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KMC public affairs chief championed Air Force story

  • Published
  • By Susan Griggs
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
For the past 16 years, Steve Pivnick has been a familiar figure at Keesler Medical Center, with his ever-present notebook, camera and trademark Tabasco neckties.

Pivnick, who retires Feb. 28 as public affairs chief of the 81st Medical Group, devoted 26 years of active-duty service and 21 years of civil service to championing the Air Force story. His nearly 19 years at Keesler mark his longest service in any one location.

"Mr. Pivnick is an institution at Keesler Medical Center," said Col. Thomas Harrell, 81st MDG commander. "Not only has he provided exceptional public affairs support through the years telling and retelling the medical center's stories of excellent people and services, but he's a walking history book of events in and around the hospital for many years.

"Mr. Pivnick has never been a nine-to-fiver," the colonel stressed. "If there is a happening involving the medical center or its people, Steve has been there."

The medical center staff has such high regard for Pivnick's professionalism that his name has become a verb, Harrell pointed out.

"When he documented an event, he always reminded the staff to remove their medical identification badge so as not to be captured in photos," he pointed out. "Now the staff comments on being 'Pivnicked' when asked to remove their badges for a picture."

To put the changing Air Force into perspective, when the Connecticut native enlisted in the Air Force 50 years ago, he earned about $92 a month. During those Vietnam War years, there were almost 850,000 Airmen, compared to today's force of about 492,000.

Pivnick's first assignment was the information office at Bunker Hill Air Force Base, Indiana. He finished out the last two years of his initial four-year enlistment as a combat news reporter and newspaper editor at Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand. His years of service in the '60s during the Vietnam War still bring back vivid memories.

"As a reporter, I'd interview pilots when they returned from bombing missions, then write stories," Pivnick remembered. "For operational security reasons, none of the articles could mention our location, just 'Southeast Asia.'"

He remembered the base's commander being killed in action and the vice commander being taken prisoner of war - both in the same week.

"There were many crews shot down - it was heartbreaking to see crew chiefs waiting on the flight line realizing their aircraft and crews weren't returning," Pivnick recalled. "We had an EC-121 crash at the end of the runway killing all on board, about 20-30 crewmembers. Another time our wing flight safety officer ran out of fuel at the end of the runway on his 99th mission and was killed - crewmembers were able to go home after 100 missions"

Pivnick described those 100-mission parade sendoffs as joyous occasions. He said he was privileged to attend two Bob Hope shows and a visit by President Lyndon Johnson.

As newspaper editor, he "had" to go to Bangkok every week by C-130 to put the paper together, a "real hardship," he said with a grin.

"I met and married my former wife there and both my sons were born there," Pivnick said. After his initial four-year enlistment ended in 1969, he worked as feature editor for the Bangkok World, an English-language newspaper.

He returned to active duty in 1971 and served in the public affairs offices at Mather AFB, California; Elmendorf AFB, Alaska; and U-Tapao and Korat ABs, Thailand.

"Ironically, during my second tour in 1975, I was sent back to Korat for manning assistance and literally closed the PA office when the U.S. left the country after a revolution overthrew the government," Pivnick noted. "I watched buildings constructed during my '67-'69 tour taken down and the departure of the final combat aircraft."

He also served at Clark AB, Philippines; Offutt AFB, Nebraska; Pease AFB, New Hampshire, and Barksdale AFB, La.

At Offutt, he was assigned to the public affairs office at Strategic Air Command headquarters.

"The public affairs chief master sergeants who guided me when I was at SAC headquarters had tremendous influence on me," Pivnick stated. "I arrived as a staff sergeant and left as a master sergeant with a wealth of public affairs knowledge and experience."

After retiring from active duty in 1993 as a senior master sergeant, he entered civil service as chief of community relations at Shaw AFB, South Carolina. He came to Keesler as the 81st Training Wing's community relations chief in 1996 and became Keesler Medical Center's public affairs chief three years later.

Pivnick admitted that it took him a good six months to learn his away around the base's huge medical complex.

"Over the years, I would still find stairwells and areas that I wasn't aware of," he stated.

At the medical center, Pivnick gave public affairs guidance and advice to the commander and staff, kept the base and surrounding communities aware of the care and superb services the "Dragon Medics" provided and the state-of-art procedures and equipment available to beneficiaries.

"I loved working with such a terrific group of talented and selfless professionals on a daily basis," he remarked. "I received tremendous support from them. All have influenced me in some way and made my service a great learning experience."

Pivnick said his family has been very supportive of his career.

"As a single parent for much of the time, my kids were, for the most part, a joy," he emphasized. "I'm very proud of their achievements."

He plans to remain in Ocean Springs and isn't sure what his retirement years will hold.

"Everyone asks me that question and I really haven't given it much thought," he commented. "Spend a lot of time at the dog park? I'll be in the area and plan to be back to Keesler often."