WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Master Sergeant Dave Swenson found a role in the Air Force as a combat arms instructor. He trained soldiers, police, and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Swenson’s path to the Air Force began when he was young. His father was in the Navy. His uncles and one of his brothers served in the U.S. Army. Swenson chose the Air Force, and soon he was on a plane to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

While Swenson was at Lackland, he was taught how to train others in combat arms. His first duty was in the field as a bomb tech. But after suffering an injury, he was reclassified and found his calling.

“I went into combat arms, which was my job. I had basically my entire career. They’re the people that teach you how to shoot the rifle and the marksmanship training to qualify pretty much anybody who’s deploying or going overseas. Probably 90% of training was with the pistol or the M16 or M4 carbine,” said Swenson.

He spent six years training soldiers at McConnell Air Force Base before being sent to a new duty station in Korea. Then came the first of his six deployments.

“The first one was in UAE, United Arab Emirates. It was pre-9/11,” he said. “And then I went to Iraq in 2003. We were basically the first Air Force on the ground in Iraq during the war.“

Swenson says his team landed in Northern Iraq, and the travel was undercover.

“They put us on cattle trucks and drove us to Kirkuk, and it was pretty, pretty weird.
The pucker factor was up there because we didn’t have any communications with
anybody,” Swenson explained.

Initially, the Army wouldn’t let Swenson’s team inside its encampment because they didn’t know the Air Force team was coming. After several hours left exposed outside, Swenson’s outfit was allowed inside.

He ended up at Camp Bucca, which was an internment or prison facility.

During his second tour to Iraq, Swenson was a squad leader for a patrol team.

“And I end up getting hurt during that, and they moved me to a desk job where I was the
radio telephone operator for the patrol team for a couple of weeks,” he said. “I messed up my arm pretty good. It got dislocated. It was a rollover, and my gunner, he got thrown out of the vehicle. It wasn’t good. He ended up getting his arm amputated. And his face, he had 15 to 20 surgeries to get his face back to semi-normal. So, it was a rough time.”

In 2006, Swenson was deployed to Qatar as a squad leader. Then after a short break at McConnell, he was sent back to Iraq for a third time.

“To LSA Anaconda/Bilad. Initially, I think it was an army base, and then the Air
Force went in. So, it was split on two sides. Air Force was on one side of the base, and
Army was on the other,” he said. “I was a rescue squad leader again. So, my main job when I was a mortar tracer. We had indirect fire when they shoot rockets and mortars at us, and I
was the one that went and stood over them and gave them the degrees and impacts to tell
them where they were shot from.”

“After that, I came back. And then in 2010 was my last trip. Went to Afghanistan for
about six and a half, seven months,” Swenson added.

In Afghanistan, he was in charge of the logistics section at Bagram.

“We repaired weapons. We did set up weapons. I did a lot of negligent discharges. Guys
that accidentally shot their weapons off and wasn’t supposed to,” Swenson said.

Swenson returned to McConnell and retired in 2013, having completed 22 years of service to his country.

“It went kind of quick, actually. The only time it kind of slowed down was on deployments. It just felt like the days drag and stuff like that, but it’s basically a roller coaster. I really didn’t get a chance to deploy my first 18 years, and then after my first one, it was go on a deployment, and it’d be kind of slow and then leave again,” he said. “And after you got back, it felt like time just flew by. I had a good time, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else, and I love my country, and I’m proud to be a veteran.”

Swenson worked as a firearms instructor and as an armored truck driver. He’s currently an employee at the Robert Dole VA Medical Center, where he drives veterans to and from their medical appointments.

If you want to nominate a veteran for our Veteran Salute, email KSN reporter Jason Lamb at jason.lamb@ksn.com.