By Konstantine Fekos
Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 52 saw the return of a decorated Meadville war veteran who turned down a retirement ceremony overseas to celebrate in his hometown with family members, some of whom he hadn’t seen in years.
Col. Andrew Pears of the U.S. Air Force spent Thursday morning and afternoon reuniting with cherished family members and friends, who greeted him with warm embraces and congratulations.
“If you want to see what love looks like, look to the Pears family,” said Chaplain Brigadier General Richard Erikson, mobilization assistant to the Air Force Chief of Chaplains, officiating the ceremony and offering thoughtful comments along with Fred Cunningham, director of the Crawford County Office of Veterans Services.
“I’m just thrilled to be here,” said Erikson, who traveled from the Pentagon, braving inclement weather to present his long-time friend and fellow service member with a presidential certificate of appreciation and retirement certificate.
“I first met Andrew during an active duty assignment in 1999,” he continued. “His family greeted me and they became like my sponsors. We’ve had two assignments together since.”
Pears began his military career with the value of a strong work ethic, which he learned from his father and applied to the study of physics at Clarion University of Pennsylvania before enrolling in Air University and working his way to Officer Training School in Texas in 1985.
Before joining the Air Force, Pears claimed he never traveled west beyond Ohio. After 27 years of military service, however, Pears has put numerous tours under his belt, including Turkey, Germany, Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia.
“Back then, I didn’t even know where Somalia was,” he laughed. “You can get to a lot of places with hard work.”
Pears served in numerous command positions throughout the years, most recently working as Deputy Director of Communications for the U.S. Air Force in Europe at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base from August 2010 to August 2012.
His practical mindset, keen leadership and innovative approach to responsibilities for the full range of communications and cyber support within the U.S. European and African Command areas earned him the Legion of Merit, Cunningham said.
“The Legion of Merit is an elite medal,” said Erikson, describing the award as a prestigious and rare honor presented to those who demonstrated exceptionally outstanding service.
Pears is also decorated with the Bronze Star for his involvement in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
“The singularly distinctive accomplishments of Colonel Pears culminate a distinguished career in the service of this country and reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force,” said Cunningham.
After receiving his awards and certificates, Pears tearfully thanked his family and friends as well as the Chaplain’s Corps and VFW Post 52 for their unending support to himself and others in military service.
“My wife, Mary, has been a huge strength during my tours and our separation (being apart at times during his career),” said Pears. “People don’t realize how hard it is to be the family in that situation.”
While soldiers know their own conditions and whether they are safe, Pears added, families constantly see reports of soldiers killed in combat.
“You have to do what’s right for the family,” said Mary Pears. “That’s been the mantra for me and other military spouses. There’s no blueprint for a successful military family.”
Additionally Andrew Pears’ family has moved 14 times in his 27 years of service. His sons, Joe and John, and daughter, Kayleigh, attended at least nine different schools during that time.
“I wonder if we’ll just pack up and move back into the house at the two-year joint, we’re just so used to it,” Andrew Pears joked. “Right now, we’re residing in Alabama.”
Joking aside, Andrew Pears was ecstatic to have the majority of his family together for the first time in about five years.
“Of course this is emotional,” said Andrew Pears, who plans to look for work after taking a year off to spend time with his family. “You do something for 27 years and then go on to do something completely different.”
“It’s very fitting it ended where it began,” said Mary Pears, describing the ceremony as beautiful and perfect despite the potential for an audience of hundreds instead of about 25. “He could’ve retired in Germany and it would’ve been a big to-do with people who worked for him sitting in uniform, but this was right for the family.”
The Pears family wouldn’t be complete without Andrew’s canine companion Cleopatra, his only companion in Germany for two years according to his parents, Howard and Nancy.
“That dog saved his life,” Nancy Pears said, referring to an incident when Cleopatra warmed her owner through a bout with hypothermia.
“I’m just lucky to have served my country for 27 years,” Andrew Pears said, smiling. “It was just fantastic to lead the people I did; the greatest airmen in the world. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.”