ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. --
The retirement pin represents multiple accomplishments; pensions, a long career and the achievement of serving the country. It also represents the duality of the military. The military is a machine, and whether enlisted or commissioned, the moment an individual retires they are replaced because the machine must continue.
Retirement means the end of a commitment that has lasted at least 20 years. It does not mean the end of service for some though.
Regardless if it is on base or the Rapid City community, retired officers continually shape the future of the Air Force by inspiring the people around them. Retirement may be the end of one lifestyle, but it is the beginning of a new era leaving a mark on people making a difference in the Air Force of tomorrow.
“Anyone who joins the military, regardless if it is for education or a job, has a deep desire to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” said retired Air Force Col. Dan Kuecker, the executive director for the Ellsworth Heritage Foundation serving the South Dakota Air and Space Museum. “Beofre coming to the museum, I accepted a position with the American Red Cross after I retired. I wanted to keep making a difference, it was the drive to do something more. I had done my time with the Air Force, but there was still more [work] to be done.”
To some leaders, their motivation comes from their desire to inspire others to accomplish their goals and dreams.
“Inspiring people is why I am here [at the museum],” Kuecker said. “What I love about working here is watching young kids who see the historic achievements of Air Force and aerospace pioneers and realize that they could do those types of things too.”
From another standpoint that affects Ellsworth personnel directly, retired Air Force Lt. Col. George Swan, a former B-1 instructor weapons systems officer, an important factor in inspiring people is the fine-line that defines the difference between leadership and authority.
“I can tell someone what to do,” Swan said. “It doesn’t help the mission though. If I take my time to get to know what my Airmen or coworkers want though, I can help them in any way that they need.”
Inspiring pilots and combat system officers is what makes running the B-1 bomber simulator on Ellsworth worthwhile to Swan.
“I counsel CSOs with what they want to accomplish with the B-1,” said Swan. “I was with the initial cadre that stood up the B-1 weapons school. I know what it’s like to be a [WSO], so I can help the officers know what to expect from different things in their career, whether it’s the weapons school, deployments or family situations, I have gone through it all.”
Whether it is with Airmen or with tourists visiting the museum, Kuecker and Swan bring an understanding of the impact everyone has on the mission.
“When I was a young fighter WSO, I was probably a bit arrogant and certainly ignorant,” Kuecker said. “My thought was that those who were flying had the most important jobs in the Air Force. The longer I was in though, the more I came to realize that serving in the cockpit is just one part of what [the Air Force} does. Now, I meet kids in the museum who are interested in the Air Force and military service and I know they will have the ability to shape the Air Force of the future.”
Swan said that the most important people who he works with at the simulator are the young lieutenants and captains. “The young officers are the people who have the most impact on the mission here at the moment. They are the ones who will deploy. They will go to the weapons school. They have the ability to influence what the future of the Air Force holds for future leaders.”