BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --
In 1988, Ronald Reagan was president, gas was ninety-one cents a gallon, Soviet troops were starting to withdraw from Afghanistan and trainee Dwayne Slack, stepped off a bus at Lackland Air Force Base to begin his military career.
Little did he know those first steps would lead to a career spanning more than 30 years, all of them in the Air Force Reserve. Throughout those decades, Lt. Col. Slack, now the 307th Maintenance Group deputy commander, embodied the role of a Reserve Citizen Airman. He answered when his nation called, deployed to foreign lands when needed, and still found time to serve his local community.
Slack grew up in Bossier City, Louisiana, watching planes fly in and out of Barksdale Air Force Base on a daily basis. He always considered himself patriotic, but it wasn’t until he was 27-years old, and well into his career as a middle school teacher, that Slack answered a classified ad for the Air Force Reserve.
He enlisted and soon found himself bound for basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Slack’s first steps into the military were not easy, but he still maintains a sense of humor when recalling them, laughing as he spoke about his first day at BMT.
“I got off the bus and a military training instructor started chewing me up one side and down the other,” said Slack. “I looked back and that bus was gone, so I decided to stay.”
After completing BMT and technical training, Slack was assigned to the 917th Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base as a Munitions Supply Specialist. In only two years, he was selected to attend Officer Training School where he gained his commission.
Slack quickly distinguished himself as an officer, taking command of units and helping to stand up others. At the same time he was progressing through the military ranks, he was rising through the ranks in his civilian job as an educator, getting promoted to assistant principal and then, principal. Slack attributes his success to a simple philosophy on leadership.
“Make sure your people have what they need to stay ready and trained to do their jobs,” said Slack. “My job was simply to help Airmen excel by removing barriers to their success.”
Reflecting on his journey from a junior enlisted Airman to leading entire units, Slack admitted that balancing life as a Citizen Reserve Airman could be challenging, but rewarding, as well.
“Fulfilling my role as an officer in the Air Force Reserve and a principal was not an easy thing to do,” he said. “But I couldn’t stay away, the Airmen are like family and I just love putting on the uniform and doing my job.”
Slack has remained at Barksdale AFB his entire career, staying with the 917th Wing until it transitioned to become the 307th Bomb Wing in 2011. Col. Casey Cooley, 307th Maintenance Group commander, believes that type of continuity has had a positive impact on both units.
“The experience, dependability and continuity Lt. Col. Slack brings to the unit is something we rely on heavily,” said Cooley. “It’s a real luxury for me to be able to pick up the phone, call him and know he is going to be on his way.”
Aside from being dependable, those who served with Slack recalled another hallmark of his character; an innate ability to remain calm at all times. Col. Ken Ratliffe, Reserve Advisor to the Air Reserve Personnel Center commander, was a young lieutenant when he worked for Slack in the 917th Wing.
“There were time when it would have been easy for him to get upset, but he never lost his cool,” said Ratliff. “He always had a positive spin on things and was just an excellent individual to those under his command.”
Slack will leave behind more than just a legacy of dedication and commitment upon his retirement later this year. Several of Slack’s former students are now part of the 307th Bomb Wing, following their former teacher’s example of living locally and serving globally. While proud of the fact that his old pupils are now part of his unit, Slack brought a little levity to that accomplishment during a speech at his recent retirement ceremony.
“You know it’s time to retire when your former students are showing up in the unit as field grade officers and senior non-commissioned officers,” he said.
After all his years of service as a Reserve Citizen Airman, Slack has developed a theory on how to handle the demands placed on those who choose to serve both their community and their country.
“Keep your family and employer informed of your schedule, be flexible, and take advantage of opportunities that come your way,” he said.