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Retired squadron commander visits RAF Mildenhall

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Thomas Domingues and members of the 100th Air Refueling Wing pose for a photo in front of a KC-135 Stratotanker at RAF Mildenhall, England, May 10, 2019. Domingues, who visited RAF Mildenhall throughout his career, visited the base as part of a surprise visit set up by his friends and family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Thomas Domingues and members of the 100th Air Refueling Wing pose for a photo in front of a KC-135 Stratotanker at RAF Mildenhall, England, May 10, 2019. Domingues, who visited RAF Mildenhall throughout his career, visited the base as part of a surprise visit set up by his friends and family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Thomas Domingues speaks with friends, family and a pilot about his Air Force career during a visit at RAF Mildenhall, England, May 10, 2019. Domingues flew aerial refueling missions in the KC-135 during the Vietnam War and visited the base as part of a surprise visit set up by his friends and family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Thomas Domingues speaks with friends, family and a pilot about his Air Force career during a visit at RAF Mildenhall, England, May 10, 2019. Domingues flew aerial refueling missions in the KC-135 during the Vietnam War and visited the base as part of a surprise visit set up by his friends and family. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Thomas Domingues operates the KC-135 Stratotanker simulator during a visit at RAF Mildenhall, England, May 10, 2019. Domingues was a KC-135 Stratotanker pilot and retired after 31 years of service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

Retired U.S. Air Force Col. Thomas Domingues operates the KC-135 Stratotanker simulator during a visit at RAF Mildenhall, England, May 10, 2019. Domingues was a KC-135 Stratotanker pilot and retired after 31 years of service. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)

RAF MILDENHALL, England -- Retired Col. Thomas Domingues visited RAF Mildenhall as part of a surprise visit set up by friends and family for his final trip to England May 10, 2019.

Domingues graduated from pilot training in 1958 and spent most of his career in Strategic Air Command. He retired as the Chief of Staff of the Air National Guard Headquarters at the Pentagon after 31 years of service. One of his assignments was as the 349th Air Refueling Squadron commander at Beale Air Force Base, California, from 1977 to 1979. His mission there, to refuel SR-71 Blackbirds, often brought him to RAF Mildenhall.

“At that time, the locations most frequently that the Blackbird flew out of were at RAF Mildenhall and also Kadena Air Base, Japan,” Domingues said.

While visiting RAF Mildenhall, Domingues noticed some changes to the Air Force he had retired from and also some qualities that stayed the same.

One of the first places he noticed changes was in the simulator, where he was given the chance to land a KC-135 Stratotanker. Although he hasn’t flown in decades, it was something he still hasn’t forgotten how to do.

“The simulator was the first time I had flown the KC-135 in 40 years,” Domingues said. “It’s like riding a bike-you don’t leave it behind.”

While inside the simulator, Domingues noticed the different layout of controls.

“The instrumentation has changed, in some ways improved, and others made a little more complicated,” Domingues said. “You have many more potential aids compared to what I had in my time. Our simulators were fixed to the ground with no visuals at all. This is a state of the art simulator.”

In addition to being impressed by the technology, Domingues also noted the quality of the Airmen.

“The professionalism of the people in our Air Force has not diminished at all,” Domingues said. “I am certainly thankful for the hospitality that Mildenhall has shown me and my family today and my friends who set this up.”

Domingues also reflected on the challenges that come along with accomplishing the mission.

“The long hours have changed little,” Domingues said. “The time you miss away from your kids, it’s difficult to make up.”

Whether he was away from family or not, Domingues took advantage of the resources the Air Force offers to its members.

“The Air Force afforded me the opportunity for education, and I took advantage of that wherever I was,” Domingues said. “I came in through the aviation cadet program with two years of college and ended up leaving with two degrees.”

Despite serving more than three decades as an Airman, Domingues’ original plan was to become a pilot and leave the Air Force to fly for the airlines. He reconsidered when he realized the abundance of opportunities available to him in the military. He advises Airmen to continue their service if they can find their calling in a uniform.

“If there is something you want to do that you can do in, continue your service,” Domingues said. “It isn’t just that you’re serving, but it gives meaning to your life. You’re serving your country. Your future will be financially secure, and it’s a great life with opportunity almost everywhere you go.”