LATHAM — Join the Army – See the world!
Recently retired New York Army National Guard Col. Jeffrey Baker saw the world and more during his 30 years of service. And now that a retirement ceremony was held for Baker in late July, he plans to see more of the world.
The former Deputy State Army Aviation officer took advantage of what the Army offered him as a young man.
“It really was about college,” Col. Baker said. “I grew up in a small town in upstate New York, from very modest means, and ROTC was a way through to go to college.
“Once I was in ROTC, I realized there’s a camaraderie and a bond that you kind of get drawn into. I wanted to serve, I wanted to be a part of something bigger.”
He spent six years as an active duty serviceman and then remained with the National Guard, where he served across the world.
“In 2008 we were deployed to Iraq. It was during the surge and we were in Baghdad,” Baker said. “We left with 30 helicopters and 400 men and I was on the staff and we came home with 30 helicopters and 400 men.
“We flew over 5,000 hours and, and 400 to 500 combat missions. We were in the thick of things and it was definitely a team effort of everybody.”
Baker flew more than 200 combat hours in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter while deployed there.
He has also served in non-military, critical efforts. He served in Central America after Hurricane Mitch, which prepared him for the devastation he would see in the United States.
“After Hurricane Katrina, spending a month down in Mississippi and Louisiana, that was really definitely one of the highlights. It’s one thing to be overseas, but to do it here at home, helping people in our own country was really kind of exciting.”
Whether he was a military combatant or assisting after a natural disaster, Baker was prepared.
“We’re really trained for combat operations and if feels like we’re over there, we’re kind of controlling the situation,” Baker said. “These civil support operations, we’re really very reactive to what Mother Nature and what’s being thrown at us.”
His experience placed him in a key role after Hurricane Sandy.
“We took over Long Island Republic Airport and set up a forward operating base during Sandy,” he said.
The area received a tremendous outpouring of support in supplies and equipment, but there must be plans and direction in place. That is where Baker stepped in.
“Everybody wants to help, but there’s only so many spots to park an aircraft on a helipad on Wall Street. Somebody has got to be able to coordinate those efforts for aviation and that’s really kind of what we’re doing.”
Baker, who is married with a family, has a degree from the Albany College of Pharmacy and is a pharmacist at Price Chopper in Johnstown.
At 52, he still plans on working for Price Chopper as his two children, who both attend the University of Buffalo, have graduate plans.
“My son is a dual-major in aerospace and mechanical engineering and my daughter wants to go to law school,” Baker said. “I’m just too young to stop working.”
“I’ll probably work another eight year and Price Chopper has really supported me from my time away, deployments away from work. They are a great company to work for with that kind of support.”
With his retirement from the military, Baker has travel plans with his family.
“We’re taking a trip to Hawaii, a family trip that we planned and some different things,” Baker said.