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Local Texarkana Airport Board member served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force

by Greg Bischof | November 6, 2021 at 10:00 p.m. | Updated November 16, 2021 at 1:03 p.m.
Joe Denmon, a local Texarkana Regional Airport board member, served for 20 years in the U.S. Air Force and retired with the rank of major. Denmon also served in Arkansas High School’s Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps for three years. (Staff photo by Greg Bischof)

              

TEXARKANA, Ark.-- For Joe Denmon, Feb. 1, 1979 will always be a highlight in his life.

"That was the day I became a commissioned second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force," the near lifelong resident of Texarkana, Arkansas, said. "That was quite an accomplishment, because I've always wanted to be the best at things that I set my heart to."

Denmon would eventually serve 20 years, until his retirement from the military in August 1996. In time, he would go on to receive three more Air Force officer promotions -- first lieutenant, captain and finally major by the time he retired.

Born and raised in Texarkana, Arkansas, Denmon graduated from Arkansas High School in the Class of 1972.

"I was in the 10th grade in 1969 when the high school and the rest of the school district integrated," Demon said. "I don't think that anyone was ready for it at the time, but we as students accepted it and I think the experience prepared me for the rest of life."

By the time he graduated, he had spent three years in the Junior Air Force Reserve Officers' Training Corps and believes his public school experience in general encouraged him to be the best that he could be at life.

"At the time, I never thought I would go on to make a career out of high school ROTC, but the marching and drilling was a good influence," he said. "I just didn't know at the time that I would later go on to pursue it in life. I was just blessed by the fact that God had something in store for me at the time, even though I didn't realize it at that point."

Following high school graduation, Denmon's parents sent him to Jarvis Christian College, a private college, about 20 miles from Tyler, Texas.

"It was the summer of 1972 and it seemed like it (the college ) was in the middle of nowhere, so there really wasn't anything else to do except study," Denmon said.

Denmon admits the isolation of the college actually paid off in that it kept him focused on study. This enabled him to graduate with a bachelors degree in business administration in December, 1975 -- about six months ahead of time.

"It was a black college that had been established in 1912 and it did a lot of recruiting," he said. "I got a business administration degree because at that time, that's where my mind was. I wanted to learn how money grows and what it takes to make it."

But for Denmon, his first job out of college actually brought him to Saint Louis, where he did some substitute public school teaching for about five months.

"Back in those days, teaching didn't pay much and at that time, I was married and had a kid to take care of," he said. "I found out that this was not going to support us because I needed both job security and financial security."

Upon moving back South, Denmon explored his options, at which time his dad suggested the Air Force.

"My dad was the one who influenced me and at the time, to join the service," Denmon said. "I didn't know if he thought I had developed the interest in it (having served in the ROTC) or if he just wanted me out of the house, but he did point me in that direction. I didn't think that it was such a bad idea because I wanted a job where I could serve my country and see as much of the world as I could."

Denmon decided to enlist even though military service at that time didn't seem too popular.

"At that time, Vietnam had just ended, but the military did interest me and I still wanted a chance to see the world -- and Air Force looked like it would be a great way of life."

Denmon then spoke to a local Air Force recruiter and joined in the spring of 1976.

Upon enlisting, Denmon received nine weeks of basic training, followed by eight weeks of technical training in typing, filing and other basic organizational support services before being assigned to Keesler Air Force Base, in Biloxi, Mississippi. He started off with the rank of airman basic.

Following his initial assignment to Keesler A.F.B., Demon received his first overseas deployment to Osan Air Force Base in South Korea for one year. There, he worked in the Air Force's personnel office.

"We flew first to Fairbanks, Alaska, for a brief stop before flying on for an overnight stay Japan, then to Osan," he said. "At Osan, no one was allowed to be on the streets between midnight and 6 a.m. We landed there in the summertime and it seemed strange that we were soon being issued winter uniforms, gloves and thermal socks, but then we soon understood why and we appreciated it, because it became severely cold by November."

Besides frigid temperatures, Denmon said that from both an occupational and military standpoint, Korea was a seriously divided country, and still had Cold War circumstance about it.

"The country felt so much like a war zone that we actually received combat pay because things were intense over there," he said. "It also seemed like a long year, because of both the cold weather and the isolation, as well as just being nearly on the other side of the world. At that time, there was no cable television, no email, no Facebook and no cellphones."

However, with Denmon's next deployment being Little Rock Air Force Base, he felt much closer to home.

"This was much better because now I could apply for Officer Training School and that was my initial goal," he said. "Since I already had a college degree, that helped because having a degree was actually part of the requirement for applying to OTS."

Having been promoted to airman first class by the time he had been transferred from South Korea to Little Rock A.F.B., Denmon also received an added benefit within six months after returning back to the states -- a promotion to staff sergeant.

"From there, I went to OTS at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for nine weeks" he said. "Basically, nearly all of it involved leadership and management as well as speech writing, public speaking," he said. "When I made second lieutenant, that was one of the better days in my life -- and at that time (1979) it was still a rarity to see black officers in the military service. So for me, it was a big accomplishment because it happened 30 years after the armed services were finally desegregated and that motivated me to be the best I could be."

From San Antonio, Denmon went on to Edwards Air Force Base in California for three years, which for him, proved to be another career highlight.

"Out there at Edwards, right in the middle of a desert area, I got to be around some of the Air Force's latest and greatest aircraft," he said. "Out there, I got to see where the initial testing of the F-16 Falcon fighter took place, as well as air launches of our smaller cruise missiles. It also proved to be great place for camaraderie because everyone was working for the same cause. I even got to see the first Space Shuttle landing there."

From Edwards A.F.B,. Denmon went back overseas for three years, starting in 1982, for stationing at Yokota Air Force Base in Japan. There, he would become the protocol officer for overseeing President Ronald Reagan's first visit to that country in 1984.

"This involved making plans, arrangements and travel accommodations for dignitaries," he said. "It was like a 24-hour operation there, and very demanding because perfection had to be the norm."

Following his three years in Japan, Denmon, who presently serves as a Texarkana Regional Airport board member, returned to California for stationing Norton Air Force Base. There, he left Air Force administration and got into Air Force contracting.

"This was a whole new specialty and it required going to back to school to learn a whole new career field, " he said. "I became a contract officer and to get that job, I had to take eight weeks of school, then I came back to Norton A.F.B and worked at the base's Intercontinental Ballistic Missile office.

For this new assignment, Denmon worked in the ICBM missile guidance research and development program, and it became his job to contract with private companies, which could provide improved missile guidance engineering as well as improved radar detection of potential enemy counter ICBM strikes.

"I also had to deal with the production of our ICBMs." he said. "We were looking for improvement in missile performance."

Following his five-year deployment to Norton A.F.B. from 1986 to 1991, Denmon returned to San Antonio to work on research aimed at environmental clean-up of Air Force bases slated for the future Base Realignment and Closure Commission shutdown. This would follow the Soviet Union's eventual economic collapse, which brought on an abrupt end to the Cold War during Denmon's final few years (1991- 1996) of Air Force service before he retired.

"I joyed my time in the service and I can say without a doubt that America is by far still the greatest country in the world," he said.

Print Headline: Local Texarkana Airport Board member served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force

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