ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE -- Aircraft mechanics toiling away in the cold wind on the Robins flightline can know that their commander was once one of them.
Brig. Gen. Walter Lindsley, who took command of the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex four months ago, began his Air Force career in 1982 as an enlisted man. His first job was working on C-130s at Little Rock Air Force Base in Arkansas.
He grew up on a small farm outside of the steel mill town of Rock Falls, Illinois. His father was a crane operator at the mill and a union member. Lindsley planned on going to work for the steel mill, but the mill stopped hiring during his senior year of high school and eventually closed. At the same time, his parents were going through a divorce.
“It was not a good time,” he said.
He had an interest in mechanics, and he loved war movies, so he turned to the Air Force. His life has been on a upward trajectory ever since.
“I found out real early that the Air Force was a good fit,” he said. “It was important to serve our nation. I couldn’t think of more meaningful work. I was around folks that were just like me.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree, he became a commissioned officer in 1989 and went on to earn two master’s degree.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Stenner, president of the 21st Century Partnership, said many enlisted airmen end up becoming commissioned officers if they get their college degree, but it’s not too often to see one rise to the level of brigadier general. Enlisted personnel, he noted, have to attend college on their own time.
“It shows a tremendous amount of dedication, energy, drive and desire,” Stenner said. “When you are enlisted, you are doing a full-time job, and you’ve got to balance that with going to school.”
Stenner said Lindsley has impressed him as a straightforward person who is well-suited for the job.
Bill Best, deputy director of the 402nd Maintenance Group, said mechanics at Robins are well aware of Lindsley’s background.
“They respect the fact that the general has that background and knows maintenance,” he said. “He can talk maintenance with them.”
Lindsley admitted he would have thought it unbelievable if someone had told him when he started out that he would be a brigadier general some day. But once he started talking to his supervisors about going to college and getting a commission, he said he got nothing but support.
“You don’t get it done without a lot of help from your supervision and a lot of help from your teammates who know what you are doing, and they make sacrifices,” he said. “Sometimes they would swap shifts with me so I could keep going to school.”
At the time, he was already married with two children, and his wife also was attending college.
“I know what it’s like to have to stretch a dollar,” he said.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.