By Hazel Scott/ASU
Few groups deserve our recognition, respect, and gratitude more than the brave men and women who have served or who are currently serving in the United States armed forces. On Saturday, September 9, Alabama State University honored these courageous individuals during the annual Military Appreciation Game Day at The ASU Stadium.
ASU spotlights one such veteran, an avid University supporter who has spent his life protecting American values and democracy.
A Life of Service
(Ret) Chief Master Sergeant Donald R. Parks is one of millions of veterans who have made huge sacrifices to preserve the American way of life.
The Oklahoma native enlisted in the Air Force right out of high school in 1960. He was compelled to enlist not only because of his love of country but also to help his mother.
“I didn’t want to put more strain on my mother because she was already sending my older brother through college. She was going to try to find a way to send me, but I didn’t want to put that pressure on her. So, I decided to join the Air Force. That day (I enlisted) changed the trajectory of my life,” Parks said.
Parks quickly moved up the ladder to the rank of Chief Master Sergeant (CMSgt), making friends, and learning to lead.
“I was a computer specialist at Gunter Air Force Base. I managed the Equipment System for the Air Force Supply System and designed software to manage all the equipment used throughout the Air Force…and other agencies,” he said.
Parks took a serious tone when asked what being a chief — the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force — means to him.
“When I see a chief master sergeant,” Parks said, “I see a servant. I see somebody willing to carry an organization on their shoulders. It’s a strong legacy and history of leadership.”
He noted being a chief is a longtime commitment that doesn’t stop when you take off your uniform at the end of the day or even when you retire. “You continuously listen and mentor everyone, both at work and off the clock.”
Parks describes his leadership style as inspiring hard work and loyalty instead of demanding it. “If you have to demand things from people and use threats and intimidation, then you are not leading them…You encourage people to take pride in what they do.”
Parks has been deployed throughout the world, including combat deployment to Vietnam. “I did a tour in Alaska, Greece, and the Philippines, among other countries.
Amid his greatest moments in the Air Force, he said, was when the then-president of the United States decided to take the military out of Taiwan and Turkey.
“I was chosen to lead the team to go in and close the Air Force bases down and to assist the Navy in shutting down. I did the same thing in Turkey. I was picked to go over and shut those bases down. It was a lot of work and difficult because you were working with foreign countries.”
Parks retired from the Air Force August 1985 with 25 years of service. “I still love the Air Force. It was challenging but satisfying.”
Life After the Military
From 1985 to 1987, Parks was employed by Tracor Applied Sciences, Inc., where he held various positions, including Technical Support Manager and Manager of the Montgomery, Alabama office.
He entered the Federal Civil Service in 1987 at Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery. He served in various positions, including Chief of the Requirements and Analysis Division, Combat Ammunition Systems, Chief of the Manpower Systems Division, and Program Manager for the Air Force Aviation Resource Management System. In 2006, he was selected to manage the Operations and Sustainment Systems Branch where he served until his retirement in 2007 after 20 years as a civilian.
For his impeccable work as a civil servant, Parks was awarded the Air Force Exemplary Civilian Service Award for outstanding service, inducted into the Organization’s Hall of Fame and presented the accompanying award upon his retirement.
He is a member of numerous professional organizations.
“There were a lot of successes in that second career,” he said.
Parks is married to the former Symiria J. Garrett and the couple have two children, Leonardo and Tracy.
Love of ASU
Parks is not an ASU graduate but said his love for the University runs deep.
“My love for ASU grew…I started becoming connected with ASU after I retired. I knew some people who worked at ASU in different capacities. One of those people mentioned that a top-notch student needed help to get over the finish line. I suggested that we help the young man financially and the rest is history,” he said. “From that, my involvement just grew.”
Over the years, Parks has helped several ASU students walk across the stage.
He said watching a production several years ago at the Leila Barlow Theatre turned him into a die-hard supporter of ASU’s Theatre Arts Department. “Everyone on stage was exquisite.”
Parks became the President of The Friends of the Theater at the behest of the then-dean of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, Dr. Tommie Stewart. “I’ve been president for quite a few years now. I got really immersed in supporting ASU’s Theatre Arts Department.
Parks said ASU is a force to be reckoned with in academia and cutting-edge research. “It has grown with the times. Dr. (Quinton) Ross is doing miracles almost…There are some outstanding educational opportunities at ASU.”
He noted that the only regret in his life, as far as education goes, is that he didn’t graduate from ASU.
“I wished that I would have. I still sort of have that regret because I would like to claim ASU as my alma mater, but I can’t. So, all I can do is give what I can to it in support of their initiatives. I love me some ASU.”