Last week: Dennis “Mike” Looney, 73, spent several years in the Air Force working in helicopter maintenance in a job that was later classified as flight engineer. Participating in local rescues throughout the U.S., he went to Udorn in Northern Thailand and to Osan, Korea, where he participated in the rescue of flood victims, pulling some 94 people and one dog out of the flooded Chinwi-Chon River.


For Hamilton resident Dennis “Mike” Looney, 73, the years he had spent thus far in the military had been exciting ones. When he left Osan, Looney came back to the States early when his unit was shut down.

Looney was stationed at Hill Air Force Base in Utah and went back to helicopter maintenance. He would fly occasional functional test flights, but most of his flying days were now behind him. In November 1975, he was stationed at Scott AFB in Bellville, Illinois. By this time, he was a tech sergeant.

Looney worked in aerospace rescue and recovery but did no flying. Instead, he helped other rescue units get ready for inspection. Although he didn’t fly out himself, he was involved in logistical support every step of the way.

He was part of a team that helped coordinate the recovery of the bodies at the Jonestown massacre in northern Guyana in 1978 but did not go personally.

Looney then went back to Hill AFB in Utah. “We loved it there,” he said. “It’s why I went back.”

By this time, he was a master sergeant and served as an assistant maintenance superintendent. He worked with local-based rescues in MAST (Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic), where Army and Air Force helicopters are used to respond to civilian trauma scenes, usually vehicle accidents, and transport patients to civilian hospitals.

They sometimes tended to traffic accidents, but Looney wasn’t a flying crew member. He was part of the logistical support of a Rapid Deployment Operation in the Bahamas, where they flew drug interdictions with the Drug Enforcement Agency. Again, he did not go himself, simply because he was tired of traveling.

“At the time, there wasn’t that many helicopters flying,” he said.

Looney also was deployed to a Canadian base in Baden-Solingen Germany for a few weeks, among the many places he was sent TDY (Temporary Duty Yonder). Another time, he went to Ahlhorn, Germany.

Looney then became part of Detachment 3 Air Force Flight Test Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was there four years and three months as a maintenance supervisor over all support shops before he decided it was time to retire. He was to be deployed to Germany and didn’t want to travel anymore. “I didn’t want to leave our kids,” he said. “It was time to retire.”

He did exactly that after nearly 27 years in the Air Force, retiring as a chief master sergeant with many medals: Airman’s Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with two devices, Air Medal, Air Force Commendation Medal with two devices, Air Force Presidential Unit Citation and Outstanding Unit Award, National Defense Service Medal with one device; Vietnam Service Medal with five devices, a Korean Presidential Unit Citation, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with device, and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with device, among others.

Pulled to safety

One citation, the Airman’s Medal, he received for his response in Nevada. Looney and another man witnessed an oil tanker accident that overturned and spilled oil everywhere. The man was thrown through the windshield, but Looney pulled him to safety just before a fire erupted. The man survived.

Looney then went to work for General Electric while his wife, Billie, worked in civil service. “She had followed me around for nearly 27 years. It was time to follow her,” he said. They moved back to Hamilton last year on a piece of property where his grandfather grew up that they bought in 1983. Together, they have two sons and three grandchildren.

Looney retired from General Electric in 2005, though he privately contracted with them for four more years before officially calling it quits. Today, he works around the home, landscaping. It was something he enjoyed in high school.

As for all those years in the service, Looney is glad he made a career of it. “I enjoyed it. It was something I’d probably do again,” he said. “We still have a lot of friends we’re in contact with.”

Even in high school he always loved helicopters; a teacher helped him learn aerodynamics. He still has his Federal Aviation Administration’s Airframe and Power Plant license.

“It was a good life,” Looney added. “I got to travel the world, she (his wife) the States, and the kids had a good education. I would recommend anyone spending four years in the service. They can get the training and skills they can use for life.”

“Veterans’ Voices,” featuring stories about Central Texas veterans, publishes every Sunday. To suggest a story about a Central Texas veteran, please email veteransvoices@wacotrib.com.“Veterans’ Voices” is proudly sponsored by Johnson Roofing.

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