WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — A military retiree says he knew from the second he signed up for the Air Force, that he wanted to make a career out of the military.
While Mike Larson was in the Air Force, he ended up having two careers.
Larson learned the basics of cooking in his high school home economics class, and that skill really paid off.
“One of the things I wanted to do when I went into the service is I wanted to be a cook,” Air Force Retiree Mike Larson said.
Larson became a cook and in no time was cooking for hundreds each day.
“I loved it,” he said.
Larson said cooking for so many airmen was no easy task.
“It took some getting used to it,” Larson said. “I think I worked every dining facility that was on base.”
He said at times they would feed 2,000.
His favorite meal to prepare was breakfast.
“I could have 20 orders on the grill at one time,” Larson said. “I was just going next, next.”
Larson also worked as a food service accountant on one assignment and said he handled a $7 million account.
He said he stayed in food service for 11 years, before he was forced to make some changes and train in a different field.
“It was either get out or cross train,” Larson said.
He said as part of Palace Balance, the military determined there were too many cooks with his rank at the time, so he joked he traded one kind of grease for another.
“They put me on the flight line,” Larson said.
He said the Air Force told him and his wife they would get to pick their next base, so they requested to land on the East or West Coast.
“They took the map and folded it in half,” Larson said. “It was Grand Forks, North Dakota.”
He said it ended up being their best assignment.
“It turns out that the hydraulic field was very rewarding,” Larson said.
He went on to win a prestigious award within the field when he was honored as Maintainer of the Year.
“I was just blown away when they came up to me and told me that I actually got it,” Larson said.
He also earned an award for his work with the chapel program off base.
They helped build a sod house for a local Bible camp.
“As far as I know, to this day, it is still standing,” Larson said.
Four days after Larson got out of basic training, he and his high school sweetheart got married. They have always been by each other’s side through many reenlistments over the years.
Larson is still on kitchen duty.
“I do all the cooking here,” he said.
Larson said it’s just a matter of scaling back portion sizes, from hundreds or thousands to just cooking for two.
“It took some getting used to,” he said.
He said from his days in Air Force dining halls, to the flight line, all the way to retirement after 20 years, he has no regrets. He would do it all over again.
“In a heartbeat,” Larson said. “They were good to us.”
Larson’s father was a Navy sailor, so he comes from a line of service.