With nearly three decades of service in the U.S. Air Force, you might think Perry Township native David Garfield is looking to wind down his military career.

The colonel has logged 500 hours of air combat missions as an F-16 or T-38 pilot, has instructed young military officers how to fly fighter jets, has been promoted a half-dozen times, and has served at eight military installations worldwide. Most folks might call that a full-fledged career.

"I have a purpose to continue to want to serve," said Garfield in a phone interview. "There's [still] a passion and dedication for me to protect and defend the [U.S.] Constitution. ... Maybe six more years."

Garfield, a 1985 graduate of Perry High School, is in line to assume the rank of brigadier general, prior to starting a new position in November at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va. At his new post, he will serve as a reserve (part-time) mobilization assistant for Air Combat Command's Plans, Programming and Budgeting department.

Langley is one of the oldest facilities of the Air Force, having been established on Dec. 30, 1916, prior to the nation's entry into World War I.

Garfield, 51, most recently served as commander of the 482nd Fighter Wing at Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida. He has spent 29 years in the military, earning a master's degree in 1989 from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

He attended Air Force flight school in Arizona, and said he got the itch for flying while in high school.

"I just gravitate toward airplanes and really liked that," he said.

Key flights

Earlier this month, Garfield took to the sky one last time as an F-16 pilot, an aircraft he had flown for the last 22 years. Flights over the years have included combat missions during Operation Allied Force (Kosovo and Serbia) in 1999, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) in 2001 and other missions involving smaller U.S. conflicts.

It was routine for Garfield to drop missiles or bombs on enemy targets during combat flights. He credits his continuous military training and fellow officers for the successful missions.

"You rely on your training, and you rely on your wing man," said Garfield. "Our Air Force has never been defeated."

Being an Air Force pilot had its ups and downs, said Garfield, now a full-time American Airlines commercial pilot, who said flight training and commitment to readiness never cease. He trained for six years to build his flight resume before becoming fully proficient.

"As a young pilot, you just want to pass training and graduate," he said. "Training is every day. You have to be good."

Biggest challenge

Being in the military provides challenges almost daily. Garfield said managing or balancing family life with being prepared to fly in combat at any moment has always been his biggest concern.

"Getting the message through [to my wife and children] that Dad may not be coming home is serious," said Garfield, who with his wife of 19 years, Beth, has four children. "There are threats, and you don't want to error. That can be taxing."

Military life has been more than fair, said Garfield.

"Live your life with purpose and by the Lord," he said. "I became fortunate."