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241st Vietnam Vet to Retire

Chief Master Sgt. Denny Albano turns on the air traffic control radar system for the last time on his last day of military service.  Chief Albano retired in June after a career that spanned more than 25 years.

Chief Master Sgt. Denny Albano turns on the air traffic control radar system for the last time on his last day of military service. Chief Albano retired in June after a career that spanned more than 25 years.

Saint Joseph, Mo. -- One of the few remaining Vietnam veterans retired in June from the 241st Air Traffic Control Squadron and the 139th Airlift Wing.
Chief Master Sergeant Denny Albano turns 60 this summer, a mandatory retirement age that he'd rather ignore. 

"If they weren't forcing me out, I'd rather stick around," said Albano. "This has been a career like no other. It's not like a lot of civilian jobs where you stare at four walls. Here you could be working on something (here one day) and the next day be halfway around the world." 

Not only is Chief Albano one of the few remaining Vietnam War vets in the unit, he's one of a handful of former members of the old 239th Combat Communications Squadron, which for a while was known as a "geographically separated unit" until the formal transfer to the 139th Airlift Wing in 1995. The 239th became the 241st in October 1997.
"We moved up from St. Louis and I wasn't sure I'd like a small town (St. Joseph)," said Albano. "But once I returned to St. Louis and remembered what the traffic was like, there was no question." 

Since May of 2005 he's served as Chief of Maintenance for the 241st. The job entails supervision of the air traffic control tower, mobile radar system, and mobile navigational aids. The machinery aspect, according to Chief Albano, is where he loves to work. "I don't make friends easily and I'd give anything to return to just maintaining the radar," added Albano. "My biggest headache is dealing with people - not because I don't like people, it's just that you have to learn each personality and deal with personal problems. It seems like I'm always counseling kids on how to get along. There are minor squabbles and in some cases I feel like their mother." 

A crusty senior enlisted exterior belies Albano's feelings for his troops, his unit, and the military. He joined the army in 1968 and served 12 months in Vietnam, installing and testing seismic intrusion devices. His three-year tour in the army was up in 1971 and he left the service. Thirty eight years later he still doesn't want to talk about Vietnam. "It's too hard to describe," remembers Albano. "Waking up and not knowing if you'll be there at night. I've shied away from talking about it. It's done. It's gone. I still think about it but just not all the time." 

Albano spent the next 18 years working civilian jobs but found raising two sons was expensive. In 1987 he joined the Missouri Air National Guard in St. Louis and in 1989 was hired as a fulltime technician. "I believe military should be mandatory, it's good for everyone," said Albano. "It gives young folks discipline, it opens their eyes to the world and it makes them self sufficient." 

More than 25 years of military experience has taught Albano the value of flexibility and of saying exactly what he thinks. "I've seen things come full circle," he said. "Air Force regulations are now Air Force instructions, first it was stripes on the uniform, then stripes off the uniform and now stripes are back on the uniform." Working more than four decades with electronics still hasn't left the Chief with a warm regard for e-mail, electronic forms, and the internet. "We did everything by hand and we had documents," adds Albano. "Electronics are too vulnerable. There have been times we've come to work and the server is down. That throws off the whole day." 

"He's worth a million bucks," said Senior Master Sgt. Gene Moore, the 241st First Sergeant. "You can't beat him. He's tough and everyone knows it. But he can motivate everyone. And he gets the job done."