Once a munitions officer, always a munitions officer

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Anthony J. Hyatt
  • 39th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
A decorated career, which began more than two decades ago for one man in the munitions career field, will soon come to an end.

After 27 years of service to the U.S. Air Force, Colonel Eric Gates, the 39th Maintenance Group most recent commander, has decided to retire.

Before his retirement though, the colonel had to relinquish command of the maintenance group during the 39th MXG inactivation ceremony June 14, 2011. His official retirement day is June 30, 2011.

The soon-to-be-retired colonel knew he wanted to be in the Air Force at a very young age.

At eight years old, Colonel Gates overheard his father, who retired from the Air Force in 1965 after 22 years of service, saying, "I am Air Force. I'm a United States servant. I will keep my lieutenant colonel United States Air Force retired sticker on everything I send out to let people know that 'Yes, I do support my country,'"

From that point forward, he was determined to be an officer.

His journey began in 1984, when he went through the Munitions Officers Course in Lowry Air Force Base, Colo.

After completion of the Munitions Officers Course, the colonel was then stationed at his first base in; Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. Here, he served as the Munitions Accountable Systems officer and Squadron Section commander at the 52nd Equipment Maintenance Squadron.

"I think for everyone, you're first assignment stands out the most," he said. "This is where you figure out what the Air Force is; it's no longer training."

Colonel Gates went on to serve in a variety of assignments from field level to headquarters staffs in Europe, the Pacific, Southwest Asia and the United States. He has also commanded at both the squadron and group level.

The high point of his career actually occurred before he took command of the 39th Maintenance Group during his deployment to Balad Air Base, Iraq from August 2007 to July 2008.

At Balad, the colonel served as the commander of the 332nd Expeditionary Maintenance Group.

"From a professional stand point, this was probably the pinnacle of my career to command in combat and to put into complete practice everything that you've trained your troops to do," he said.

Nearly three years after taking command of the 39th MXG, the colonel is ready to hang up the blues and ABUs (Air Battle Uniforms).

With both his son and daughter, Steven and Patricia, in college, he and his wife, Pamela, plan to visit families and explore New England.

"I hope to find a new opportunity for service in a different way," the colonel said. "Also, hope to use this 27 years of leadership skill to help other people in a different fashion."