By Rick Emert, Fort Carson MountaineerMarch 5, 2009
FORT CARSON, Colo.-The year Don Niles began his federal service, President Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized the creation of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, Marilyn Monroe married baseball great Joe DiMaggio, the words "under God" were added to the "Pledge of Allegiance" and the first Burger King restaurant opened its doors in Florida.
More than 53 years later, Niles, a photographer from Fort Carson's Directorate of Information Management Visual Information, has decided it's time to put away his camera for good.
Niles was recognized during a retirement luncheon Feb. 27 at Elkhorn Catering and Conference Center for his service in the U.S. Air Force beginning in 1954 and in civil service beginning in 1982. At 73, Niles served his country for nearly three-fourths of his life.
"He was a Vietnam combat photographer (with) 26 years active-duty and civil service for 27 years. What an accomplishment," said Col. B. Shannon Davis, deputy senior commander and chief of staff, Fort Carson, in remarks at the luncheon. "He's just an outstanding individual. People like this are the epitome of the American public out there."
Niles went from his role as a combat photographer in the Air Force to taking Department of the Army photos for Visual Information.
He took more than 75,000 DA photos, said Chris Sutton, Training Division chief, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.
"He just keeps plugging away," Sutton said a week before Niles' last day. "No matter what, he just continues. He's been through a lot of changes in how they did photography. When he first started it was all chemical photos, darkroom and the whole bit. We transitioned over to digital photo. Everybody had a hard time with that, but he just kept on going no matter what."
Niles' last day was Feb. 27, and some of his co-workers said his absence would take some adjustment.
"It's going to be weird," said Menzer Bobonis, administrative support assistant, Training Division, DPTMS. "I'm going to miss him coming in and being at the studio."
"He will be greatly missed," added Desiree Diaz, graphics and photography section. "It's not going to be the same."
Niles was devoted to his job of taking Soldiers' DA photos.
"He cares so very much about our Soldiers," said Bekky Shaw, an information technology specialist/system administrator who worked with Niles from 1983-2004. "When they walked into the DA studio, they had a 'prize-winning' photo for their promotion packet before they left."
Many of the Soldiers who have met Niles over the years have come back to visit him, Bobonis said. Several were at the retirement luncheon, including Davis.
"I've known Don since 1998, because he took my picture down at the photo lab," Davis said. "Every time I ever met this man ... he has had the best attitude, the best work ethic, and (he is) the most professional type person that I've ever been associated with."
Niles is a quiet man who has very little to say about his accomplishments. He didn't understand all the fuss over his five decades of federal service.
"I planned on just going out the gate, and Desiree (Diaz, who planned the luncheon) wouldn't let me do that," Niles said. "That's how I was when I retired from the Air Force - got my paperwork and got out."
Niles, who was accompanied at the luncheon by Arlene, his wife of 53 years, said retirement will be "a learning experience. I've been doing this forever; I'm going to miss a lot of people."
And many will miss Niles, said Jon Cashatt, audiovisual production specialist.
"It is going to be different," he said. "The people that are used to coming in to the photo lab, when they ask where he is, we will have to say that he is retired. People are used to seeing him there.
"I hope he realizes how much his service and accomplishments mean to the people that he has touched on a daily basis."