As part of its commitment to honoring current and past members of the military, the Aviation History & Technology Center (AHTC) conducted a number of interviews with veterans to get their thoughts on their service to our country, in anticipation of the  AHTC’s Veterans Day weekend celebration.  

We interviewed three veterans: Chris Marsh, who recently completed his commitment to the Air Force Reserves; Darrel Leckliter, who completed his service in 1957 and served in the United States Navy during the final stages of the Korean Conflict; and Chris Lorenz, an United States Air Force Academy graduate (Class of 2012) who served as a maintainer until completing his commitment in 2017.

We hope you enjoy their thoughts and experiences of their time serving our country and what being a member of the military community means to them.

Veteran’s Q&A’s: Chris Marsh, Peachtree City, GA

Caption - Lt. Colonel Chris Marsh, right, with Lt. Colonel Matt Jarrett, left
Caption - Lt. Colonel Chris Marsh, right, with Lt. Colonel Matt Jarrett, left

Chris Marsh and his family of five live in Peachtree City, just outside Atlanta, and Chris has lived in the Atlanta area most of his life. A graduate of the University of Georgia, he’s currently working for Delta Airlines as a Captain and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel from the United States Air Force Reserves in August, 2023.  I asked Chris about his time in the military, why he joined and what he remembers most about his 22 years serving our country. 

When did you join the Air Force and how long was your career?

I entered active duty as a second lieutenant in May, 2001 after completing 4 years of ROTC at the University of Georgia. I completed active duty in August, 2007 during a time when the Air Force was downsizing its pilot community. I was given the opportunity to “opt out” with a nice incentive package. I agreed to take the package, but knew I needed a job, so I immediately joined the Air Force reserves, doing exactly the same role as an active duty pilot. I just recently retired from the Reserves as a Lieutenant Colonel after 22 years of combined service.

You are currently a 757/767 Captain with Delta Airlines. When did you start that career?

That’s a funny story with an amazingly happy ending. Although I made my decision to leave active duty in February of 2007, I was able to continue flying C-17’s for the Air Force until the following August. Like I said before, I needed a job and although I had committed to the reserves, I knew I needed something more “full-time”.  I had heard that Delta was hiring pilots. My great-grandfather and my grandfather had worked for Delta for a combined 55 years, so I knew Delta was a good company and being a part of that legacy made sense to me. So I interviewed with them, and was hired in September, 2007, just a month after completing my active duty!

What was it like flying for the Reserves?

As it turned out, I joined the Reserves during a time when the U.S. was heavily involved in two theaters; Iraq and Afghanistan. So for about 3 years, I was pretty much flying the C-17 full time. This was also at a point in my career when I was also flying for Delta. So my life as a pilot was rather hectic. However Delta was required to allow military pilots to serve their country on a priority basis. So my life was spent flying between theaters for the Air Force for a few months,  then coming home and flying my commercial routes with Delta for a few months.

Over time, however, my flying responsibilities for the Reserves began to normalize to the point where I could focus more on my career and my responsibilities with Delta.

What were your experiences training to fly for the Air Force?

During my time in ROTC, I was fortunate to earn one of only three highly-coveted pilot slots for my class of 40 that year. After graduation from UGA, I was assigned to the 14th Training Wing at one of the Air Force’s primary pilot training facilities in Columbus, MIssissippi. I trained in the T-37 and the T-1. I did pretty well in training and graduated near the top of my class, so I earned the right to pick the aircraft I wanted to fly, which was the C-17.

The Aviation History & Technology Center is located near Dobbins Air Reserve Base. Did you ever fly there during your time in the Reserves?

Yes, I flew the C-17 into Dobbins a few times as part of our normal training exercises.  I think about those experiences each time I fly out of Jackson-Hartsfield International Airport. I know that if I have a flight emergency, I have a 10,000 foot runway straight ahead of me if I need it!

Why did you decide to serve?

I’m a firm believer that each of us should serve our country in one capacity or another. For me, joining the military was the way to accomplish this, especially since there was a family tradition of military service.

What do you miss most about military life?

My first experience with the Air Force was attending jump school at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. This was my first view of the brotherhood of the Air Force. I thoroughly enjoyed jump school, then evidently pilot training and then my career as a pilot. The Air Force is really a meritocracy where success is rewarded and doing well is the ultimate objective.  I think I really thrived in that environment because I love to be challenged and I have a pretty competitive attitude.

I also appreciated how I was seemingly always surrounded by a lot of very smart people.  And not just Academy grads.  The Air Force is composed of intellectuals, engineers, and folks that were generally very motivated, very “high speed” if you will. So I guess my takeaway is that the military that I was a part of was comprised of a group of high achievers,

What accomplishments in service are you most proud?

Looking back on my career, there are two instances that come to mind. In 2007, my aircraft and crew were put in station-keeping above the Baghdad airport while about 36 soldiers, some of whom were badly injured, were being triaged and prepped for departure to Ramstein AFB in Germany. We completed our standard military descent into the airport and quickly departed. I was proud to help get those soldiers to safety and get them to the medical care they needed. 

I also recall how in 2005, we were tasked with loading and transporting a M1A1 Abrams tank and its crew, which had just been recalled from a battle in the south of Iraq, to a separate battle outside of Baghdad, Iraq. Playing a role in helping to achieve a local battlefield objective was very gratifying and something I’ll never forget.

What was your last day like?

I would say my last day was bitter sweet. We flew into the Air Force base in Charleston for the traditional final flight event. Overall it was a very happy and equally emotional day. I was surrounded by long-time friends and family and I’ll always remember the sense of relief and real accomplishment I felt on that day. I wouldn’t have changed anything for the 22 years I spent in the military and I have no regrets.

Veteran’s Q&A’s: Darrel Leckliter, American Canyon, CA

USS George Clymer, where Darrel served during his time on station in South Korea
USS George Clymer, where Darrel served during his time on station in South Korea

When did you join the Navy?

I joined the Navy reserves in September, 1951 while I was still in high school. I did this for many reasons, but the reason that intrigued me most were the promised training trips to Hawaii and Vancouver BC!  I graduated from Bakersfield High School in 1952, and was called to active duty in 1955 for two years. This was during the final stages of the Korean War.  After I completed active duty in 1957, I remained in the reserves until I was discharged in 1959.

What was your role in the Navy?

After completing boot camp at Treasure Island near San Francisco, I was sent to electronics and radar school for 16 weeks. I was then assigned to the troop ship SS George Clymer, where I spent my two years of active duty as a radar technician.  My role was to plot our ship’s position relative to the other vessels in the area, to maintain position keeping, and to check those distances using our radar.

How did your perceptions change of the military before you served and then after?

I think beforehand, I had a perception of the service as being happy-go-lucky and that I’d be able to see the world. However, once I was in, l quickly learned that the reality of serving was that I was just a small blip of a very large unit where I mostly followed orders and completed on-board duties. This is not to say I didn’t see the world, because I did indeed see many new and wonderful places.

What do you remember most about your Navy experiences?

Since the SS George Clymer’s home port was Yokosuka, Japan, I was able to travel extensively in Japan and in the neighboring countries like the Philippines and of course South Korea. In fact, I learned to speak a fair amount of Japanese and I learned to ski on Mount Fuji! And I’ll never forget how I saw the Japanese emperor drive past me in his limousine on New Year's Day in 1956. Everyone on the street was yelling “banzi”.

What accomplishment were you most proud of during your time in active duty?

My ship was home to some 800 marines who were planning their amphibious assault on Pusan in 1956.  So for two weeks, our time on board was preparing for the assault. It was both a very exciting and stressful time and for 6-8 hours a day we were at general quarters.

Was there anyone who helped with your transition to civilian life?

Through a very fortunate coincidence, I was helped by my high school physics teacher. After my time on board the George Clymer, I was transferred to Long Beach where I was out processed. From Long Beach, I hitched a ride home back to Bakersfield. There I was assigned to my reserves unit where I was reintroduced to my high school physics teacher who became my reserves commander! He was very helpful to me in transitioning back to civilian life and pointed me towards the benefits of the GI Bill.

How do you think your time in the military affected you?

I think my time in the Navy had a good influence on my life. I learned to understand and appreciate my place in the big scheme of things. Equally, I learned to grow up and take responsibility for myself. I gained confidence that I could do a job asked of me which helped me when I found work in civilian life.  And having access to the life-changing benefits of the GI Bill was so very helpful to me. It allowed me to go back to school and complete junior college. I then finished my four year degree at San Francisco State where I earned a degree in history and social science and then my teaching credential. 

What do you miss most about your time in the Navy?

I really missed all my on-board buddies. Happily, there were a couple of reunions where it was fun to see my friends and talk about old times. In fact, I still keep in touch with a buddy who went to the same school as me and who was on board the same ship as me!

Veteran’s Q&A’s: Chris Lorenz, Atlanta, GA

Caption - Lt. Chris Lorenz, right, with Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise, left
Caption - Lt. Chris Lorenz, right, with Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise, left

When did you begin your military career?

I entered the Air Force as a Second Lieutenant in May, 2012 upon graduating from the United States Air Force Academy. Practically, however, once you have completed your sophomore year at the Academy, you are required to commit to serving in the Air Force.

How long did you serve?

Including my time at the Academy, I served a combined 9 years.

After graduation, what was military life like for you?

While I was at the Academy, my days were more or less spent like any other student at a typical university. But we cadets always wondered what the “real” Air Force was like. Once I was assigned to my flight training base, my days were spent studying and flying. When I transitioned to the role of a maintenance officer, I felt like I had a normal, everyday job with a certain rhythm to the role. There were the requisite daily and weekly briefings, and the typical types of tasks that you would have in any supervisory position. Usually at an operational base, in terms of manpower, the maintenance organization was usually the largest. At any given time, I supervised between 40 and 140 airmen. And I was only 25!

Why did you join the military?

I’ve always wanted to be a pilot since I can remember. I was only 11 years old when 9/11 happened. But I knew - even then - that I wanted to fly and to serve my country so that nothing like that would ever happen again.

Where were you stationed?

During my time at the Academy, I was based in Colorado Springs. Once I earned my commission as a 2nd Lieutenant, I was assigned to Columbus Air Force Base in Columbus, Mississippi. I was later assigned to Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, South Dakota.

What were your proudest moments while serving?

I attended primary flight training in Columbus flying the T-6 Texan II, a 1,000 horsepower turboprop trainer. I can remember on my first solo flight looking out at the wing and seeing the US Air Force emblem and thinking what a proud moment it was to be flying an Air Force aircraft!  After flight training, while at Ellsworth AFB, I was assigned to their maintenance wing and I was put in charge of restoring a base-wide aircraft support system that was no longer operable after 20 years of neglect. I managed the task of refurbishing the system which included coordinating with multiple organizations on base to gain their support for the project. I was proud to fix a system that was very important to the base and will support the B-1 wing for many years to come.

How did your time in the military affect you and what did you learn about yourself?

When I completed my service in 2017, I found that I had become more resourceful and resilient than I thought I could be. I learned a number of so-called soft skills while in charge of dozens of airmen. I also learned a number of technical skills as a result of being in charge of B-1 maintenance turnarounds. I also learned about logistics and being responsible for making decisions for multi-million dollar aircraft. As a result, I think I also learned how to be an adult!

What do you miss about your time in the Air Force?

Subsequent to my service, I’ve never done anything or worked for an organization that treated me like a member of the family. In the Air Force, I had lots of support, a clear and well defined set of expectations, thorough processes and procedures, and a real sense of belonging.