BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --
When an Airman takes off their uniform for the final time, the values, experiences and memories don’t just disappear, they are imbedded within them for life.
Those memories were entirely evident in the eyes of retired Staff Sgt. Mark James, former Barksdale B-52H Stratofortress crew chief, who was reunited with his former aircraft during a visit to the base.
“Unless you’ve busted a few knuckles, got a few scars and launched a few crews, you just don’t know what it feels like,” James said. “To be able to climb back up into my old plane, I wish I could put it into words.”
James was first assigned to Barksdale in June of 1973 and originally just held the title of bomber maintainer. It wasn’t until a couple years later that he became a designated crew chief on the B-52.
“I came into work one day and the flight chief caught me and pulled me aside and said ‘I can't go into a lot of the details right now, but as of right now you’re the crew chief,’” James said. “If it weren’t for the assistant crew chiefs that I had for the first year, I would’ve never gotten to where I did.”
As a crew chief, James was responsible for the constant maintenance and upkeep of aircraft to ensure they were ready to fly at a moments notice. James was specifically responsible for the maintenance of 0062, the tail number for his particular B-52, an aircraft that over time he formed a unique bond with.
“When you go out and prepare to launch your own airplane, it’s like getting in your own car,” James said. “You know exactly what’s wrong with it and what needs a little extra attention, that’s how it was with 0062. She’s real special to me.”
The last time James turned a wrench on his beloved 0062 was in the late 1980’s and James finally retired in 1991. Although it’s been nearly three decades since James has last seen his old aircraft, he was able to climb back up into the cockpit with the help of the 2nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron.
“He is one of the very shoulders on which we stand on to this day,” said Lt. Col. Michael O. Hanson II, 2nd AMXS commander. “The reality is, we wouldn’t be here if there weren’t people that had done the right things before us.”
Throughout all the years James continues to have great admiration for his aircraft.
“I loved this job,” James said. “To this day, 0062 is still out there and is a magnificent aircraft.”
Even with nearly 30 years out of the uniform, the Airman inside of Sgt. James is still alive and well. Once an Airman, always an Airman.