Uncle Walt

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ned T. Johnston and Airman 1st Class Danielle Conde
  • 6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Flying 35,000 feet over Louisiana, a senior master sergeant boom operator from MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, pressed his hands against the floor to ease his nerves and prepare himself to make one of the final aerial refueling approaches of his 26-year career on Jan. 26, 2015.

"It is a bittersweet moment every time I run the checklist, because I think, 'is this going to be the last time I ever do this? Will this be the last time I flip this switch or make this contact?'" described Senior Master Sgt. Walt Markwas, 91st Air Refueling Squadron boom operator.

With a fascination of airplanes due to growing up in a military family, this Wheeling, West Virginia, native enlisted in the Air Force on Nov. 28, 1989, at the age of 20. He spent his first years in the Air Force working in supply before finally putting in to cross train to a boom operator in late 2000.

Less than a year later, a then Staff Sgt. Markwas was sent to Altus AFB, Oklahoma, to complete training when the tragedy of 9/11 happened.

"That's just something you don't mentally prepare for," said Markwas. "Seeing those planes hit the towers - I knew what that meant for me in my new career."

Once he completed his training to become a certified boom operator, Markwas was sent downrange on four deployments within the first two years as a boom.

"Looking back, the most rewarding part of my job was being able to be such a key part of the war effort," said Markwas. "Having such a direct impact on the war was what made the hardships of those deployments worth it."

Throughout his career, the senior master sergeant has been stationed at Robins AFB, Georgia, Altus AFB as a technical school instructor and at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, as the command evaluator for the United States Air Force in Europe before finishing off his career at MacDill.

Along the way, he has refueled just about every aircraft in the Air Force, from the F-4 Phantom to the B-52 Stratofortress. Markwas' air refueling career allowed him to travel to numerous countries where he met and became friends with people from all walks of life.

"It's not as much about the places you go as it is the people you meet there," said Markwas, who is known to many in his work section as Uncle Walt. "The people make the mission. The people are who you are going to remember long after the mission has been done."

Coming toward the final days of his enlistment, Markwas is grateful for his time in the Air Force and looks forward to starting a new chapter in his life.