Retiring again? Breedlove says not exactly
Published 7:17 pm Friday, May 28, 2010
On June 30, retired Air Force Col. Gary Breedlove will officially retire—again.
This time it is from his position as instructor and leader of the highly successful Air Force JROTC program at Bainbridge High School, a position he has held for 16 years. In all, Breedlove has worn the uniform of the U.S. Air Force for a total of 50 years, counting active, reserve and ROTC duties.
The ROTC classroom walls and adjacent hallway in the new high school are stacked with trophies won by the cadets.
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If you look at the winning record his cadets have rung up in competition over the years, this past academic year was perhaps the best of all. Normally they compete in two national events per year. This year they competed in three national competitions and Breedlove says, “It is the best we’ve ever done.” They won three first places, one third place and one fifth place.
There is also a winning record of the 10 students who have received appointments to military academies. Five have been to West Point, four to the Air Force Academy and one to the Naval Academy. This includes two from the graduating class of 2010 who will enter West Point this summer. They are Derrick Akins and Erick Juarez. In addition, eight of his cadets have received scholarships. There are also two rising seniors who are very interested in West Point.
Col. Breedlove’s dedication to educating youth has made tremendous difference in countless lives. He remembers all his former students and loves when they come back to visit the classroom, but certain ones stand out.
His first class
He especially remembers one in his first class.
Rex Powell Jr. was a senior when the program began. He was the first cadet commander and set the tone and standard for what was expected and what was to come. He went on to graduate from Southern Polytech Institute in Marietta with a degree in civil engineering. His was the first college graduation the Breedloves attended. Powell now works as a construction engineer for the corporate offices of Chick Filet in Atlanta.
Another memorable student was Preston Laslie, who graduated from the program and went to the Air Force Academy, only to be diagnosed with leukemia at the end of his second year. He battled the illness and eventually got back into the academy, graduating in 2001. He is now a doctor stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
Cadets are encouraged to participate in community projects. They provide color guards for football games and other civil ceremonies; but countless hours of volunteer work are provided by the students to such endeavors as Habitat for Humanity, Toys for Tots, Rivers Alive cleanups, Swine Time, Relay for Life and other events.
Breedlove said he is overwhelmed each spring with the volume of hard work a relatively small group of cadets are willing to do to continue the tradition of excellence.
Breedlove has his own long list of personal achievements from his 16 years in Bainbridge.
He is a Paul Harris Fellow through Rotary, was Air Force Association “Teacher of the Year” for North Florida/South Georgia in 2008; Georgia’s first “Ben Epps Aerospace Innovation Trophy” winner in 2007; Wal-Mart “Teacher of the Year” in 2005; a STAR teacher in the Decatur County Schools in 1997 and 2007; In 2000 he was “Teacher of the Year” in BHS, Decatur County Schools and the VFW state competitions; has received the AFJROTC Outstanding Instructor Award for eight years; serves as chairman of U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop’s Service Academy Nomination Committee; and is admissions liaison officer to both the Air Force Academy and the Military Academy at West Point.
So, why retire now?
When asked that question, Breedlove says simply, “It’s time.”
He admits he had been thinking about it for a while, but decided the 50-year-mark was a good goal to achieve, and now he is there.
What does the next chapter hold for Breedlove?
He is not one who will retreat to his 26-acre farm and sit in a rocking chair. In fact, the word retreat doesn’t seem to exist in his vocabulary.
He is a guy who likes to stay active. While he admits to no immediate plans other than catching up on a lot of work that needs to be done around his property, he shared a few projects he needs to complete. He will continue to work with the congressional committee on nominations to military academies, while doing admission liaison work for West Point and the Air Force Academy.
He plans to try to incorporate the JROTC program into the six week Governor’s Honors Program held at Valdosta State. Then, he adds, “After the first of the year I may get into some other things I have been thinking about related to education.”
He wants to expand the Young Eagles program that began in Tallahassee 18 years ago. It is an ongoing project for pilots who have brought planes to Bainbridge and conducted an orientation to introduce youth to the thrills of flying.
More than 500 kids have had the experience of going up to view the area from a plane. Breedlove said he is working now on another student flight event for this fall.
His wife, Patsy, referred to by the kids as “Mama Breedlove,” is his constant companion and help-mate. The two were high school sweethearts and she accompanies him and the students on weekend work projects and competitions. She said they always have a few students who don’t want to graduate. “They want to stay on in school and the program and come live with us.”
She accompanies Breedlove to all the college graduations of former students. They have attended the college graduation of nearly every student who has gone on to complete a higher education, be it at a military academy, a two or four-year institution.
Asked if he thought a dose of military life would be good for everyone, Breedlove thoughtfully replied he wouldn’t go so far as to say it should be compulsory, but he believed it would be helpful for any young person to have that experience. He believes it is a good, strong course for growing up. He sees former students who have gone into the military come back with maturity and self-discipline, as well as training for job skills.
Along the same line, he cites what students receive from JROTC. Besides self-discipline, there is leadership and willingness to take on a challenge.
“I start challenging them. Those fearful of responding start stepping back. Those that do three to four years and compete in the drill team have had experience in challenges that will stand them well in the future,” he explained. He went on to note two students who will be honor graduates this year that without the JROTC experience probably would not be in that position.
What does the future of the JROTC program hold without the dedicated leadership of Col. Breedlove and his wife, Patsy?
Breedlove said he has always had phenomenal support from the community and school administration, especially Superintendent Ralph Jones and Principal Tommie Howell. He expects that same enthusiasm for the program will continue.
He anticipates a replacement instructor will be announced soon, and if it is the person he believes it will be, that it should be a good appointment.
“He is just coming off active duty and is a generation younger than I am. I hope he will be able to expand and improve the things I’ve done. He is also a pilot and could conceivably fly the kids around himself,” adds Breedlove.
Breedlove, for all his years in the Air Force, is not a pilot. He wanted to be, but color blindness kept him out of Air Force pilot training. He spent his active career in radar defense systems, including seven years with the Airborne Warning Control System.
Maybe, just maybe, he will now have time to get his private pilot license.
Col. Breedlove will best be remembered, not for the trophies won or the personal acclaim he has achieved, but by those countless lives he touched and changed along the way.