Reserve Citizen Airman Bids Farewell After 41 Years

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Sam King
  • Headquarters Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia
When 19-year-old Robert Wegeman Jr. left Louisiana and joined the Air Force in 1976, “Star Wars” didn’t exist, Rocky had yet to fight Apollo, gas was 60 cents per gallon, the A-10 Thunderbolt II was less than 6 months old, the F-15 Eagle was less than 2 years old and the primary military fighter aircraft was the F-4 Phantom.

After 41 years of service, in which he helped maintain 16 different Air Force aircraft, Wegeman, a technical sergeant assigned to the 919th Special Operations Maintenance Group at Duke Field, Florida, said goodbye to the Air Force Aug. 14, on his 60th birthday.

“I wanted to defend the country, and that’s exactly what I’ve done,” said Wegeman in explaining why he followed his father into the Air Force. “I’ve truly enjoyed protecting the airspace of this country.”

During his storied four-decade career, Wegeman traveled to many different bases under five major commands, deployed more than 10 times all over the world and had six different Air Force specialty codes: four in aircraft maintenance and two in aircraft weapons systems.

During his career, Wegeman maintained T-33s, EB-57s, F-15s, A-10s, F-4s, MC-130Es, C-145s and C-146s, but his favorite aircraft was his first one – the F-106 Delta Dart.

“The F-106 was ahead of its time,” said Wegeman, who maintained the aircraft from 1976 to 1982 at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. “Performance wise, I felt it was comparable to the (F-15) Eagle. It kept us busy back then. We were accomplishing 20-plus sorties on a daily basis.”

Wegeman said the highlight of his career came in 1991, when an F-106 he’d been a crew chief on was chosen for permanent display at Tyndall AFB, Florida. It meant so much to him that on his final Friday in the Air Force, he donned his dress blues and visited his old friend one last time.

He planted a goodbye kiss on the side of the aircraft display, just as he did as a crew chief before each flying sortie.

From his beloved F-106s, Wegeman moved to A-10s, then F-4Es and F-15s during his 10 years on active duty. In 1986, he returned home and transitioned to the Louisiana Air National Guard. He spent 11 years maintaining F-15s with the 159th Fighter Group before becoming an air reserve technician in 1997.

After serving nine years as a weapons loader on the A-10, the base realignment and closure process forced him to transition to another unit and aircraft. This time, he joined the 919th Special Operations Wing, where he transitioned from fighters to propeller aircraft in 2006.

Wegeman said the camaraderie and drive of the Airmen he’s worked with have remained the same throughout the decades.

“There has always been a strong commitment to achieving air supremacy,” said Wegeman, who, when he retired, sported 61 medals and devices on his ribbon rack.

The technical sergeant said he served for as long as he did simply for the joy he gained from working on aircraft.

When asked what his plans are for the future back home in Baton Rouge, he simply said he is going to “take it easy.”