HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- The year was 1967. Lyndon Johnson was president. The Vietnam War was at its height. Cultural change was in the air. The Beatles and Rolling Stones were just a few years in to their careers. And Ralph Harper began working at Hill AFB.
Harper, a Utah native and graduate of East High School in Salt Lake City, was in his 20s when he responded to a newspaper article about apprenticeships at Hill Field. The base needed machinists, sheet metal technicians, platers and other specialties; the article said candidates first needed to pass a test, then go to school for a year. Harper accomplished both and began his career here June 5, 1967.
He wanted to be a machinist and thought he would get one of the openings but instead was made a sheet metal mechanic.
“Really I just wanted to be successful,” Harper said of his early career goals.
All of his many experiences have made him a success and he is proud that he’s worked in every maintenance facility on the base’s east side for at least six months.
“It was fun to learn the new things and the new ways,” Harper said of his many jobs from bench work to contracts to data, “and to learn how things progress through maintenance and how maintenance actually functions from top to bottom.”
Harper currently works for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center in the F-16 System Program Office as a Production Management Specialist.
Tim Snyder, an F-16 Systems Integration supervisor, credited Harper with bringing broad experience to the organization, ultimately benefiting the warfighter.
“Without somebody like Ralph in our organization, a lot of things don’t get done,” he said. “We’re glad he still comes to work every day. He makes an impact on what we do and to the overall mission for the Air Force.”
The highlight of his career was working for four years, 1986-1990, as an Air Force representative in the GEC Avionics factory in Rochester, England, where he bought a home and absorbed the culture.
“There’s two times a day they stop [working] and have tea. You’d be driving down in the countryside or wherever and at 4 o’clock all the cars would pull over to the side and everybody would get out, sit on the fenders or whatever, and have their tea. I couldn’t believe it,” Harper said, chuckling.
As a production system analyst in England, Harper remembers with pride the bond he established with the workers at GEC, which led to improved production.
“We worked together as a team,” he said, “and it went through the entire factory. It was a lot of fun.”
Harper said he’s been inspired over the years by great supervisors and directors. He credited several with providing not only himself, but the entire workforce with the things they needed to help on the job, with education and advancement, and with life.
“Because of the way the supervision is, the workload becomes fun,” said Harper. “You enjoy the people, you enjoy what you do. You enjoy seeing the progression of the workload.”
Harper encourages others to consider service to their country as federal civilians.
“Being a civil servant has been a privilege to me,” he said. “In federal government you can make your career anything you want and have a good time doing it. I would highly recommend federal service.”
In addition to his five decades of civil service, he also served 12 years in the Navy Reserve for a total of 62 years of federal service.
Harper is in no hurry to complete his federal career.
“My future plan is to just live life to the fullest and do my job the best I can,” he said.