HERRICK – Veterans Day holds special meaning for one Herrick man.
Jay M. Huddleston is a retired U.S. Air Force E-6 Technical Sergeant and now the pastor of Herrick Baptist Church. He can proudly say he and his son retired from the U.S. Air Force after each serving 20 years.
He recruited his son, Jay D. Huddleston, into the Air Force in 2000. The younger Huddleston retired in July.
Jay M. Huddleston, a 1979 Champaign Centennial High School graduate, spent four years working at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana before taking an interest in pursuing a military career. He married Sherry Mintz of Tolono in 1980.
“We were just kids. She just turned 18 and I just turned 19,” he said.
“I felt like I was at a dead end and my wife and I were really struggling financially,” Jay M. Huddleston said.
With some inspiration during a visit to his sister, who was a school teacher in Rantoul, Jay M. Huddleston was able to witness military life on Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul.
Those people are driving nice cars, so they must be living good, he thought.
“So, I decided to check it out. It just seemed like a good way to get away and start over,” he said.
Jay M. Huddleston said sentiment in the late 1970s and early ‘80s post-Vietnam era was very anti-military. He went against the wishes of his mother, who wanted him to stay out of the military.
“She didn’t want any of her kids to go into the military,” Jay M. Huddleston said. “When I told her I joined, it broke her heart, but she came to see me anyway.”
Jay M. Huddleston enlisted in Champaign and entered basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, in 1984.
“I started Oct. 8 and came home the first part of December,” he said.
He came back to Illinois to take technical school training at Chanute AFB for eight weeks to become a fuel specialist. He lived in a dorm at Chanute and visited his wife, who he didn’t get to see during basic training in Texas.
After completing his technical training school, he and his wife and son traveled to his first assignment at Blytheville AFB in northeast Arkansas, a few miles from the Missouri state line.
“They used to call it Hooterville,” Jay M. Huddleston said. “It used to be about the size of Effingham, but now it’s a ghost town since the base closed.”
“That’s where we realized it was only us. There was no more calling mom for money or calling mom to help take care of our kid,” Jay M. Huddleston said. “It taught us to stand on our own two feet.”
He also served on K.I. Sayer Air Force Base in Michigan and spent two years overseas in Guam.
“The only thing that was wrong with Guam was that is was 7,000 miles from home,” Jay M. Huddleston said. “It was beautiful. It was a tropical island.”
He took an Air Force recruiter position that brought him back to the area.
“One of the reasons I became a recruiter was because the Air Force changed my life,” Jay M. Huddleston said.
Jay M. Huddleston was Air Force Recruiter in Effingham from 1996 to 2001. After that, he worked at the St. Louis Military Entrance Test (MET) site at the Robert A. Young Building on Spruce Street in downtown St. Louis before retiring from the Air Force after 20 years of service in 2004.
During his military career, he pumped gas for 12 years, worked on the flight line, was a dispatcher, made liquid oxygen and worked in the fuels lab.
“I refueled planes I never thought I would ever see,” Jay M. Huddleston said.
Overall, Huddleston enjoyed his career in the military and especially in the U.S. Air Force.
“I worked a lot of great jobs and met a lot of great people,” Jay M. Huddleston said.
“I loved it. It was a great career and I would definitely do it all over again,” he added. “It was just a great experience.”
Jay M. Huddleston said even though he retired from the Air Force he won’t be retiring anytime soon. He has spent the last 15 years as pastor of the Herrick Baptist Church. He was pastor of New Baden First Baptist Church during his final years as a recruiter.
In addition to his son, he and his wife, Sherry, have two daughters, Jennifer and Jody, living in Herrick.
“I would really like to get people to understand what the military can do for them and what our country is all about,” Jay M. Huddleston said. “I can’t begin to tell you enough about how this country is because of people in the military.”
Jay M. Huddleston received an Air Force Commendation (with five oak leaf clusters), Air Force Achievement (with one oak leaf cluster), Air Force Good Conduct (with six oak leaf clusters), Overseas short tour (with one oak leaf cluster), National Defense (with six oak leaf clusters), Air Force Outstanding Unit (with three oak leaf clusters) and a ribbon after completing Air Force Basic Military Training over his 20-year career.
“My son beat me. He retired as an E-7 (Master Sergeant) in July,” Jay M. Huddleston said.
Son Jay D. Huddleston grew up traveling with his mother, father and sisters to different Air Force bases over the years, following his father as he navigated his military career.
Jay D. Huddleston said traveling from Air Force base to Air Force base left a great impression on him.
“As a military brat, I was able to see what the Air Force had to offer,” Jay D. Huddleston said. “I always enjoyed the airshows and it was so cool to see a B-52 aircraft, one my dad always used to refuel. It seemed like every base we were at a B-52 mission was there.”
“It’s amazing to see them up in the air and what they can do,” Jay D. Huddleston said.
While Jay M. Huddleston was serving as an Air Force Recruiter in Effingham, Jay D. Huddleston attended Newton Community High School. He said during his studies in Newton one teacher had a great influence over him while he took an accounting class. Jay D. found his passion for accounting with a little help from his teacher, Jerry Denoyer.
“When I graduated from high school, I had to make the decision whether I was going to college or try to work in a factory,” Jay D. Huddleston said. “Neither one of them sounded too appealing to me. So, I thought I’d give the military a shot.”
He graduated from NCHS in 2000 and found out the Air Force had a financial management career pathway, so he decided to check it out.
“I signed up for it, ended up getting it. It was something I enjoyed, and I never got out,” Jay D. Huddleston said about his 20 years of service as a financial manager.
Jay D. Huddleston started his Air Force journey on Aug. 16, 2000. In 2002, Huddleston married Melanie Mitchell, a St. Anthony High School graduate from Effingham. Her father, Glen Mitchell, is a Vietnam War veteran.
Like his father, Jay D. Huddleston started his Air Force journey at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for six weeks of Basic Military Training. After graduating from that, Huddleston when to financial management training for three months at Sheppard Air Force Base close to the Texas and Oklahoma boarder.
He was transferred to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska for seven years after finishing his training at Sheppard AFB. Huddleston said when he first arrived at Offutt AFB he dealt with military and travel pay before being deployed to Iraq for four months between Decemeber 2003 and April 2004. He returned to Offutt and spent his last three years managing the budget for the communications group.
Jay D. Huddleston was then transferred to United Kingdom to RAF Menwith Hill, where he spent four years responsible for managing the budget on the base.
“From there, I went to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland for four years managing the budget of the Office of Special Investigations,” Jay D. Huddleston said.
After Andrews AFB, he was transferred to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, where he managed the budget for the National Air and Space Intelligence Center.
Jay D. Huddleston finished his 20 years of service at Wright-Patterson AFB this summer and retired as a master sergeant. He currently works on base as a contractor, doing the same job.
“Being in the military was like being in something that was bigger than me,” Jay D. Huddleston said. “I always served in a support role. The travel was nice, especially living in Europe.”
He enjoyed the people and history in Europe.
“Buildings over there are a thousand years old,” Jay D. Huddleston said. “We (U.S.) are teenagers as compared to the rest of the world.”
Major awards and decorations during his 20 years in the Air Force include Meritorious Service Medal (with one oak leaf cluster), Air Force Commendation Medal, Joint Service Achievement Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal (with one oak leaf cluster) Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Meritorious Unit Award (with two oak leaf clusters), Air Force outstanding Unit Award, National Defense Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal (with bronze star), Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and Nuclear Deterrence Operations Service Medal (with one oak leaf cluster).
His military experience is one he’ll never forget.
“It’s a brotherhood you will never loose,” Jay D. Huddleston said.
Today Huddleston lives in Beavercreek, Ohio, with his wife, Melanie, and two boys Jacob, 14, and Justin, 12. Jay D. Huddleston said he’s not sure if his boys will join the Air Force and make it a career like he and his father.
“I don’t think they’re going to go into the Air Force,” Jay D. Huddleston said. “However, one day I might be surprised.”