POPE ARMY AIRFIELD, North Carolina --
He is just as popular now as he was when he was active duty. A legend, some might say. He is Mr. Herbert “Fletch” Fletcher, 43rd Air Mobility Operations Group Victim and Witness Assistance Program Coordinator and Discharge Clerk. The Louisville, Kentucky, native has worked in Pope Army Airfield’s Legal Office for seven years and spent 20 years in the U.S. Air Force before retiring in 2014.
It took him a few attempts before finally enlisting in the military. The first came after graduating from Shelby County High School in Shelbyville, Kentucky, when he tried to join the Air Force. He was denied due to not being able to shave, and was unable to receive a shaving waiver at that time.
A few years later, he tried joining the U.S. Navy until a hernia was discovered during a physical. Once that was removed, he received yet another ship date only to injure his ankle the night before playing basketball. With the added delay, the Navy couldn’t promise him the job he wanted so he opted for a different route.
It was in 1994 while working as a bookkeeper that an Air Force recruiter came into his place of business and discussed with him an opportunity to join the Air Force. As a single father at the time, he would often explain to his then two-year-old daughter how he wanted them to explore the world and have different experiences. The recruiter had him in basic training shortly after training to be an information management troop and on his way to creating that better life for his daughter.
Fletcher had a breadth of talents that he used outside of work once he joined. He played semi-professional football in a German league and rapped in a group called Coalition. They opened for shows in Anchorage, most notably Def Comedy Jam and he signed a studio deal with BMG while in Germany.
While in Germany he did a little recruiting of his own – it’s where he met his wife of 22 years, Nicole. She was in-processing; he was infatuated. And he remains smitten today of his bride and their four children.
It wasn’t always roses for Fletcher, though, who joined the military during a time when our society was struggling with race relations. Riots spread across Los Angeles and the O.J. Simpson trial caused further divide among many other race-related issues throughout our country.
“People ask what those issues have to do with the military. My response was whether you’re military or not, the way folks see these issues can make you realize more about those you work beside. And that can cause tension, even in a military environment.”
With nearly 28 years of employment with the Air Force, Fletcher says his most memorable issue with race came while he was overseas. “I was out with some guys from the base trying to get into a club in France,” Fletcher remembers. “The bouncer allowed me to enter, but wouldn’t let my buddies in. The bouncer later explained to me his reasoning…He stated it was his experience that most white military personnel would get drunk, get into fights, and tear the place up. I was welcomed because he said blacks kept it chill and had a good time.” Afterwards, Fletcher recounted the situation with his friends, who thought it was unfair and that it was racist. He took the opportunity to explain that maybe they could understand now what it was like to be a black man in America.
While working as a paralegal, Fletcher has been privy to paperwork for different offenses of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. As a young Airmen with a strong desire to speak his mind, he often questioned why black Airmen received a reduction in rank for the same offense a white Airman only received a fine. It was explained to him that the color of skin didn’t make a difference in the Air Force. Yet, Fletcher knew better from what he was seeing.
“In hindsight, my supervisors may have seen me as a loose cannon,” Fletcher said. “But whether they admitted it or not, I think they also understood there was validity to my concerns. I honestly believe that by me raising concerns, they paid more attention to cases over time.”
In addition to what he believes is more consistent treatment, he is happy to see more people of color in leadership positions. “When I first joined, there was nobody who looked like me in leadership positions, even as squadron commanders or first sergeants. It wasn’t until five or six years into my career that I saw my first black First Shirt or minority (person of color or female) commander. It’s nice that Airmen can now see people that look like them in leadership positions. It gives them something to aspire to be.”
Through it all, the memories, experiences, and lessons he gained throughout his career has been priceless. “The Air Force is not just a job, it’s an opportunity to grow, experience, learn, and prepare. In my 28 years, I feel like I’ve taken advantage of everything it had to offer, and I believe I’m a better person for it.”
Harley’s Hope highlights Team Pope Airmen while providing a snapshot into their culture, stereotypes faced, and how their culture plays a role in their personal and professional lives.