I Am a Veteran
By Lt. Nicolle Mathison, 57th Wing Public Affairs
NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev.- According to the Census Bureau website, Nevada is home to approximately 208,000 veterans, with more than 26,802 who reside in the Southern Nevada region. With Veterans Day right around the corner, we wanted to hear from local veterans about their time in service and what made it memorable. Some veterans often misconstrue that service members are only considered a veteran if they have served in combat. However, a veteran is anyone who has served their country for any period of time.
In January 1946, retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Jack Ford joined the U.S. Army Air Force as a Private at 15 years old. However, he received an honorable discharge 10 months later due to his age. Over the span of his career, he would go on to serve in the Pennsylvania National Guard and on active duty in the Navy.
“I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. Back then, everybody wanted to serve,” Ford admitted between chuckles.
Ford was finally allowed to enlist into the U.S. Navy as a seaman apprentice on Dec. 26, 1947. Talk about resiliency! Ford completed 30 years of active service as a parachute rigger and an air traffic controller – ground control approach, and finally retired in October 1976.
Another retiree, former Air Force Capt. Jamie Samson, is a first-generation immigrant, whose family hails from the Philippines.
Samson was pursuing an aeronautical engineering degree at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., when his friends shared their experiences as Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets and encouraged him to become a member of Detachment 536. Samson went on to commission as an air battle manager in 2008 and served nine years before separating in May 2017.
“Sometimes, we forget how much America gives,” stated Samson. “Not everyone has our rights in their own country.”
Samson described his ROTC friendships and flying missions as nostalgic when he looks back on them. His most memorable experience was flying over Afghanistan during Thanksgiving 2011. He flew a 21.5-hour sortie nonstop with a broken fridge filled with meals. Nonetheless, he believes the sacrifice was worth it.
After separating, Samson decided to return in the same year and continue serving as a civilian at Nellis Air Force Base. The mission, and being around like-minded people, are enough to keep him sharp.
While many like Samson willingly chose to raise their hand and swear to defend the nation, some veterans were not given a choice during the time they served. According to the Selective Service System’s website, in 1968, approximately 296,406 Americans were drafted into the armed forces for the Vietnam War. Among them was Paul Pierson, a retired Army Sgt. 1st Class.
“There were two armies at that time – the U.S. Army and the Army of the U.S.,” said Pierson. “A draft number was provided to volunteers and the U.S. number was for those who were drafted in.”
After being drafted in 1968 and serving for two years, Pierson’s mind was made up. Now married, Pierson decided rather than returning to civilian life, he’d serve for 20 more years in the armed forces. Pierson deployed to Vietnam as a gunship crew chief assigned to the 128th Combat Aviation Platoon. While overseas, Pierson was wounded executing perimeter duty in his small group’s vehicle around the post. A Vietnamese soldier threw a grenade under the truck, flipping it over and ejecting all members from the vehicle. Pierson took a shrapnel wound to his head, but recovered fully after it was surgically removed.
“The military will give you a head start on life and takes care of your family,” said Pierson. “I was provided good medical care I could not have afforded if I had not been in the military. It has taken good care of my family.”
Pierson was not the only enlistee whose rerouted life path turned out for the better. According to the Veterans Affairs website, approximately 265,000 women served during the Vietnam Era.
Among these women was retired Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Roberta “Bobi” Pike-Oates. “I wanted to join [the] Security Police, as I had been a deputy sheriff in northern Vermont before joining,” said Oates. “I was told they had something much more challenging, aircraft maintenance. So, after being able to lift a 20-pound toolbox, I was made a crew chief.”
Pike-Oates admitted that at the time she signed up for four years of service, she did not expect to complete 23. Nevertheless, she persevered, even after being told she did not belong on the flight line.
Today, she continues to serve as a pioneer on the Women Veterans Advisory Committee (WVAC), a statewide group whose mission is identifying female veterans and advocating for them. One of WVAC’s accomplishments was being able to advocate for a full-time OB-Gyn clinic to be implemented at the Nevada Veterans Medical Center and getting it approved.
All four of these noteworthy Veterans’ stories of service differ.
Yet, they have all served, and none are forgotten.
On August 31st, 2020, Nellis AFB reopened their doors to all base beneficiaries.
For more articles by the Military Affairs Committee, click here.