News: Retirement ends 76 years of service for Missouri National Guard twins
Story by Ann Keyes
OZARK, Mo. – Master Sgt. Shelva Combs and Sgt. 1st Class Elva Combs, twin brothers born seven minutes apart, end nearly eight decades of combined service with the Missouri Army National Guard this year, capping a commitment to the military that began in high school in Shelbyville.
“We were from a small town, and our dad was in World War II, so we thought we’d do our duty and join,” said Shelva of the promise to state and country he and Elva made simultaneously in November 1974. “That was it.”
The brothers agree that earning a paycheck for weekend drill was an additional incentive for Guard service, but a few years into their obligation monthly military exercises turned to full-time careers in Army aviation for both Combses.
In the early 1980s, the brothers started work in Springfield at the military aviation repair facility commonly known as the Aviation Classification Repair Activity Depot or AVCRAD.
In addition to military instruction, the Combses became experts in military aircraft repair, specifically in sheet metal, said Maj. Vaughn Brown, quality control officer at the aircraft repair facility and a member of the brothers’ Missouri Guard unit, the 1107th Aviation Group.
“They’ve been around 30-plus years,” said Brown of the twins, who now live in Ozark. “They are sheet metal gurus.”
The brothers’ expertise has been felt stateside in Missouri and the country-over, as well as in other areas of the world. As part of overseas contingency operations, the brothers deployed with the Aviation Group from 2005 to 2006 and again in 2010. There, in theater in Afghanistan, the Combses gained a reputation as go-to soldiers when a UH-60 Black Hawk, among other aircraft, needed to be back in the air.
“When they were deployed, they gained a reputation for sheet metal. Combat aviation brigade commanders would call and ask for them specifically by name,” said Brown. “They brought a spotlight to the 1107th on deployment because of their skill set.”
“Once you do it, you don’t forget it,” said Elva, understatedly, of his work.
Elva has already exited the flight facility from the full-time side and had his last monthly drill with the Aviation Group the first weekend in May. Shelva will follow his brother out of the aircraft hangar shortly.
At their closing drill together, the brothers stood alongside each other in uniform for the final time and were cited with the Order of St. Michael, an award recognizing those who have made significant contributions to Army Aviation while serving the military with distinction.
“The (award) is the embodiment of courage, justice and gallantry,” reads the citation given by the Army Aviation Association of America.
“They’re leaving quite a legacy behind,” said Brown. “Both of them are going to be greatly missed, not just as good people, but as outstanding aviation maintenance maintainers.”
“I’ve enjoyed working on aircraft. I still do,” said Shelva. “The Guard has been good to us, but it’s time to move on.”
While now facing a future unknown beyond fishing and honey-do lists, the brothers have enjoyed their careers together, especially during dual deployments.
“I think it’s easier on a person when you have family close. It’s a good thing,” said Shelva.
“Our first deployment, we were in Kandahar, Afghanistan, Christmas Day in 2005,” said Elva. “We both kind of looked at each other and laughed and said, ‘Well, in 1974 if you’d have told us we’d be in Kandahar ...’ we didn’t even know Kandahar, Afghanistan existed.”