Living Air Force history: Moody reservist traces career from Vietnam to Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Brigitte N. Brantley-Sisk
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
When U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael "Gramps" Evans walked through the Atlanta airport in early 2010 after a deployment to Afghanistan, the applause from grateful Americans left him wondering- where was this gratitude 35 years ago when he returned from Thailand and Vietnam?

The 57-year-old security forces flight chief has served on and off since 1972, when troops returning from "across the pond" were often shunned for the time they had spent fighting in Southeast Asia.

"Walking through that airport, all I could do was feel guilty and think about the guys I served with in Vietnam who never got to experience this kind of thanks," said Sergeant Evans, a reservist currently serving annual time with the 23rd Security Forces Squadron. "Things are different now, but in the '70s, we were just young men coming home to a country of people who considered us murderers.

"The war was coming to an end and we just wanted to survive it," he added. "There's nothing glorious about killing someone. Because a lot more people have mothers and fathers or brothers and sisters involved with the current war, there's more support for us."

Sergeant Evans' first encounter with being treated poorly was within hours of touching down with some fellow Airmen in San Francisco, Calif. Although they had been warned they might face negative reactions from the public, they weren't prepared for what happened.

"We were the Tiger Flight night cops, thought we were all that, and we were loud and proud about it," said the sergeant. "One of my buddies remarked, 'If any of those damn hippies try to mess with us, I'll rip their heads off.'"

The group of cops sat down at a restaurant and after 45 minutes, asked a waiter why they weren't getting served.

The waiter's reply of, "We don't serve your kind. You're bad for business," left the group in disbelief.

"We were deflated and couldn't believe that people could actually hate us," said Sergeant Evans. "After that, we ate somewhere else then went our separate ways. While loading the airplane, two kids came up to me and asked if I was a Soldier. While telling them I was in the Air Force, their mother snatched them away and told them to 'not talk to the bad man who kills people.'"

Things weren't always negative- they took a positive turn when he married his high-school sweetheart weeks after returning from overseas.

The way Sergeant Evans proposed was unique in the possibility that by the time Ann received his proposal, he might not even be alive.

"We were actually stationed in Thailand but travelled often to Vietnam," said Sergeant Evans. "I was loading up into a helicopter to go to a crash site and I handed my crew chief an envelope addressed to Ann, with the words 'Will you marry me?' written inside. It's possible that we wouldn't have survived that mission."

Shortly after the sergeant returned to the U.S., he married Ann and soon got orders to Minot Air Force Base, N.D., and made the decision to separate from the Air Force. Over the next few years, Sergeant Evans worked odd jobs as a chauffeur and body guard while attending the University of Southern Mississippi earning his bachelor's in park and resources management.

After participating in Army ROTC in college, he decided to enlist again and do a one-year tour with the Army National Guard in Florida, the state he's lived in ever since. He did a one-year stint there, and then switched to an Air Force unit in Homestead, Fla., before taking a 10-year break from the military.

"Not being in the military, I really missed the camaraderie and the way people worked together during intense situations," he said.
In 1998, he joined the Florida Air National Guard while working as a Florida state park manager, and served there until 9/11, when his unit was mobilized and he was sent to Moody for eight months.

"After we were demobilized and sent back to the Guard, I stopped by a recruiter and switched to the Reserves," said Sergeant Evans. "The flexibility in the Reserves is great and so even now, I have time to help out with the Florida Agricultural Museum part-time."

In 2009, an opportunity arose for him to deploy for nine months as part of a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan.

"My wife knew right away that I had volunteered for that," he said. "But as soon as my plane touched down, I thought, "Alright, I'm back in the war."

War is a common part of the sergeant's lineage- he had ancestors who served in the Civil War, grandfathers and uncles during World Wars I and II and his father during the Korean War.

Right away, Sergeant Evans noticed differences from his previous time in combat zones, in addition to being nicknamed "Gramps" by the younger troops.

"Historically, security forces requires the same tough mentality, but this is a different time with different tactics and processes," he said. "What surprised me most was the technology. In Vietnam, typewriters were all the rage, and it wasn't uncommon to spend three weeks waiting for 10 minutes of radio time."

Sergeant Evans added that he's impressed with the level of training and professionalism in today's Airmen. Despite all the differences, there are also similarities to his prior service in Asia.

"After nearly 40 years, it's still tough to see bodies rolled into bags," he said after recalling a shooting incident in Afghanistan that pitted seven American troops against 30 enemies. His heroism led him to being awarded the French National Defense Medal at the gold level, which is one of the highest awards France gives to foreign military members.

"The French probably liked me because I always had a cigar and enjoyed their wine," he joked.

Now back at Moody to serve out his final years until he turns 60, Sergeant Evans is still glad to contribute to the Air Force mission through his service in the Reserves.

"Serving our country has always been important to my family," he said. "I can't verify it, but I might be one of the last Vietnam-era security forces members still serving. I still think about Vietnam every day, but I don't dwell on it. Going to Afghanistan caused some things to come full circle for me. In the end though, I'm no hero."