Jeffrey L. Fornear, a veteran of the Air Force, active member artist at the Barron Park House Gallery, and also my father, is the reason I moved to LaBelle. He introduced me to this small town by showing me all of the beautiful photos he had taken there, and I immediately fell in love with it. Recently, while writing this series of local veteran’s stories, and finding out that many veterans have found my interviews to be quite cathartic, I suddenly realized I had neglected to interview my own father. So, I sat down with him last weekend and asked him to tell his story.
“I consider myself fortunate to have spent 20 exciting years in the Air Force while at the same time providing a service to my country. I tried going to college for a few years but ran out of money. The Draft was active back when I joined in 1972 and I wanted a good job and training so I enlisted in the Air Force. After signing up they sent me to Denver CO, taught me advanced electronics for an entire year, and made me a Precision Measurement Equipment Laboratory technician. My first base was in the desert at Tucson AZ where it was interesting to work on Top Secret equipment supporting our U-2 spy plane reconnaissance missions flying over Russia,” says my father.
“Next stop was exotic, beautiful Thailand where I worked on equipment for the F-4 jet fighter flying daily missions over Vietnam. As I reported for duty, my new boss explained that I had just missed the saboteur bombing of the building next door a week before… I wondered what I had gotten myself into! He then handed me a helmet and rifle and said ‘All new guys do night guard patrol duty out on the perimeter here.’ I took the equipment and asked where my ammo was, he replied ‘Oh we don’t trust you with real bullets… if you see anything just radio it into command center.’ I wanted to go back to Arizona! Anyway after four sleepless nights on guard duty, another “new guy” reported in and thankfully took my job.”
My father actually met my mother, while in Thailand, they married, and eventually landed in Florida, where I was born. My dad says about meeting my mom, “Later I was lucky again when I met what I thought was the best cook and cutest girl in Thailand, and later married her. Our weekends were spent out in her tiny hometown with her family, exploring in the jungle and rice fields and learning how my father-in-law made home-brewed rice whiskey! We were assigned to bases in Washington, then Florida, where they gave me a new job, Civil Engineer Assistant, where I was a surveyor and draftsman. Best job I ever had in my entire life! We had two children born in Tampa while there and I was selected for a program that offered to send me to college to complete my college degree and then commission me as an officer. I successfully completed the program in Utah and became a second lieutenant meteorologist on the tiny Pacific island of Guam. We did weather forecasting for the B-52 nuclear bombers that would fly to targets in China and/or Russia in case of all out nuclear war. I flew on bomber missions to northern Australia, Okinawa and Korea. Most exciting was forecasting during several major typhoons that hit the island and actually flying on WC-130 typhoon recon missions directly into the eye of the massive storms!”
Spending my entire childhood as an “Air Force Brat” traveling around the world, seeing new places, experiencing different cultures, and having one of the coolest dad’s ever- was such a wonderful blessing. I never realized how much work he was putting in, and how much he had done for our country- because he was always spending time with us, and taking us on amazing adventures.
“The Air Force then selected me to complete my Master’s degree in Meteorology at Texas A&M. After graduating we moved to Oklahoma where I spent six years as part of the team that developed the NEXRAD Doppler weather radars that now protect the country in severe weather events. I retired from the military, at rank of Captain, in 1992, after 20 years service. It was quite an amazing career, going from 1-stripe enlisted man to being a a Staff Sergeant, then finally a Captain and getting two college degrees fully paid for! Living and visiting all over the country and world… deserts, mountains, jungles and islands … and experiencing many different cultures was a really great life. I then transitioned into a National Weather Service (NWS) job testing the new radars and managing the school that taught over 2,000 people how to use them,” he told me as he sipped some of my homemade hibiscus tea, and stared out at his lush tropical backyard garden where my mom was busily harvesting some papayas and Thai chili peppers.
I encouraged him to go on with his story, “Next stop, Honolulu Hawaii, as NWS Pacific Region Chief of Technical Services, implementing and maintaining computers and communications at 12 weather facilities on islands around the Pacific Ocean. The job required travel to many exciting exotic islands like Yap, Samoa, Chuuk, Palau and Ponape. My last job was at NWS Headquarters in the Washington DC area, testing new computers and equipment for improving weather forecasting for the entire USA.”
My father retired in 2001, at 51 years old, and returned south to the Florida we had visited many times while I was growing up. He describes his home of 18 years, “We have an ancient oak covered small jungle of a yard that overlooks over 60 acres of quiet natural area of an abandoned golf course. Gardening is a real passion, growing bananas, mangos, lychees, papayas, orchids and vegetables. I have also redeveloped my old art interests of photography and painting over the years and am starting to show and sell my works locally.”
His brilliantly colored digital paintings and photography can be seen and purchased in the Barron Park House Gallery & Gift Shop, and he will have his first art show in 48 years, at the Arts of the Inland’s Lehigh Medical Center Gallery, during the month of May.
Thank you for your service, Captain Jeffrey L. Fornear- and for being such a fantastic father!