Local veteran clocked 38 years of service

U.S. Air Force Reserve Veteran Stephen D. Long served from 1969 to 2007

Cinnaminson local Stephen D. Long first enlisted in the U.S. Air Force Reserve on June 6, 1969, when he was only 19 years old. Long didn’t retire from the Air Force until he was 57 — more than 38 years later.

After graduating high school, Long went to college for a year, but still put his name on a waiting list to enroll in the military. His grades began to suffer, and when he got a call asking him if he wanted to be a loadmaster for the U.S. Air Force, he went to his father for advice.

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Long’s father, Bernard J. Long, was a retired Air Force veteran and encouraged him to accept the position.

The loadmaster of an aircraft is responsible for properly loading, securing and escorting passengers and cargo. They ensure everyone and everything on each flight is safe before, during and after the flight.

Long attended basic military training and basic loadmaster school in Texas to become a fully qualified airland and airdrop loadmaster.

Long served during the Vietnam and Gulf wars. He flew numerous operational missions to Southeast Asia in support of the Vietnam War. When Long flew a historic medical evacuation mission to the Soviet Union in 1973, he earned his first Air Force Commendation Medal.

Other missions Long participated in include the rescue of American students from Grenada, various presidential support missions and the deployment of U.S. Marines to Beirut. Long even had the opportunity to meet the Duke of Luxembourg on a special mission.

In 1991, Long accepted a voluntary activation and was assigned to the 21st Air Force Crisis Action Team as a reserve advisor to the commander. Long also supported the Global War on Terror during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Long says the support and regard for both soldiers and veterans today is so much better than what it was when he was serving, specifically during the Vietnam War. Many Vietnam War veterans admit to having to take their uniforms off in the airport upon returning home to avoid being harassed and even spit on by civilians.

Long also noted that the military today is very different than it was when he enlisted 47 years ago. He says soldiers have to be much more careful about how and when they shoot — something he never had to worry about.

“It was nothing to have a 13-year-old kid blowing up a market to kill American soldiers,” Long said about serving in Vietnam. “I can’t even imagine the rules of engagement in Afghanistan now.”

Long had many different jobs before, during and after serving in the Air Force. He’s done everything from driving a school bus to working for the American Red Cross.

“One summer, I was unloading the wounded from the bus. The following summer, I was loading from the airplane into the bus,” Long said about working for the Air Force just one year after working for the American Red Cross.

Since retiring from the Air Force, Long has been working for the Hampton Behavioral Health Center, a psychiatric hospital in New Jersey. He’s the transportation coordinator for the hospital and absolutely loves it.

“When I started there, I was kind of like, ‘What am I doing here?’ Now I’ve been there 15 years,” Long said.

To assist with his job, Long become an instructor in both self-defense and verbal de-escalation, so he is able to train staff how to handle difficult patients.

Long has two children and three granddaughters, with a fourth on the way. He was widowed five years ago, when his son was just 14.

When Long isn’t working for the hospital or taking care of his dog, Butterscotch, he enjoys traveling and dabbles in photography — two things he picked up while in the Air Force.

Long has been to 31 countries and has visited Germany more than 250 times. He encourages his youngest son to travel the world and took him to Germany in place of his class trip to Disney World.

Long says he learned many valuable skills from his service that help him in both parenting and his career. His veteran father taught him how to be sociable and well-mannered, something he passed on to his own children.

“It’s the most common response I would get from people — about what nice manners my kids have,” Long said.

Another important skill Long learned is to always have a Plan B.

“When you’re in an airplane and something happens to that airplane, you better know your Plan Bs pretty well,” Long said.

Long also learned a valuable lesson in respect from the time he spent in the military.

“You do your job, and you’re equal to me. I may have different stripes on my shoulder, but you’re as good at this job as I am,” Long said. “I try very hard to do that in the civilian world.”

Long’s 38 years of service combined with the years of service by his father, his uncle, his brother and his nephew totals more than 96 years of Air Force service by the Long family.

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