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AFTAC inducts 3 into famed Wall of Honor

  • Published
  • By Susan A. Romano
  • AFTAC Public Affairs

In keeping with its annual tradition, the Air Force Technical Applications Center here inducted three members onto its Wall of Honor March 11, 2020, memorializing their work that propelled the nuclear treaty monitoring center well into the 21st century.


Hosted by Col. Chad Hartman, AFTAC commander, the ceremony was held in the center’s Northrup Auditorium, which is named after a 2014 charter member of the Wall of Honor, Doyle Northrup.


This year’s inductees include retired Col. Donald Whitney, retired Chief Master Sgt. Larry D. Silhanek, and retired Chief Master Sgt. John T. Horsch.


Whitney began his career as an Air Force meteorologist and weather officer before becoming a pilot in the RC-130 in Vietnam.  Upon his return to the U.S., he was assigned to the 9th Weather Reconnaissance Wing at McClellan AFB, Calif., which marked his first exposure to the AFTAC mission.


Throughout his career, he was well-immersed into the operational and airborne sides of the center’s global responsibilities, which culminated in his direct involvement with AFTAC’s role in monitoring the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, prohibiting tests that produced yields greater than 150 kilotons.


On one of Whitney’s officer performance reports, his superior officer wrote, “Fostered by his leadership, Don knew the importance of the mission.  He is a premier O-6 who excels in a most-demanding job.”


“I worked with the best people in the Air Force,” Whitney said.  “The mission was important, but the people were more important.  I especially loved my time spent at the center’s headquarters because I was able to see all the pieces of our work around the world come together.”


Silhanek’s 30-year active duty career was spent exclusively as an AFTAC technician in various roles worldwide.  Starting out as an electromagnetic pulse technician, he graduated at the top of his class and spent his first assignment in the South Pacific, first in Fiji, then in American Samoa. He was AFTAC’s first logistics manager for the J-technique – AFTAC’s system that collected and analyzed electromagnetic pulses – and had the rare opportunity to be selected as a detachment chief as a master sergeant – a role historically held by senior personnel.


Upon his retirement from the Air Force, for the next 19 years he continued to employ his vast knowledge of seismic and hydro-acoustic systems as a government contractor, greatly enhancing AFTAC’s partnership with the International Monitoring System.


“As I sat and took in the magnitude of the ceremony, I found myself reflecting on my career and all the amazing officers and NCOs of all ranks I was lucky enough to work with,” said Silhanek.  “Seeing my name on the wall alongside my ‘elders’ who came before me is an incredibly humbling feeling.  Thanks to everyone who made this possible.”


Horsch enlisted in the Air Force in 1958 and was immediately selected to work as a special instrument technician, specializing in seismic analysis.  According to his supervisors, he had an uncanny ability to recognize potential trouble areas and act accordingly to provide the most reliable data to his superiors, and he was instrumental in the development and implementation of all processing techniques.


As he achieved success in his work, he also progressed as a leader.  He made rank quickly, and was rapidly put in management positions.  He was AFTAC’s Inspector General, Logistics Directorate superintendent, chief of an Operations Branch, and ultimately the center’s Senior Enlisted Advisor.  One general officer remarked on his performance report, “Chief Horsch is the pacesetter for all other noncommissioned officers in AFTAC—he’s truly one of the Air Force’s finest!


Horsch was overwhelmed by the outpouring of accolades.  “I feel so undeserving of this honor,” the retired chief master sergeant said.  “I spent my whole career with AFTAC and they are as much a part of me as members of my own family.  I want to thank everyone who supported me throughout my time on active duty and beyond.  I couldn’t be more pleased.”


Addison Mitchell, AFTAC’s mission software program manager, delivered the ceremony’s invocation and highlighted the contributions of the inductees.


“These men have singularly and collectively played a major role in the advancement of our technologies to detect, locate, identify and report nuclear detonations around the world,” Mitchell said.  “We thank them for providing us with breakthroughs that can only be accomplished by personifying the Air Force core values of Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence in All We Do.”


The wall was established in 2015, shortly after AFTAC’s headquarters personnel moved into their new $158 million facility, to recognize individuals who profoundly contributed to AFTAC’s global mission.


“When you think about the rich heritage of this organization, you’re looking into the eyes of the Airmen whose work makes us who we are today,” Hartman said during the ceremony.  “The complexity of the work they performed – which was cutting edge at the time – and the new and emerging technologies they oversaw illustrate the innovative culture that is deeply ingrained in AFTAC.  We are honored to recognize their immeasurable contributions our global mission.”


Selection to the Wall of Honor is no easy feat; AFTAC’s Heritage Committee meticulously reviews dozens of nomination packages of former scientists, analysts, engineers and technicians, while only three per year are considered for induction.  The committee looks for nominees who demonstrated great character and whose actions truly discriminated them from thousands of other center employees, both military and civilian.


“The AFTAC Wall of Honor not only recognizes the tremendous contributions of our former members who played such a vital role in our historic mission, but it gives our more junior personnel an opportunity to see the giants upon whose shoulders we stand today,” said Dr. Mike Young, AFTAC Historian.  “In the seven decades of our long range detection mission of monitoring foreign nuclear tests and arms control treaties, many of our Airmen and civilians have pioneered remarkable technologies that have enabled AFTAC to be so successful. This ceremony formally acknowledges their tremendous contributions and leadership.”