Lt. Col. Darrin Leeo Gamblin
U.S. Air Force – Lieutenant Colonel
Desert Storm (1991) & Afghanistan (May 2011-present)
Darrin Leeo Gamblin was born in Oakland, grew up in Pleasanton and moved to Nicasio in 1979 where he lived with his four brothers, mother and stepfather . When he was in the fourth grade and read “Bruce Larkin, Air Force Cadet” he knew that he wanted to be a pilot and nothing got in his way. He went to Novato High School and was part of the Air Force JROTC program offered by the school. He then went to the Air Force Academy where he went through six weeks of basic cadet training prior to starting his academic/military education. After graduating from the Academy the first plane he flew was the T-37 trainer and then the T-38 Talon advanced trainer at Laughlin AFB in Del Rio Texas; it took him a year to get his wings.
While he was at the Air Force Academy he started with basic cadet training, which included a lot of physical training, and they learned basic military tradition ceremony and drills. In the second half of basic cadet training they went to this place called Jack’s Valley, which Darrin describes as. “ That place where you were wearing your combat uniform, maneuvering through bayonet assault course, confidence course, living in tents, took long marches with your rifle and heavy packs…typical military training.” The first year of his college career in the Air Force, he said was one of the hardest parts of being in the Air Force.
He further said the first six months were the hardest. During that time he had to endure extensive training. The people in charge of the training were not commanding officers but the junior and seniors that attended the Academy. Darrin became one of these leaders later in his college career. Also during that time they were under a strict code of behavior, he said, “As a freshman, you didn’t have any privileges for the whole year… after six weeks of basic training you started school and every time you left your room you had to be at attention, march along the side of the wall, and when you were outside going to class you had to march on these little marble strips, squaring your corners everywhere you went, you couldn’t just walk around at ease.” After a whole year of that he still was not discouraged from attaining his dream of being an Air Force pilot.
Also, he had numerous training programs including one where he said, “ They put us in a parachute harness and towed us behind a pick-up truck until we got up in the air and then they let us go to simulate a parachute landing after being ejected.” They also had to go to water survival school and a SERE (Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape) training where you had to learn how to survive living off the land, and how to evade being captured and resist interrogation in a POW situation and how to escape from a POW camp.
After he completed his four years at the AFA he was commissioned as a 2nd Lt. and immediately reported to undergraduate pilot training. While at UPT he had his own dorm room, with a private bathroom. He said that it was very much like a college campus. The food wasn’t exciting and they didn’t have much free time but “Basically on Friday nights we would go the officers club and drink…but that was typical Air Force.” Some weekends they were able to go to San Antonio, Texas and sometimes his fiancée would come to visit. (After Darrin graduated from the Air Force Academy he went home to his parents ranch. His girlfriend and her family were visiting them, and that was when he asked his girlfriend’s father permission to marry her. They first met when Darrin was at the Air Force Academy and she was a debutant in Southern California. Darrin’s Squadron at the Academy acted as escorts for the charitable event and Darrin was assigned to be her escort at the dance and the rest was history).
After his graduation he was able to get three weeks of leave before reporting for his first active assignment. When he arrived at his first assignment he was very excited, “Very Fun, a lot of flying”. That assignment took him to McClellan AFB in Sacramento, flying the C-21, a military version of a Lear Jet. The mission was VIP transport as well as high priority medical transport. (He and his wife were married one year after his assignment to McClellan.) It was during this time in the early 1990’s that he had his first overseas deployment in support of Operation Desert Storm following the end of ground combat during the Gulf War in 1991. He was stationed in Riyadh, and Daharan Saudi Arabia and lived in the Khobar Towers housing facility. A few years after he left, this would be the site of a major terrorist car bomb attack that killed 19 US Air Force personnel.
His next assignment took him overseas yet again, this time to Yokota AB in Japan for five years where he piloted the workhorse of the Air Force, the C-130 Hercules. In Japan Darrin and his wife, Masayo, were joined by their two sons Kento and Makoto, who are now 17 and 15 years old. After leaving Japan, and his first stint of active duty, he spent the next two years in Mountain View, CA flying the HC-130 as part of the 129th Rescue Squadron in the CA Air National Guard.
After his Guard commitment was up he transitioned into the reserves and became a pilot for Delta Air Lines moving with his family to Atlanta, GA (headquarters for Delta). With the challenging schedule of a commercial pilot, a husband, and a father of two young boys he transitioned yet again to the inactive ready reserves, at this point he was Major in rank and a Senior Pilot. As his boys grew he found that he missed the Air Force and was able to secure a position as an admissions liaison officer for the Air Force Academy and AFROTC in Georgia. It is similar to a college recruiter for the Air Force. He would help high school seniors interested in Air Force careers gain appointments to the Air Force Academy and obtain AFROTC Scholarships. While in this role he was promoted to the rank of Lt. Colonel and awarded Admission Liaison Officer of the Year for Georgia.
In the later part of 2009 Lt. Col. Gamblin was called back to active duty for a three-year term. He and his family moved to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Honolulu, Hawaii where he was assigned to 13th Air Force. Nearly a year into his re-activation Lt. Colonel Gamblin received his next set of orders, in April of 2011 he would start a 7-month deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan. Prior to his deployment he attended a two-week mini-camp to hone his skills in close quarter small team combat operations, every officer deployed to the Afghanistan Theater was sent through this course. He arrived in Kandahar and was assigned to the NATO air base where he is the chief air planner and works with the “electronic warfare personnel, close-air support teams, intelligence surveillance reconnaissance operators, and all the different air assets, in supporting of the troops on the ground, initially the 10th Mountain Division and later the 82nd Airborne Division”.
His quarters in Afghanistan are similar to a college dorm, sharing a room with a fellow NATO officer, a Wing Commander with the Royal Air Force. NATO built the building and there are many different countries represented there. It is a coalition called ISAF “International Stabilization Assistance Force…So in addition to all the NATO countries you also have Australians, Kiwi’s, Mongolians, and all kinds of folks.” His work place is also very international; “We had more foreigners then Americans in the office.” He also said that they all speak English, which makes it easy for him to communicate to them. At the end of his tour he had completed the Air War College.
As I finish editing this interview my uncle, Lt. Colonel Darrin L. Gamblin is safely on his way home to his family. It will take him three days and seven different stops to make it home to Hawaii from Afghanistan. He is very proud to serve his country no matter where his next assignment takes him.
Interviewed by Sarah Gamblin on Saturday October 1, 2011.