In the year 1958, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, hula hoops became a national craze and the cost of an average house was $12,750. Also, in that year, David Lee Northern Jr. began his remarkable journey of 63 years of service.
Enlisting in the Air Force as a civil engineer, Northern would have 12 assignments in his 26-year career including two tours in Vietnam. In Vietnam he was assigned to “Red Horse” (Rapid Engineer Deployable, Heavy Operational Repair Squadron, Engineer) squadrons which were heavy construction units like the Navy Seabees.
“We worked day and night doing 12 hour shifts in Vietnam doing runway and ramp construction projects. We erected metal buildings and aircraft revetments to protect fighter aircraft. The laboring hours in those positions of support on many occasions would cause me to lose track of time. We as Airmen would continue to perform assignments that made the time go by fast until it was time to rotate back to the United States mainland,” said Northern. “It was challenging. I discovered many things about my own resilience and what the human body could endure. I was humbled continuously and daily. We never really knew sometimes what the day would bring. We made it there and back in one piece physically sometimes and fragmented in other ways but, we stuck together. It is so very true that teamwork makes the dream work. Sometimes, I did not think I would make it, but God saw fit for us to make it. My faith kept me hopeful and praying for myself and others.”
Retiring from the Air Force in 1984 as a Master Sergeant he would work a year as a maintenance worker at the U.S. Air Force Regional Hospital on MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. In 1985, he would take a job as a facility manager at U.S. Readiness Command which transformed into U.S. Special Operations Command in 1987.
“My best memories are having the opportunity to work for and with some of the most patriotic and ‘wickedly smart’ professionals both military and civil service people on the planet.” said Northern. “I took pride in performing building maintenance in the main building of SOCOM while it was United States Readiness Command and subsequently Special Operations Command.”
Northern has seen many changes since USSOCOM was formed and reflected on the command’s transformation.
“SOCOM was very interesting in the beginning and has never disappointed. It continues to be just as interesting if not more. There is never a dull day at SOCOM Headquarters. Nothing is as routine as it seems. Each day comes with new challenges and responsibilities. It was humbling to watch as it grew right before me. I smiled on the inside and outside. I loved what I did for a living. I was making history for my family and the country,” said Northern.
When the finalization of the United States Readiness Command Headquarters was being transitioned to United States Special Operations Command everyone had to make the adjustment of accomplishing their duties with sharper precision and following the new philosophy and direction of USSOCOM.”
His co-workers always admired his work ethic and his willingness to mentor and teach others.
“Mr. Northern has provided various types of private or professional counsel to the numerous younger facility specialists who have come and gone through the office on personal and professional issues. He has also maintained professional relationships for years with the base personnel and that has smoothed the way to rectify facility problems and issues at the headquarters,” said Mitchell Dimmick, command engineer. “He always had a positive attitude. Despite his age, he never begged off an assignment, not that we sent him up on any roofs lately. But the thing I will always remember about him is an infectious laugh and a huge smile. I can hear it in my head and see it in my mind.”
“Mr. Northern is a walking symbolic meaning to the term perseverance. His generosity, passion, integrity, and willpower throughout the combined 63 years of military and civil service has been a delight to witness,” said Leonard Settle Jr., facility manager. “He continuously maintained true to his inner thoughts and beliefs, while always giving his best to others when his support was needed. His valued impact and irresistible influence within the engineering section will never be forgotten.”
Reflecting on his remarkable professional journey Northern is grateful to have served his country for more than six decades.
“I never imagined serving 63 years when I began my career in the United States Air Force. I really wanted a stable career with good benefits that I enjoyed. Being in the military was what I really enjoyed because of its structure and discipline. I knew that the military would allow me to break the cycle of poverty and it would be instrumental in doing just that,” said Northern. “My civil service job was like an extension of being in the military, just another phase. It seemed like it was god sent. So, with my military time and civil service time, the years accumulated and didn’t seem like work. I was so eager to just learn anything new daily and that is how I ended up with 63 years of service.”
David Lee Northern Jr. while he was serving as an Airman in the Air Force in the early 1960’s. Northern retired after 63 years of service May 14, 2021, MacDill Air Force Base, Florida. He served 26 years in the Air Force, 37 years as a civil servant, and is an original member of USSOCOM. Courtesy of David Lee Northern Jr.