Military News

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Room at Keesler AFB named in honor of O'Fallon veteran

by Bill Malec

4/15/2015 - SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- Long-time O'Fallon, Illinois resident, Retired Col. Derrel "DY" Dempsey, was recently recognized for his career achievements with the dedication of a conference room in his honor at the Air Force's air traffic control school at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi.

The 334th Training Squadron hosted the event. The squadron provides training in all aspects of ground-based aerospace command and control.

A previous 334th Squadron Commander, Lt. Col. Jeff McLemore, knew Dempsey and his career accomplishments well. During a previous assignment in United States Air Force Europe he was their nominee for the Colonel Derrel L. Dempsey Airfield Operations Officer of the Year award.

McLemore became aware that some of Dempsey's career memorabilia was available to a good home and a plan to recognize him began to take shape. McLemore's goal was to increase the awareness and appreciation for the colonel and his accomplishments at the schoolhouse--where air traffic control careers begin.

McLemore's tour ran its course before his vision could be fully executed. His replacement, Lt. Col. Kevin Bray, was eager and able to pick up where McLemore left off.

The room dedication ceremony was attended by Keesler's senior leaders, 334th TS staffers and airfield operations students. Many of Dempsey's old friends, peers, and protégées were also in attendance to pay homage. As a bonus, the Dempsey's grandson, Senior Airman Kiefer Luth, himself an air traffic controller assigned at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, was also present.

The speakers highlighted the retired colonel's impressive 30-year career which culminated with his retirement in 1984. During his years of service he excelled in a wide variety of assignments as a student, flight inspection pilot, air traffic control officer, commander, and staff officer.

As an aviator he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for an aerial event that occurred in Southeast Asia in 1968. Dempsey was part of a three-man aircrew that completed a combat essential flight inspection mission while under hostile conditions and in deteriorating weather.

Later as a senior staff officer, assigned to Air Force Communications Command headquarters, he led the Air Force's quick reaction response to the Federal Aviation Administration's controller strike of 1981. The strike threatened to cripple the nation's aviation system. He orchestrated initial deployment and logistical support for 640 Air Force controllers to 75 FAA facilities.

One retired Air Force controller, now a civilian ATC instructor, recalled the strike well. Larry Cannedy deployed as a young noncommissioned officer from Dover Air Force Base, Delaware to JFK International Airport.

"It was an awesome experience and one that I will never forget. We felt like heroes."

In his address Dempsey portrayed himself as just a Midwest farm boy who graduated from high school and hoped to go to college. He joined the Reserve Officers' Training Corps at Bradley University and was later commissioned in the Air Force motivated by concerns about the draft. He never dreamed he'd be a pilot or an ATC officer, have an Air Force career, or be responsible for military air traffic control.

Dempsey emphasized what he believed were two keys to his success.

"When given a task I always tried to do what was expected of me and a bit more. Empathy was also a rule that guided my performance daily ... treat everyone in terms of leadership and support as if I was in their position of responsibility and work."

After the speeches Dempsey led the group downstairs where, with the assistance of 81st Training Wing Commander, Brig. Gen. Patrick Higby, the ribbon was cut on the "Dempsey Conference Room."

Higby said, "It's very inspiring for us when we can incorporate our 'living history' into our heritage program. Unfortunately, too many of the heroes and trailblazers we cherish by renaming things in their honor are no longer with us."

Bray recalled words of Gen. Robin Rand, Commander of Air Education and Training Command. "'History makes you smarter, but heritage makes you prouder.' I couldn't have been more proud to be a part of a team that honored a legendary Airman."

The conference room was remodeled and decorated with Dempsey's memorabilia and other ATC artifacts.

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