Ware dreamed of flying as a boy growing up in Huttonsville
Editor’s note: This article is part of The Inter-Mountain’s Unsung Heroes series for 2018, which features veterans in our area sharing first-hand accounts of their military service.
COLLIERVILLE, Tenn. — A Randolph County native retired from the Air Force after a 21-year career in which he was a pilot, a flight instructor and an aide de camp to a four-star general, and worked on a secret weapons program.
Mike Ware grew up in Huttonsville and at a young age decided he wanted to become a pilot.
“There were training routes right over Elkins,” Ware said. “Then the jets could come down low and break the speed of sound. We’d hear them when we were out in the backyard, that boom boom! That’s what got me thinking about flying.”
While never forgetting his dream of learning to fly, Ware worked in a coal mine in the summers while he attended college. In December 1973 he graduated from West Virginia University, where he was in the ROTC program.
After working as an electrical engineer for five months, he traveled to Columbia, Mississippi, for Air Force pilot training.
“Vietnam was scaling down at that time,” Ware said. “I could have gone in as a navigator, but I held out for the pilot slot.”
He was in pilot training for a year, and then received advanced training on the T-38 Talon supersonic twin-engine jet trainer.
“I came back as an instructor in the Talon” for about four years after pilot school, Ware said.
During that period he got married in September 1977. He met his wife, Suzanne, when she was going to college in Mississippi.
“It was a blind date that worked out,” Ware said with a laugh.
Ware was then stationed in Holland, where he and his wife lived for more than three years.
“My son was born there,” he said. “We loved Holland.” While there Ware was promoted from lieutenant to captain.
He was then assigned to McChord Air Force base in Pierce County, Washington, where he served as an F-15 Eagle pilot instructor for two years.
“It was awesome,” Ware said. “We helped transition the base from the F-106 to the F-15.”
While working there as an instructor, providing “combat operational training,” he also traveled many times to make use of a flight simulator in Anchorage, Alaska.
Ware then experienced a sudden, unexpected shift in his career path.
He traveled to Stuttgart, Germany, to serve as an aide-de-camp to a four-star general. Ware had received no real training for such a position.
“His previous aide knew me” and suggested Ware to the general, he noted, adding that the general was an “awesome individual.”
Stuttgart was the headquarters of EU Com (United States European Command), and Ware and the general traveled all over Europe, and to Africa and other points on the globe.
“My job was to not let him walk a step that I didn’t walk before him,” Ware said. “It was a major change. I’d never been involved in command at that level.”
He served in the position for two years. “It was challenging,” he said. “At that point, we had a 3-year-old son and two 4-month-old twin girls.”
Ware was then stationed for two years as an F-15 instructor to the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.
He then accepted a position to run a secret, highly classified weapons program out of that base for another two years. He worked on the program during the Gulf War, codenamed Operations Desert Storm.
“I went over to the war for a week,” Ware said. “That was my only wartime experience.”
He traveled throughout the U.S. briefing and debriefing pilots on the secret program, then traveled the world to African Air Force bases to brief pilots there on the weapon systems program.
His next assignment was at an Air Force base in Oklahoma, as an instructor for the T-37 twin-engine jet trainer.
“I was the No. 2 guy in a program with about 500 instructors,” he said. “It was great getting back to flying with the young guys. It’s exciting. You can have an effect on their life.”
After two years, Ware was stationed once again at Columbia, Mississippi, which turned out to be his final Air Force assignment.
“I started and ended in Mississippi,” he said.
Beginning in 1993, he served there as a LIFT (Lead-In Fighter Training) squadron commander.
“We built the squadron from the ground up,” he said.
Ware, who had achieved the rank of Lt. Colonel, retired in September 1995.
Once again a civilian, Ware and his family moved to Tennessee, where he was hired to be a FedEx pilot. At first he flew internationally for the company, but he found he preferred to be a domestic pilot.
After 18 years, he retired from FedEx in 2013. He and his wife know have seven grandchildren, with another due in December.
“We’ve got one in the hangar,” Ware said.
Now enjoying his second retirement, Ware has been honored several times for his volunteer work. He often reflects on his childhood in Randolph County and what he learned growing up here.
His job as an aide-de-camp to a general “let me realize all the things I’d learned growing up in the valley — about integrity, hard work, honesty — all the basic things of life, loyalty. I learned that in school and the jobs I had there in Randolph County,” Ware said.
He said the general told him, “I’ve got all the brilliant people I need around me. I need someone with common sense, who’s loyal and honest. I need a West Virginia coal mine farm boy.”
Ware said his life has exceeded the dreams he had as a young boy in Huttonsville.
“A lot of people don’t get to do what their dreams are,” he said. “I’m lucky.”