Saturday, February 6, 2016

After 20 years in the Air Force Security Forces, Middlebury native Jason Kidd is hanging up his uniform. (Tori Fater/The Elkhart Truth)

Airman and Middlebury native Jason Kidd, 38, is retiring from the Air Force after 20 years of service. In this photo, taken July 9, 2014, he's sitting on the front porch of his childhood home, with a binder stuffed with military records and honors. (Tori Fater/The Elkhart Truth )
Middlebury native retires after 20 years in Air Force
Posted on July 11, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.

Airman Jason Kidd’s service has taken him on a lot of adventures — from saving a friend’s life in Iraq to meeting world leaders at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland to winning arm wrestling competitions in Japan. 

There’s a four-inch binder next to him on the porch of his childhood home in Middlebury. It’s stuffed with records of achievement: letters of recognition in foreign languages, news clippings with him in the headline and an envelope marked “WELCOME ABOARD Air Force One.”

After 20 years in the Air Force Security Forces, he’s hanging up his uniform. Kidd, 38 and a technical sergeant, will retire August 1. 

“My new job will be the noncommissioned officer in charge of homeland affairs,” he joked. “Which would be taking care of my family and kids while my wife goes to work. I’ll be domestic affairs.”

He still slips into military lingo, saying “August One” instead of “First”, “16:30” before correcting himself to “4:30.” 

Kidd knew from a young age he wanted to be a cop, but didn’t want to wait until he turned 21 to join local law enforcement. He joined the Security Forces in 1994 at age 18 to be a law enforcement officer and protected military assets for 20 years after.

“I appreciate what the Air Force has done for me,” he said. “They changed my life completely and gave me opportunity. They gave me a career, a profession.”

The binder is a record of his memories of service.

“I just didn’t want to be that guy that died and somebody’s like ‘Well, I don’t really know what he did,’” he said.

In one clear sleeve, there’s an email from a fellow service member Kidd saved years ago.

When he was in Iraq, Kidd guarded convoys and roads. When an explosive ripped through a military Humvee one day in 2006, Kidd used his combat lifesaver training to care for Airman Brandon Byers, who was injured in the attack.

Sitting on the porch in Middlebury, Kidd reads the email from Byers aloud.

“Things are going well here, sir. I have a baby boy on the way,” he quotes. “I never really got to say thank you for saving my life. I can’t really say thank you enough. I have one more surgery and I hope that’ll be going through the end of this month.”

Kidd flips to the next page in the binder. Byers had to be discharged because of his injuries, but is now involved with the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization which supports wounded service members. He and Kidd keep in touch over Facebook.

Kidd was also stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, the home of presidential plane Air Force One, for about seven years.

While there, he met world leaders like Vladimir Putin, Margaret Thatcher and the Clinton family. But one of his favorite stories is about talking to former U.S. president George W. Bush.

On a day soon after Bush was elected, Kidd met the president, introducing himself as Airman Jason Kidd from Indiana.

“Oh, a Hoosier!” Kidd, telling the story, imitates Bush’s Southern accent.

Three or four years later, Kidd recalls, he was in an Air Force One hangar in Iraq when the president arrived.

“He comes off the plane and here’s everybody shaking and taking and saluting and he comes up to me and he snaps his finger,” Kidd demonstrates the motion, “And looks at me and goes ‘The Hoosier, right?’”

“That says a lot about a leader. He remembered this little kid from Middlebury, Indiana,” Kidd says. Laughing, he adds, “(Bush) may have been a horrible speaker, but he can remember people.”

Kidd’s last assignment was in Japan, where he won national arm wrestling contests — with both arms, he adds. He was undefeated in 2011 and 2013. They still use his photo on promotional materials, one of which he framed.

Kidd refers to himself and fellow airmen as warriors, but most of his stories about serving are stories about helping people.

When he was stationed in Japan during the 9.0-magnitude earthquake in 2011, he and his team would volunteer to clean up trash and debris after 10 to 12-hour workdays. He received his humanitarian medal for the support.

“The Air Force taught us a lot about working together as a team and being kind to other people, because there’s a lot of people less fortunate than us,” he said. “As Americans, I think we tend to get caught up in our day-to-day routines. We forget how fortunate we do have it.”

Among other things, Kidd is a straight talker. He’s not fishing for compliments when he talks about his service, just sharing what he experienced.

But he said the honest and abrupt military manner he’s picked up doesn’t always work in civilian life. Civilians seem more sensitive, more likely to sugarcoat things.

“I think civilians are more sensitive to vocalization in conversations,” he said. “I’m working and developing my ways to tone it down.”

Not that it’s a bad thing, he said. But being more careful about what he says and how he says it has been a difficult part of his transition. 

Kidd’s still exploring his options after retirement. He’ll move to his house in Texas in a few months. He doesn’t plan to be a cop again, so maybe he’ll go into the culinary arts. 

“I’d rather be a cook, where people can appreciate the hard work behind a grill versus the hard work behind a police car,” he said.

Or maybe he’ll teach kids with special needs, like his mother. He’s seen kids’ faces light up when she talks to them, seen families relieved when someone steps in to lend a hand.

“Helping people is what I want to do,” he said. “I know there’s people out there that need it.”

And he’s excited about just being a dad for a while. 

“After 20 years of serving the country, I’m gonna serve my wife and help her and the kids,” he said.