A true hero

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jocelyn A. Ford
  • 92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
"A true hero." Those are the words used by Maj. Jeffery Ditlevson, 92nd Security Forces Squadron commander, when referring to Ray Garcia.

Mr. Garcia joined the United States Air Force Air Police in 1957 at age 17, and from the beginning he knew he was going to make a career out of it. "I made up my mind. I was going to do 20, and I stuck to that." said Mr. Garcia.

Though when he joined he was part of the Air Police, the field he worked in changed its named twice before he retired. The Air Police changed to Security Police and now what is known as Security Forces.

"Some of us within the Security Forces career field have been around long enough to remember the transition from Security Police to Security Forces," said Major Ditlevson. "However, very few people still connected to Security Forces units today can speak, particularly from firsthand experience, of the Air Police to Security Police transformation."

Mr. Garcia can not only speak firsthand on the name changes, he was also witness to and part of the beginning of Operation Safeside, which is the model for today's SF expeditionary combat operations happening outside the wire.

"As a member of the 1041st Security Police Squadron, and ultimately a part of Operation Safeside, Mr. Garcia was part of something way ahead of its time," said Major Ditlevson. "During the early stages of Vietnam, the thought of placing Air Force security personnel outside the wire was thought to be ill-conceived. However, the highly-skilled, advance-combat trained members of the 1041st proved that theory wrong."

Airmen with Operation Safeside began training in Army defense tactics, advance infantry training, jungle fighting and heavy weaponry. The extensive training allowed the Air Force to work side by side with the Army in protecting their bases, and eventually transitioned into the Air Force protecting its own.

Major Ditlevson emphasizes "today, and over 40 years later, Safeside picks up where it left off in Vietnam, with Security Forces men and women facing direct contact with the enemy outside the confines of the installation."

Mr. Garcia was fire team leader in Vietnam, leading a team of 11. "I had a great fire team, the oldest was 20," states Mr. Garcia. "Great bunch of kids, extremely high motivation, extremely high loyalty."

"What we did then, we did because they needed us," he said.

Mr. Garcia did what he set out to do, serving 20 years with the United States Air Force, retiring in 1977. To remind him of that era, Mr. Garcia carries a set of his orders, cut Sept. 13, 1968, to send him to Vietnam for the second time.

Retirement did not, however, put an end to his service to this country. He then worked for the Washington State Department of Corrections as a case manager and gained a second retirement. Even then, he was not yet ready to stop serving.

Mr. Garcia signed on with the Department of Defense and worked the front gate on Fairchild, which happened to be his last duty station before retiring. He worked the gate for three years before he decided he was ready to retire, for good.

After serving his country for over 50 years, Mr. Garcia is a "living part of history for Security Forces," according to Master Sgt. Daniel Merrill, 92nd SFS. "It is very humbling to have someone with his dedication to work with."

"Mr. Garcia is truly both a legend and a hero," Major Ditlevson added.

Mr. Garcia noted the many opportunities he received during his service. "I did a lot of things that few Airmen got to do. I was very satisfied with my Air Force career. I met some great people, and see the great people still today. The best thing to do with your life as a young man or woman: you can't beat an Air Force career."