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AETC Airman retires after 43-year Air Force career

  • Published
  • By Ava Leone
  • AETC Public Affairs

In seventh grade, Harry Reese met an Airman for the first time when a young man in Air Force uniform came to his front door to pick up his sister for a date.

Growing up in Columbia, South Carolina, near Fort Jackson.  Reese had never heard of the Air Force before that moment. That was when he decided he would wear that blue uniform one day. Flash forward to September 1980, at 19 years old, Reese enlisted in the Air Force.

Today after a 43-year career in the Air Force, with military and government service combined, Reese retires Jan. 31.

He worked as a traffic management specialist during his entire career. In traffic management, Reese oversaw the movement of people, materials and assets to different duty locations across the world and managed the transportation of Air Force cargo and freight, including personnel deployments, vehicles and equipment for aircraft.

Reese arrived at Air Force Basic Military Training at then Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in December 1980. He said the lessons he absorbed at BMT transformed his outlook on life, where he set aside his personal interests and instead concentrated his energy on uplifting his unit.

“By the time I graduated BMT in February 1981, I had transformed from a teenager into an Airman,” he said.

“I can still see it in my mind, how we all showed up with our different looks from our diverse backgrounds. And within two days, we had haircuts and we all looked alike. We were all put into platoons, columns of four. Walking together and learning to march together in unison to where we had one sound. I’ll never forget that,” Reese said. “Eventually it dawned on me that we were all marching together and you only heard one sound, our heels digging into the concrete. Everything we did was based on that concept. No more individuals. You morphed into a team, and we graduated as an honor flight.”

Reese tells people to join the Air Force if they want to find a career where they can evolve, while contributing to a cause greater than themselves.

“I do advocate for the Air Force because it is a great way of life. I know that's cliche, but it truly is. It gives you the opportunity to learn a craft and then nurture that craft. You can … as you progress in your career, become a subject matter expert in what you do, because you're charged with learning that job and doing that job every day,” Reese said. “I share with people that if you ever want to put yourself in a position where you can chase success, but also be a part of a larger collective, then the Air Force is for you. The service you provide is to the country, you are literally serving the American public. And I take great pride in that.”

Reese’s pride translated into achievements as his team won the Combat Readiness and Resources Unit of the Year for 1996 when he was stationed at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. Reese was the acting superintendent of combat readiness and resources at the time and he led a small unit during Desert Storm and Desert Shield that helped Airmen download cargo off aircraft and upload cargo onto aircraft to push entire squadrons of Airmen out to complete their missions.

This moment always stood out to Reese as a time when “his unit took their job to heart” and his small organization made a larger impact on the mission.

“The Air Force culture is diverse, challenging and meaningful, he said. “We all have a mission, with one team and one fight, and we're all working toward the same goal,” Reese said. “That goal is to make sure we project the number one air power in the world. I love being a part of that big movement.”

Throughout his career, Reese also took advantage of opportunities to grow outside of career field and to graduate college. He graduated Wayland Baptist University with a bachelor’s degree in teaching methodology and training in 2001 and he was awarded his master’s degree in management from Webster University in 2005.

Reese retired from active duty in December 2004, but his commitment to service didn’t stop there. He continued his service as a Department of Defense civilian employee with Air Education and Training Command here.

Darryl Hamilton first met Reese when he started working at AETC in 2004. They have worked together ever since, even though Hamilton moved to the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center at JBSA-Lackland, Texas, where he’s now the chief of traffic management. The two have maintained a close friendship over the years.

According to Hamilton, Reese inspires the people around him to do the best job they can.

“Harry is one of those special individuals that you meet in life,” Hamilton said. “He’s the one that people talk about as a person who comes into your life and provides purpose. Serving on the AETC staff with Harry was one of the highlights of my career, in terms of work environment and doing things that helped the traffic management community. He just helped make working there easier and fun. Our staff was often dubbed by our Pentagon counterparts as ‘Pentagon South’ or the ‘A-Team, which is in large part attributed to Harry.”

 Looking back on his career in the Air Force, his actual retirement from active-duty service is the one achievement that stands out the most.

“My proudest accomplishment is retirement from the Air Force,” Reese said. “It was a dream that I had as a boy and I was able to live out that dream for 24 years I matured from a young teenager, into a leader of men and women.  Being able to contribute to the overall Air Force mission is something that I can look back on and always hang my hat on that.”

Reese plans to stay an active member of the San Antonio community with volunteering and serving at his church, after he and his wife return from a vacation in Italy.

Reese will continue to give back to the American people, practicing the values instilled during his Air Force career, which began when he first learned to march alongside his fellow Airmen.