TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – In the U.S. Air Force, it's possible to become an aircraft maintainer, an aerial port operator, and a loadmaster in one career. It's also possible to share that career between the Guard, Reserve, and active duty. And it's even possible that a single Airman can lead a team of four to open an entire air base on their own.
That is exactly what Master Sgt. Rodney Huffer, 921st Contingency Response Squadron operations superintendent, did before hanging up his uniform after more than three decades of service.
Growing up in Paris, Texas, near an Air Force bombing range, Huffer wanted nothing more but to be a pilot since the age of two.
Huffer became interested in applying to the Air Force Academy. However, he realized he would not be able to attend pilot training due to not meeting vision requirements. At this point, he decided he could still follow his love for the sky by joining the enlisted corps.
“I was a little upset when I realized I couldn’t be a pilot, but I still wanted to serve my country,” Huffer said. “I figured if I can’t fly them, I can fix them, so I decided to become an aircraft mechanic.”
Huffer attended basic military training August 28, 1986 and said he never looked back.
“The first time I put on the uniform in basic training I felt like I was part of something special,” Huffer said. “I felt as though I was off to protect and serve my country. However, it was a little scary because of the unknown.”
After spending six years on active duty he decided to join the Air Force Reserves at Carswell AFB, Texas, which is now known as Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, where he cross trained to be a ramp controller in the aerial port squadron.
“Leaving active duty was the toughest thing to deal with throughout my 32 years of service,” he said. “After I made the decision and thought about it, I did not want to get out. However, it was too late.”
In 2000 he joined the Texas Air National Guard where he would attend loadmaster school and gain his third Air Force specialty code.
In less than a year after getting his wings, the trajectory of his career would change because of one event.
“I remember exactly where I was at when 9/11 occurred,” Huffer said. “I was in South Dallas doing construction for a new school. Immediately after seeing what happened on the news, I got this feeling of not wanting to do anything but go to the base and help any way I could.”
Soon after 9/11, Huffer was activated and started flying missions in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“Being over there flying those missions is all I wanted do; it’s what I been training for my whole career,” he said. “I felt a sense of pride in myself and my country.”
In 2005, Huffer reenlisted and came back to active duty as a C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft loadmaster. He would spend the next couple of years deploying in support of OEF.
“I loved the job so much and I was already flying on active orders,” Huffer said. “It was a complete no brainer to return to active duty and finish out my career.”
Finally, Huffer landed in the 621st Contingency Response Wing in April 2015.
He played a major role in the 921st CRS by planning an air base opening mission to the Middle East as well as leading a contingency response team to Homestead Florida in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
“The CRW has been the most fulfilling mission I have ever been a part of since joining the Air Force in 1986,” he said. “Everything I have done in the military has made me the perfect person to be a part of the CRW. I was a crew chief, port dawg and a loadmaster; the three major aspects of the CRW.”
During Air Mobility Command’s premier exercise Mobility Guardian, he was part of the team that ensured readiness objectives were being met as well as designed injects for the participants.
“During discussions with headquarters’ planning staff, they questioned our numbers and our timeline to get the air base open,” said Lt. Col. Pat Rayner, 921st CRS commander. “I replied that this was how it normally works. They countered with, ‘Well, Master Sgt. Huffer opened Yakima Airfield with three Airmen and a 10K forklift in about three hours.’ He’s truly remarkable.”
“I decided to stay in this long because I love the military, the people and the comradery,” Huffer said. “I also love the mission and feeling like I was making a difference protecting the country that I love, but my time has come to say goodbye. I haven't had time to process it yet, but I am sure that it will hit me once I have time to relax.”