The year is 1980. The U.S. boycotts the 1980 Summer Olympics, President Jimmy Carter signs Proclamation 4771, requiring 18- to 25-year-old men to register for a peacetime military draft and Ronald Reagan is elected 40th President of the United States.
Meanwhile in the small Illinois town of Winchester, 17-year-old David Hammon is enlisting in the Illinois Army National Guard, the first steps on a path to a 42-year military career.
"I was a small town kid interested in aviation, a very costly endeavor,” Chief Warrant Officer (5) David Hammon, of Sherman, Command Chief Warrant Officer of the Illinois National Guard said. "I wanted to be a turbine engine technician and the military seemed to be the way to go.”
Hammon said at first he reached out to the Illinois Air National Guard but ultimately decided to enlist in the Illinois Army National Guard in 1980 as an aircraft mechanic, serving with the 219th Transportation Company, based at Scott Air Force Base. He would serve in the 40th Aviation Battalion (Attack Helicopter) and the 1144th Transportation Battalion. But prior to his current position, spent most of his career with 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment based in Decatur.
After 42 years of service in the Illinois Army National Guard, Hammon will retire April 30.
"It’s time to pass the baton on to the next Soldiers in line,” he said. "I’ve been blessed with this opportunity to serve in the Illinois Army National Guard for the past 42 years. I’m looking forward to taking a break as I decide what to do next.”
Maj. Gen. Rich Neely, the Adjutant General of Illinois and Commander of the Illinois National Guard said Hammon will be missed.
"Chief Hammon has left an indelible mark in the Illinois National Guard, not only in the aviation community, but also in the warrant officer corps,” Neely said. "He has worked tirelessly to cultivate and mentor a new generation of warrant officers in the Illinois Army National Guard.”
Brig. Gen. Rodney Boyd, Assistant Adjutant General-Army and Commander of the Illinois Army National Guard said the Illinois National Guard is better because of Hammon’s service.
"Chief Hammon has seen and done it all over the course of his long career,” said Boyd. "The organization is better today because of his persistence and attention to detail. He knows every warrant officer in the state, knows their story, and has been a catalyst of their success and careers.”
Hammon has had a front row seat as the Illinois National Guard has undergone a transformation from an under-funded, under-used program to a fully operational force multiplier today.
"I’ve served during the lean years. When I first began my career, we had to share flight time with other states. The Army would give each state an allotted amount of ‘blade’ time and aviators had to share that flight time,” Hammon said. "Today, the National Guard is a fully operational combat ready force performing missions at home and abroad.”
After a four-decade career, Hammon said his greatest achievement in the Illinois Army National Guard is service to the organization and the people it supports.
"I’ve been on flood response duty and for me the service is personal,” he said. "I have aunts and uncles who live in flood prone areas.”
Hammon said in addition to stateside duty, he’s served overseas and witnessed the suffering in other countries.
"Those living conditions make you realize just how good we have it in the United States, despite our problems,” he said. "The National Guard has afforded me the opportunity to see that first hand. Serving in the National Guard has opened a phenomenal amount of doors.”
Hammon said he’s thankful for the opportunity to wear the uniform since 1980.
"I’m totally grateful for the career I’ve had,” said Hammon, who has served in a variety of enlisted, commissioned, and warrant officer positions throughout his career. "I signed up for every deployment that came down the pipe since I was a private and oddly enough I only deployed to Iraq twice, but I’ve been on training missions overseas to 14 other countries.”
Hammon became an aviation warrant officer with the 106th Aviation Regiment in 1996.
"I became a warrant officer to be able to remain in the aviation field due to the restructuring of aviation assets at that time,” he said.
After spending parts of five decades working for the same organization, Hammon offered advice to anyone just starting out in the military.
"Stay with it,” he said. "Seek out mentors to help you throughout your time in uniform. Think about what you want to accomplish as long range goals and how serving in the Illinois National Guard helps you achieve those goals.”
Those who have served with Hammon throughout the years describe him as a leader with a simple approach to leadership.
"Mr. Hammon is uniquely rounded as a Soldier, having served in the enlisted ranks, as a commissioned officer, and as a warrant officer,” said Chief Warrant Officer (5) Thomas Black, of Springfield, who has known Hammon for 25 years, and will succeed him as the Command Chief Warrant Officer. "He’s an easy going leader who communicates well and encourages team building.”
Black said that Hammon is a tremendous asset to the Illinois National Guard who is able to bring people together.
"He’s a legend who gets to ride off in the sunset on his terms,” Black said. "I’m fortunate to step into his shoes as the Command Chief Warrant Officer. I hope I’m able to use some of the things I’ve learned from him to make a difference in the organization.”
1st Sgt. Jeff Nordmann, of St. Martin, Minnesota, Company A, 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment, called Hammon the enlisted Soldier’s Soldier.
"When we deployed to Iraq, our unit clocked 500 hours of flight time,” Nordmann said.
"Chief Hammon was always ready for any mission. He was committed to the job.”
Nordmann said Hammon’s retirement will have a huge impact on the Illinois Army National Guard.
"Soldiers can’t gain that experience overnight,” he said. "The loss will be felt for quite some time.”
Chief Warrant Officer (5) Herb Stevens, of Normal, Illinois, the facility commander at the Kankakee Army Aviation Support Facility in Kankakee, has known Hammon for more than 30 years.
"Dave swore me in as a warrant officer in May 1991,” Stevens said. "We went to flight school together and that was our graduation.”
He describes Hammon as the "guy who could get the things needed to make the mission successful.”
"The thing with Dave is if you mention ‘hey, it would be nice to have this or we need this for our deployment’, he was the guy who could make that happen,” he said. "He was always thinking about the needs of the Soldiers.”
Stevens said the Illinois Army National Guard is better for having Hammon in its ranks.
"We were fortunate to have him around for 42 years,” he said. "He was a mentor to all of us warrant officers which created success in the ranks. Under Dave’s leadership, the warrant officer ranks grew and he made sure the right people were in the right jobs.”
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Daniel Wentworth, of Lawrenceburg, Company A, 1st Battalion, 106th Aviation Regiment, said Hammon commands a presence.
"He’s a great mentor, someone you can talk out issues with,” said Wentworth, who is a maintenance test pilot at the Decatur facility. "When I was attending flight school, anytime I had an issue, I could call and talk to Chief Hammon and he would guide me through the issues."
Wentworth said serving 42 years in uniform is definitely a goal to strive toward.
"He has seen it all,” he said. "You really need support from the family and mentorship from fellow Soldiers along the way to last that long.”
Hammon spent four years and six months as an enlisted Soldier, 12 years, six months as a commissioned officer and 25 years, three months as a warrant officer.
Hammon has reached the pinnacle in the career of a warrant officer in the Illinois National Guard, but said serving in the Illinois National Guard has taught him is to have more compassion.
"We have it pretty good in the United States despite our problems,” Hammon said. "I’ve witnessed suffering outside of our borders, but serving in the military has created the opportunities to see how people in other countries live.”
Hammon said his career would not have been possible without the support of his wife, Michelle, an Army veteran herself.
"I couldn’t do my job without Michelle’s support,” Hammon said. "Marriage is a team effort and there are things I couldn’t accomplish without her help and support. She possesses the uncanny ability to handle every emergency imaginable, and to delicately balance all the obstacles that life and the Army throw at her.”
"Michelle has always been supportive of both Dave’s career and the Illinois National Guard,” he said.
Sgt. 1st Class Keith Michels, of Wheeler, 108th Sustainment Brigade, who serves as the aviation life support technician for the Decatur flight facility said any time he talked with Hammon, they always had a great conversation.
"Anytime I talked with him, even if it’s just a helmet issue, he was always so personable,” Michels said. "Those conversations are so valuable. He is a world of knowledge.”
As the aviation life support technician, Michels inspects Hammon’s flight gear every six months per the National Guard Bureau’s arms inspection regulation. That biannual inspection allowed Hammon to complete his final flight in his original gear.
"The flight gear he was issued when he became a warrant officer is the flight gear he wore during his final flight,” he said. "I’m sure that meant a lot to him to be able to do so.”
As Hammon reflects on his 42 years of military service, his immediate future plans are to just step back and relax a little, but most of all he wants to thank everyone overall. He said it took a lot of people to get him to this level, and he is truly grateful for the support from everyone over the years.
"I’m leaving my options wide open,” he said. "I have no immediate plans. I’ll take a knee for a minute and let things settle down. Whatever the future holds for me, I do know I will figure out a way to continue serving.”