Black-and-white pictures of military men hung on the walls. Medals, awards, and insignias of distinguished honor covered rooms. Uniforms symbolizing pride reserved special space in the wardrobe.
These were common sights for Michael Keeton growing up in his Burleson house.
“Flying helicopters in the Army, he really enjoyed that very much,” Michael Keeton said about Wayne Keeton, his father and retired Chief Warrant Officer 5. “I’m glad he got to do that.”
Wayne Keeton, also grew up in a similar setting. Michael’s grandfather served in the U.S. Navy as a flight surgeon.
Now, the third-generation Keeton is continuing the tradition.
“I was in elementary school, and he went to Iraq and Bosnia,” Michael said. “He was flying over there. I kind of knew what he was doing, and I kind of did not really know what he was doing at the same time.”
Wayne also did a tour of Vietnam in the late 60s, the height of unprecedented tension during the Vietnam War. He worked on fortification and building projects for the U.S. Army.
In Bosnia, he was assigned flight missions to support infantry units and other NATO countries. Then, while in Iraq, he took on the responsibility of advising a whole brigade of about 135 aircraft.
“I was read in on all things that the bad guys were doing and how we would counter those and come up with ways that we could keep our people safe,” Wayne said. “And still accomplish our mission.”
Wayne flew UH-1 Huey and UH-60L Black Hawk helicopters. Towards the end of his career, Wayne joined the National Guard, topping-off a solid 40-years of military service.
The now 22-years-old Michael drew inspiration from his father and decided to follow in his footsteps.
Right after graduating from Centennial High School in 2014, Michael joined the Army through the U.S. Army recruiting office in Burleson. The young soldier was assigned to a combat infantry unit initially.
Although Wayne, as a father, was concerned and surprised by Michael’s decision, Wayne said he was just as proud by it.
“He [Michael] was a man now and he wanted to go out and be a man,” Wayne said.
But, Micheal was interested in flying aircraft, just as his father.
“We sat on the phone for hours, sometimes, talking about helicopter stuff,” Michael said.
So he went to Army flight school and graduated from Fort Rucker in Alabama last month.
His family attended the graduation ceremony, where Wayne brought a special family token to pass down to his son.
“I was able to find my original wings that my father pinned on me,” Wayne said. “I got those wings and polished them up real nice and that’s what I put on Michael. So, his first wings were the same wings that I got in May of 1971.”
Michael is now also trained to fly UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters. He is currently stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, and serves as a warrant officer 1.
“It’s doing something meaningful and I would not want to do anything that’s not meaningful like this,” Michael said, adding that it was difficult but “I am glad to have joined the Army.”
Michael is scheduled to deploy to Eastern Europe this month after celebrating Veterans Day.