The age of aviation not only changed travel, it had a significant impact on the resolution of conflict. With the outbreak of World War I came utilization of the airplane for combat, as aircraft were employed for ground attacks and “dogfights.”
During World War II the bombs dropped from the air devastated the landscape. The U.S. involvement began in December 1941 with an air attack by Japan at Pearl Harbor. Forty-five months later, two flights over Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the dropping of atomic bombs ended the conflict.
The ensuing years brought even more change to the U.S. armed forces.
“It was a time of relative peace but not idle times,” an account from the U.S. Air Force website states. “The lessons learned during the global conflict of World War II propelled the U.S. to push the envelope of what was possible both technologically and organizationally, including the separation of the Air Force into its own branch of the military. In the process, the U.S. became a leading superpower.”
With the approval of the National Security Act the U.S. Air Force was formally established in 1947.
While the big picture of the new branch of the military — a spinoff of the U.S. Army — is impressive, the U.S. Air Force has also impacted individuals.
“It helped me develop a good work ethic,” said Antoine White of Prince Frederick. “It definitely prepared me for the outside world.”
“It was a life change,” said Deb Rey of Lexington Park. “It opened me up to see the world. I met different and interesting people.”
“It literally saved my life,” declared Robert L. Castellano.
“It was a tremendous experience,” said Randy Guy of Clements. “I really enjoyed it, and at times I really miss it.”
Different paths lead to the same point
White recalled life as a teenager growing up in Southern Maryland and attending Calvert High School. In 1988, at age 17, he found himself at a crossroads. As a student he had been enrolled in the school’s Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program.
“I thought about joining the Navy but I didn’t like the idea of being at sea,” White said. “My brother was in the Marine Corps. I figured the Air Force was for me. My dad was also in the Air Force.”
White was 17 when he enlisted and he recalled his mother had to sign a release for him since he was still a minor. He was first sent to San Antonio for basic training. After that White was assigned to Dover Air Force Base and worked in engineering. Other stops included a temporary assignment in Florida and then a move closer to home at Bolling Air Force Base.
White, who is well over 6 feet tall, recalled he frequently “towered over my superiors,” but had respect for rank instilled in him from the start. After 3½ years in the Air Force, White spent 25 years working for Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative. He now works in the mortgage and finance field and does a lot of volunteer work within the Calvert and St. Mary’s communities.
It was while attending the University of Missouri as a freshman that Rey said she came to grips with career angst. “I realized Merrill Lynch would not be hiring me so I better have a job,” said Rey. During her sophomore year, Rey took two ROTC classes and “got some positive feedback.” In addition to the Air Force, the university also had ROTC programs for the Army and Navy. Rey stated her older sister and her aunt were both in the Air Force at the time.
“I didn’t want to go on the water or be part of the ground troops,” Rey recalled. “In the end, the Air Force was right for me. I got to see quite a bit of the Northern Hemisphere.”
Rey started out as an information manager, working in areas like personnel, communications and, eventually, logistics.
“Logistics was perfect for me,” said Rey, explaining that logistics impacted several vital components of the branch’s operation, including transportation and supplies. Another area of logistics, said Rey, was “war planning. I excelled at that, actually. War planning involved “getting materials into an operation area — supporting the mission.”
Rey was on active duty with the Air Force for 20 years. Her husband, Jeff Lathrop, was in the Air Force for 21 years. Both retired and Lathrop’s post-Air Force job brought the family to Southern Maryland. From 2015 to 2018, Rey served as a Republican in the Maryland House of Delegates.
Castellano, who resides in southern Anne Arundel County, has made the long daily drive to Indian Head for seven years. He serves as an AFJROTC aerospace science instructor at Henry E. Lackey High School.
“I’m a military brat,” said Castellano. “My dad was in the Air Force and the Marine Corps.”
Castellano graduated from high school in England while his father was stationed there.
At age 17, Castellano took flight, but not in the way you would expect an Air Force to take flight — he ran away from home. “I decided to get into the Air Force after I went to jail,” he recalled. “I did a short stint in jail and decided to join.”
Castellano said he joined the Air Force because “I was really comfortable with Air Force customs. Back then I had no direction.” That would change as he began “touring.”
What a ride it was, too. In 1984 he worked in logistics at Travis Air Force Base in California. In 1986, Castellano was stationed in Turkey for a remote tour of duty. Two years later he landed back in California in the Mojave Desert at Edwards Air Force Base.
“Then to Desert Storm,” Castellano recalled.
The early 1990s conflict, also known as the Persian Gulf War, was triggered by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Castellano was part of an Air Force team that had the difficult task of notifying families of the deaths of airmen.
“Most branches have a team,” he explained. “Our job was accountability.” In addition to notifying families, the team would gather the fallen airman’s belongings.
Of the return stateside after the successful Operation Desert Storm, Castellano said “the whole experience was very patriotic. It was almost surreal. We got red carpets and bands. It was really over the top after being out in the desert.”
After assignments in Georgia and Arizona, he completed his tour at the Pentagon and then Joint Base Andrews, attaining the rank of chief master sergeant.
Seeking a chance to influence young lives through the JROTC program he recalled, “Charles County happened to be the last vacancy open.” Castellano proudly mentions that Charles County has a JROTC program “at all seven high schools.”
In his classes he teaches “the history of flight, the theory of flight citizenship, discipline. We have a drill team, flag team and an academic team. Our cadets do a lot of community service.”
Catellano noted that one of his sons is in the Air Force stationed at Joint Base Andrews.
In 1966, Guy, who had recently graduated from high school, was in the process of being drafted into the Army. However, with help from a friend’s father “I got into the Air Force.” The friend’s father told Guy to apply for duty as a load master, which he did.
“Living in a rural area I didn’t know much about the Air Force,” he said. He learned from the ground up to the sky.
Assigned to a C-130, a four-engine turbo prop, Guy was trained for the load master’s assignment at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina. He was subsequently assigned to the South Philippines and spent most of his time in Vietnam.
“I ended up flying all over Vietnam,” said Guy, who explained his assignment of helping transport and air-drop both supplies and troops in the war-torn nation lasted from 1967 to 1973. He was later assigned to a C-141, a jet cargo transport craft and subsequently was assigned to a facility in South Carolina.
Guy was assigned to the Pentagon for four-a-half years, responsible for about 10,000 enlisted flyers as an air crew manager. He retired from the Air Force in 1994 with the rank of master sergeant.
“The military teaches you a lot of discipline,” said Guy (R), who is currently serving his second four-year term as president of the St. Mary’s County commissioners. “They sent me to all the management training you can get. All my education was done in the Air Force.”
“When speaking to young people, I tell them about the benefits of the Air Force,” Rey said. “Any military career or experience is a very good idea.”