HOWARD — Joining the Air National Guard enabled Steve Larcomb to finish college and still afford to eat. Along the way it took him to far-flung places, including Haiti, the Philippines, El Salvador, Honduras, Germany, Kenya and Somalia.
Larcomb didn’t go straight into the military after graduating from Elgin High School in Marion County in 1978. He started college at Ohio State University.
“I was about two years into college at OSU and working full-time, looking for options to finance my education,” Larcomb recalled.
The National Guard was offering full tuition payment as an inducement to enlist, and he had a friend in the Air National Guard at Mansfield, so he enlisted there.
After basic, he served in supply at Mansfield and meanwhile finished his journalism degree at OSU, graduating in March 1983. He had an offer for a job in upstate New York, but another opportunity had also presented itself.
“My commander kept pushing me to apply for co-pilot’s school,” Larcomb said, explaining that his commander had always wanted to be a pilot, but didn’t have good enough eyesight.
Larcomb was accepted and decided that sounded more interesting than the reporting job (he never did use his journalism degree). He trained in T37 and T38 trainers (breaking the sound barrier in the latter) and then took the training to become a co-pilot in a C130 transport.
He flew as a co-pilot for a couple years, then went back to C130 Aircraft Commander School at Little Rock. He was a member of the 179th Tactical Airlift Group.
It was as a co-pilot that he went into Haiti on one of the first relief missions to that country after “Baby Doc” Duvalier was overthrown.
He recalled that when they landed, there was a huge crowd of people on the other side of a tall wire fence, shouting and waving. He didn’t know whether they were hostile or not, and finally figured if they were angry they would have done something already and walked over to the fence.
“I wound up running along the fence line, high-fiving everybody. They were really happy to see us,” he said.
Larcomb was away from home as much as 185 days a year, flying various training and supply missions.
He would go on embassy supply missions to Central and South America. Once, landing in El Salvador, they could hear gunfire in the jungle, but they didn’t get shot at.
He flew into Honduras when trouble flared there, and he even did an “in and out” stop at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He landed at Clarke Air Force Base in the Philippines before it was covered in ash.
His flight across the Pacific was in the days before GPS and they had to find Midway and Guam by celestial navigation.
He would also fly training missions — dropping U.S. Navy SEALS at sea, or going to Fort Bragg, N.C., to fly training missions for paratroopers and Rangers.
He also flew hurricane relief missions for Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
In between, he had a little stopover at Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany.
At 11 p.m. Aug. 7, 1990, he got a call from his commander and the next morning he was on a plane headed for Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. When the plane stopped for fuel in Germany, a lieutenant colonel came on board and asked if anyone had command and control training, which Larcomb did. Three raised their hands and stayed in Germany.
There he spent Desert Shield and Desert Storm with 322nd Airlift Division headquarters, making sure C141 and C5A transports had crews to get them from the east coast to Europe and on to the Middle East.
Larcomb’s last mission was to Somalia in 1993, where he spent six weeks flying supplies from Kenya into the war-torn country.
“We could fly into Mogadishu 24 hours a day, but other places we could only go to in daylight. We could fly two missions a day and had to take the next day off,” he said.
On his days off, Larcomb took to hopping aboard a plane headed to Baidoa, Somalia, and visiting with the children at the treatment and feeding centers there.
“They had nothing and beyond,” he said. “I started taking soccer balls with me,” which he would give to the children. Other servicemen began contributing and buying more balls to hand out.
“I tried teaching them a little English and they tried to teach me Somali. Their English was better than my Somali,” he said.
The patches on his uniforms were attached with Velcro, so he would take them off and hand them to the kids, who would throw them at him and try to get them to stick.
But there was also the reminder of the civil war raging in the country.
“I held a baby with whooping cough,” he recalled. “Another time a 14-year-old died while I was there.”
“I often wonder what happened to those kids.”
After Somalia, Larcomb decided to leave the guard and go back to school and get a degree in education. He was married by now and had children. He had attained the rank of captain and had 3,300 hours in C130s.
He got his degree in education and taught for a couple years in Marion, but he knew he wanted to go into administration and completed his certification for that.
He spent four years as an elementary principal at Ridgedale in Marion County, then went to Wyoming, where he spent two years working with the Northern Arapaho at a reservation there.
He came back to Ohio, spending two years in Salem before having the chance to return to Marion County, where he worked at Pleasant Schools until coming to East Knox this year.
He is still commuting from Marion County, but he is looking for a house in this direction and two of his children come with him every day to attend East Knox.
He and his wife, Sandi, have six children and four granddaughters.
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