My Military Career
Hello again everyone, I’m Christopher “Patches” Norton and I served in the US Air Force for 20 years as a Loadmaster and retired at the rank of Master Sergeant. What an honor it was to serve my country! I began my career as a Combat Medic in the Louisiana Army National Guard, Charlie Company (199th Brigade Support Battalion) in St Martinville, Louisiana while I was still in High School. I guess you can say I’ve always wanted to serve.
Growing up in a small town, there was no money for me to go to college and I saw the armed forces as a real way out. I knew I needed to get the hell out of that small town!
My Army career only lasted for 8 months before I decided to become an Air Force Loadmaster and that’s when the true adventure began. During my 20 years I had the chance to serve in one way or another in every conflict or war between 1986 and 2006.
From there it just got better. I was traveling the world like crazy as a C-141 Loadmaster all over the world on a weekly basis. Literally, one basic trip would take me to England, Germany, Spain, Turkey, Greece, and Italy in just 8 days. My next trip might be Embassy support in South America, which would normally run me through Panama, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and then a stop back through Panama on the way home. Between trips overseas I would normally fly at least one trip to a nearby state to an Army base to practice personnel and heavy equipment airdrop.
This is what a basic month as a C-141 Loadmaster would look like so you can visualize why my life has been such an adventure.
The Airdrop Loadmaster
Airdrop back in "my day" was a special qualification. You had to be selected! Only the best Loadmasters were selected and it became a bit of a "boys club" if you will. The photo to the left is of me in 1991 doing a door check to ensure everything was where it should be and that the exit was safe for the jumpers. The photo was taken inbound to one of the Drop Zones (DZs) at Fort Bragg, NC.
Professional Education at the Non-Commissioned Officers Academy (NCOA)
This picture was taken in 2000 while attending in-residence NCOA in Biloxi, MS at Keesler AFB. The Noncommissioned Officer Academy (NCOA) is the second level of enlisted PME and prepares technical sergeants to be professional, war-fighting Airmen who can manage and lead Air Force units in the employment of airpower. Currently, there are 10 NCOAs worldwide. (Source USAF)
The Early Days
I'm pretty sure this photo was taken in 1988 or 1989 in Kinshasa Zaire. Early on in my Air Force career I received a Top Secret Clearance allowing me to fly special missions also referred to as "Black Plastic" missions. This was one such mission. These missions could last for weeks and required great secrecy and skill as a Loadmaster. The items loaded were often obscure and never before seen items that could require disassembly and some very creative thinking. The items were then wrapped in black plastic and flown to an undisclosed location in the USA where it would be studied and even reverse engineered.