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Two Air Force Friends...I'll Miss You! Part 2.

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Monday, April 7, 2008

Two Air Force Friends...I'll Miss You! Part 2.

Anthony Pearson is someone who has been part of my Air Force life since Day 1, quite literally. It was 1995, and I had my orders to my first duty assignment at Fort Polk, LA. I happened to report to the base the same week that MSgt Tony Pearson and his family were reporting into the same weather mid-June 1995. So he and I got to experience in-processing together, and he and I were learning the ropes about the base, the weather flight and the special culture of west-central Louisiana.

He was learning those ropes much faster than I was, of course.

Tony was my first "station chief". He was the weather flight's senior enlisted member, and over my 3 years at Fort Polk, he'd be regarded as a father figure to most of us while we went through some pretty rocky leadership changes.

But for me, he was like a father figure in other ways, too.

He was there when Dave and I got married. He and I were married by a Justice of the Peace in Leesville, LA and had somewhat of a mini-wedding reception at the base weather station. My own parents were in Guam at the time, and Dave and I always had it in our minds that we'd have a real wedding later...but I guess after nearly 13 years, that vision has faded. Tony was there.

He was very patient with me. During a 6 month period when I was the highest ranking member of Fort Polk's weather flight -- as a 2nd Lieutenant! -- he did an exceptional job ensuring I was learning how to make decisions properly. He was a significant part of me not losing my mind altogether when I was brought in to weigh on decisions that impacted Airmens' lives in so many ways -- was I really supposed to recommend a demotion for someone 10 years older than me with a wife and 2 kids? Tony patiently educated me on Air Force weather knowledge, as well as general military knowledge -- and quite a bit of life knowledge too.Sometimes stress would get the better of me -- I'd be frustrated over some Army First Sergeant dressing down one of our Airmen, or battling the Army's supply system, or not understanding why SSgt Bruns didn't get that Army Acheievement Medal when her partner did. More than once I was in Tony's office in tears. And he'd listen.

And then he'd tell me to clean up and get back out there and do good things.

Tony has always been well grounded in his faith. In fact, as a 2nd Lt I have to admit I was taken aback by some of his candid discussions about whether I'd found Jesus Christ as my Savior. I was taught in AFROTC that we didn't discuss such things while on duty. I did go to church with him and his family occasionally, and some of our discussions about faith had some influence in decisions later in my life. I was baptized Lutheran in 2002.

After Dave and I had moved on from Fort Polk, Tony and I continued to exchange Christmas cards, and one day in about 2005 he put in a "Friend Request" on MySpace. We'd exchange the occasional e-mail when it came to news about some of our mutual friends/colleagues in the Air Force. "Did you hear Phil Hardin got a commission?" "Sean Campbell's in Afghanistan..." "I'm separating from the Air Force."

By this time, Tony had retired from the AF and was working as a government civilian for the weather squadron at Shaw AFB.

This past summer when I had transfered Reserve jobs to Shaw AFB, I knew right away I'd have to get in touch with Tony and tell him I'd be on hand at least 1 weekend per month. It wasn't long before I got to see him again...I was put on one of his ops center shifts for training! It had been 9 years from when I left Fort Polk and we didn't miss a beat with our banter, our memories and our heated discussions about the Continuous Polar Front Theory (we tend to disagree there).

He and I both participated in a push-ups challenge in November. I think the shift members (about 22-24 people) were attempting to do 25000 push ups during their 12 hour shift. I contributed what I could, so did Tony.

Dave and the boys joined me for a drill weekend this past January. Tony saw Dave and me through many ups and downs while we were at Fort Polk -- we probably only spent about 1/3 of our time there actually together, and the separations were quite hard on us. I was proud to show off to Tony my happy family! He was very proud to show off his happy family to me :-)

When I arrived for my February drill, I found out that earlier in the day Tony had been rushed into emergency surgery in Columbia to save an abdominal blockage. During the surgery they found evidence of cancer. A couple people expressly told me to make sure I found time to visit Tony during my drill weekend, so my commander and I made a trip during the weekend.

Tony was in the ICU...folks who had seen him the day before just out of surgery were telling me he was quite groggy on his drugs. I was fortunate, Lt Col Buckler and I walked into a very alert, chipper Tony who proudly showed off his surgery scar first thing! And during our 20 minute visit, he did most of the talking. He detailed how he had received a clean bill of health just the month prior from his Primary Care Provider, and how he woke up on a Wednesday morning with a stomach ache. When he couldn't stop vomiting, he went to the emergency room. The scan of his abdomen showed an enormous blockage, and the news of the cancer was a surprise to everyone! But in the ICU that afternoon, Tony was in wonderful spirits, and I was so pleased to see him so happy I cried!

After that drill weekend, he hit some bumps in his recovery, needed additional surgeries, and just couldn't seem to get out of the ICU. I had the flu during most of my Annual Training at the end of the Feb/beginning of March, so I didn't want to risk anything and avoided the VA Hospital during those two weeks.

I got the news of his passing in an e-mail from my flights' operations superintendant on Monday, March 31st. While I was disappointed that I didn't get to visit with him just one more time, I was pleased that I was able to spend some time with him in his last months, and that Dave got to see him one more time recently, as well.

He had a beautiful memorial service with full military honors in Dalzell, SC on Thursday, April 3rd. Dave and I drove down for it. Once again, Wendy and Chuck watched the boys.

Tony would have been proud of the sea of blue -- dozens of Airmen in their service dress uniforms -- sitting in the church for his memorial. Tony never did care for fatigues/camoflauge/battle uniforms unless you were actually in field conditions.

Once again, there was that bittersweet feeling when seeing so many people that we hadn't seen in nearly 10 years: Mike Edelson, the NCO who trained both Dave and me on the forecast counter at Fort Polk and later worked with the both of us in Korea, Dee Pearson (Tony's wife), who we hadn't seen since Fort Polk, and his children, David and Shea.

Several members of my reserve flight were struck hard by Tony's passing, too. He was to walk one of our Airmen down the aisle at her wedding this coming winter.

The thing that really struck my heart strings, though, was that Tony was only 51, and he had merely awakened with a tummy ache 8 weeks prior. And it was colo-rectal cancer that took him from this earth in such a short time.

Like in the previous blog post, I happened across a snapshot I had taken of Tony from his 41st birthday in 1998. Note his blue uniform...he was probably the only one on all of Fort Polk in his day-to-day "blues".

I'll miss you! You'll always be MSgt Pearson to me!

From 2008 04 07 Od...

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At Thursday, April 10, 2008 at 3:01:00 PM CDT , Blogger Nickie Flambures said...

Tony and I were clasmates at Chanute going through Forecaster's Course the second half of 1983. We studied at his house pretty regularly.

As a friend, classmate, and sailor, I had a lot of respect for Tony, he was a first class person with a lot of heart. I last saw him a few years back while he was working for SAIC and I was working NEXRAD. His business card is still in my rolerdex. I've always remembered him and always will. Nickie Flambures AGC, USN Retired

At Tuesday, April 22, 2008 at 10:02:00 PM CDT , Blogger Sheoah said...

This is Shea Pearson-Hardy. Patty, I love what you wrote. Thank you for that wonderful tribute to my Daddy!! I also noticed that Nickie Flambures posted a response and I wanted to say Hi to her. I thought of Nickie several times after Daddy past and during the preparations for his memorial. Wondering how to get in touch with so many of those that knew him. That was one of the most difficult tasks I have ever dealt with, telling those that knew him and loved him that he had past on to be with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I hope that you all will stay in touch with me and let me know how you are doing from time to time... I have a myspace page that you can find me by just doing a search for sheoah.


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