AFJROTC instructor retires after 58 years in uniform

  • Published
  • By Christian P. Hodge
  • Headquarters Air Force Junior ROTC

An Airman’s amazing Air Force journey is coming to fitting close this July after 58 years in uniform as both an active duty senior noncommissioned officer and Air Force Junior ROTC instructor.

Retired Senior Master Sgt. David Weissgerber, aerospace science instructor, AFJROTC Unit JA-932, Kadena High School, Okinawa, Japan, will be retiring after an astounding 35-year career as an AFJROTC instructor, and this on top a distinguished 23-year active duty military career.

For many of those 35 years, he inspired his cadets with a candid, forthright message.

“Do your best! Nobody is perfect, but if you give your all to whatever you are doing I don’t believe anyone can fault you,” Weissgerber said. “I try to teach the cadets to be who they are, and to be an example for others to follow.”

The St. Louis native enlisted in the Air Force in 1962 as an airborne communications repairman. His first assignment was to the 18th Armament and Electronics Squadron at Kadena Air Base. Weissgerber retired from Wheeler Air Force Base, Hawaii, in 1985 as the munitions superintendent.

“First of all, wow, 58 years in uniform! As far as we know, 35 years makes Senior Master Sergeant Weissgerber the longest serving instructor ever in AFJROTC,” said David Richerson, chief, instructor management division, Headquarters AFJROTC. “The word dedication isn’t strong enough to describe this.”

Weissgerber’s commitments, not only to the nation, but also to Okinawa and Kadena Air Base, are unparalleled. 

“I spent 17 years assigned to different organizations on Okinawa and another two years in Thailand,” he said. “My only [state-side] assignment, other than [Air Education and Training Command], was McConnell Air Force Base just outside of Wichita, Kansas. I married a lady from Okinawa and this island feels like home to me.”

Weissgerber and his wife have two daughters, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

Though he spent most of his active duty tour in Okinawa, he did also travel for work to multiple locations in the region, including Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Guam, New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.

About a year after he retired from active duty he read an article that said AFJROTC was looking for instructors.

“During my last active duty assignment in Hawaii I got involved teaching underwater search and rescue to a group of Explorer Scouts at Hickam,” he said. “This was my first exposure to teaching teenagers, and I enjoyed it. One evening while reading the Air Force Times I saw an article saying that AFJROTC was looking for instructors. At that point I didn’t even know what AFJROTC was, let alone what they were instructing.” 

Curiosity got the better of him. He was hired by a private school the next year and has not stopped since, because he “was just having too much fun.” In 1993 he returned to Okinawa to start the AFJROTC program at Kadena High School and has been there ever since.

“I enjoy being with the cadets,” Weissgerber said.  “I like giving the students, both cadets and non-cadets, a feeling of hope and the idea that they can change the world through their actions.”

He said that in the 35 years that he has been an AFJROTC instructor, he has worked with instructors from every branch of service. 

“I have yet to find one that doesn’t absolutely love his or her job,” Weissgerber said. “When work is fun, it isn’t work. That describes AFJROTC for me. I have spent almost 35 years working with some of the greatest folks in the world and it has been a blast. I thought that I had fun while I was on active duty, but AFJROTC by far out did anything I did while active. I tell every officer and NCO that is getting ready to retire that AFJROTC is the best kept secret in the Air Force.”

According to the AFJROTC website, the program’s mission is to “develop citizens of character dedicated to serving their nation and community.” Air Force Junior ROTC is a Title 10 U.S. Code mandated citizenship training program that is designed to educate and train high school cadets in citizenship, promote community service, instill personal responsibility, character and self-discipline. The program achieves this through classroom education in air and space fundamentals and hands-on learning opportunities in a number of fun and challenging extra-curricular activities.

For more information on AFJROTC or on becoming an instructor, go to https://www.airuniversity.af.edu/Holm-Center/AFJROTC.

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