KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Recognizable by his nearly ever-present smile and fedora hat, Gary Wallace, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron aviation resource management technician, has spent nearly half a century serving his country.
Maj. Gen. Mark Brown, Air Education and Training Command deputy commander, officiated Wallace’s retirement ceremony Feb. 2 at the Roberts Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Facility and told the story of Wallace’s service.
“Every Airman has a story…you can’t lead the Airmen until you know their stories,” Brown said. “Wallace always made the best of every situation he had.”
Wallace began his career as a janitor for the General Service Administration in 1969 while he was still in high school and enlisted into the Air Force in July 1973 in the logistics fuels career field.
“There were all kinds of things going on in the country in 1973,” Brown said. “It was a disturbing time, and I want you to appreciate where he was and where we were as a country.”
According to Brown, when Wallace passed the Air Force’s entrance exam, the facilitators told him to go home and get a toothbrush and two pairs of underwear and come back. The next day he was on a bus to Charlotte, North Carolina, to process into the military. By that evening, he was on an airplane to San Antonio for basic military training.
“It was these two traits, self-improvement and courage, that led him to walk into the Air Force recruitment office,” Brown said.
After completing BMT and technical training, Wallace moved to his first duty station, Craig Air Force Base, Alabama. Throughout his active-duty time, he was stationed at several different bases in the United States and Europe, but Brown shared that Wallace’s favorite duty station was Lowry Air Force Base, Colorado.
“He said it was his favorite because of the church service,” Brown said. “That’s where he got a twinkle in his eye.”
That twinkle in his eye came from meeting his wife, YoLanda Wallace, who is also a civil servant and currently works for the 81st Mission Support Group at Keesler’s housing office. They’ve been married for 34 years and have three children and two grandchildren.
Wallace retired from active duty after 20 years and two days on Aug. 2, 1993, and he moved with his family to Biloxi, where he worked as a student aid at the Biloxi Veterans Administration Hospital. In April 1994, he became a civil servant at the fuels management branch of the 81st Logistics Readiness Squadron and served in different positions with the 81st Training Wing, including wing suicide prevention team leader and wing mediator. In 2009, during the base realignment and closure, Wallace was reassigned to the 53rd WRS’s aviation resource management section, where he remained for the rest of his career.
“I’ve been giving all these guys around here hell ever since,” he said.
When he attended the Aviation Resource Management Apprentice course, he was named distinguished graduate at the age of 62, which was only one of his educational accomplishments. After separating from active duty, Wallace went on to complete his associate’s degree in 1994, his bachelor’s degree in 1998, and his master’s degree in 2003 while also balancing a full-time career and family life.
“It was a challenge to say the least,” Wallace said. “However, I had a goal I wanted to meet so I pressed on until I finished.”
Wallace said that one difference he sees between the Air Force he joined in 1973 and the Air Force of today is that enlisted personnel are more educated now than they were when he first came in.
“I think it broadens their horizons and gives them a better perspective,” he said. “I think that has a lot to do with the progress of the Air Force because it’s more educated up and down the ranks.”
Wallace’s advice to people just beginning their careers is to get as much education as they can, learn as much as they can, and try to get as much exposure to different cultures as they can.
“You will know a man by his steps,” Brown said. “He never stopped learning, he never stopped educating himself, and never stopped trying to be the best at what he did.”