RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas –
When Bill Ward first raised his hand to enlist in the Air Force, Harry S Truman was president of the United States. Now, 58 years and 10 presidents later, he will retire Jan. 31.
Mr. Ward, an assignments adviser at the Air Force Personnel Center here, developed an extensive personnel resume through 24 years of Civil Service and a 33-year enlisted career in which he became one of the service's first chief master sergeants.
Joining the Air Force in 1950, shortly before the United States entered the Korean War, provided him an alternative to getting drafted into the Army. However, he faced a rather limited choice of careers.
"They had us count off, with odd numbers becoming administrative specialists, even numbers cooks - I'm thankful I was an odd number because I've never been able to cook," he said.
Instead, his typing proficiency, learned in high school at his mother's insistence, landed him a job as clerk typist. Shortly thereafter, he retrained into personnel via direct duty, a career field he maintained until his active duty retirement in 1983.
At that time, he stepped outside the Defense Department and taught school for about five months. Between jobs, he decided to work around the house and prepare lunch for his working wife. His efforts revalidated claims of his cooking prowess.
"I tried making potato salad, and it was terrible," he said. "I believe the good Lord was looking out for me - and for the people who would have had to eat what I served up."
He soon joined Civil Service, taking a job at the Air Force Military Personnel Center. Through the years, he has received an Air Force Outstanding Civilian of the Year award and gained extensive experience in various personnel positions.
In his current job, Mr. Ward helps provide solutions for many requests to the Board for Correction of Military Records, such as veterans attempting to prove service in Vietnam or other combat situations to obtain Veterans Affairs medical coverage. Documentation is required to satisfy such cases, and he added veterans of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom may one day face similar circumstances.
"Airmen need to realize they will need documentation, perhaps 10 years from now when they are seeking medical benefits or other considerations for their service time," he said. "The VA won't care where you say you were; they will want proof."
Having worked with Mr. Ward in AFPC's assignment programs and procedures division for a number of years, Dr. Jerry Ball, deputy division chief, said even with retirement approaching, Mr. Ward is still thinking about future Airmen.
"I've watched him use all of his decades of knowledge and experience to persistently piece together clues that permit us to certify a veteran's participation in a particular mission or campaign," said Dr. Ball. "We'll miss his expertise - but, even more, we'll miss his caring about people."
As presidential candidates continue to travel the campaign trail leading up to the election of the nation's 44th president, Mr. Ward will precede the current commander in chief into retirement.
"I've enjoyed my time in the Air Force helping people and working through the challenges and opportunities to satisfy their personnel needs," he said. "But now it's time for me and Lu, my wife of 55 years, to relax, visit our families and travel."