JOINT BASE CHARLESTON From its origin, Sept. 18, 1947, countless chapters of the Air Force story have been filled with brave men and women and their tales of heroism, sacrifice and dedication. They have overcome obstacles in the face of multiple enemies, and through even dire times, they continue to give us hope, inspiration and courage to carry on their legacy.
Yet, without a historian collecting, documenting and preserving their stories, what would happen to the legacy of our airmen?
The pages of Air Force history are preserved by base historians, including Stan Gohl, 437th Airlift Wing historian. However, to Gohl, being a historian is much more than a job, it’s a passion.
“I am very proud of my service to the Air Force,” said Gohl, a 21-year retired Air Force veteran. “My pride of the Air Force makes me a better historian. I had this much pride in honoring Air Force history when I was a senior-enlisted leader years ago.”
As a historian, Gohl does a variety of things, such as helping people find military records of their loved ones and teaching the importance of history during training courses.
“Compared to the Army and Navy, the Air Force is young,” said Gohl. “We may not have hundreds of years of culture yet, but our airmen are on the front lines of their history, leading the world into space and cyberspace. As we continue to find our voice within the military landscape, our logo may have changed, but one thing has remained: the importance of maintaining and knowing our service history.”
According to Gohl, he has met airmen that have only glanced at their Air Force history when studying for promotion.
“History is worth more than just a couple points on a promotion test,” said Gohl. “It’s a family heritage you hold onto, it’s something you’re willing to fight or even die for. The more you know about your service history, the more pride you have in it.”
As a base historian, Gohl does something most other civilians don’t. He deploys.
In 2010, while deployed to Southeast Asia with the 438th Airlift Wing as a civilian historian, Gohl was requested to document missions from the front lines, regardless of conditions or safety. However, trading in his books and old newspapers meant picking up an assault rifle and Kevlar vest.
To him, it was an even trade.
“How can I document our history, or tell our airmen’s stories, without experiencing it with them?” said Gohl. “I saw more of Afghanistan than most ever will, while either flying over the countryside or driving through the cities on convoys.”
While on a convoy, the only difference between Gohl and the service members he was deployed with was a nametag. He spoke their language, dressed in their battle gear and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with them during the worst situations.
He just simply loved doing the mission.
“When they needed me, I was there,” said Gohl, thinking back to his deployment. “I’d stand guard and monitor the command post, with my rifle in hand, just as if I was active-duty. Most of the men and women I served with didn’t realize I wasn’t. I’d do it all over again if I could.”
Unfortunately for Gohl, the second deployment never came.
After his deployment, Gohl traded his Kevlar vest for a collared shirt and returned to his quiet office at JB Charleston – Air Base. However, shortly after returning, Gohl was unaware he was about to begin the biggest battle of his life; cancer.
“The news was devastating,” said Gohl. “My dedication to the Air Force has been 24/7 since the day I joined, but my possibilities have been limited due to my health condition.”
Gohl continues his job duties, no matter what his medical schedule looks like. In the past, he has been known to work from his hospital bed. Not because he has to, but because to him, it’s more than “just a job”, it’s a reason to live.
“I eat, sleep and breathe the Air Force. It will always be a part of me,” said Gohl. “It’s what keeps me alive.”