The military life of AFRH-G resident Mike Gilkerson
By Dan Ellis | AFRH-G Resident
Mike was born in May 1945 in a local area near Portsmouth, Ohio to Art and Marion Gilkerson. When he was thirteen years old, he received a Sears moped for Christmas but had to eagerly wait until he was 14 to get a driver's license. He used the moped to drive to local farms where for a $1.00 an hour, he picked potatoes and bailed and stacked hay.
Later, because his dad was a diesel truck mechanic, Mike was employed in the paint shop prepping vehicles for painting. At that time, prepping was performed by rubbing sand paper by hand, so over a period of time, he wore off his finger tips and couldn't get an ID until his skin grew out again.
Mike attended Garfield Elementary, McKinley Junior High, and Portsmouth High School, where he graduated in May 1963. The following day, he enlisted in the United States Air Force before his 18th birthday and departed for basic training with five other local guys.
After completing basic training, he was trained as a communications equipment repairman and took further instructions at Sheppard AFB, Texas as a communications
center operator of teletype machines. After tech school he served at Karamursel AS, Turkey where he was upgraded to sergeant, and at DaNang AB, VietNam, he became a staff sergeant. Then while at Shu Lin Kou AS, Taiwan he was upgraded to tech sergeant.
In 1976, Mike returned from overseas to retrain at Keesler AFB, Biloxi, Mississippi into the technical control career field.
He retired from Scott AFB, Illinois in July 1983. During his military career, Mike had married in 1966 to his wife Linda and they had a daughter, Dawn and a son, Michael II.
Retirement brought new ventures. While preparing to retire in 1983, Mike learned of a government contract at the Defense Communications Agency with the Allocation & Engineering Division at Scott AFB, where he ultimately was in charge of managing the contract. Because the job was not re-bid, Mike created his own company and bid on the new three-year contract, won it in addition to a subsequent three-year contract as well.
Following this, he and his son started Specialized Car Care, Inc., a detail shop, which operated in Mascoutah, Illinois for ten years. While in his retirement, Mike created an internet website for the 6924th Security Squadron of Danang South Vietnam through which he accumulated more than a thousand comrades. This led to his publishing two book volumes which described their personal Danang experiences with photographs.
Following his open heart surgery, Mike and his wife moved to Pace, Floridain May 2013 to be near their daughter and son, and later purchased seven acres of land in Cantonment, Florida. After his wife passed away in 2018, the house and land became too much to contend with so he sold it and decided to give AFRH-G a residential trial period.
Since Mike arrived, many residents have come to know him as the "walker." He uses a FitBit wrist watch to collect data that syncs with an app on his smart phone to accumulate his mileage from each step and motion in concert with satellite GPS.
Mike keeps a journal and here are just a few things he said: "I was at AFRH about three weeks when we were restricted to the facility due to the Covid 19 virus. I decided to use walking as my exercise means for cardiac and lung rehab which would take up several hours a day in the outdoors. Since I started walking here I have accumulated over 4,000 miles walking around the facility. I think I know almost every squirrel on the property but they still don't trust me.”
"On November 12, 2020, I decided to complete the marathon distance of 26.2 miles. I started out at 5:30 am and finished the walk at 5:30 pm. I completed it in five-mile increments, taking food and drink and resting my feet. It took five walking sessions on that Thursday to complete the 26.2 miles and it was well worth the effort. At my age I have no need to keep track of my "time" for the walk. I just needed to make the finish. The satisfaction of completing this goal was all I wanted.”
"It would be nice to see more residents outside walking. There is one particular resident that walks daily with his walker, taking very short steps and very slowly. But, he is out there every day working his way around the facility while stopping to rest on a bench every so often. That man has my total respect and admiration and displays his mental toughness every walking session. When I grow up I want to be just like him!”
"The health benefits of walking daily are valuable to me and participating in the AFRH Century Club and logging my miles walked is a bonus. I like having "goals" to work towards and this program gives me just that, in addition to being rewarded for attaining each stage. How great is that? So watch for the back of my shirts that say ‘Follow Me On the Path to Fitness’ and let's find new friends looking to do the same thing."