WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. --
Lt. Col. Joseph B. Walter, the Chief of Public Affairs for the 442d Fighter Wing, retired April 13, 2019, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., after administering his 442nd oath of enlistment.
37 years ago in Lee's Summit, Mo., Walter, then an ambitious high-school senior, graduated a semester before his peers at the age of 17. Knowing that the Air Force had many traveling opportunities and education benefits, Walter wasted no time in enlisting. This would be the start of a life-changing journey for him.
From Aircraft Armament Systems Specialist, Executive Officer for the 303rd Fighter Squadron Maintenance Unit, Maintenance Officer, Military Personnel Flight Commander, Mission Support Flight Commander, Force Support Squadron Commander, Wing Process Manager, and Acting Mission Support Group Commander, to landing his final duty as the Chief of Public Affairs, Walter defined what it means to leave no stone unturned.
“I’ve always had that initiative and determination to work hard at things, and it opened up doors for me,” said Walter. “If you do those things without being asked, to me, that will get you recognized more than anything.”
Upon commissioning and taking on the role of the Executive Officer for the 303 FSMU in 1997, Walter assumed the responsibility of enlisting, re-enlisting, and commissioning others. To Walter, this privilege meant a lot.
“I thought that was pretty powerful that you have the ability to do that,” said Walter. “So I memorized the oath right away, then when I did my first one, I thought that was a pretty awesome responsibility, so I thought I would write down everyone I enlisted.”
As years advanced, so did Walter’s enlistment records. While retirement wasn’t a thought for Walter at the time, neither was 442 enlistments. It wasn’t until he reached another special number of enlistments, that the idea sparked.
“Because we have the 303 FS in the unit, when I reached the 303rd one, I thought that was cool,” said Walter. “Then as time went on, 442 enlistments became my quest because I knew that I was coming up on retirement.”
Retirement was something that he struggled to come to terms with, Walter said. Leaving the wing would not be easy for the devoted 37-year service member.
“The 442d has been family for so long,” said Walter. “They’ve helped me achieve so many things. I just felt like I was leaving and I shouldn’t be, but when I finally got to the point of accepting the fact that I’m ready to retire, it became easier.”
Once decided, Walter had one last idea before his departure. Eventually, the word got out about wanting to get 442 enlistments before retirement, but as far as when and where this final enlistment would take place, no one knew.
“I thought it would be cool to do my 442nd one at my retirement ceremony,” said Walter. “I didn’t tell anybody. I kept that a secret to myself. I knew that, that was a goal that I wanted to do, kind of like my last official act for the wing since they have done so many tremendous things for me.”
As his final day approached, Walter would ultimately be able to accomplish his goal of 442 enlistments. Midway through his retirement ceremony, Lt. Col. Joseph B. Walter called for his 442nd – and final – oath of enlistment. This would be the last time he would have the privilege of holding that responsibility.
“This wing overall has been such an outstanding wing as far as how it treats people, how it overcomes challenges, and how it takes on adversity and still makes things happen,” said Walter. “That's why I’ve stayed here so long, because it’s just a great unit. It’s family.”
Now retired, Walter plans on dedicating most of his time to traveling with his wife, spending more time with his mother, and volunteering at veteran organizations. Walter believes maintaining a strong military connection is important. Because the military positively impacted his life, he hopes all servicemembers get the most out of their military career.
“If you want to be successful, have initiative and take advantage of opportunities without being asked,” said Walter. “Have a positive attitude, because we all deal with challenges, but you need to look at the challenges as an opportunity. That will get you recognized and help propel you in your career probably more than anything.”