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Faces of the Guard-Master Sgt. Earl Nilsen retires

Retired Master Sgt. Earl Nilsen served as a member of the 120th Airlift Wing’s Honor Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson/Released)

Retired Master Sgt. Earl Nilsen served as a member of the 120th Airlift Wing’s Honor Guard. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson/Released)

GREAT FALLS, Mont. -- Master Sgt. Earl Nilsen has retired from the Montana Air National Guard following 39 years of military service to his country and state.

At the time of his retirement, his accrued years stood as a record for the longest time of continual service for present members of the MTANG. 

The educational opportunities available in the communications career field first attracted Nilsen to the guard in June 1976.

"Communications has always been pretty much an up-and-coming field," Nilsen said. "I figured that was my best chance to stay involved in something that was going to be around for a while."

He served as a member of the 120th Communications Flight for the entirety of his long career. His first Air Force career specialty was in radio maintenance but he later moved into the television and production systems maintenance field. When he retired he was serving as an information technology specialist in policy and plans for the 120th CF.

In perspective, the wing he served in flew four different primary aircraft during Nilsen's career: the F-106 Delta Dart, F-16 Falcon, F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft and the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft.

Nilsen said he's witnessed many changes in the guard during his nearly four decades of service.

"When I first got in the guard it was not really recognized as an equal member with the other military branches," Nilsen said. "After the Gulf War we started to see it change and after 9-1-1 it changed immensely to where the guard now is seen pretty much as equal to the other branches of service. There have been dramatic changes."

Nilsen also served nearly 25 years as a member of the 120th Airlift Wing's Honor Guard. He estimates that he participated in about 150 ceremonies that included Operation Patriotism flag presentations, color guard duties and providing honors at military funerals.

"To me, it was my way of paying tribute to those who had dedicated their lives to service (to their country)," Nilsen said. "I enjoyed doing the flag presentations and educating our grade school kids-maybe even some adults-on flag protocol and respect. But to me the most gratifying thing was being able to do the honors at funerals as my way of paying respect to those who had gone before me."

His favorite memory of serving in the MTANG was being part of a family organization that prides itself on taking care of its personnel. 

"Even today, it's still a family culture up there," Nilsen said. "We're all still friends, it's not like when you work downtown and at the end of the day you go your separate ways and don't socialize at all."

Nilsen's retirement plans include taking care of his animals on his hobby farm located south of Great Falls.
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