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 Reservist strikes balance between military, civilian careers
Military-civilian symmetry
Senior Master Sgt. Michael Bax is a munitions system specialist as a traditional reservist with the 442nd Fighter Wing. As a Citizen Airman, he must balance his family life, military and civilian careers. The 442nd Fighter Wing is an A-10 Thunderbolt II Air Force Reserve unit at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. (U.S. Air Force/Courtesy photo)
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A military-civilian symmetry

Posted 7/26/2011   Updated 7/26/2011 Email story   Print story


by Jeremy P. Amick
Silver Star Families of America Public Affairs

7/26/2011 - WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- For someone working two jobs, it can be exasperating to learn to cope with the challenges that develop from competing demands.

However, local veteran, Senior Master Sgt. Mike Bax, has successfully subdued such concerns while working at RR Donnelly and serving several tours in the Air Force Reserve.

Born in Jefferson City, Mo. in 1964, Sergeant Bax was raised in nearby St. Anthony, Mo. In 1983, he graduated from St. Thomas Seminary High School in Hannibal, Mo.
With an early desire to pursue a career as a priest with the Catholic Church, he enrolled in Conception Seminary College in northwestern Missouri and completed two years of school.

"With the seminary, your initial time in school allowed you to explore your options and determine if you wanted to really be a member of the clergy," Sergeant Bax said. "I decided that it really wasn't for me and that I would -- at that time -- rather see the world."

To that end, Bax decided to fulfill his wishes for travel through an outlet selected by many young people -- the U.S. Air Force.

Enlisting in 1985, the newly minted Airman traveled to Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, graduating in late January 1986. From there, he was sent to complete his advanced training at Lowry AFB, Denver, Colo., where he received instruction as a munitions systems specialist.

"At our advanced training," Sergeant Bax said, "we learned how to build, store and transport bombs used by various aircraft. This included the installation fuses and other related components."

His first two years in active service were spent at Luke AFB, Ariz.

Sergeant Bax said he was somewhat discouraged by his stateside placement and requested a transfer to Germany.

"At that time, there really weren't a lot of temporary duty options, so I requested the transfer so that I could travel," he said.

With his request soon granted, Sergeant Bax was transferred to Bitburg AB, Germany, where he spent the remaining two years of his enlistment.

In March 1990, he made the decision to leave the Air Force in order to finish the education he had begun a few years earlier.

"I returned to the seminary and completed a bachelor's degree in psychology with a minor in philosophy and religion," Sergeant Bax said.

Using his GI Bill benefits earned in the Air Force, the recently discharged veteran graduated in 1992 and returned to Jefferson City. Spending almost two years working part-time jobs, he was hired by Von Hoffman Press, Inc. in 1994.

Although he said he enjoyed his new full-time civilian employment position, he began to miss the indescribable camaraderie and esprit de corps that is an entrenched and well-known element of the military lifestyle.

"There's a feeling of being part of something that's greater than yourself that you don't lose once you leave the service," Sergeant Bax said.

In 1996, he enlisted in the Air Force Reserve and was assigned to the 442nd
Maintenance Squadron at Whiteman AFB, Mo. With his new unit and reserve assignment, he soon found the opportunity to travel that he had sought upon his first enlistment.

Between 1998 and 2002, the reservist deployed several times in two-week cycles to both Kuwait and Turkey as part of Operation Southern Watch and Operation Northern Watch.

Then, in 2003, he was deployed to Iraq for three months and spent time at Talil AB and Kirkuk AB serving as a munitions systems specialist.

"It was a combat mission because we flew into Talil with all of the lights out on the aircraft," Sergeant Bax said. "They didn't even shut down the aircraft when we landed; they just dropped the back gate so that we could exit."

While in Iraq, he and his fellow servicemembers built and installed all of the munitions that were to be used on the A-10 Thunderbolt II (Warthog) aircraft.

"When he arrived there (in Iraq)," Sergeant Bax said, "we had to build up an area to receive all of the munitions coming in and to assemble the bombs. We ended up using an old bombed-out aircraft shelter for our munitions housing."

Returning stateside in June 2003, the reservist remained on orders at Whiteman AFB until March 2004, where he continued to train on the installation and construction of munitions.

After his release from active duty, Bax returned to work at what is now RR Donnelley and continued in his civilian employment pursuits for almost two years. However, his break from deployment ended when, in 2006, he was again mobilized for service - this time in Afghanistan.

Spending 35 days in country, the brief deployment was somewhat memorable for the
now-experienced veteran, he said, since two of his nieces were attached to the unit he deployed with.

He again returned to RR Donnelley and continued his employment as a shift manager in the bindery department until he received notice of his most recent deployment in 2008 -- at which time he spent 60 days in Afghanistan.

Married in May 1999, Sergeant Bax said his wife, Sharon, has been very supportive of his military endeavors and that all military spouses "deserve credit for keeping things going at home" during a loved one's absence.

Sergeant Bax said throughout the years, RR Donnelley has also gone "above and beyond" to ensure that their employees who have served or are currently serving realize just how much their sacrifices are appreciated.

"The company has sent care packages to us while we were deployed and recently hosted a luncheon for every veteran working in the building," Sergeant Bax said. "This really lets us know that our service is truly valued."

With a bit of advice certainly born from years of experience, the veteran added, "More young people should at least consider serving in the Reserve.

"I know the military isn't for everyone, but once they give it a chance they will find that it is a good and honorable profession."

(Mr. Amick gave the 442nd Fighter Wing permission to publish this story)

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