MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. — After the alarm sounded and the Airman took cover in a nearby bunker, thinking he would be safe. That was until a rocket landed inside exploding upon impact.
As a team of medics worked to locate survivors, they came across the Airman and pronounced him dead on scene. Tossing him aside he landed on a slab of concrete, inadvertently restarting his heart. Not knowing what had just occurred, they loaded him with the deceased and took them to the morgue where the medical examiner double checked each body for a pulse.
Vietnam was just the beginning of his 30-year Air Force career. After 18 assignments, multiple deployments, and countless TDYs, a few of his missions still remain classified.
Now, nearly 30 years after retiring, U.S. Air Force retired Chief Master Sgt. Earl Hendrix refuses to hang up his uniform and continues to give back to the Airmen of Moody Air Force Base, Ga.
“I can sum up in 179 words why I still attend events and speak to Airmen 30 years after I retired from active duty,” said Hendrix as he recited the oath of enlistment from memory. “The oath of enlistment has no expiration date, which in my mind makes this a lifetime commitment that I will continue to fulfill every chance I get.”
Hendrix continues to serve as a mentor by attending base events and speaking to Airmen about his personal experiences.
“Attending the events keeps me in touch with the Air Force,” said Hendrix. “To be very honest, I never really learned how to retire. I’m still a member of the United States Air Force, just retired status.”
Hendrix speaks to Airmen of all ranks during the many events he attends, such as retirements and changes of command.
“His contribution still impacts me,” said Chief Master Sgt. Gregory Brown, 23d Fighter Group chief enlisted manager. “He still has a fire in his heart to do the right thing for the Airmen after being retired for as long as he has. It shows his love for the Air Force and for the mission, which is enlightening and motivational.”
Among the many events he participates in, Hendrix also attempts to attend every Airman Leadership School class to share his story.
“His story made me want to be a better leader,” said Staff Sgt. Larry Web, an ALS graduate who attended a briefing by Hendrix. “Seeing the dedication he still has for the Air Force made me want to be like him and follow in his footsteps. His story touched me, and now I strive to be the leader that he is.”
At nearly 80 years old, Hendrix fondly recalls his time on active duty.
“I enlisted into the Air Force on my 18th birthday in 1957,” said Hendrix. “My job was a bomb loader, so I worked on the flightline for 24 years.”
Even though he’s now retired, Hendrix said he understands the sacrifices men and women in-uniform make.
“I’m hoping Airmen get a better understanding of the mission of the Air Force and the importance of that mission,” he added. “I share my own personal experiences to emphasize what can happen, and I think it’s very important they keep a realistic view of what their job is and how important it is to the American people and the survival of the United States.”
While stationed at Moody in the 1970’s, Hendrix was given the responsibility of command chief, which he said was a huge change from working on the flightline his entire career.
Not only does Hendrix continue to support the active-duty Airmen at Moody, but he also remembers those who have since passed.
“Every Memorial day I get dressed in my full dress uniform, go down to a local cemetery and pay my respects to every service member buried there,” said Hendrix.
Although Hendrix may have a few more wrinkles than he did the day he retired his dress blues still remain in flawless condition. He says as long as he’s in good health he will continue to attend events with his ribbons perfectly aligned and his trousers neatly pressed.
“My friends ask me why I still do so much and I simply reply ‘because [our Airmen] deserve it,’” he said.