Keesler member retires to 'pay it forward'

  • Published
  • By Susan Griggs
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
For native Biloxian Wayne Rowell, retirement will be a time to "pay it forward" to the man who cared for his father during his twilight years - his stepdad, Joe Bush.

Rowell, who has more than 30 years of combined military and civilian service, officially retires June 6 as the 81st Logistics Readiness Squadron's installation traffic manager and deployment and distribution flight chief.

Rowell's father died five years ago after a 25-year battle with Parkinson's disease.

"In 2008, my dad got to a point where he couldn't live on his own," Rowell recalled. "Joe decided to take him in and became his primary caregiver. Not every husband would take in his wife's ex-husband and wait on him 24/7, but Joe did. He took great care of my dad so the rest of the family could continue working, and he was holding my father's hand as he slipped away.

"Words cannot describe how much Joe has done for my parents," he continued. "He put our family first since Day One."

Bush, a 92-year-old World War II Army Air Corps veteran, had triple-bypass surgery after a heart attack a week before Christmas. Rowell took time off to get Bush to medical appointments, help around the house and run errands. Retirement enables Rowell to help Bush continue his recovery, as well as to spend more time with the rest of his family, which includes his mom, Dorothy; wife, Bethany; and two grown children, Christine and Michael.

Rowell grew up a block from Keesler, but moved to California his senior year of high school. He went to work at March Air Force Base, Calif., in 1983 and enlisted two years later. As an air cargo specialist at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, he earned an Air Force Commendation Medal for his role in the cleanup effort after the Exxon Valdez oil tanker crash in 1989.

Later that year, he moved to Travis AFB, Calif., where he worked more than 8,000 airlift missions after an earthquake. Rowell worked 38 hours straight in support of Operation Just Cause, the liberation of Panama and capture of military dictator Manuel Noriega. Seven months later, his unit was gearing up for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

In 1992, Rowell moved to Galena Air Station, Alaska, a site used to intercept Russian spy planes. After Galena's closure, he moved to Loring AFB, Maine, to ship 417,000 tons of munitions to other bases when Loring closed. While assigned to McGuire AFB, N.J., he deployed to more than 40 countries in support of many operations, engaging in armed conflict on three separate continents.

Rowell was assigned to Keesler in 1996 and developed the curriculum for cargo deployment classes in the 81st Transportation Squadron. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he worked 40 hours straight to posture security forces and medical personnel for deployment to New York City and Washington, D.C.

After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, Rowell was involved in logistic and aerial port support for recovery efforts. When he retired as a master sergeant after 22 years of active duty in 2007, he was selected for a civilian position in his same unit.

He's been involved in several contingency efforts during his 18 years at Keesler and played key roles in 12 Operational Readiness Inspections for the 81st Training Wing, 403rd Wing and 85th Engineering Installation Squadron.

Rowell's favorite aspect of working for the Air Force has been "taking care of my people - mentoring the military and civilians and passing on the knowledge and wisdom I've gained over the past 30 years." The biggest challenges have been budget constraints and the anxiety of force shaping, furloughs, sequestration and reductions in force.

He's been active in his squadron's booster club, the Key Spouse program, Elks Lodge, Moose Lodge, American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Former co-worker Don Young, 338th Training Squadron, has known Rowell since 2002 and describes him as "my brother from another mother."

"I valued his team mindset with focus on mission success and well-being of team members," Young pointed out. "I respected his leadership and ability to accomplish the mission as a fellow senior noncommissioned officer. I admired him for continuing to lead as a civil servant. My son knows he can count on 'Mr. Wayne' as much or more than any of his blood relatives. I will cherish our friendship until my days on this planet are done"