An Abraham Lincoln High School alumnus has returned to teach today’s students about military service and good citizenship.
Retired Air Force Maj. Charles McKinley, 48, of Council Bluffs is now the senior aerospace science instructor for Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Unit IA-951 at Abraham Lincoln High School.
He served in the Air Force for more than 23 years and taught in the ROTC program at San Diego State University.
McKinley is looking forward to being involved in the program, he said.
“I 110% want to be here, and I’m hoping I can stay here a long time and have a big impact on the students,” he said. “It was something I really enjoyed at San Diego State, but I didn’t want to go back to the college level. I wanted to do high school and give back to the community.”
McKinley first became interested in the Armed Forces through his best friend in grade school, whose dad was in the Navy. He went with his friend’s family to the Offutt Air Show a few times.
“My dad did ROTC in college and had a jacket and boots, but he never served on active duty,” he said.
As a high school student, McKinley was still interested in the military but didn’t make definite plans until his mother gave him a lecture.
“My mom said, ‘you better figure out what you’re going to do after college, because you’re not living in my basement’,” he said.
McKinley wasn’t a great student and didn’t feel like he was ready for college. In August 1988 — just before his senior year at A.L. — he signed up for a delayed enlistment.
“I needed to pass my classes, and then I was going off to basic training,” he said.
After basic, McKinley was stationed at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where he was assigned to do maintenance at missile sites across much of the Great Plains. Much of the job was doing environmental control by maintaining heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems.
“There was a certain temperature that was supposed to be maintained where the missile was,” he said.
In addition, he maintained diesel-powered generators that would go into motion if the local electrical service were interrupted. His crew did periodic maintenance that involved looking at every detail at the sites.
Next, McKinley was stationed at Travis Air Force Base in California, where he was a loadmaster, making sure the right supplies were loaded on departing aircraft.
While stationed at Altus AFB near Altus, Oklahoma, he took classes that would count toward his bachelor’s degree. He earned his bachelor’s in aeronautics with a minor in aerospace and occupational safety at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida through Altus AFB. He attended officer training at Maxwell-Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama and received his officer’s commission in 2001.
After that, McKinley was stationed at Aviano Air Base in Aviano, Italy, where he served as logistics officer, overseeing air and ground transportation, managing supplies and coordinating deployments.
“I got to experience a different culture for the first time after being in the military for 12 years,” he said.
McKinley lived in an apartment off base and enjoyed getting to know his landlord’s family and another Iowa family that lived in the same building.
Next was San Diego and McKinley’s stint teaching in the ROTC program at San Diego State University.
That was followed by a one-year deployment to Afghanistan that also included a few months in Iraq. In Afghanistan, he mentored soldiers in the Afghan National Army and was in charge of moving supplies. In Iraq, he managed property at Tikrit AFB until he was moved back to Baghdad and sent back to the States.
After that, McKinley was stationed at Offutt AFB, where he retired in 2012. He worked for the military as a civilian in several positions after that, including as a recruiter for the Army ROTC at Creighton University, on a recruiting squadron for the Air Force and as a logistician and deployment officer. While at Creighton, a cadet he trained in San Diego sent him an email saying he had made a big impact on her and she had become a successful military officer.
“I think about that message so much — and it gives me the drive to be here, because I want to hear those stories,” he said.
McKinley and his wife, Kim, have an 8-year-old son, Joe, who attends Hoover Elementary School. His parents and other relatives still live in Council Bluffs or the surrounding area.