Technician celebrates 50 years at Robins

Jerry Chalker’s career at Robins Air Force Base spans five decades, 11 presidential administrations, and the lives of most of his co-workers.

In October 1959, when Chalker reported for his first day of work, President Obama had not yet been born. His career in the Air Force is only about 11 years younger than the U.S. Air Force itself.

Chalker, 69, celebrated his 50th year working for the Air Force Reserve Command on Wednesday. More than 100 Reserve Command employees, civilian and military, threw an anniversary party for Chalker.

“I never thought I’d do 50 years,” Chalker, a career computer technician, told his co-workers. “It just snuck up on me.”

His first job title was tabulating machine operator, working on piece of equipment so large that it had to be carried by multiple people. As technology accelerated, Chalker stayed on the cutting edge, working with mainframe computers instead of punchcards. He introduced the Reserve Command to local area network technologies in the 1980s.

Chalker has had no problems keeping up, even without any formal skill training.

“I was always self-taught,” he said during an interview after the party. “It’s always been, ‘there it is, learn it.’”

Chalker is now the chief of software development for the Air Force Reserve Command’s communications office. He writes software that encripts classified documents and communications. As he sees it, his job in 2009 isn’t that different from his work in 1959.

“We had an input and we had an output and we have the same thing today,” he said. “It’s just done faster.”

Chalker was raised in Hawkinsville. At 19, shortly after the death of is mother, he found work at Robins Air Force Base for $1.58 an hour. The pay has changed considerably but not the location or the employer. Bret Wilson, the director of the Reserve Command’s network division, said Chalker was likely the first in the command to reach the 50-year mark.

“We can’t think of anyone recently in the last 10 years here at headquarters,” he said to an amused audience. Since the Air Force Reserve was itself activated in April of 1948, it’s almost certain that Chalker is the first to serve it for 50 years.

Chalker has been eligible to retire with full pension and benefits for the past 15 years. In reading a brief biography of Chalker, Chief Master Sgt. Kathy Gregory had a bit of news for the Air Force Reserve Command staff.

“Mr. Chalker has no immediate plans to retire,” she said. The office instantly broke into cheers.

To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.