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Reserve Airman bids farewell after 41 years

Retirement

Tech. Sgt. Robert Wegeman, 919th Special Operations Wing, said goodbye to his beloved Air Force after 41 years of service August 14. The 60-year-old Airman maintained 16 different aircraft and earned more than 60 medals during his four-decade tenure. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sam King)

Retirement

This is Robert Wegeman, as a young Airman among other maintainers and his favorite aircraft, the F-106, at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia in the late 1970s. He was a crew-chief the Delta Dart at his first Air Force assignment in 1976. Wegeman officially retired August 14 as a technical sergeant after 41 years of service. (Courtesy photo)

Retirement

Tech. Sgt. Robert Wegeman, 919th Special Operations Wing, greets an old friend, an F-106A Delta Dart, at the Tyndall Air Force Base airpark August 11. Wegeman was the crew-chief for the F-106, now a static display, and wanted to say goodbye before he officially retired from the Air Force after 41 years of service. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sam King)

Retirement

This is Robert Wegeman, as a young Airman with his favorite aircraft, the F-106, at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia in the late 1970s. He was a crew-chief the Delta Dart at his first Air Force assignment in 1976. Wegeman officially retired August 14 as a technical sergeant after 41 years of service. (Courtesy photo)

Retirement

Tech. Sgt. Robert Wegeman, 919th Special Operations Wing, said goodbye to his beloved Air Force after 41 years of service August 14. The 60-year-old Airman maintained 16 different aircraft and earned more than 60 medals during his four-decade tenure. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sam King)

Retirement

Tech. Sgt. Robert Wegeman, 919th Special Operations Maintenance Group, receives his retirement pin from his sister, Marie Ray, during his retirement ceremony Aug. 5 at Duke Field. Wegeman served 41-years and maintained 16 different aircraft and served on active duty, Air National Guard and Reserve during his career. He officially retired Aug. 14. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dan Neely)

Retirement

Tech. Sgt. Robert Wegeman, 919th Special Operations Wing, kisses his F-106A Delta Dart, now a static display at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla. Wegeman, who was crew chief for the aircraft, used to kiss the F-106 goodbye before every sortie. He wanted to give his aircraft one final kiss before he retired after 41 years of service. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Sam King)

Retirement

This is Robert Wegeman, as a young three-striper with his favorite aircraft, the F-106, at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia in the late 1970s. He was a crew-chief the Delta Dart at his first Air Force assignment in 1976. Wegeman officially retired August 14 as a technical sergeant after 41 years of service. (Courtesy photo)

Retirement

Tech. Sgt. Robert Wegeman, 919th Special Operations Maintenance Group, receives a handshake and coin from Maj. Gen. Bruce Miller, 10th Air Force commander, for his 41-years of Air Force service Aug. 5 at Duke Field Fla. Wegeman maintained 16 different aircraft and served on active duty, Air National Guard and Reserve during his career. He retired Aug. 14. (U.S. Air Force photo/Dan Neely)

DUKE FIELD, Fla. -- When a 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 was less than six months old, the F-15 was less than two years old and the primary military fighter aircraft was the F-4.

After 41 years of service and 16 different Air Force aircraft maintained, now Tech. Sgt. Wegeman, 919th Special Operations Maintenance Group, said goodbye to the Blue Aug. 14, on his 60th birthday.

“I wanted to defend the country and that’s exactly what I’ve done,” said the tall, lean, be-spectacled man about 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, currently a quality assurance aircraft inspector, 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 AFB, 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.”

Before leaving the F-106 and the 48th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, he had the chance to fly in one of the aircraft he loved so much.  It was his time spent maintaining with the 48th FIS that he said inspired him to make the Air Force his career.

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.  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 how he’d done as 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, Wegeman returned home and transitioned to the Louisiana Air National Guard.  He spent 11 years maintaining F-15s with the 159th Fighter Group there before becoming an air reserve technician in 1997. 

Wegeman loved maintaining military aircraft so much he continued his passion off-duty by building detailed scaled-down models of his beloved warbirds.  A hobby that would benefit on the job.

“With him building all the plane models, he taught himself a lot about aircraft,” said Master Sgt. Michael Zukosky, Wegeman’s co-worker in the 919th SOMXG. “I believe it helped him identify how different airplanes' controls work and what they do.  That working knowledge of the components helped with identifying problems on several aircraft stationed here.” 

After 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 and transitioned from fighters to propeller aircraft in 2006.

Though he lived in Louisiana, Wegeman elected to make his home in lodging here to serve 10 more years in the Air Force and with the wing. 

Though he was away from home and working on new equipment his attention to for his aircraft never wavered.

“Many occasions, I visited the flightline and watched Bob care for his plane,” said Master Sgt. Rory Tassin, 919th Maintenance Squadron.  “He took pride as he worked and shined that bird.”

Those years of care and attention made for a good fit in his current QA position.

He is very knowledgeable when it comes to aircraft and military history of them,” said Tassin.  It definitely gave him the right to inspect and the opportunity to assist any and all who work on the planes or back shop.”

Tassin continued saying during some recent base renovations, the maintainers shared a make-shift dining facility.  Military aircraft models hung from the ceiling of the room.  During the lunch breaks, Wegeman would give his fellow Airmen a history lesson on any plane that caught his eye.

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

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

The technical sergeant said he served for as long as he had 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 to “take it easy.”

His message to the Airmen continuing to serve was to “continue to do your absolute best to defend our country through whichever means you serve, for we are the most free nation on the planet.”