OTIS AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Mass. – When a student graduates from high school, he or she faces the difficult task of deciding a career path. For Master Sgt. Dennis P. Mills, a production controller assigned to the 102nd Civil Engineer Squadron at Otis Air National Guard Base, his senior year was relatively hassle-free because he had enlisted in the Air Force through the Delayed Enlistment Program.
Mills’ father passed away when he was still young, he explained, so his mother had to work hard and saved up some money hoping he would use it towards education.
“A lot of my friends were off to college,” said Mills. “I was more focused on partying and fun without any real goals. The way my life was going back then I’d probably end up wasting her money and fail out of school.”
To Mills, he knew he needed a sense of direction in life so he looked to his friend who had two family members in the Air Force.
“They retired from the military and went on to work as contractors.” Mills sipped from his coffee mug as he continued, “They told me the Air Force is the best because it takes care of its own, so I joined and went to basic training the September of ’82.”
Mills said he liked the training and the discipline he'd get from the military, though his mother had reservations about his decision, he was happy to do something that was bigger than himself.
Fast forward to when Mills arrived at his technical training school at the now closed Chanute AFB, IL, where he started to work on the F-100 engines that propelled the F-15 Eagles. According to Mills, back in the early 1980’s the F-100 engines were still relatively new, so none were available at the schools, and training material was still being revised. Mills faced his first real challenge when he had to navigate his way through the confusing instruction manuals.
While the demand of on-the-job training and career development created a lot of pressure on Mills, he said he still loved his early days in the Air Force.
“The beaches were beautiful,” Mills reminisced as he thought back to his time at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. “There were dolphins and pelicans everywhere. It was so vast and gorgeous.”
Mills’ Air Force career eventually led him to an assignment in Germany, which according to him came with its own kind of loneliness.
“You are thousands of miles away from your friends and family back home,” said Mills. “While I was in Germany I loved the comradery. The older guys who were married would invite us to their house for a family cook-out. Especially around the holidays when you get really homesick, and they would always step-up for us.”
Mills still keeps in touch with some of his old friends from his deployments because it was such a tight-knit group; he believes it’s not something easily found in the civilian world.
When Mills finally decided to bring his career closer to home, he settled at Otis Air National Guard Base where he and his family continued their connection to the Air Force.
“My son got me to join the Civil Air Patrol with him,” said Mills. “Somedays they would practice marching here at Otis and I could hear them from my office.”
Still today Mills is an active member of the CAP where he helps instruct cadets on aviation and youth development.
After decades of service Mills has no plans to stop and hopes to continue at OANGB for the foreseeable future. His advice for young Airmen of today is to be patient and understand that things do change in their favor in the long run, so he thinks it’s important to always be prepared and keep up with the training.
“Have your stripes waiting for you,” said Mills. “Not the other way around.”