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Air Force trailblazer returns to Ramstein after 54 years

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. (Retired) Kenneth Andrews speaks with Airman 1st Class Paige Goulette, Air Traffic Control Apprentice, in the ATC simulator at Ramstein’s Air Traffic Control tower, May 24, 2016, Ramstein Air Base, Germany.  Andrews visited the tower to speak with the Airman on duty and share his experiences as a former Air Traffic Controller during his 30-year AF career.  Andrews entered the AF in 1947 during the same year it became an independent service.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Kenneth Andrews speaks with Airman 1st Class Paige Goulette, an air traffic control apprentice, inside a simulator at the air traffic control tower on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, May 24, 2016. Andrews visited the tower to speak with the Airman on duty and share his experiences as a former air traffic controller during his 30-year Air Force career. Andrews entered the service in 1947, the same year it became an independent service. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Clay Lancaster)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Andrews, Deputy Director, Public Affairs and Communication, USAFE-AFAFRICA, speaks with his grandfather, Chief Master Sgt. (Retired) Kenneth Andrews, while visiting the Air Traffic Control tower on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, May 24, 2016. Andrews entered the Air Force in 1947 and served 30 years as an Air Traffic Controller; three years of his service were spent at Ramstein.

Lt. Col. Michael Andrews, the deputy director of public affairs at U.S. Air Forces Europe and Air Forces Africa, speaks with his grandfather, retired Chief Master Sgt. Kenneth Andrews, while visiting the air traffic control tower on Ramstein Air Base, Germany, May 24, 2016. Andrews entered the Air Force in 1947 and served 30 years as an air traffic controller; three of those years spent at Ramstein AB. (U.S. Air Force photo/1st Lt. Clay Lancaster)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (AFNS) -- It doesn’t happen often but occasionally Airmen get the opportunity to meet an Airman who, in 1947, was there when the Air Force first stood on its own -- those trailblazers who laid the first bricks of airpower on the long blue line.

Retired Chief Master Sgt. Kenneth Andrews, who served at Ramstein Air Base from 1959 to 1962, started his 30-year Air Force career in 1947. He recently took advantage of the opportunity to come back to Europe to visit family and a familiar sight -- the air traffic control tower.

“What an eye opener this has been to see what’s happened in the last 50 years,” Andrews said. “If someone were to blindfold me and set me down here I would not recognize this place as Ramstein; it’s changed that much.”

The former air traffic controller had the opportunity to serve in several combat roles including in Vietnam. His stories were told as if they happened yesterday; the details still clear to him.

“Vietnam was a different situation. We would have maybe 50 airplanes taxiing out for departure and coming in at one time,” Andrews said. “As one aircraft was taking off, the other was taxiing right behind it. Every morning it looked like the whole airport was headed out to the runway. I would go into meetings and tell them we were violating every rule in the book … it was the only way to make the operation work and have that many airplanes out there.”

Andrews and his grandson, Lt. Col. Michael Andrews, toured the tower and met other controllers, including Airman 1st Class Paige Goulette, who was testing for her Air Traffic Control 5-level upgrade training that day. She stuck close to the side of the retired chief, hanging on to every word of every story he told during his visit.

“When we were briefed (Andrews) worked here from ‘59-‘62 we were all so excited up here in the tower. I think it’s extremely humbling to listen to someone talk about the area you work and the way things were more than 50 years ago,” Goulette said. “I think the moment he told us he was here when the Berlin Wall was being built really made us realize how different the world was back when he was controlling traffic.”

The equipment Andrews was working with as a controller was far different than the equipment being used today. The stories he shared with Goulette and others showed just how far avionics and other advances in the air traffic controlling realm have come.

“After hearing the equipment he worked with it really made us take a step back,” Goulette said. “I don't ever think we can understand how hard this job was when he worked as a controller, but we can try to imagine and we all have the utmost respect for him and all that he's done.”

As Andrews departed the tower he shook the hands of every tower controller and thanked them for all they continue to do for the Air Force.

“I would do it all over again tomorrow,” said Andrews, as he made his way toward the door.

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