lot has changed.

"We had buildings supporting our squadron that aren't there anymore," he said. "Now, it's just a parking lot."

I smiled, trying to picture this man, who had separated from the military in January 1979 to finish school and join the civilian workforce, putting on his uniform day-after-day and going to work a few hundred feet from where my office sits today.

"It's a lot quieter now," my Dad said.

I had to laugh. There are days when I can't hold a conversation over the roar of an F-22 Raptor. But Dad was quick to remind me that in the 1970s, Langley was home to several airframes - from the C-130 Hercules to the brand-new F-15A Eagle. I imagined that seeing the Eagle for the first time must have been very similar to me seeing the Raptor.

"It was very impressive," Dad said, recalling the first time he saw the Eagle in flight. "There was nothing like it. They were incredibly powerful."

Every Friday, the Eagle would perform a flight demonstration. My Dad said it was incredible to watch the jet stand on its tail, while in flight, hit the afterburners and still manage to climb straight into the sky. I thought of watching the Raptor demo team perform equally stunning aerial maneuvers. The aircraft would just hang in the air - almost motionless; openly defying the laws of nature as a testament of American ingenuity.

I wondered whether things had really changed as a Raptor screamed overhead. My Dad was quick to remind me that while some things remain the same, others have drastically changed. Both he and my mother, Paula, were stationed at Langley together during the tail end of and after the Vietnam War.

"The military was not a popular place to be," Dad said. "People didn't like the war. They didn't like us. And we stuck out like sore thumbs, being the only ones walking around with short hair."

Because of the mentality of the time, Dad said many Airmen put in four years and separated - leaving a lot more turnover.

"We lacked the levels of expertise you have in the Air Force today," Dad said. "The maintenance career field seemed to be in a constant state of on-the-job training."

In the 70s, it might be nine months before an Airman graduated technical school and arrived at his or her first duty station. If that same Airman were to separate at the end of his or her first enlistment, that person would have to be replaced by another individual with even less experience.

"There's no doubt you have more experienced Airmen today," Dad said.

He was also quick to point out the focus on physical training had improved drastically since his time in the service.

"Your PT is a lot more important today," he said. "I think I ran the mile-and-a-half track twice during my time at Langley. That probably wasn't a good thing, but we knew we weren't going anywhere."

Dad was right. Deployments were completely different when he was an Airman. The Air Expeditionary Force was only made a reality at the dawn of the 21st Century. However, he said the biggest change wasn't deployment restructuring, or a revamped PT program or even a state-of-the-art weapon system that could out-fly anything in the air. My Dad told me the biggest change in the Air Force between Staff Sgt. Tom Denton and Senior Airman Jarad Denton was the focus on the development of people.

"The big change from then to now in the Air Force is the focus on a person's career," Dad said. "More attention is paid on how to guide an individual through their career. It has to do with being an all-volunteer force."

He continued, and I realized how the lessons learned during my Dad's time in the service are echoed in the processes and benefits available to all uniformed Service members, today.

"There are levels of professionalism within the Air Force that weren't in place during my time," he said. "Those levels - all the opportunities the service offers an Airmen, they make that person more attractive in the civilian job market. Take advantage of them. Take advantage of the possibilities we didn't have."