Every day, members across the Air Force make history. With tasks both at home and overseas, the work they do is an important step into the future. Yet in the midst of historic firsts, records set and broken, and even tragedies, one might wonder: who keeps record of these significant events?
This is where historians like the 28th Bomb Wing’s John Moyes come in.
“No day is ever really the same being a historian,” Moyes said. “I chronicle and archive all of the things our wing does, helping the commander make some important decisions, even trying to dig up old records when someone calls asking about a loved one that was stationed here.”
Moyes’ journey to Ellsworth didn’t start with his own military service, but with his family’s long history.
“My grandpa on my dad’s side was in World War I,” Moyes said. “He was a small town farm boy, and the oldest of his siblings. He had said he would enlist if it meant no one else had to. My dad said there was at least one instance of them having heavy contact with the enemy, and one of our guys was injured so my grandpa bailed out of a foxhole to rescue him and get him to safety. He was later wounded in a gas attack and was in a hospital when WWI ended.”
Moyes also mentioned his maternal grandfather was a Frogman in the U.S. Navy, similar to today’s Navy Seals. His uncle, Barney, a career Marine during World War II and the Korean War, eventually retired as a command sergeant major, but returned to the service as an advisor in Vietnam. His dad served in the U.S. Army during the Occupation of Korea and his younger brother is currently a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve as a detachment commander, certified combat medic and licensed nurse practitioner.
“Being a young kid and being told stories of my grandpas and my uncle Barney, it had to have affected me,” Moyes recalled. “When it came time to sign the papers, the family history came along with me but I wasn’t thinking ‘I’m doing this for you guys’. I didn’t understand at the time that it was a tradition – it wasn’t until I had a few of those “A-Ha” moments in my career that I really began to understand.”
Moyes enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in Chicago, knowing he wanted to do more with his life. He had signed an open mechanical contract, so when he went to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, he needed to decide on the career field he wanted.
“I started looking at the list of jobs and thought, ‘I don’t want to do any of these’,” Moyes laughed as he thought back. “But I was going to do the job no matter what. Then I saw there was a tech school at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver for munitions systems specialists – an AMMO troop. I ended up picking it because it was in Denver, and I had lived there and loved it.”
After graduating from basic training and technical school, Moyes, now a brand new AMMO troop, made his way to his first duty station - Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England.
“As I was starting to do my job more and more, I ended up really enjoying it,” he said. “My early time at Lakenheath was actually pretty easy going - then Iraq invaded Kuwait.”
On September 2, 1990, one month after the invasion of Kuwait, Airman 1st Class John Moyes deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, but the experience wasn’t at all what he was expecting.
“I didn’t expect to see a war,” he recalled. “I thought they would have just tossed a weapon and said ‘get off the fence,’ but that wasn’t the case at all. I knew that we were there until this thing was over, I didn’t expect rotations or anything.”
During his deployment, Moyes worked both day and night shifts, doing conventional maintenance and testing laser guidance heads for various guided-bomb units. Then February 1991, the Gulf War came to an end.
“A couple of guys and I were in Jeddah [Saudi Arabia] needing to do something with the B-52 [Stratofortress] and we were told ‘hold on, we think it’s over.’ So I sat in this terminal listening to the [British Broadcasting Corporation] and it was eventually confirmed the war was over. It was a strange feeling because Desert Storm was not a huge war like we’re fighting today, but it was a defining war in terms of what we were capable of as an Air Force and as a military.”
After returning to Lakenheath in March 1991, Moyes continued his career there in between a few temporary duty assignments and a deployment to Turkey with Operation Provide Comfort. Once his time overseas was complete, he was sent to Luke AFB, Arizona, where he would volunteer for another tour to Saudi Arabia.
“I missed being busy with everything,” Moyes said. “The young Airmen in my shop were more worried about creases in their uniform and the shine on their boots, they weren’t really learning about their career field. So I told my chief, ‘let me go back over there and teach young AMMO troops how to be AMMO troops and make sure they grow into old AMMO troops.’ And he let me go.”
After his second and final tour in Saudi Arabia, it was time for Moyes to separate from the Air Force.
“I wouldn’t trade any of my time in the military for the world,” he said with his brow furrowed deep in thought. “During the Gulf War and Operations Desert Shield and Storm, I lived a little piece of history and I came back from that with an entirely new outlook on what I was doing [and] what my purpose here was. I helped with something monumental. My buddies that I met along the way, we formed a bond that continues to this day. One of those bonds that only happens when you go to war with somebody.”
With an impressive career in a short amount of time, Moyes decided it was time to move back to civilian life.
“In 1993, I got out, came home and I didn’t do anything for three months,” he said. “I ended up working for a buddy of mine for a while after that. I also ended up meeting the woman who would eventually be my wife.”
After being home for a while, Moyes went back to school to get his bachelor’s degree (and later his master’s degree) and true to himself, went on to teach high school social studies and history. But between teaching and other jobs that came up, he still thought there might be more.
“I had talked to a guy at [Mountain Home AFB, Idaho] who was going to hire me on as a historian but couldn’t at the time,” Moyes said. “But he still kept in touch with me and fed me information on when to apply for certain jobs and I was always number two or three. I eventually found my ‘in’ through an internship at [Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio].”
During his internship, Moyes learned the essentials and basics of being an Air Force historian. Through various training, education opportunities and tremendous mentoring, he was given his first base: Ellsworth AFB.
“I got to the base on January 2, 2015,” he said. “I remember my wife telling me that I deserve to be happy, and I couldn’t remember anyone ever saying that to me before. Being an Air Force historian makes me happy because I get to work with history all day. I’m a history geek and a nerd, so this job is a dream.”
In addition to this being his dream job, Moyes’ position holds significant importance to the base and its preservation.
“I understand why I’m doing it and I understand what I need to do to capture the history and to make sure the story of this base and its people is archived, told, and continues on. The wing got a lot of things when it got me as its historian, among them it got a person with a passion for history and it got an old AMMO troop. AMMO troops don’t quit and AMMO troops don’t lose...no retreat-no surrender. That’s what I try to bring to the job everyday as the 28th Bomb Wing historian.”