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September 19, 2013

'I learned a lot in a hurry'

COMMERCE —  Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Chris Adams flew dangerous missions in the Vietnam War, served as a high ranking officer during the Cuban Missile Crisis and earned numerous awards, including two Legions of Merit, the Department of Defense Meritorious Service Medal and a Distinguished Service Medal during his long and distinguished career.

But he does not consider himself a hero; just a man who worked his hardest day-in and day-out.

Adams was the inaugural speaker in the War and Memory Lecture Series staged Wednesday in the Rayburn Student Center at Texas A&M University-Commerce.

The event was hosted by the East Texas War and Memory Project in conjunction with the Phi Kappa Phi and Phi Alpha Theta honor societies.

Adams is a distinguished alumnus from the university, and shared a few stories of his time on the old East Texas State Teachers College campus.

Adams was part of the Air Force ROTC program, where he received his commission on May 25, 1952, when Dr. James Gee was president of the university.

“That Sunday morning we graduated and 70 of us received commissions from the Air Force,” he said, adding that before they walked across the stage, Gee walked up to him and gave him strict orders. “He said ‘Chris, when you come across the stage, you take it with your left hand and you salute me with your right hand.’ I said ‘Yes sir.’”

Adams was later approached by a colonel who heard what Gee had told them. Adams said the colonel said since neither Gee or the 70 men were not in uniform, they could not salute.

“I was frozen. I had no idea what to do,” he said. “My name gets called and I walk across the stage and went to accept my diploma with the right hand and he jerked it back and told me ‘Salute.’ I did, then walked off stage.”

After graduation, Adams moved on to the Strategic Air Command (SAC), the largest strategic nuclear deterrent force in the world today.

Adams said the SAC was key to winning the Cold War, especially when the late President Ronald Reagan was in office.

“President Reagan was a master of that too as he became our president,” he said. “I can’t tell you everything or I’ll have to kill you.”

Adams said it was a tough but rewarding job that kept him on base 24/7.

From there, Adams was sent to Ohio State for missile graduate school. His studies were cut short by Vietnam.

“I had to get out of the grad program and go back to flying in Vietnam,” he said, adding his first job flying C-141’s in Vietnam was his hardest. “One of the most dreadful was bringing the bodies back.”

After Vietnam, Adams took a position as chief of staff at the Strategic Air Command at Omaha, Neb. and retired from the military to work as the Assistant Director of Operations at the Los Amos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

“It was a good move,” he said. “I had 2,500 people working for me. I learned a lot in a hurry.”

During his distinguished career, Adams said it is good to plan ahead, but it was also important to be adaptable in multiple situations.

“I never tried to plan my career,” he said. “I was told to let the Air Force plan it.”

Three things are essential to having a good college and workforce career, Adams said.

“Live your life, do your job, and work hard,” he said. “You need to know where you are before you leap. Don’t try to leap frog or get ahead of yourself. And don’t be intimidated.”

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