The Fourth of July is always a big deal for Marana resident Carlos Diaz and his family, but this year it is extra special. Every year the family throws a big party, but this year they will be celebrating more than just Independence Day, they will also celebrate Carlos’ retirement from the U.S. Air Force.
“I could have retired on June 1, but I asked to stay on one more month so it would coincide with the Fourth,” Diaz said.
Technically his last day was June 30, when there was a nice ceremony for him, on his final day after 20 years in the military.
Diaz was a pilot in the Air Force and the dreams of flying military planes began early on. He was an 11-year old Boy Scout at an air show in Washington. An F-15 screamed by, full after-burner and he decided that is what he wanted to do.
“I turned to my dad and said ‘I want to fly jets when I grow up,’” Diaz explained.
As he got older he lost sight of the dream. It was the 80’s after all and he, like so many others at the time, were conditioned to think that corporate America was the best path to go.
“I was going to go to college, get a good job and make a lot of money,” Diaz said. “My brother kept reminding me of my dream to fly, but I did not think it was a realistic option. Finally I looked into it some more and realized it was something I could do.”
Diaz attended Loyola Marymount University and was part of the ROTC program. His first great hurdle to becoming a pilot was that he got a “pilot slot” in ROTC. Between his junior and senior years he went through the Flight Screening program and got an “a-ok” to continue on as a pilot.
While at LMU Diaz met his wife Ann and in a whirlwind they graduated, got married and he began his career in the Air Force. It is a journey they have essentially gone through together.
“Basically our entire adult, post-college lives have been in the air force,” said Ann.
His original plan was to spend nine years in the Air Force and then become a commercial airline pilot. Then 9-11 happened.
“I decided to stay in the Air Force and make it a career,” Diaz said.
He began flying KC 135’s, a refueling air craft and has also piloted Predator unmanned aircraft and C-130’s. If there has been a conflict over the past 20 years he has been a part of it.
“If you saw it on CNN, I was there,” Diaz said.
He was deployed to Saudi Arabia to support the no-fly zone then went to southern Europe for the conflict in Bosnia.
“No one remembers that war,” noted his wife Ann. “Everyone remembers the Middle East and Afghanistan.”
He later was stationed in Qatar for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Kazakhstan as part of the Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.
Despite multiple deployments, he and his family have been fortunate to have been able to live in the Tucson area since 2001, in part because of being able to join the reserves but remain on active duty with his work with the Predators.
The Predators, known as drones to many, have become a controversial subject of late. Diaz has heard all sides of the arguments but cautions that many reports have been distorted.
“A lot of the controversy is a misunderstanding of their capabilities,” Diaz said. “Hollywood makes it seem like they can do a whole lot more than they can actually do.”
Diaz’s transition to civilian life will be somewhat smooth. He will actually remain involved with the Predators, serving as a consultant for the test center for the Air National Guard.
“I will be working on the same base, just a different parking lot, a different building and different clothing,” Diaz explained. “It should be a simple transition. Nearly everyone I will be working with will be former military, so there will be similar backgrounds and lifestyles. ”
Although he will still be around the military culture, he knows there are some things he will miss. As an officer he never craved power, but liked the level of respect shown by those he worked with. He will also miss the structure and discipline of the military.
“I have always liked structure and discipline in my life,” Diaz said. “I have been drawn to it. I was in the Boy Scouts and later ROTC and loved it.”
Diaz has also taken up karate, in large part because of the discipline it takes.
Diaz admits that his career had many “ups and downs” but that he “would not trade it for anything else.” He is excited for this next chapter, for spending more time with his wife and sons Brody and Xander, but there will be times he misses the job that has been the constant in his adult life.