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Dana Raby of Loudonville, who enlisted in the Air Force National Guard while a senior at Loudonville High School, retired this spring after 41 years of military service.
Raby, 59, was honored at a retirement banquet at the Air National Guard Headquarters in Mansfield in May.
He noted that as of early July, he hasn't received his official retirement papers.
Looking back to his time joining the Air Guard, Raby commented: "There was never any question that I would join some form of military, as my dad (Bill Raby) was a very strong Navy man. I made my decision in high school, picking the Air Force because I liked planes better than boats."
He actually took the oath as a member of the service in January of 1976, "attending drill on weekends while I was still in high school."
That summer, he went to Air Force Basic Training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, and then took advanced training as a security policeman.
"My first summer drill period was in Altis, Oklahoma, where I served on a security detail guarding C-5 cargo aircraft," he said. "I was in awe of the huge transport planes, as a crew of Airmen on one of the planes invited me to take a closer look, with one commenting, 'wouldn't you rather work on one of these rather than guard it.'"
Not long after that, Raby continued, the mission at the Mansfield Air Guard Unit changed from fighter planes to C-130 cargo planes, "giving me the opportunity to serve on these rather than guarding them. While still in security, I first went to rigger school at Fort Lee, Virginia, learning how to secure cargo in the big planes, and later to load master school in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I vividly remember flying to Minneapolis on a C-130 from Mansfield, and literally getting dropped off in front of the operation where the load master training took place."
Load masters, Raby explained, are the folks who properly load the cargo, and see that it is safely unloaded, including strategic dropping of materiel by parachute, often in combat zones.
His duty as load master resulted in over a dozen deployments, including three to Iraq, five to Afghanistan, several to Bosnia and one to Djibouti, in West Africa.
While some of his missions involved definite danger, he remembered "fortunately I worked with a crew that worked to make the work as much fun as possible, and we did it all, dropping trucks and tanks by parachute over combat zones. It was scary, and exciting, all of the time. Most of the time we worked with the same crew. In fact, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, we always worked with the same crew."
His service took him to or over every world continent except Antarctica.
"I never landed in Australia, but I flew over it several times, and I served on missions with military from Australia," he said.
Raby retired as a master sergeant (E-7), and of his 41 years, 21 of it is credited as active duty. He is also the second longest term Airman at the Mansfield Air Guard.
"A guy retired several years ago with 42 years, and for several years I have been the oldest guy on the post," he said. "There are a couple of guys still in who joined two or three years after me, but they are also retiring soon. My retirement ceremonies were very impressive. I told them not to do anything special, but they did. A lot of people came."
While age was the major factor, a partial reason for his retirement was his heath. Raby has been treated for COPD for several years.
His retirement plans?
"I am actively looking for a job, and in fact have an interview today," he said the day of this interview.
In addition to his service as a load master, Raby has been a member of the Air Guard Counter Drug Task Force, working with law enforcement on drug enforcement issues.
In the past, he worked as a teacher at the old Mohican Juvenile Corrections Facility, and served as a part-time naturalist at Burr Oak State Park in Glouster.
His military service took him to Texas for six years, where he taught load master school for Air Guard members, and during Desert Storm (1990-91) he served as a load planning specialist at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, planning cargo shipments to the war zone.
He lives in a home he purchased on East Washington Street in Loudonville in 2001. He and wife Debbie were married in 2004. He has one grown stepson, Kyle, who works for Spectrum as a cable guy, he said. He has been attending college on the Air Force for many years, and has Bachelor of Science degrees in environmental education, and communication and interpretation from Ohio State. He is also very active in the Masons, currently serving as Knight York Cross of Honor in Hanover Lodge and King Cyrus Chapter. He is past master of Hanover Lodge here in Loudonville.