HOLTON (KSNT) – Chief Master Sergeant Don Askren dedicated nearly 40 years of his life to the United States Air Force.

He graduated from Jackson Heights High School in 1971 and joined the service one year later; his first stop after boot camp was Vietnam.

“You don’t get to pick your jobs so they decided that I was gonna be a guy that assembles the bombs to put on airplanes,” Askren said.

Like many Vietnam-era veterans, thinking about his time overseas is still painful for Askren, especially the way that he and other soldiers were welcomed home.

“The public threw tomatoes at us,” Askren said. “I didn’t understand how the American public could c*** on the military. And whether I agreed with the war or not, I did what I was told to do.”

Despite the tough times he endured, the comradery and sense of pride in his country kept him going.

“Promotions for me in the air force was just click, click, click,” Askren said. “They told me what I needed to do, I did it, I got promoted.”

He then moved back home to join the Kansas National guard and transitioned to air refueling. He trained as a boom operator on KC-135s during the Cold War.

“We lived under a threat of being bombed by the threat of the Soviet Union and to counter that we had tankers ready to take off and go refuel anywhere in the world,” Askren said. “24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

He later was a boom operator on KC-10s which he says was a life-changing experience.

“We hauled cargo all over the world. A typical day would be to depart California and go to Japan and Korea and turn around two days later and come back the other way,” Askren said.

Askren’s last military flight more than a decade ago was emotional and unplanned.

“I was fortunate I made it home,” Askren said.

In January 2008 he was doing a medevac flight in Afghanistan when he had a heart attack that ended his career. His 38 years of service took him from Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond and says he would’ve served even more if he could have.

Don’s service continues with his wife post-military; they’re dedicated volunteers with the VFW in Holton.

We’re highlighting veterans in our community every week just like Don. If you’d like to nominate someone for our Veteran Salute Segment, please email Kelli.Peltier@KSNT.com with the subject line VETERAN SALUTE. Include the veteran’s name, military branch, rank, years of service, a short biography, and a number to contact them.