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Face of Defense: Airman Continues Family’s Air Force Legacy

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan., July 11, 2016 — Many families share a profession from one generation to the next. Air Force Staff Sgt. Austin Phillips inherited his desire to be an airman from his grandfather. 

Phillips, 22nd Maintenance Squadron wheel and tire section chief here, is assigned to the KC-135 Stratotanker, one of the same airframes his grandfather once worked on nearly 60 years before.

Retired Staff Sgt. Raymond Hopper was an Air Force sheet metal and hydraulics technician from 1960-66, at Smokey Hills Air Force Base, Kansas, and Walker Air Force Base, New Mexico, where he worked on KC-135 and B-52 Stratofortress aircraft, and on missiles.

“He is part of the reason I joined,” Phillips said of his grandfather’s military service. “Growing up, he was always on me to join the Air Force. As a kid I thought it was cool, and I wanted to serve my country.”

Phillips said that his patriotism sparked while he was growing up on his family’s Angus cattle farm in small-town Missouri with his grandfather.

‘My Grandpa Lives and Breathes Patriotism’

“My grandpa lives and breathes patriotism and the Air Force,” Phillips said. “He loves his country, and it was engrained in me. Later, I realized the sacrifices that have been made by those before us, and I wanted to contribute to that. I love what we stand for.”

Phillips said he owes his work ethic to his family and attributes his mechanical knowledge to his grandfather, who shared his Air Force-style maintenance with him while working on tractors and hay equipment.

“He was teaching me how to fix a wheel and grease bearings when I was a teenager,” Phillips said of his grandfather. “Then I got here and said, ‘I learned this a long time ago, and it is pretty much the same as the technical orders.”

The same techniques Hopper learned in the ’60s that he taught his grandson could very well be used today on the same aircraft.

“It is a cool feeling to think that 60 years earlier my grandpa could have been working on the same aircraft as me,” Phillips said.

Sharing Memories

Their time spent together and memories they share that built their bond revolved around general maintenance and aircraft, Phillips said.

“He got me into aviation by taking me to air shows as a kid and always talking about history,” Phillips said. “Now he has a museum; he has all kinds of stuff: dioramas, uniforms, replicas, pieces of a P-51 Mustang, some B-29 Superfortress artifacts and a lot of vehicles. He loves aviation and the military.”

During an airshow, Phillips visited and sat in “Fifi,” currently the only airworthy B-29. Recently, he performed a tire change on “Doc,” a B-29 that is being restored to join “Fifi” as the second flying Superfortress. After 16 years of restoration work, “Doc” is scheduled to make its first test flight July 17, taking off from the non-joint-use runway here.

“[With ‘Doc,’] it all started when my grandpa and some of the guys from the museum came out here to see it when it was still in the hangar.  That’s when I first met ‘Doc,’” the maintainer said.

The similarities between the two men go beyond genetics. Hopper’s love of his country and interest in aviation continues through his grandson, who to this day does his part to “refuel the fight” here.

“I am very proud of him, he has done quite well, but there is always room for improvement,” Hopper said of his grandson. “He does a critical job, and I think the military is the pride and strength of our country.”

Distribution channels: Military