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1 years: Florida Air Guard's last Vietnam veteran retires

By Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
Florida National Guard

Description: Click photo for screen-resolution image

Florida Air National Guard Command Chief Master Sgt. Charles Wisniewski salutes during his retirement ceremony at the Florida National Guard Headquarters in St. Augustine, Fla., Jan. 6, 2012. Wisniewski, the last member of the Florida Air National Guard to have served in the Vietnam conflict, had more than 40 years of military service during his career.

(Photo by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa)

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (1/11/12) The last Vietnam veteran in the Florida Air National Guard is retiring and ending a more than 40 year military career.
State Command Chief Master Sgt. Charles Wisniewski, who served in Southeast Asia with the U.S. Air Force in 1972-1973, was honored during a retirement ceremony at the Florida National Guard Headquarters on Jan. 6.

"Today really marks the end of an era," said Air Force Maj. Gen. Emmett Titshaw Jr., adjutant general. "When we say goodbye to (Wisniewski) today, we say goodbye to the last Vietnam veteran in the Florida Air National Guard. That is a milestone."

Wisniewski, 59, joined the Air Force in 1971 and served as a weapons technician at Utipoa Royal Thai Air Force Base in Thailand. During his year in Thailand he helped load B-52 bombers flying into Vietnam on bombing missions, including during the famed Operation Linebacker II in late 1972.

Titshaw noted that veterans returning home from deployments today experience a much more supportive atmosphere than Vietnam veterans did in the 1960s and 1970s. And although the gesture was nearly 40 years later, the general prompted the audience to give a standing ovation and round of applause to Wisniewski for his service in Southeast Asia.

The adjutant general also presented Wisniewski with a Meritorious Service Medal and the Florida Cross for his service to the Florida National Guard.
During an interview late last year, Wisniewski explained he felt slightly disconnected from the war in Vietnam during his year in Thailand; he wasn't exposed to any direct combat and he was relatively safe on his base which served as a staging point for long-range bombers.

"We weren't in danger, not like the people who were actually in Vietnam," he said. "We weren't being shot at or anything. By that time the war was winding down and we knew we were getting out of it."

He said one of his most vivid memories of the tour was watching lines of B-52s take off in 15-second intervals in December 1972 and head north to bomb strategic positions in Hanoi during the Operation Linebacker II campaign.

A year after he returned to the United States, the young Sergeant Wisniewski joined the 125th Fighter Wing in Jacksonville. Over the next 34 years, he moved steadily through the ranks to eventually become the top enlisted Airman in the Florida Air National Guard in 2008.

"Chief Wiskey" —“ as he is affectionately known by some of his fellow Airmen —“ said he sees a big difference in the Air Force today compared to the Air Force he joined in 1971. Looking at the force as a command chief master sergeant, he can see how the military personnel today are much better disciplined and have higher morale than in the past.

"It wasn't the military we have now; it was more rag-tag," he said. "Most people coming in weren't coming in because of service and duty. A lot were just coming in because they didn't want to be drafted. They still had (the pride of being an American), but it wasn't the best time in the military."

According to incoming State Command Chief Master Sgt. Robert Lee, many Florida National Guard Airmen are indebted to Wisniewski for his role as a mentor and leader throughout their own careers.
"He was not only a role model to me, but a role model for so many other Airmen and NCOs over the years," Lee said. "His professionalism, sense of humor and wealth of military knowledge will be missed by the Florida Air National Guard.

"Those of us who continue to wear the uniform should now strive to bring 'Chief' Wisniewski's legacy of service to the next generation of Florida National Guard Airmen," Lee added.
Although Wisniewski is the last Vietnam veteran serving in the Florida Air National Guard, records show there are still four Vietnam veterans serving in the Florida Army National Guard.

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