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Unsung Hero: Richard Turner, a force of nature

Richard Turner, a forest technician assigned to the 325th Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources, inspects a home-made wooden toy at the Natural Resources building June 14, 2016. Turner was chosen as the ‘Unsung Hero’ as part of Tyndall Air Force Base’s squadron of the week program, and one of his hobbies includes woodworking. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sergio A. Gamboa/Released)

Richard Turner, a forest technician assigned to the 325th Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources, inspects a home-made wooden toy at the Natural Resources building June 14, 2016. Turner was chosen as the ‘Unsung Hero’ as part of Tyndall Air Force Base’s squadron of the week program, and one of his hobbies includes woodworking. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sergio A. Gamboa/Released)

Richard Turner, a forest technician assigned to the 325th Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources forest management section, drives a tractor in preperation for road reestablishing at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., June 14, 2016. Forest management supports the Tyndall mission by providing wildfire protection, forest enhancement and restoration, endangered species and wildlife habitiat improvement and recreational development. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sergio A. Gamboa/Released)

Richard Turner, a forest technician assigned to the 325th Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources forest management section, drives a tractor in preperation for road reestablishing at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., June 14, 2016. Forest management supports the Tyndall mission by providing wildfire protection, forest enhancement and restoration, endangered species and wildlife habitiat improvement and recreational development. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sergio A. Gamboa/Released)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

Richard Turner has been a forestry technician with the 325th Civil Engineer Squadron Natural Resources flight for the past six years. He monitors the forest, provides wildfire protection and helps with forest enhancement and restoration.

“I like being outdoors and not tied down to a desk,” Turner said. “There is a lot of alone time out in the woods and sometimes you need time to think on your own. For me, getting on a piece of equipment is like therapy. I really enjoy and like to see how the forest is changing over the years and a lot of people don’t really stand back and look at the ecosystem of the forest. I get to see that every day.”

Turner is from Albany, Georgia, and enlisted in the Air Force in 1984 during his junior year at Dougherty High School.

After spending six years in the Air Force as an F-15 Eagle electrician, Turner decided not to cross-train to a different career field and got out of the Air Force. That’s when Turner’s career in forestry would begin to blossom.

“It was a bit different being out of the Air Force and a little scary because I didn’t know what I was going to do,” Turner said. “I went to school for a bit and then starting working with air conditioners in order to provide food for the table. I was just trying to figure out what my next step was.”

After several months, Turner decided to call the cooling business quits and became a forest ranger in Florida. He spent 15 years as a ranger, helping prevent fires, performing aid missions after hurricanes, tornadoes and floods, and operating bulldozers.

From all the missions he did, a mission to provide aid after Hurricane Katrina stood out to him.

“When I first got to the site, we were still in the process of body recovery, and we were still finding people,” Turner said about providing aid during Hurricane Katrina. “The experience was really not one you wanted to do, but I knew somebody had to do it. It was a pretty hard experience.”

Though this was a fearful experience for him, Turner feared something else much more.

“One of my worst fears as a firefighter was running across a body that couldn’t get away from a fire,” he said. “I always worried about that kind of stuff.”

Fortunately, he didn’t have to.

After a decade and a half as a forest ranger, he still reminisces about the lifelong friends he made and his time as a ranger.

“I miss working with all the people there because after 15 years, I made a lot of friends,” Turner said. “When you work with people for a long time they become family.”

Family is an important part of Turner’s life. He and his wife, Lisha, have been married for 30 years.

"We tried having kids, but unfortunately we couldn’t,” Turner said. “We prayed about it and tried to figure out a way that would work for us but couldn’t. After that we decided that adoption would be the answer.”

Before adopting, they first became foster parents of a baby girl.

People don’t understand all the things that go behind adoption. There is always the chance that the child can go back to the parents, but it just so happened this was a different situation, Turner said.

The judge signed the adoption papers and the Turner family became parents of their new daughter Heather.

“It felt great. I knew she was mine,” he said. “But it was hard. I was 43 years old when they handed me a baby and said she was my responsibility to take care of. It was different. I was happy, nervous and excited in some ways.

“Now she knows she is adopted and that ‘daddy’ works in the woods with Smokey the Bear,” Turner added.

When Turner is not working with Smokey, he likes spending time with his family, the outdoors, fishing and hunting and spending time in his small ranch filled with chickens, ducks and turkeys.  He also enjoys woodworking and making wooden toys.

“Before my little girl came along I did a lot of woodworking,” Turner said. “Now that I have her, I’m happy to give her all my time.

“I know later when my kid grows up she is going to say ‘you know, my dad probably planted those trees,’” he said. ”That makes me happy.”