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After 38 years, 'it's time' to retire

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Col. Donald E. Paynter

Brooklyn’s Col. Donald E. Paynter always wanted to fly. But after four years of college, including Air Force ROTC, he had to go after another love—medicine.

Ultimately, he still got into airplanes, just not as a pilot.

Paynter, a full colonel, officially retired from military service at a ceremony on August 22, 2009, at the 132nd Fighter Wing, Iowa Air National Guard, Des Moines.

“My dad flew as an enlisted man in World War II, so joining the Air Force was kind of natural,” he said.

Born in Grinnell on July 29, 1949, to Paul and Gladys Paynter, he was raised in Brooklyn.

“I grew up in rural Brooklyn—my grandparents had some land south of Holiday Lake, the hot spot to be as a teenager,” he said.

He went to BGM High School. The son of a former mayor of Brooklyn, Paynter said that the community support he received was tremendous both as an individual and as a student.

“I lettered in four sports in high school,” he said. “Football, basketball, track and baseball.”

He graduated from Coe College in 1971 and was commissioned that same year.

“I was not pilot qualified, so I went to graduate school,” Paynter said.

Granted an Air Force Institute of Technology Civilian Institutions educational delay, Paynter went back to school and earned his Master of Science degree in physiology and biophysics from the University of Iowa in 1974.

So, where did the military place him after he entered active service in 1974? He was ordered to Loring Air Force Base (AFB), Maine, as a space systems operations officer at Det. 2, 4000 Aerospace Applications Group.

“That was when we were winding down from Vietnam,” he said. “People were rotating back into supplement positions.”

In other words, the pool was crowded so they put Paynter into the “physics pool” and he “got into space.” Part of a crew of four men—an officer and three enlisted men—their mission was as a control station for weather satellites.

“We’d send commands to the satellite and tell it when to turn on its cameras, sensors, or whatever,” he said. “It was pretty interesting. It was a secret mission when I got there and I couldn’t tell my wife what I was doing.”

He had married Joyce Ann Lippincott on June 4, 1971 at the Grace United Methodist Church, Brooklyn, just two weeks after being commissioned a second lieutenant in the Air Force ROTC program at Coe College. They have since had two children— Bradley, who is in high school, and Thomas, a graduate of the Air Force Academy who is a doctor at Keesler AFB, Biloxi, Miss.

Her parents, Dale and Helen Lippincott, still live in Brooklyn.

They also have two grandchildren— Brandon and Ashlyn.

In 1976, Paynter was accepted into medical school and was awarded an Air Force Health Professions Scholarship, which he used to return to Iowa and enter the University of Iowa Medical School where he received the Doctor of Medicine degree in 1980.

Paynter attended the School of Aerospace Medicine Introductory Course at Brooks AFB, Texas, where he completed a clerkship in pulmonary medicine at Wilford Hall Medical Center, Lackland AFB. While there, he was selected to the Alpha Omega Alpha medical honor society in his junior year.

He entered his internal medicine residency training at the USAF Medical Center, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, which was followed by an Air Force sponsored pulmonary and critical care fellowship at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science in Little Rock, Ark.

In 1985 he reported to the USAF Medical Center, Scott AFB, Ill., as a staff pulmonologist in the Department of Internal Medicine. He returned to Wright-Patterson in 1986 to teach in the internal medicine residency and to become an assistant clinical professor for Wright State University School of Medicine.

Paynter was named chief, Cardiopulmonary Services, and was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. He then separated from active service in Aug. 1991, entering private practice in pulmonary diseases and critical care medicine in Cedar Rapids.

Scheduled to be released earlier, the first Gulf War got in the way. “I had to stay because of the first Gulf War,” he said. “Anyone who was planning on getting out, they said Well, you can’t.“

According to Paynter, after a year or so of private practice, he started looking at the reserves.

After all, he hadn’t flown, yet. “I had always been interested in flying, even though I am not flight qualified,” he said.

So, he returned to active service in 1995 as Chief, Hospital Services for the 710th Medical Squadron, Offutt AFB, Nebraska, where he completed the Aerospace Medicine Primary Course at the School of Aerospace Medicine, Brooks AFB, Texas.

And in 1997, was awarded the aeronautical rating of, you guessed it, flight surgeon, and flew regularly with the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron.

In 1997 he was named commander of the 710th, and was promoted to the rank of Colonel. While commander, the unit was named an “Outstanding Air Force Reserve Medical Squadron.”

It wasn’t long before a cousin asked about the Iowa National Guard.

“He called me up and said you ought to think about the Air National Guard,” Paynter said. “When they knew I was looking, there was a position that fit my rank and job performance.” So, in 2004, Paynter transferred tothe Iowa Air National Guard’s 132nd Fighter Wing and the 132nd Medical Group.

“It was interesting to be so close to the flight mission,” he said. “It was a fantastic experience to be able to support the pilots who fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon."

Paynter was able to fly in an F-16 a few times, something he will remember for a long time.

"It beats ya," he said. "It's a very hard plane to fly. Air sickness is a real problem. What remarkable people those pilots are.”

Responsible for the overall health of the unit, he was able to deploy with the unit a number of times, including to the Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita relief efforts; Anderson AFB, Guam; Ramstein Air Base (AB), Germany; and Incirlik AB, Turkey.

“I flew into Iraq on cargo missions,” he said. “I logged 30 hours of combat time. There are supporting bases around Iraq where large cargo planes can refuel, so they don’t have to refuel on the ground in Iraq.” His awards include the Meritorious Service Medical with two oak leaf clusters, the Air Force Commendation Medal, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with silver oak leaf cluster, and the Humanitarian Service Medal.

UPDATED September 8, 2009 2:55 PM

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