(WKBN) – For Thomas Check, his military career began more than 50 years ago.
“I got drafted in February of ’71, and I went to Fort Campbell, Kentucky for basic,” Check said.
From there, the Austintown Fitch High School graduate eventually was assigned to Fort Ord in California, working on experimental weapons.
“We had to test them under full darkness or a full moon or just miserable weather,” Check said.
Check described his barracks as glorified chicken coops with 2×4 walls and wire screening for windows, but he was never sent to Vietnam.
“I gotta lot of regret that I never went over. I thought sure as all could be that they would’ve taken more after a while anyhow,” Check said.
After his two-year tour was up, Check landed a job with General Motors in Lordstown, but the desire to serve never left him. Eventually, co-workers urged him to enlist in the Air Force Reserve in Vienna in 1988.
“They kept telling me, ‘Come on out and join us out there.’ You know, get outta the plant two weeks a year, go somewhere nice,” Check said.
There, he was assigned to the 79th Aerial Port Squadron, looking to eventually get his 20 years of service.
“Then we had the towers go down, and I volunteered in 2004 to go to Kuwait,” Check said.
Only now, Check was in his 40s and heading into a war zone where it was hard knowing who he could trust.
“You always had to inspect your vehicles before you got in them because you never knew if somebody slipped a bomb in there,” Check said.
Still, he felt the six-month tour of duty was something he needed to do.
“I was very happy I got to go there since I never made it to Vietnam. This kinda filled that empty void in me,” Check said.
But it came at a heavy price — Check said he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which he says left him in what he calls a “dark place.”
Since then, he has had to give up two of his passions: flying his own plane and skydiving. However, at the age of 71, he has no regrets about having traveled all around the world in service to his country.