GRISSOM AIR RESERVE BASE, Ind. --
From small-town Indiana roots to commander of the Hoosier Wing, an Air Force career came full-circle as Grissom's commander hung up his flight suit and retired to a new home and waiting grandchildren.
Col. William T. "Tim" Cahoon retired in front of family and friends after a distinguished 35-year career that included numerous command assignments and flight time in both fighter and tanker aircraft. His last assignment was commander of the 434th Air Refueling Wing at Grissom.
Cahoon began his Air Force career in 1977 after graduating from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and is a command pilot with over 4,900 flying hours in the KC-135R/A, A-10, F-16A, T-38A/C and T-37 aircraft. He is also a graduate of Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College and Air War College.
While the retired wing commander has had an illustrious career, he said he never could have predicted the course his life would take during his childhood.
"No one would have really predicted this career for me, despite watching "12 O'clock High" and "Combat" on television, I could not fathom this type of career for me," he recalled.
It was on a dare in his junior year in high school that Cahoon skipped class to go see an Air Force recruiter and decided to become an Air Force pilot, said retired Col. Ronald Farris, who served with Cahoon and officiated his retirement ceremony in Dock 1 here May 20.
During his address, Farris talked about how Cahoon's father passed away at an early age and yet his mother was still able to raise him and his three siblings, sending all three to college, a feat that helped launch Cahoon's career.
"I came from good stock," remarked Cahoon. "I owe my parents and my grandparents much."
Cahoon said he also owed his career success to his wife and children.
"I cannot say how much I appreciate my family, particularly my wife who supported me through it all," said Cahoon, "Vicki had no idea what she was getting into that day when I came home that day from high school my junior year and told her I was going to become and Air force pilot.
"Little did we know then what would be required of us," he added. "She has been there for 14 moves, countless (temporary duties), two desert deployments and all that is required of a commander's wife -- she has been my soul mate and my sounding board."
After graduating from Purdue, Cahoon completed pilot training in 1978, and his first operational assignment was as a KC-135 pilot.
While he excelled at flying the KC-135A, Farris said Cahoon's ultimate goal was to be able to fly fighter jets, a chance he got by means of sheer determination and a bit of an unorthodox path.
After flying the Stratotanker for two years, Cahoon took an assignment as a T-38 instructor pilot in 1982. He finished up his time in the regular Air Force and three years later found himself in the Air Force Reserve as part of the 434th Tactical Fighter Wing in the seat of an A-10 Thunderbolt II at the then Grissom Air Force Base.
When Grissom realigned as an Air Reserve Base in 1994 and the A-10s left the base a short time later, Cahoon found himself back in the seat of a KC-135, but he said he missed the thrill of flying fighters and in 1997 went back to being a T-38 instructor pilot.
"I have to say that I really like being a fighter pilot," explained Cahoon. "That is not meant to downplay any other mission or aircraft; they are all absolutely critical, but every pilot has a love, and so I was fortunate enough to eventually get to fly fighters in my career.
"It was thrilling, it was challenging, it was risky, it was hard work, and it was just fun," he continued. "It suited my personality -- I like flying by myself and given the chance, I'd do it again in a heartbeat."
Perhaps two of his most meaningful assignments came in 2004 to 2006 where Cahoon served his nation as a deployed commander at war. From Sept. 2004 to Jan. 2005, he was the commander of the 447th Air Expeditionary Group, Baghdad International Airport, Iraq, and from May 2006 to Sept. 2006 he served as the commander for the 451st Air Expeditionary Group, Kandahar Airfield Afghanistan.
Farris, who later followed as a 451st AEG commander, realized how important that assignment was to Cahoon, so he saved the American Flag that flew over both his and Cahoon's headquarters building and surprised him by presenting it at his retirement. Cahoon was visibly emotional as he received the flag with dust and sand from Afghanistan still on it.
After his two deployments, Cahoon returned back to his first aircraft, the KC-135 as the 931st Air Refueling Group commander at McConnel AFB, Kan. He then went on to command the 459th ARW at Andrews AFB before coming back home to Indiana to command the 434th ARW, the Hoosier Wing.
Coming back to his home state to command the largest KC-135R Stratotanker unit in the Air Force Reserve Command
was a dream come true, said Cahoon, who added that while not everything in his career was fun, he found it immensely satisfying.
"I was a naive young man who had barely been out of Indiana, and everything related to the Air Force was new and exciting," he recalled his first years in the Air Force. "Everything was an opportunity or a challenge, and it has been that way every day for the entire 35 years.
"I always say that fun is what you have on a roller coaster, so with that I will admit that it has not always been fun on this tour, but it has always been satisfying and rewarding and that is what we will carry into the future," he added. "You have made it that way for us."
In that same note, Cahoon said the most enjoyable thing about his career has always been the people with whom he has served.
"There aren't many other professions that create the kind of bonding that military service creates -- Our shared mission, our sacrifices and risks, our shared training experiences, our special language, long hours, deployed working conditions, the intensity and importance of the mission all make for a unique way of life, a special fraternity and for friendships that last a lifetime," he explained. "Most who have not experienced it could not fully appreciate it, but among those of us who have served, it is a bond that is understood across the generations. As such, despite looking forward to all that retirement has to offer, it is still very difficult to give this up, no matter how hard it has occasionally been."
Despite the challenges that come with redefining oneself in retirement, Cahoon said he is looking forward to spending time with his wife, two sons and many grandchildren, but will always look back at his Air Force career and those with whom he served with fondness.
"From my heart, thank you for all of your selfless service," he concluded. "It has been an honor and privilege serving with you."
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(Editor's note: Lt. Col. Gary Lockard and Tech. Sgt. Mark Orders-Woempner contributed to this story)