Air Force 60th Anniversary a time to celebrate

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Jeffrey L. Neuberger
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing chaplain
We're about to celebrate a very important birthday. On Sept. 18, the United States Air Force will celebrate its 60th anniversary. The Department of Defense and the Air Force were created on the same day as a result of the National Security Act of 1947. Before that, the Air Force was part of the United States Army and was known by many different names before emerging as a separate service.

For the record, it was variously known as the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps; Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps; Division of Military Aeronautics; U.S. Army Air Service; U.S. Army Air Corps; U.S. Army Air Forces; and finally, the United States Air Force.

My first exposure to the Air Force was in the small town of Gettysburg, S.D. in the mid-50s. As a child of 7 I remember seeing the golf-ball shaped, all-white "mysterious" objects dotting the landscape not far from town. I also remember a young man from Tennessee dating the daughter of friends and his very strange accent. I wasn't old enough to grasp the significance of the U.S. Air Force operating a communications station in the middle of the South Dakota prairie, but that young Airman with the strange accent certainly made an impression upon me. (He married that girl and they still live in South Dakota!)

During the next few years of family vacations to the Black Hills, we knew we were getting close to Rapid City when the missile silos of Ellsworth Air Force Base began popping up on the landscape - a virtual landmark for our journey.

The Air Force popped up on my landscape again in 1968 when I enrolled at South Dakota State University. As a land-grant college, ROTC was mandatory for the first two years of enrollment. Having been heavily influenced by my Army National Guard father, I selected the green of the Army and not the blue of the Air Force. I had my chance.

However, after a year of college, I dropped out to join the U.S. Navy and didn't interact with the Air Force again until 1982 when, serving a church in Cheyenne, Wyo., I was accepted as a reserve chaplain. In 1985 I entered active duty at McClellan AFB, Calif., and since then it's been a remarkable journey for my family and me.

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Air Force, I will have proudly celebrated 22 Air Force birthdays as an Airman (36 percent of the life of the modern Air Force). How can I summarize what that means to me? It's nearly impossible. I've served this great nation as a Sailor and an Airman, in peace and in war, at home and abroad. I've become much more patriotic than I was as a young man and I marvel at the young Airmen I meet today who were born since I've been a chaplain in the Air Force. If it were possible to give the Air Force a birthday present, I know I would wrap it in red, white, and blue. How about you?