Gulf Power employee's Air Force career included highway patrol
(EDITOR'S Note: This is the fourth story in a series of articles that will run through Veterans Day on Nov. 11 featuring Gulf Power employees who have served in the military.)
PENSACOLA, Florida - Tom Richardson’s military career was kind of like a highway patrolman.
The engineering field rep., out of the Destin office was a senior airman in the Air Force, joining in 1981.
He was stationed during the first part of his four-year stint at Howard Air Force Base in Panama. The base, built just before the start of World War II, was the hub of U.S. air power in Central and South America until it closed in 1999.
Unique to that base was a local highway that ran right through the middle of it. Hundreds of civilians passed through each day.
Richardson worked in Security Police and they had to control the vehicles passing through the base on the highway. Since the base wasn’t closed to public access, they had to make the determination about whether to let the locals pass through.
“With the language barrier, you had to make judgment calls,” he said. “Sometimes, I’d have to call base patrol and have them follow a vehicle to make sure they were going to the town on the other side. We had to keep a constant vigil on this.”
It was a different time, he said. In the early 1980s, the threat of terrorism wasn’t as prevalent.
“We dressed in fatigues and wore berets,” Richardson said. “We thought we were God when we were on duty.”
Later, he transferred to Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach. He also worked Security Police there. After he left the military, he returned to his home in Massachusetts, but moved back to the area and has worked at Gulf Power for 28 years.
Richardson was the first in his family to join the military.
“I had just turned 19 and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life,” he said. “A good friend talked me into joining the Air Force, but then he joined the Navy. I had never been away from home before, so it was a very, very different experience.”
He says he learned about life in those four years and matured.
“I think everyone should spend some time in the military,” he said. “It helps you to understand what the world is like.”