Kenneth Michael “Woody” Hilliker
AFRH-G Veteran Highlight – Kenneth Michael “Woody” Hilliker
By Lori Kerns, AFRH-G Librarian
Kenneth “Woody” Hilliker was born Kenneth Michael Wood. He was raised on Coronado Island in San Diego, California. His father, who served in WWII as a U.S. Marine, and mother, a housewife, had three sons. When Kenneth was only two, his mother died of breast cancer. His father, who worked full time, was unable to care for all three boys. His father’s only option was to allow his sister and brother-in-law to adopt Kenneth, changing his last name to Hilliker. Later, Kenneth would choose the nickname “Woody” to honor his birth parents.
After graduating high school, Woody attended Mesa Junior College where he took communications and radio electronics classes. At that time, the Vietnam War was heating up so to keep from getting drafted and to have a decision in branch of service Woody decided to join the Air Force.
He was sent to Lackland Air Base in Texas. Because he already had communications experience, it was determined that he would stay in this field. He was sent to tech school in Biloxi, Mississippi at Keesler Air Force Base. During his seven month training, he helped with the relief efforts of Hurricane Camille by assisting with cleaning up the areas of destruction.
His first assignment after tech school was in the Philippines at Clark Air Base. He was sent to work with 1st Mobile Communications Group (MOB) installing and maintaining radio and security systems. After about seven months, he was sent back to the States to work on minuteman missiles at Grand Forks Air Force Base, North Dakota. He stayed there less than one year before being sent to Sembach Air Base in Germany to work with the 601st TCMS (tactical control maintenance systems).
After serving out his contract, Woody decided to reenlist and was sent to Fallon Air Station, Nevada to work with the 858th Air Defense Group. His next tour took him to Tokorozawa, Japan to work on a classified mission with the 14th Communications Squadron. He went back to the U.S. to work at Norton Air Force Base in California. While stationed here, he met Joyce and married her in 1976. The young couple lived in California while he worked with the 1835th Electronic Installation Squadron installing equipment at bases in the western part of the country. During this time, he was selected to help the Secret Service with the 1976 Presidential Campaign. There were a large number of Presidential candidates, including Ronald Reagan, and not enough Secret Service agents. Woody assisted by going into cities and towns to set up additional communications for these candidates’ campaigns. For these efforts, he was given his first Joint Service Commendation Medal. In 1977, he was assigned to the twin bases RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge in the United Kingdom. While stationed here, Woody and Joyce welcomed their first two children, Crystal and Paula. The young family was sent back home when he received orders for McDill Air Force Base, Florida to serve under the U. S. Readiness Command as Special Forces with Joint Communications Support Element. With this team, he was tasked with interfacing various radio and landline communications from all service branches into cryptological equipment to send through high frequency radio communications back to the Pentagon to a shelter on the back of a one-ton truck for ease of mobility. He was given a two-month deadline to have it built and diagrammed for others to repair. He met that deadline and the equipment worked so efficiently that Rockwell Collins took Woody’s idea and began manufacturing it to sell back to the government. He received a second Joint Service Commendation Medal for this accomplishment. While in Florida, Woody and Joyce welcomed their son, Daniel.
After McDill, Woody received a couple of assignments that brought him overseas to Iceland and back to the U.K. Eventually, he made it back to the United States. He was stationed at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia when he was able to be reassigned to March Air Force Base, California to be near his adoptive mother who had fallen terminally ill. He retired from March with over 21 years of service to the Air Force. Woody’s civil service career eventually landed him with the U.S. Postal Service working as a rural mail carrier. He started in Hemet, California but transferred to Fallon, Nevada where he retired after working for 18 years.
Woody and Joyce have four grandchildren to spoil. The couple enjoys traveling to national parks, train museums, and zoos. Because of a medical condition, he is unable to withstand the cold desert winters and decided to move to AFRH-G while Joyce stays in Nevada, where she has had a career with McDonald’s for over 24 years. Their plan is when Joyce retires, she will join him on the Gulf Coast by purchasing a nearby home. His condition also encouraged Woody to begin exercising and eating healthy. He has lost 100 pounds by running in 5K and 10K races. He most recently scratched a goal off his bucket list by competing in a half marathon and proudly placed 10th in his age division. He wore a shirt with a picture of Joyce so that she could be with him when he met his goal. In addition to exercising, Woody likes to enjoy the warmer winter weather at AFRH-G by playing in tournaments, painting, woodworking, and volunteering. He is happiest when working with the model trains on Allegiance Hall. In the spring and summer months, he travels back to Nevada to spend time with his sweetheart of 41 happy years.