Mideast edition, Thursday, May 31, 2007

Chief Warrant Officer Thomas Walker is ready to ground himself.

A 61-year-old guardsman and veteran of Vietnam, Walker recently completed his last flight over a combat zone in Iraq and is ready for retirement after 36 years in the Army.

“It is time to put it away,” Walker, the Albany, Ga., pilot, said in a military news release. “I told my wife that I wouldn’t extend again, and I am going to keep my promise.”

Walker is assigned to the 185th Aviation Regiment, an Army National Guard Theater Aviation Company with troops from Mississippi, Connecticut, Missouri and California. Walker flies C-23 Sherpas, used to transport troops and equipment around Iraq.

“He has been a tremendous asset to this unit, and his soldiers really look up to him,” Capt. Chad Rose, commander of Company I, 185th Aviation Regiment, was quoted as saying. “He has been a good example to the younger soldiers over the years.”

Walker graduated from flight school in 1970 and flew his first combat mission over Vietnam in 1971, according to the Army.

Over Long Binh, Vietnam, he flew a U-6A Beaver. He also flew the O-1 Bird Dog, a reconnaissance and observation plane.

“It’s a different war, different times and different tactics,” Walker said of the differences between Iraq and Vietnam.

Among the differences, Walker said, was that he meets more Iraqis than he did Vietnamese. And flying is more “regimented” now, he said.

“There are a lot of processes and procedures we go through today to get an aircraft off the ground than back then.”

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