True Journeyman

  • Published
  • By TSgt Shawn David McCowan
  • 301 FW Public Affairs
   All Jolyon Walker ever wanted was a good education and to be a good leader. His father was a poor farmer, so there were only a few ways to get to a good college. The path he chose was the military, and his decision to join turned out to be his burden, his guideline and the journey of a lifetime.
   Jolyon first stepped into the blue in 1972. He enlisted and became an electronic countermeasures technician. But his original plan was more focused on getting his education started.
   "I signed up because the recruiter told me about all the possible educational benefits. I knew serving my country was a noble profession, and I really wanted to go to college," said Walker.
   Then-Airman Walker brought his wife, Vickie, with him across the country to technical school, since she was pregnant with their first child. But ever then things were becoming difficult.
   "They didn't offer dependent travel back then. So we had to pay to move. That put a strain on us, because we were already broke."
   It wouldn't be long before life offered up its next surprise. While at their home one day, Jolyon asked Vickie what she'd like to do that day. She answered, "I want to have a baby!"
She delivered their first child, Alan, that afternoon. It was a wonderful experience for them, but when it was time to take their baby home, there was a catch. The Walkers had spent what little money they had on moving and household needs, and they were flat broke.
   "When I went to check us out of the hospital, they explained that our insurance didn't cover everything, and I needed to pay the bill before taking the baby home."
Walker did the only thing he could to earn some quick cash - he gave blood.
   "I ended up selling a pint of blood for $10 to get our baby out of the hospital. I've heard it said, but the hospital really did bleed us dry that day."
   After technical school, Walker accepted a duty assignment in Guam. The Walkers' second child was born on base there, which became a lifelong tradition for the family.
"We ended up being blessed with eight children. All but one of them were born in a military hospital."
   When Walker was in a position to go to college, the enlisted incentive program he was told about had been discontinued. He was forced to find a school that he could afford and would be accepted at. He heard about another program in the Air Force Reserve. As an prior-enlisted officer, he could finally get the tuition assistance he needed.
   The only trouble was that the only college he could find that accepted the program was across the country in Utah.
   "Some of our extended family agreed to move with us. We loaded our lives into a moving trailer, packed up our five kids and three cars. All we had left was $150 and a MasterCard," said Walker.
   In late December 1980, the group braved icy winds and treacherous mountain roads. They drove for 16 hours total, but finally arrived at his sister's house... on Christmas Eve.
In 1982, Lieutenant Walker was assigned to George Air Force Base, California. Their seventh child was born in the same military hospital as the first, and he finally started to feel like things may settle down.
   But that same year, this man who is so passionate about his children and his people faced one of the hardest decisions in his military career.
   "I was forced to let go of half of my enlisted force," he said with tears in his eyes - one for each person he lost that year. "I fought the decision, and eventually won my argument, but the process moved along, and many of my people were forced to move on."
In 1984 he moved his family back to Utah, and returned to school. He was also forced to take on a second full-time job to make ends meet.
   After several other government jobs, Walker was offered a position in 1989 at the 419th Fighter Wing in Utah.
   "I could easily have been passed over and forced to retire. That would have been disastrous. But a commander there named Gerald Yearsley took a chance on me. If he hadn't, I wouldn't be here."
   In 1999 Walker became a full-time Air Reserve Technician. He thought he could finally breathe easy and finish his career years, but he was again forced to move on in July 2009.
   "At 57 years old, having to find another job is pretty tricky and scary. Max Mendoza was there to help me find a position, and he helped me get here. He really came through for my family."
   Colonel Jolyon Walker sat back in his commander's chair and thought about the years and miles that have passed as he prepared to pack his last few boxes. His emotions got the best of him one more time, but he braced himself enough to put his military career into perspective. He reached into his extensive knowledge of the many places he's worked...
   "When you make steel, there's a process you go through to make the steel harder and stronger." He paused to give his heart a moment to settle. Then he continued tearfully.
"I've been through that process. I started out strong, but not as much as I thought. Many of the things I've experienced weren't pleasant, but they made us the family we are today."
   Walker leaves his 37-year journey behind, but his face brightened at the thought of his next adventure.
   "I've missed my grandkids. The last time I saw them they were afraid of me. Now I'm going to go back to Utah and mend all those ties," he said with a peaceful grin befitting a grandpa with all the time he needs.
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