Gerald Roark was born in rural Allen County, Kentucky in 1948. From his one-room school beginnings, he rose to graduate from Western Kentucky University in 1970, receiving his reserve commission in the United States Air Force early the following year.
Roark received his first taste of what would become his career aircraft in 1972 when he qualified in the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker; a four-engine, aerial refueling platform developed alongside the Boeing 707 passenger aircraft. He reported to the 917th Air Refueling Squadron at Dyess AFB, close to Abilene Texas. The unit moved to Kadena AFB Okinawa, and over two tours completed 74 tactical missions, primarily supporting B-52 bombing missions in Vietnam during Operation ARC LIGHT.
Roark rotated through to U-Tapao Royal Thai Air Base in Thailand to more closely support fighter and bomber operations in Southeast Asia, and in 45 missions, refueled F-4, A-7, F-111 and F-105 jets. On August 15, 1973, his aircraft performed the last pre-strike refueling mission of the war.
Returning stateside, he was assigned as Co-Pilot of the senior Standardization/Evaluation (Stan/Eval) crew of the 96th Bomb Wing at Dyess AFB, writing and developing normal and emergency procedure tests to bring the post-war squadron into compliance with the newest requirements, even qualifying the highest ranking officer in the 12th Air Division of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), General Raymond Haupt, in the KC-135.
Roark knew where he wanted to be. He gave up his Reserve Officer status to become an officer in the Regular Air Force and in record time, completed his pilot check to become one of the first 1st Lieutenant Aircraft Commanders in SAC. He continued routine air-refueling missions while assigned to the 42nd Bombardment Wing at Loring AFB in Maine. He was promoted to Captain, and became an Instructor Pilot with the Stan/Eval branch.
A particularly interesting collateral duty was the performance of extremely short-notice emergency medical evacuation flights from remote Loring AFB to more suitable facilities elsewhere, for both military and civilian patients. Over his stay at Loring, Roark flew four such missions.
1981 brought Roark and his young family a Permanent Change of Station (PCS) to the 912th Air Refueling Squadron at Robins AFB in Georgia. In just over a year, he climbed in rank and responsibility to become the Chief of Stan/Eval for the entire 19th Air Refueling Wing.
On October 24, 1983, in a 24-hour period, the number of KC-135 aircraft at Robbins doubled to 50, and the wing began operations to support Operation Urgent Fury, the US intersession in Grenada. A year later, Roark and his crew were chosen for a clandestine assignment, refueling AC-130 Spectre gunships that were patrolling Central America. The missions were very low level, radio silent and lights out to insure the success of the mission.
In 1984, Roark was selected to develop and lead the airborne support wing of the newly established US Central Command (CENTCOM). This multi-service command marked a major milestone in the evolution of the US military responsibility and relationship in Southwest Asia, the Middle East and Persian Gulf, and the Horn of Africa. This unified the entire region under a single command. It was Roark’s job to procure the aircraft and create the infrastructure that would support CENTCOM’s transportation and command operations.
Operations began in February. Even while still providing routine refueling operations to the Wing, Major Roark and his team took possession of the KC-135 that was to be outfitted for use by the commander of CENTCOM. Roark himself qualified the crew in the new aircraft. Over the next two months, the crew took the aircraft, now designated as an EC-135Y due to its new secure communication capabilities, on several shakedown and familiarization flights. Since the aircraft was still equipped with a refueling boom, the crew even refueled a B-52 on one of the hops.
The first operational tasking for the fledgling CENTCOM air wing was to launch in March. It was a trial by fire. The 90 flight-hour mission included 19 separate flights from McDill AFB in Florida through countries within Europe, Africa and the Middle East and back… twice. Roark’s three-man team handled the classified message traffic, diplomatic permissions, logistic requirements and planning, all while setting up office space and gathering equipment. Halfway through the mission, the crew picked up CENTCOM’s commander Army General Robert Kingston. Their EC-135 was now fully equipped and tested to serve as CENTCOM’s C3 (Command, Control, and Communications) aircraft.
From June 1984 through September 1985, Roark and his crew planned and flawlessly executed 16 missions and over 400 flight hours for CENTCOM, including a unique around-the-world trip. For his efforts, Major Roark was assigned as Aircraft Program Manager to CENTCOM Headquarters to coordinate all EC-135 operations, including procurement of another aircraft, budgeting and upgrades of engines, interior components and electronics. Major Roark also supervised and coordinated all secure communications for CINCCENTCOM during this three-year tour.
Roark was promoted to Lt Col in October 1987, and requested to return to his first love, flying the EC-135. After satisfying re-qualification requirements, he was assigned in October of 1989 as a Command Pilot for the new Commander in Chief of CENTCOM, General Norman Schwarzkopf. In addition to flying General Schwarzkopf, Roark continued to fly air-refueling missions in support of Desert Shield and Desert Storm Operations. The two EC-135 aircraft flew 116 sorties for a total of over 550 flight hours in support of Desert Shield and Storm.
Lt Col Roark wrapped up his nearly 22 year Air Force career with a flight on the very EC-135 aircraft that he had started the CENTCOM flight operations back in 1984. The two aircraft that had been his responsibility continued their service well into the 21st century.
After his 1991 retirement, Roark returned to Allen County, and launched a successful career in corporate aviation, flying for Fruit of the Loom and NetJets. He has logged over 5,550 total military flight hours, with almost 13,000 hours total flight time.
His military awards include: the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal (2 awards), the Air Medal (2 awards). The Air Force Commendation Medal (2 awards) and various unit, group and theatre medals.