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Reserve loadmaster completes career with 40 years of service

Senior Master Sgt. Terry Philon (pictured above), the 313th Airlift Squadron chief loadmaster out of McChord Field, Wash., entered the military in 1972. During his 41 years of service, he has supported contingencies such as the evacuation of the American hostages in Iran in 1981, Operations Just Cause, Provide Hope, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Enduring Freedom, and Deep Freeze. He is set to retire from the Air Force Reserve in December, right before his 60th birthday. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jake Chappelle)

Senior Master Sgt. Terry Philon (pictured above), the 313th Airlift Squadron chief loadmaster out of McChord Field, Wash., entered the military in 1972. During his 41 years of service, he has supported contingencies such as the evacuation of the American hostages in Iran in 1981, Operations Just Cause, Provide Hope, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Enduring Freedom, and Deep Freeze. He is set to retire from the Air Force Reserve in December, right before his 60th birthday. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jake Chappelle)

MCCHORD FIELD, Wash. -- Like any other year, 1972 had originality. Bobby Fischer became the World Chess Champion. The last U.S. ground troops were withdrawn from Vietnam. Disco lights and lava lamps sold for just under $27. "The Godfather" and "Dirty Harry" were released in movie theaters. John Lennon, David Bowie, and Led Zeppelin rocked the house ... and 18-year-old Terry Philon arrived at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas for basic training, and pledged himself to the Air Force.

Little did Philon know that he would end up volunteering dang near 70 percent of his life to the Air Force and Air Force Reserve.

Now, a senior master sergeant and chief loadmaster with the 313th Airlift Squadron here, he has spent the last 41 years as a dedicated Reservist and Airman.

"In my 25-plus years in the Air Force, Terry Philon is one of, if not, the finest individual I have had the honor of serving with," said Col. Rick Grayson, 446th Airlift Wing vice commander, and former 313th AS commander. "In my mind, he is the consummate senior NCO, and there is no one who has served with more honor and integrity than Terry. He is truly one of the best people, and best Airmen, I know."

Philon said, he's grateful for his extensive military career.

"It doesn't seem like 41 years," Philon, a Graham, Wash. resident, said. "As the old saying goes, 'time flies when you're having fun'."

If he had listened to his parents, the four decades of fun might not have happened. Philon said, carrying books and sitting in lecture halls is were where his parents envisioned him in the early '70s. But instead, he came down with a case of "blue fever."

"My parents wanted me to go to college," he said. "I preferred the college funds be spent on my little sister. But I wanted to do something different."

Different indeed. Philon spent his first four years on active duty as a life support specialist at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla. But he wanted to travel more, so he pursued other options.

"A friend of mine talked to me about the loadmaster field," he said. "After some investigating, I decided that was the job for me. I crosstrained in 1976."

Becoming a loadmaster meant moving from the Midwest to the northwest, so he could fly on the C-141A Starlifter aircraft at McChord Air Force Base, Wash. Once he found his way around western Washington, he called it his new home.

"I love this state," Philon, an Ohio native, said. "I had invested 10 years of my life to the military after I came to the Reserve. At that point, I decided to go for the next 10."

With the next 10 years turning into the next 30, Philon said it didn't all come easy. He even considered getting discharged at one point.

"Earlier in my Reserve career, there was a time when everything was stagnant," he said. "Slow promotions, low morale, but one of my mentors convinced me to give it a little more time, so I decided to stay in. It was the best decision of my life."

That decision would lead to accolades, such as being the wing Senior NCO of the Quarter two times over and receiving excellent scores on exercises, such as operational readiness inspections. Philon's decision also led to several trials of will and strength.

"I think the most difficult time in my career was waking up in Germany the morning of 9/11 and having to fly missions in country a few days later," he said.

"We are given a multi-million dollar aircraft to take out on a mission and return it home safely," he said. "We are constantly faced with situations where we have to rely on our training, knowledge, and judgment to safely accomplish the mission. This really becomes evident around the 16th hour of a 24-hour day. As a crew, we make sure everyone is capable of completing the mission."

As the chief of the Standardization unit in the 313th AS, Philon is also responsible in ensuring the other loadmasters are up to par with their training. If one of them messes up, then all fingers point back at him.

"I have to be sure of my decisions on whether an Airman is capable of taking an aircraft out, completing the mission, and bringing that aircraft home safely," he said.

More than 9,200 flying hours after becoming a loadmaster, Philon has not only travelled to many countries and supported numerous missions, but he has supported many various contingencies, from the evacuation of the American hostages in Iran to Operation Enduring Freedom. But he said, the hardest part of his job is dropping troops off in the area of responsibility. However, the best part of his job is bringing them home.

"It's never easy to drop off troops in a war zone," Philon said. "The looks on those youngsters' faces of not knowing the outcome is very moving. But, when you pick them up from the war zone, and drop them off on U.S. soil, the look in their eyes is indescribable."

Even though Philon's retirement clock is ticking, he shows no signs of slowing down. He has "excellent" fitness assessment scores and mud on his mountain bike tires to prove it; however, the grandfather of three plans on devoting more time to his family and community.

"That's my plan," Philon said. "I will probably do a lot of volunteer work. I would like to find something where I can use my experience to mentor others."

Seeing his children, who are now grown, make milestone accomplishments put things in perspective for the near 60-year-old.

"When my son retired after 20 years of active duty Air Force, I said, 'it's time for me to go'."

In retrospect of his four-decade career, Philon admitted he was content with the way his life and career turned out.

"I wouldn't change a thing."

Philon is set to retire from the Air Force Reserve in December ... right before his 60th birthday.