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Airman returns to service after 20 years, deploys

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- “For anyone that has ever been in and gotten out, I don’t know that you ever stop feeling that pull to come back. That you ever stop missing it.


“It’s always a part of you. It just kept pulling at me and pulling at me.”


For newly-promoted Master Sgt. James Dullaghan, an HH-60 Pave Hawk crew chief with the 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, that pull brought him straight to a recruiter’s office – for the second time.


“I first came on active duty in November 1978,” he said. He initially served for ten years on active duty as a wideband equipment specialist. Twenty years after leaving active service, Dullaghan re-enlisted as an Air Force reservist in February 2009.


Dullaghan didn’t stray far from his Air Force roots during his break in service – he has worked on the space shuttle program and unmanned rockets at Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for the last 28 years. His Reserve duties allow him to continue working in the space program.


Twenty years after separating from the Air Force, he had a discussion with a co-worker that made him think about the value of serving and spurred him to action. Dullaghan went to the recruiter’s office the next day.


He is now a dedicated crew chief deployed with his unit to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.


“Because of my break in service, I had to retrain and I went to tech school with a bunch of 18 and 19 year olds,” Dullaghan said, laughing. He was 50 years old at the time. “I was older than all of my instructors, but they were cool about it.”


Initially his instructors didn’t believe him – when determining who the class leader would be, the instructors asked each E-5 what their date of rank was.


 “Sept. 21, 1981,” Dullaghan replied.


Thinking he was joking, the instructors gave the position to another NCO. It was only later they discovered that Dullaghan had served before some of them were born.


Here at Bagram, Dullaghan and his unit maintain the 83rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron’s fleet of HH-60s which conduct personnel recovery operations into hostile environments.


Working on aircraft has been a lifelong dream for Dullaghan. Though his recruiter and father recommended the electronics career field when he first enlisted in the 70s, Dullaghan knew he always wanted to “turn wrenches.”


What truly drew him back was the relationships he developed while serving.


“It was a family, and that’s the stuff you always miss,” Dullaghan said. “There’s a brotherhood here that you can’t find anywhere else. I know there are guys that I haven’t seen in 30 years, that if I were to get a hold of them again, its like we were never apart, we wouldn’t skip a beat.”


This time around is no different.


“This is the guy or the gal that I can put my back up against and they’ve got me and I’ve got them,” he said about the men and women he works with day in and day out.