He Continued to Serve as an Air Force Civilian

By Major Van Harl, USAF Ret.

Approximately 80% of the people who join the military do not stay in the service for a career. For over thirty years we have had an all volunteer military, still most people are not signing up for life. A very large part of the defense budget is spent on training new recruits, who are gone in four-six years. They take all that expensive training and head to the civilian world.

One of the ways the Department of Defense recoups some of this drain of brainpower and talent is to hire veterans into civilian positions. These former GIs take off the uniform but they still serve their nation. At Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (AFB) in Ohio or Kirtland AFB, New Mexico there are more civilians working on the Air Force mission than uniformed active duty members.

At Altus AFB it is the civilian work force that keeps the planes in the air. All the aircraft maintenance is performed by civilians. A major share of the men and women who service and repair some of the most sophisticated planes in the world are veterans, veteran's who have returned to the military, in their new capacity as civilian Air Force members.

The Department of Defense simply cannot meet peace time operations without civilian members and would fail without this group of patriots in time of conflict. So when the military unexpectedly looses a civilian member of its "family" it is no less a lose than when a GI is killed on active duty.

Paul F. "PJ" Hammond, JR was one of those Air Force veterans who after leaving active duty returned to his Air Force as a civilian aircraft maintainer. He took his GI Bill educational benefits and increased his skills & knowledge for repairing aircraft. He then did the typical military thing, he moved halfway across the country to work at an Air Force base. He returned to his Air Force as a civil service member and continued to give back to his country.

With his skills, training and, most importantly, his years of expert hands-on aircraft maintenance experience, "PJ" was extremely marketable in the corporate world of aviation. However "PJ" chose to return to his military roots. His father is retired Navy, so "PJ" grew up in the life of the forever moving military family. This obviously had a profound impact on his life decisions. He went active duty military first and then continued to meet our nations defense needs as a civilian member.

Tragically, Paul Hammond was killed while in the service of his country doing what he loved so much, maintaining Air Force aircraft. While working on an aircraft he fell to his death. This nation is at war and "PJ'" was making a daily contribution to that war effort. His aircraft was used to train and prepare the aircrews who go into harm's way. Little did he know that he too was in harm's way.

Or maybe he did know. "PJ" was a Gulf War veteran. He had carried an M-16 rifle while working on aircraft in that war. He understood military loss in time of conflict. Sometimes it is hard to remember sitting in peaceful Oklahoma were the only sound of gun fire is a hunter out in the field, that this nation is in a desperate struggle for its protection and way of life.

I would suggest that "PJ" understood this. He understood probably better than most of the new, young aircrew members being trained at Altus AFB, that it is truly not a safe world we live in. It does not take an exploding device on the side of a road in a far off country to remove a needed member of our defending force, in this battle for peace.

Paul Hammond continued a family history of dedication to his nation. He understood service before self. To his wife Kimberley there is little that can help with the pain right now, and to her I am so sorry for your loss. "PJ's" life was one of service to others; his God, his country, his family and his community.

These freely given services will be hard to replace. The Air Force can recruit a new aircraft maintainer but you cannot easily replace the years of long dedication to a military way of life. We buried an Air Force veteran today. As both an active duty member and civilian he led the way. This one was young in the prime of his life. He leaves behind a most courageous wife. Rest in peace, "PJ," your war is over.

-23 Jan 2007

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Copyright 2007 by Major Van Harl USAF Ret. All rights reserved.