Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Parke's History

Parke300.JPG When I graduated from High School I had no interest in going into the military. Instead, my aspirations were to excel as best I could in athletics at the college level and then become a coach. I was fortunate to receive a full athletic (Basketball) scholarship to Washington State University. During my two years at WSU, I played basketball for two years, baseball for one and track for one. I also thoroughly enjoyed and participated in the social life offered and thus managed only to survive academically. At the time, ROTC for physically qualified males attending WSU was mandatory for the first two years – thus began my first contact and, eventually, interest in the military.

I chose the Air Force ROTC over the Army because my mother once told me I looked good in blue – that turned out to be the right decision for the wrong reason. One of my ROTC instructors kept encouraging me to apply to the Air Force Academy, which I did – somewhat reluctantly. Quite frankly, it was then the encouragement of the USAFA Basketball coach, Bob Spear (who was also an Air Force officer and pilot), and an aunt that I respected that made me see the opportunities the Air Force offered and pushed me over the edge.

Not having a clue what to expect, on the day we were to report I decided to get out to USAFA early and “check the place out” before processing in – I was the second guy off the first bus. Bad decision. I could make a whole story out of that very long first day as a USAFA cadet.

My memories of the Academy experience are very positive. The training was very tough but well focused -- it had a purpose and left those who endured & survived with a feeling of pride and a foundation for further success. The honor code was the most essential ingredient in molding our character and giving us all a common denominator of integrity for the rest of our lives. The other young men I shared the experience with were awesome as were the military and academic instructors and coaches I was fortunate to have as teachers and role models. My personal accomplishments of any note as a cadet were on the fields of friendly strife where I was the first cadet to letter in four varsity sports (Basketball, Track, Football & Baseball) and received the “Outstanding Athlete” award for our class of 64. Over those four years of competition on USAFA teams routinely against opponents who had much superior athletes, I learned that you don't have to be a team of exceptional athletes to win – it was teamwork, heart and discipline (and great coaching) that normally carried the day for us.

I began my time as a cadet with a bad decision. I finished by making a very good one – Cookie and I were married the day after graduation. She has been with me every step of the way and her support has clearly been a major factor in what I like to consider our successes along the way – especially in the command jobs.

My 30 years as an officer in the Air Force was a mix of operational flying and command assignments that were primarily focused on pilot training (T-37 & T-38) and staff and command assignments in primarily officer training, recruiting and Officer PME. I served in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970 where I flew 355 combat missions as a forward air controller (FAC) in the O-1 and U-17 aircraft while assigned for the majority of the time as the USAF advisor for two Vietnamese Air Force FAC squadrons. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to hold six different command positions: a UPT Student Squadron (T-37), a UPT Flying Training Squadron (T-38), an OTS Group, a USAF Recruiting Group, the UPT Flying Training Wing at Vance AFB and the USAF Squadron Officer School at Maxwell AFB. I spent the last four years of my Air Force career on the Secretary of the Air Force's staff as the Director of the SAF Personnel Council. I retired in June of 1994 as a Brigadier General.

Following my Vietnam tour, I was assigned to the Squadron Officer School as a section commander where, as an additional duty, I also flew the C-131 as an aircraft commander. This afforded me the opportunity to get my Airline Transport Pilot rating, a pre-requisite for a major airline captain position – which I did. I was nearing the end of my first commitment from USAFA and pilot training and the lure of the airlines loomed big back then. But, when it came time to fish or cut bait, I elected to stay in the Air Force -- another good decision. The main reason -- I loved the people I was privileged to work with in the Air Force and I was proud to be a part of our mission.

After I retired from the USAF, Cookie and I returned to Montgomery Alabama where we had been assigned twice and I had attended the Air War College. She got a job immediately as an office manager for a real estate broker who she had worked for during my year as a War College Student. My intent was to get my teaching certification and get into high school coaching and teaching.

I was attending a local college in pursuit of a master's degree that would give me all the credentials I would need to start a second career as a teacher and coach when another opportunity I had not anticipated came along. I was offered the job as the Executive Director of the Montgomery Area Food Bank – and it was decision time again. I knew nothing about food banks, or charities for that matter, but decided to give it a shot.

It is now over 16 years later and I'm still in the job. Our food bank is a charity with a mission to provide food and other necessities to needy people and their families. We are one of roughly 200 affiliate food banks in the Feeding America national network of food banks – collectively, we are the largest hunger relief organization in the country. We here in Montgomery are now responsible for 35 of Alabama's 67 counties.

It's a busy job and lots of people ask me why I am still doing this at age 71. The answer is simple – the same reason I stayed in the Air Force – I love the people I am working with and I'm proud to be a part of our mission.

E. Parke Hinman III

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