By Airman 1st Class Bonnie Harper, 104th Fighter Wing
/ Published April 02, 2011
Barnes Air National Guard Base, 104 Fighter Wing - Westfield, Mass -- Looking out onto the parade field, seeing the new airmen dressed in blues as they stood at attention in formation, the reviewing officer remembered his own graduation from Basic Military Training in 1976.
"What am I going to tell these airmen?" he thought to himself.
It had been more than 30 years since he had been in their exact same spot at Lackland Air Force Base. Now, as a two-star general, he was there to offer them advice.
Maj. Gen. Michael Akey, a native of Greenfield, Mass., and the recently retired commander of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, chose to express to the airmen the joy he found in his career--in the education he completed, the challenges he met, and the surprises along the way.
"There are just a lot of fond memories," Akey said. "From day one to 35 years later, it's just been a great career and I've really enjoyed it."
Akey enlisted in December of 1975, with the desire to serve his country and expand his educational opportunities.
"When I joined, education was one of my focus areas, and I had some really supportive NCOs that allowed me to go ahead and worked with me on my schedule," he said.
With their help, was able to complete three years of college within his first three years on active duty, while assigned as a security policeman at Hollam Air Force Base, N.M., and Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
With the desire to finish his bachelor's degree within another year, Akey was granted a Palace Chase, allowing him to transfer to the 104th Fighter Wing to complete his first term enlistment in guard status and to focus on finishing his degree in criminal justice through the University of Massachusetts.
When he first enlisted, he did not see himself completing more than a four-year term, but the NCOs who believed in him, supported him in his endeavors and showed him the meaning of service, changing his mind.
"I think that's what's special about the military, is it truly is a band of brothers and sisters," Akey said. "The nice thing about people like that is that they give without expecting anything else, and you don't see that a lot today in many places. That's one of the things that made my time in the military special."
After completing his degree, Akey decided to apply to be a commissioned officer because he enjoyed being in the Air Force, he said.
He went to Officer Training School at Lackland in June 1980 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in September of that year.
Akey attended navigator school before going to pilot training and receive 2 ½ years of additional training before being operational on the F-4G, he said.
While he was in the 563rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at George Air Force Base, Calif., he had the opportunity to work with some Vietnam veterans who helped train and mold him further.
"These guys were amazing individuals, to say the least. They were great pilots, great back-seaters."
One reason: a squadron commander, Rich Rash, who did not believe he was as prepared as he should have been when he was shot down over Vietnam.
"He said that the pilots in his fighter squadron were going to be prepared," Akey said. "He drove us, but it was for excellence."
Akey has been deployed to several foreign locations including Germany, Italy, Kuwait, Turkey, Bosnia, Paraguay, Ecuador and Korea.
His most recent deployment was in 2003. A colonel at the time, he was deployed to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, for six months.
While there, he worked as a command director and director of staff for Gen. "Speedy" Martin, a former United States Air Force Europe commander. With more than 300 airmen, they worked 14- to 15-hour days and helped establish bases in Turkey, Eastern Europe and throughout the Mediterranean in support of Iraqi Freedom. He learned a lot from General Martin's work ethic and mission-oriented attitude, Akey said.
The biggest command challenge that Akey faced during his career was the Base Realignment and Closure action in 2005. The Massachusetts Air National Guard unfortunately lost a flying mission out of Otis Air National Guard Base, but the F-15 mission was transferred to the 104th Fighter Wing, and an intelligence mission and Air Operations Center mission were established at Otis.
Between Barnes and Otis, the Massachusetts Air National Guard converted two fighter wings in the space of three years.
"Our maintenance guys at Otis and Barnes did an outstanding job converting from the F-15As and A-10s to the F-15Cs that we got from Kadena, which were in pretty tough shape," Akey said.
Once Barnes completes the full F-15 conversion process, the unit will have 17 Golden Eagle and four Silver Eagle aircraft, which will last many years into the future, Akey said.
Akey's goal was to finish the conversions and leave the two units on firm footing in mission, equipment and base infrastructure before retiring.
"The airmen of the Massachusetts Air National Guard can expect to be pretty stable for many years to come, both in the F-15 and the Intel/AOC missions," Akey said.
Akey's advice to current members of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, enlisted or commissioned, is the same advice he gave to the graduating airmen at Lackland about two years ago.
"The first thing is take advantage of education," Akey said. "In the Air Force, the opportunity to go to either college, professional military education or technical school is going to make you a better individual, and a more rounded person.
"The second thing is do whatever job you're doing at that time to the best of your ability. Be the best at what you can be.
"And number three, don't worry about what the future holds. If you take care of number one, take care of number two, then it will come to you."