Air Force Brig. Gen. Steven DePalmer has flown countless planes, served in combat missions and led pilots all over the world. But the North Carroll High School graduate's Air Force career ends later this year with his retirement.
A retirement ceremony was held Friday in Key West, Florida, for DePalmer, from Manchester, who has served in the Air Force for 29 years. While the ceremony was held last week, DePalmer's Air Force career won't come to an official close until the end of November.
During his career, DePalmer accrued more than 3,100 flight hours, served as an instructor, became a weapons officer and was assigned to multiple posts in Germany, England, Iceland, Italy, Norway and the United States.
At the time of his retirement ceremony, the 50-year-old DePalmer was serving as the deputy director of the Joint Interagency Task Force South, United States Southern Command, in Key West. The task force is responsible for detecting, monitoring and disrupting illicit trafficking and narco-terrorist threats.
The Carroll County Times spoke with DePalmer about his Air Force career, time in Carroll and what his retirement plans are.
Q: What's your history with Carroll County?
A: I went to North Carroll High School and graduated in 1981 ... I still have family there. My dad lives in Manchester, my mother lives in Westminster, my sisters live in the community. My friends are part of the community there.
Q: What led you to join the Air Force?
A: Growing up in a small town, I think it allows you to dream big. My friend Marty Waugh graduated from North Carroll High School and went to the Air Force Academy. He graduated [from the Air Force Academy] in 1981, the same year I graduated from high school. I saw that he had gone off four years earlier to the Air Force Academy so I looked into it. I made sure my grades were high and do what I needed to do to try and get a nomination and an appointment. And it worked out. After that, it was a lot of hard work.
Q: After graduating from the Air Force Academy, did you fly combat missions?
A: I participated in Operation Allied Force, Operation Southern Watch. [Operation Allied Force was a mission to degrade and damage the military and security structure that President Slobodan Milosevic used to depopulate and destroy the Albanian majority in Kosovo. Operation Southern Watch was a mission to monitor and control airspace south of the 32nd Parallel in Iraq.]
Q: What is it like to fly a plane?
A: Having the opportunity to fly fighter jets is something that is really tough to describe. It takes a lot of work. You have to have a lot of hand-eye coordination.
Q: After serving as a pilot, you began serving in various command posts. What was that transition like?
A: You can't have fun all the time. That's part of the deal. The American people pay your salary and they expect you to continue to grow and use your experiences to lead others... You've got to do that. Learning how to lead is just as important as learning how to follow. Great followers make great leaders… . That's part of the deal if you want to continue to serve your nation.
Q: Do you have a favorite place that you've served?
A: I can pick a favorite but then I'd say 'I really loved living in Rome, Italy. But really liked living in England. Germany was really nice too. Before Key West we lived in Norway, a fabulous country. Now, I'm living in Key West.' It's very difficult to pick a very favorite assignment.
Q: How do you feel about your career?
A: I'm very thankful for what the Air Force allowed me to do, which has led me to have a very unusual career. I've had a really wonderful assignment and I've done a lot of diverse things in the Air Force, much more than I ever thought. I'm very thankful for that.
Q: What are you going to miss about the Air Force?
A: Absolutely the people. Working with people who are motivated to do their best at everything really inspires you… . It keeps you young and it keeps you on your toes. I'm going to miss that.
Q: What advice would you give to someone joining the Air Force today?
A: Be ready. Be physically ready because when you get there you're going to be mentally challenged. You want to be prepared for any challenges that are thrown your way. Have a sense of humor. Having a sense of humor is always important with anything you do in life because there's always going to be setbacks. Don't be afraid of setbacks. Don't be afraid of failure. Just make sure you look at them and you try to learn from them and do better next time.
Q: What are your retirement plans?
A: I play a lot of sports. I play basketball, I play soccer. In the last few years I've learned how to run marathons. I have a marathon in about a month in Ohio. I'm hoping to qualify for the Boston Marathon at that race.
Q: Do you plan to continue working?
A: I have a lot of experience I'd like to use. I'm looking at a couple opportunities, some in leadership and management roles.
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Reach staff writer Christian Alexandersen at 410-857-7873 or firstname.lastname@example.org.