TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The literal translation of “volunteer Air Force” is a group of people who join the military rather than being conscripted or drafted. Loosely translated, the term means “there’s a job to do and you’re the Airman tasked to do it.”
At the Travis Heritage Center at Travis Air Force Base, California, volunteer force describes people who continue to serve the military, but without pay.
“We average 15 volunteers per week who donate about 1,100 hours per month,” said Rick Shea, curator.
He said these selfless individuals from all military branches do everything from mopping floors to running the gift shop, maintaining the center’s social media site and restoring aircraft.
According to Shea, volunteers also are helping the heritage center qualify for accreditation, which will increase the museum’s creditability and value. The process will take eight to 16 months and require peer review every 10 years thereafter.
“We have to change almost everything at the heritage center to include narrowing the scope of collections to focus on aircraft and artifacts with historical significance to Travis and the 60th (Air Mobility Wing),” said Shea.
In part, the center will transfer at least 14 aircraft, mostly fighters, to other bases and consolidate some displays. For example, the Korean War and the Vietnam conflict will represent the Cold War era, said Shea.
Volunteers already have revamped the space exhibit area, which now features a Cessna T-37 Tweet aircraft trainer sitting at the edge of painted-on runway that young visitors can “fly” and given “new life to the C-5 cockpit trainer,” said Shea.
The C-5 Galaxy display now features overhead lighting in the cockpit, updated instrument panels, throttles that actually move and a pair of mannequin aircrew members.
“Most of the people who come in have questions about the aircraft – some of them they’ve never seen before,” said
Guy Galante, a former Air Force aircraft mechanic who retired in 1973 at McGuire AFB, Delaware.
Galante, who usually serves as tour guide on Wednesdays, said a lot of visitors are surprised to see such diversity in the displays.
“We have everything from the (story of the) Candy Bomber to the Tuskegee Airmen display,” said Galante.
Appoximately 80 people visit the museum each day, many of them retired military, foreign visitors and passengers awaiting Space-Available flights, said Shea.
Bill Perry has been a volunteer since 2011. A former navigator on C-141 Starlifters, F-4 Phantom IIs and C-5s, Perry said he enjoys meeting other military retirees and swapping stories.
“A lot of retirees come here with backgrounds from all eras,” said Perry, himself a retiree since 1987. “We used to have a World War II poster promoting ROTC. A gentleman from Ohio came in one time and said ‘Hey, that’s my picture. We were preparing for war.’”
Bob Zirzow, who manages the volunteer program, joked that he’s been at the center for 13 years because “my wife kicks me out of the house.”
Like most volunteers, Zirzow said he enjoys the camaraderie.
“Everybody gets along here; there’s no infighting,” he said.
Unlike the other 69 volunteers, Shane Coghlan is not military nor retried. A student at Chico State University in Chico, California, Coghlan spent most of the summer helping to restore a Cessna O-2A Super Skymaster aircraft, one of 513 built for the U.S. military from 1967 to 2010 for forward air control and light observation duties.
Coghlan began the restoration project three years ago while a student in Solano Community College’s aeronautical program. He said it will take about two more years to completely restore aircraft.
“Everything was rusted and had to be stripped and repainted,” said Coghlan. “We had to disassemble the rear and forward engines, replace the propellers and all the cables and wiring.”
Coghlan said the project has been “great experience” since he plans to earn a graduate degree in aerospace engineering and design aircraft.
Most of the parts and instruments for the O-2A were donated, along with the technical manuals, said Zirzow, who also credited the Air Force Civil Engineer Repair and Inspection Team at Travis for the sheet metal and bead blasting work.
Additionally, Zirzow said several local parts and paint stores as well as aviation companies, have been “very generous.”