By Air Force Staff Sgt. Rhiannon Willard
Special to American Forces Press Service
March 16, 2009 - Air Force Airman Derrick Bell has found that a lot of determination and a little help from his friends helped him meet his goal of returning to military service when it seemed that both his age and weight might have prevented it. The 38-year-old husband and father of two shed more than 115 pounds to meet the Air Force Reserve physical standards of enlistment, astounding his recruiter, family and friends when he enlisted Jan. 15 in the Air Force Reserve here.
Bell and Air Force Lt. Col. Raymond Platt, the 477th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron commander, met through family and friends over a campfire outing in 2006 at the Bells' cabin in West Beaver Lake, Alaska. They've been friends ever since.
Bell became intrigued when Platt told him about the F-22 Raptor and the 477th Fighter Group at Elmendorf. When Bell expressed interest in the jet and being a member of the 477th FG, Platt made it his personal mission to make that interest a reality.
Platt's research found that his friend wasn't too old to enlist, as they had previously thought. Air Force Reserve regulations state that a prior-service enlistee's adjusted age – actual age minus years of prior service -- must be 40 or less. Bell had served more than four years in the Alaska Army National Guard after he graduated from high school.
"I told Derrick that if he was interested in joining, I would help him get back on track," Platt said. "Derrick jumped at the opportunity."
Losing 115 pounds in 11 months was a journey for Bell. He didn't lose the weight through fad diets. Instead, he worked hard to change his lifestyle while controlling his caloric intake.
Bell got up at 4 a.m. and exercised at the Elmendorf fitness center five days a week, with Platt right next to him much of the time. Bell said he cut his food portions by at least half, and hasn't had a beer for more than a year.
Meanwhile, Bell went to Air Force Master Sgt. Robert Bazor, a recruiter, through the friendship he developed with Platt.
"We knew that he had a long way to go before he could enlist, but we also knew that this was a situation that could be fixed with the right amount of determination," Bazor said. "He called me every month to give me an update on his weight loss."
Platt received the added bonus of enlisting Bell under the Air Force Reserve's "Get One Now" program. The program provides benefits to the Air Force Reserve, the recruit being referred and the person who has recommended the referral.
"I'm always recruiting," Platt said. "Wherever I am in the Alaskan community, I end up talking about the 477th Fighter Group and how great the unit is. The conversation comes natural to me."
Bell's wife, Tricia, their daughter, Brittny, and son, Logan, joined other family members and friends as they witnessed Platt administering the oath of enlistment to Bell.
Bell credits his support system for much of his success.
"I feel like I'm getting a 'do-over,'" he said. "My family and friends are huge supporters. They've been behind me 200 percent since I decided to go for it."
A lifelong resident of Anchorage, Bell works for the Anchorage School District as a senior warehouse specialist Mondays through Fridays. His traditional reservist service commitment to the 477th FG will include working one drill weekend a month and performing 14 days of annual tour per year.
The 477th FG shares and maintains equipment with the regular Air Force's 3rd Wing here. The group is responsible for recruiting, training, developing and retaining citizen-airmen.
Bell will serve as a crew chief on the F-22. He is waiting for a class date to attend technical training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. When that is completed, he will receive follow-on training at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla.
In addition to having the opportunity to work on what he considers to be the world's greatest fighter jet, Bell said, he has regained his youth and his self-esteem.
"I feel young again," he said. "I'm in better shape and weigh less than when I got married almost 18 years ago. I've got back my confidence, and I thought it was gone for good."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Rhiannon Willard serves with the 477th Fighter Group public affairs office.)