Creating a Sense of Community Throughout The Appalachian Highlands

Jimmy Bunn: Honoring Our Vets

Jimmy Bunn came from humble beginnings in Eastern North Carolina. The second child of David and Dixie, the family moved around a lot farming other people’s land. “We didn’t have much, but we had more than some. We always had what we needed; my parents made sure of that.” Jimmy’s parents were determined to make sure he would have a better life than they had. They sacrificed to make sure he would go to college and in 1970 he enrolled at East Carolina University. The times were tough still and the country was in the middle of a protracted war in Vietnam. Jimmy applied for, and was granted, a student deferment so that he could attend school, which he set about doing in 1970. Working and going to school kept the young man busy, but he was focused on obtaining the college degree that he knew would help him succeed; then life threw a curveball. “I got drafted. I wasn’t supposed to, but I got drafted into the Vietnam War in the middle of my sophomore year. I was working at Bryan’s drugs, going to school as Applied Physics major. Things weren’t supposed to work this way, but life doesn’t always go according to plan.” His deferment card had been misplaced, wedged between two pieces of paper in the admissions office, so the military had no idea that Jimmy was enrolled in school: he was swept up in the tide of military draft. “I got all of the paperwork fixed, but I had already been drafted so the draft board told me to join ROTC. I would be allowed to defer, but I had to join up anyway.” He could continue his education at East Carolina, but since he was drafted he would need to go into the military upon graduation. After graduating with a Bachelor’s of Science in Applied Physics, Jimmy was commissioned into the Air Force as a 2nd Lieutenant.

“I was slated to go to Pilots School at Webb AFB, Big Spring, TX. The Vietnam War ended in August 1974, however, and the requirement for pilots was no longer there; after just four months at Pilot School my class was cut.” The young Lieutenant and his new wife were forced to move, this time to South Dakota. “I was placed into Minuteman II Missile Maintenance as a Targeting Officer at Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota. After three years in Combat Targeting, I was selected as one of the first Science Officers in the Air Force.” His career was moving forward quickly, but so was his family so three years and two children later, Lt. Bunn and his wife Avis were moving again. There new and exotic location? Nebraska. “Being selected as one of the first science officers was a fantastic honor, but it also meant another move, so we packed up and headed out. I was stationed at Offutt AFB in Nebraska as the Scientific Analyst for the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence. In this capacity, I developed software to convert Army Grid Coordinates to Longitude/Latitude Coordinates.” Don’t fall asleep at this point in the story, because the military talk is just a shortened way of saying that the young officer was doing important work. The conversion of coordinates meant that the accuracy of close air support would be greatly improved, “This improved accuracy meant that friendly fire casualties were greatly reduced. This software was, of course, used prior to the development of and was the precursor for Global Positioning System or GPS.”

After three years at Offutt AFB, the young family was on the move again; this time with another child added to the brood. The family of five headed out for a warmer climate and to a location that was smack in the middle of the burgeoning space program; the Space Coast of Florida. “I had the opportunity to do data analysis for the Air Force at the National Aeronautical Space Administration (NASA). As a Data Analyst, I worked with NASA and the Air Force to determine the feasibility and payload requirements for launching the Space Shuttles that would launch out of Vandenberg AFB in California.” The family’s time in Cocoa was the longest deployment of his career coming in at almost seven years. Lt. Bunn was promoted to Captain during this time and while he was a part of the very popular space program, his family was treated to numerous launches: memories that his kids hold dear to this day. His son Jason still remembers the special time he was a part of as a youngster, “We got to see night launches, we got to see launches during broad daylight and in the early morning. Those shuttles don’t launch anymore and being right across the river from the launch pad meant that we were all a part of a time that won’t soon be repeated.” Captain Bunn and his family had settled in for the long haul, but fate again had different plans and the family would soon be on the move. “The Challenger accident happened in January of 1986 and that changed everything. I’m fairly certain that I would have finished my career at NASA, but the accident meant that the space agency was shut down for nearly two years. The Air Force was not about to let me sit around for two years to see what was going to happen, especially since NASA didn’t need me at the moment, so we moved again.” The move was the toughest one on the family since they had been at that location for so long, but duty called and after many tearful goodbyes the Bunn crew loaded up and headed to Maryland.

“Our move to Maryland was tough. The kids were in a great school in Florida and we were in a wonderful neighborhood and had a fantastic church family, but I had decided to make the Air Force my career. None of us were happy to leave, but a commitment is a commitment and I firmly believe that. I taught my kids to stick to what they had promised no matter how hard: stand by your word. Besides, a move would mean somewhere new and different: there are always positives to counter balance the negatives.” Captain Bunn was selected to go to the National Security Agency (NSA) at Fort Meade in Maryland where his assignment was to streamline the gathering and analysis the massive amounts of data that the NSA collected. The family arrived and after just a few months was treated to Mother Nature’s unique welcome: a crippling blizzard. “There was this huge snowstorm and my wife and I had left the base for the day to look for a rental home. Another mom had to bring our kids back to the temporary housing complex we were in. There were no cell phones, traffic was snarled, the ice and snow were horrible, and it was just a mess all over the metro D.C. area. The First Gulf War started in 1990 and our work at NSA became ever more important since our team helped to break the Iraqi code. The war ended in 1991 and I was eventually promoted to Major.” The family moved again in February of 1992, this time heading west toward Colorado.

After four and a half years at Fort Meade, Maryland, Major Bunn was assigned to Peterson AFB, Colorado where he was tasked with becoming the test director for the Air Force’s newest Satellite Tracking Facility. “My new job had me working at a facility that was designed to track every Satellite and other objects in near earth orbit. Colorado was great. It was different and we could open the front door of the house to see Pike’s Peak. The weather was different and the kids were either in high school or middle school by now, which meant they were involved in sports activities and school stuff. I had been promoted again, which meant I was now a Lieutenant Colonel.” After two and a half years at Peterson AFB in Colorado he was assigned to Gunter AFB, Alabama where his new responsibility was to develop an Air Force specific Transportation System also known as the Air Force FedEx or UPS System. Lt. Colonel Bunn’s team developed the software and deployed the system throughout the Air Force prior to his retirement on March 1, 1995.

Lt. Colonel Bunn retired to Johnson City, where he still resides, with his wife and three children. His two sons graduated from Science Hill High School and all three of his children were students at ETSU. “My wife and I used to drive through here on our way back to North Carolina to visit family and we always talked about how beautiful this region of the US was. When the time came and I was ready for retirement this is the first and only place we considered.” There are countless veterans in all of the Armed Forces who do quiet work behind the scenes. Doctors, nurses, military police, chaplains, transport specialists, welders, construction workers, and pilots are just some of the many who have long and storied military careers that involve no direct combat. Many of the stories we hear about veterans involve those on the front lines, but those who serve all over the world in other capacities should be thanked this Veteran’s Day as well. Each veteran and his/her family knows that when the call comes they will be tasked with picking up and moving and that mom or dad don’t always get to come home for dinner or won’t be in town to see that high school game or middle school music performance. Each job in the military, no matter the branch of service, is integral to the protection of the United States from foreign and domestic threats. Thank a veteran this November and let him/her know how much their hard work and sacrifice is appreciated.

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