MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
In 1983, while most people were in their Cutlass Supremes listening to “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson on their way to see The Dark Crystal, Stephen Harvey was heading off to basic training.
Fast-forward nearly four decades and Colonel Harvey relinquished command of the 23d Maintenance Group before retiring after more than 38 years of uninterrupted service, July 15.
As an enlisted Airman, Harvey climbed to the rank of master sergeant before commissioning in 1997 and continuing on to become a colonel.
“When I was a kid, I aspired to be on the L.A. Dodgers,” Harvey joked. “Steve Garvey was the first baseman at the time. And I thought, this is going to be easy. I'll just change the G to an H and it's going to be awesome. Didn't quite work out that way. So my baseball career ended quickly.”
When Harvey graduated high school, he knew he wasn’t ready to pursue college just yet – so he sought an alternative path.
“I went and talked to my dad who was a prior Marine and I told him that I was thinking about joining the service and I narrowed it down between the Air Force and the Marine Corps and he said, ‘That's great, let me see if I can help you out with that. If you join the Marine Corps, I won't let you back in my house.’ Harvey said with a laugh. “So, to the Air Force it was.”
After basic training, Harvey went to Edwards Air Force Base, California, where he learned to be a machinist and became a part of the Air Force family.
“The thing is, when you transition from civilian to Airman, at least in my experience, it was very much like ‘I'm not leaving my family, but certainly joining a new family,’” Harvey said. “Family is obviously important, they’re what props you up when you're having tough times. You (have) your home life and you (have) your work life, and consistency, I think is really the key to that. You take those lessons you learn from home and you apply those to work and vice versa.”
Harvey says his at-home family was supportive every step of the way, through multiple moves in the United States and overseas. Through support at home and at work, Harvey made the decision to apply for officer training school – twice.
“I got my degree done and I did apply for officer training school, I wasn't picked up and did not plan to reapply for OTS,” Harvey said. “Col. Curt Hafer (who was stationed with Harvey at the time and presided over the retirement ceremony) is the one who encouraged me to rethink that. You don't want that hanging question. What if I could have and what if I should have? And I can tell you from the bottom of my heart, I have no regrets.”
After he applied for a second time, Harvey was accepted and traded in his master sergeant stripes for a gold bar. The lessons he learned as a senior NCO translated to his work as an officer.
“When the time comes and you have to go talk to your boss or the commander, and you're asking for help, you hope that there's something they can do for you,” Harvey said. “I hope the experience folks have had when they come to me is that I've dropped everything and taken care of them because that's what we're supposed to do. Being able to have that positive impact on that person and help them resolve their situation is what this is all about. That is a win for everybody. And that's what keeps me going.”
Now that Harvey is leaving the Air Force, the popular music and movies of the time may have changed from 1983, but Harvey believes the Air Force will continue being the organization that drew him in – one focused on taking care of its Airmen.