My Bio. – Thomas F Wilkerson
In the year 1945, little did I know that camping would be a special part of my life. That summer, I both boldly and timidly, was bused to an overnight camp. After that it seemed like camping was in my blood to stay! My friends and I were always camping out and re-enacting WWII with army surplus
equipment. At some of those camp outings, we played Tarzan and
major cowboy exploits.
After my high school sophomore year, I served as a counselor in a camp in beautiful Shenandoah valley. Also, participated in weekend retreats at Camp New Hope near Chapel Hill and later assisting as a “helper” for church junior high retreats..
Working for a large corporation for almost 12 years in a payroll/personnel environment as well as in management, sales and administrative jobs earlier.
All of which equipped and prepared me for a business adventure in operating a summer camp.
My experience in camping as a business spans a total of almost 40 years. For me, enjoying multi-tasking jobs, which camping requires is challenging and offers great opportunities.
My wife and I attended Storytelling Festivals in Jonesboro,Tennessee on three occasions. What a thrill and experience for us! It was also a great place
to meet the storytellers and get good resources.
Camping certainly affords opportunities to develop skills in indoor projects in design, crafts, teaching, drama, leading and directing songs, and more. As an Operational Manager in an outdoor camping environment, I have developed working skills with an animal farm, nature, leather craft, gardening, archery, rocks & gems, fishing storytelling and more.
Needless to say, my wife and I would still be a part of a physical camp
were it not for a flood at the camp in 2018. Our thanks for all the support, love, great experiences and memories over the years!
AIR FORCE EXPERIENCES
Uncle Sam Calls
After graduation from high school the Military Draft was still in force. Each male had an obligation to serve his country before college, tech school or later. My choice first was the Air Force, to be followed by college. After months of basic and advanced medical training at Lackland AFB, Texas and Gunter AFB, Alabama, my career title was Medical Administrative Specialist.
For my first assignment I was assigned to the hospital staff at hot, humid Robins AFB, Georgia. There my job was admitting patients of all military, spouses and children. While at this location for two years, promotions were at a stand-still and did not open until my overseas assignment.
Once assigned at Robins it was rumored that personnel finished out their tour of obligation there. So I acquired over one year of college credits taking night courses with the University of Georgia.
At the time the two most dreaded assignments in the AF were Thule, Greenland and Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. After two years at Robins, my next assignment was an overseas trip, yes to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia for 13 months!
Arrival in Saudi Arabia
Our Air Force base at Dhahran,Saudi Arabia provided pilot training for Saudi nationals, support for Army troops in other countries, as a defensive presence and as a medical hospital for all personnel.
The heat in middle Georgia was nothing compared to the day of debarkation from the plane at the base, the heat registered 118 degrees.
The hospital, thankfully was air conditioned and well equipped. I was assigned a private office which controlled the business affairs of the hospital as well as a daily inventory of the dining hall’s food supplies.
All buildings on the base were well maintained and air conditioned. The base was self-contained with Barracks, Service Club, NCO, Officer Club, Theater,
Swimming pool, Library and PX for necessary items. In my barracks everyone in my room, occupied by four airmen, kept a sweat sheet over the beds which looked
like a large pyramid with blocks covering 13 months (365 days). Every day we had a ritual of marking off each day!
The base sponsored day trips to places of interest during the weekend. Through the use of equipment available at the Service Club, golfing was available on a sandy, rocky desert with oiled down putting greens and golf balls. Swimming, Snorkeling and Diving Equipment was available as well as the use of a Power Boat for Deep Sea Fishing in the Persian Gulf.
Do’s & Don’ts
Due to the Muslim culture, weekends in SA were Thursday and Fridays with Christian church (chapel) services held on Fridays behind closed doors, usually in theaters. Alcoholic beverages were forbidden in the country although it was rumored that the oil settlements brewed their own. We were limited to
travel no more than a 30 mile radius from the base due to hostile desert natives.
Trips Available (R&R)
Trips by air were provided to base personnel and included Bahrain Island, Tehran, Iran, Asmara, Ethopia, Beruit, Lebannon, Karachi, Pakistan and the most popular trip of all to the Holy Land in Jerusalem.
My Life in Arabia
Looking back on Saudi Arabia, the 13 months of an isolated tour of duty had been a very different life. Yet, trips, recreation, friendships, and work enabled wonderful experiences as time passed. Every experience in the Middle East provided a tool for growth. The most memorable was my trip to Jerusalem and the opportunity to
travel in Europe.
Departure from the Middle East & the Air Force
Leaving with a host of memories, new ventures, three commendation awards and one more stripe; nostalgia overcame me to be going back home!
A year later word reached home that the Defense department had deactivated the base at Dhahran, leaving most of the facilities and equipment in the hands of the Saudi government. Some 15 years later, the Defense department had to use the base for the support and invasion of Kuwait and Iraq, called Desert Storm.
Arrival in Charleston
When I arrived in Charleston, the AF gave me the option of re-enlistment or a
discharge (seven months) due to my isolated tour of duty. Anticipating
a college enrollment, an honorable discharge was in order.
Summary of My Air Force Career
Looking back on my career of almost four years and serving my country, granted me a wealth of experiences with travel, training, education, cultures, maturity and
a greater appreciation of my faith in God, in humanity and in the rich heritage of freedoms this country gives. Making the best of every opportunity and situation can lead to greater experiences and is a reminder to always remember the scripture …….”For I have learned in whatever state I am in, therewith, to be content.” Philippines 4:11
Trip # 1
While stationed in the Middle East after six months, all personnel had the privilege
to sign up for an R&R trip to Jerusalem. My assigned date finally arrived in the month of November and with great anticipation I boarded the flight as number 54 on the manifest sheet. Not long after our plane was airborne, one engine started losing oil pressure and was routed back to our base. A decision was made to exchange planes and would only take 52 passengers. Remember number 54 was my number! Two weeks later, I was rescheduled. The delay though disappointing, gave me additional days on this tour.
Trip # 2
When we finally arrived in Jerusalem we discovered a city divided due to a military conflict. The old part of Jerusalem was occupied by Palestinian Christian and Arabs. The newer part of Jerusalem was occupied by Israeli Christians and Jews. They were separated by heavy barbed wire and heavy guards. My group stayed in a hotel in the old part of the city where we found the staff very hospitable with excellent food and accommodations.
Guided Tour Trips
Our tour guide was Muslim and very well informed. On arrival day we toured the country side and towns of Bethany, Jericho, the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. It was the thrill of a life-time to be traveling back in time almost 2000 years ago! Our second day tour we went to the site where the Angels visited the Shepherds, then on to Bethlehem and the birth site of the Christ Child. All of the sacred Christian sites in the Holy Lands are marked by churches or elaborate figures and stone work.
The afternoon we toured the Garden of Gethsemane, observing Olive trees 6,000 years old. Later we toured the Golden Gate where Christ entered Jerusalem on a donkey. We journeyed on to the site of Solomon’s temple, now called the Mosque of Omar (Dome of the Rock). We were allowed to enter after we left our shoes outside of this Holy Mosque. Outside again and not far from the mosque, we visited the Wailing Wall (Weeping Wall) which was the imposing remains of the Temple built by Herod the Great.
After supper we were taken on shopping trips through the old part of the city.
The third day tour was a walking tour of so many Holy sites. We went to the site of the Last Supper, the different stations where Christ was tried, and convicted, and the walking tour of the Via Dolorosa (Way of the Cross). The Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher was the last site to visit, holding the empty tomb of Christ and so much more history.
The schedule was to return Dhahran. However, a severe storm delayed our return trip two days. Having seen little rain, since leaving the states, it was a “welcoming rain!”
This inspirational trip was one to be shared. Through my daily diary I recorded scenes and thoughts of this journey to the Holy Land. Sent to my parents, who were also inspired by such a journey; it was later published for others in our hometown newspaper.