75-year-old retires after 55 years in military, civil service

  • Published
  • By Holly L. Birchfield
  • 78th ABW/PA
Howard Dixon knows the Air Force mission like the back of his hand.

After spending 55 years serving his country in military and civil service, the 75-year-old technical adviser for fighter and bomber bomb racks in the 575th Combat Sustainment Squadron, said good-bye to his work life Oct. 31.

The Elberton, Ga. native joined the active-duty Air Force Sept. 22, 1952.

During his military career, he mainly worked in aircraft armament. In December 1976, he joined the 19th Bomb Wing at Robins. He remained with the wing until it deactivated and became the 19th Air Refueling Wing. He retired from military service February 29, 1984.

His time of serving the military mission was far from over. The father of two signed on for a civil service career in the same field that lasted for 22 years.

Mr. Dixon said he has often been teased about his long stint at the base.

"A lot of people claim that I was there before they put up the fence, but really that's not true," he said. "The improvements that have been made improvements that have been made over the years, not only on the base but in the city of Warner Robins are remarkable. The professionalism and the experience of the people at Robins Air Force Base (has grown drastically), especially since when I first started working there. They had no computers. Now, everything is computerized. It's so much more efficient."

Mr. Dixon said the mission has changed as well.

"During the Cold War, especially being on active duty, everything that I worked with was on the nuclear side and we were always on alert with the aircraft loaded and items of that nature," he said.

The retired chief master sergeant, who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, said fighting the war on terror isn't the same as serving in past wars.

"Korea was altogether different," he said. "From what I've heard, it was a lot like World War II. You knew who the enemy was and you had one enemy to fight. Vietnam was different. Although it was restricted to one area, you still knew who the enemy was. Now, in the war on terror, you don't know who the enemy is or where he is located, so it's altogether different."

Through all the changes, Mr. Dixon's commitment to the mission remained.

"In 1996, we did a modification on the conventional bomb module that is used in the B-1B aircraft, and we did that depot mod at Warner Robins (Air Logistics Center) and that time compliant tech order was 11B29-3-55-5111," he said. "That TCTO led in to 512, 513, 514, 515, 516, 517, 518, and 519. Like they say in football, I wanted to stay until they finished the drill. This year, we finished the last of those TCTOs and got the equipment modified. So, I figured the drill was over, the TCTOs were complete, and it was time for me to retire."

For 23 years, Mr. Dixon rented an efficiency apartment in Warner Robins to make the commute to work easier. Throughout Mr. Dixon's long stretch at Robins, he held on to his dream of returning to live on his farm in Northeast Georgia one day.

Now that day has come and Mr. Dixon said he's ready to call it a day.

News of the long-time worker's retirement brought mixed feelings for those who relied on him for guidance and companionship.

Rhonda Hurst, a logistics management specialist in the 565th Combat Sustainment Squadron, who had worked with Mr. Dixon since 1987, said the gruff man had a wealth of knowledge she could always turn to.

"You could go to him and find out anything," she said. "He remembered stuff from years ago that nobody else would know. His memory is outstanding. I remember one time he told us his laundry number (from) when he was in the military at some base years ago."

Doug Hambrick, a requirements control officer in the 586th Combat Sustainment Squadron who has worked with Mr. Dixon since 1988, said his first interaction with Mr. Dixon was while working on the B-1 and B-52 aircraft.

Mr. Hambrick said his co-worker was a living history lesson.

"He really enjoyed what he was doing," he said. "He had a wealth of knowledge about the systems. He had been (on) active duty for 30 plus years and had worked with those systems in the field for a long time and then would use that knowledge up in the work area."

Mr. Dixon was also good at giving advice, Mr. Hambrick said.

"Whenever I had a question, he was always willing to show me what the hardware was, show me how it worked and had a wealth of war stories to speak about it," he said.

Mr. Dixon didn't just give advice on job-related matters.

"I'm a history buff," Mr. Hambrick said. "He was somebody I could compare notes with on things I had been reading and studying about. With a lot of the stuff, he had been there and done that and he was willing to share that as I got to know him better. Over a period of time, we became good friends."

Ms. Hurst said seeing the man she fondly called her 'adoptive dad' leave his career behind was hard.

"(I was) very sad," she said. "I hated to see him go. (Doug and I) went and had lunch with him every day pretty well. We sat there and talked and cut up. He was more like a father figure to me and Doug. He's always there and now, we've lost that."

Mr. Hambrick said he's happy for his long-time friend.

"He's earned a chance to kick back in the rocking chair and take it easy and do what he wants to do for a while instead of getting up and going to work every morning," he said.

Mr. Dixon said he plans to spend time with his wife of 43 years, Alice, and their family. The retiree hopes to plant a garden on his 106-acre farm and do some hunting and fishing in his spare time.

After 55 years of service, the dedicated worker said it's time to relax.