The Celebrities in Uniform exhibit at the National Museum of the Air Force

Before they were famous, Airman edition

By Senior Airman Michelle Patten
Air Force Public Affairs Agency

Before they were famous, celebrities were regular people working jobs just like everyone else. While their jobs prior to being famous may seem less glamorous to some, I like to think of them as everyday superheroes who served in the United States Air Force.

1. Gregg Popovich-

Basketball coach shakes hands with USAF Academy cadets during a Spurs practice
Academy cadets reach out to shake hands with Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich before the start of the team’s practice Oct. 2, 2013 at Clune Arena on the U.S. Air Force Academy campus in Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Master Sgt. Kenneth Bellard/Released)

Before he was leading the San Antonio Spurs to victory on the basketball court, Popovich was molded into the coach he is today by the United States Air Force Academy’s Cadet Honor Code. While attending the Academy, he played basketball all four years, and later also worked as an assistant coach at the Air Force Academy Prep School. The intelligence officer served for five years before hanging up his captain bars.

2. Bob Ross-

Master Sgt. Bob Ross, first sergeant of the Eielson Air Force Base clinic, paints a nature scene during an art demonstration at a retirement home.
A newspaper clipping from Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska., shows Master Sgt. Bob Ross sharing his artistic talents with the local community. (Courtesy photo)

Who knew those “happy little trees” were based on those seen around Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska? Ross developed his quick painting techniques to finish works of art while on breaks from work, before bringing his skills to “The Joy of Painting” television show where he taught others how to paint. Known for his soft-spoken and caring nature, it’s not surprising Ross did not enjoy the times in the military which required him to yell or that he served as a first sergeant. Ross was in the Air Force for twenty years before retiring as a master sergeant.

3. Johnny Cash-

Musician Johnny Cash in his Air Force uniform
Johnny Cash poses for an official U.S. Air Force photo. (Courtesy photo)

The “Man in black” started out as an Airman serving in blue. Johnny Cash enlisted into the Air Force during the Korean War for four years. Supposedly he purchased his first guitar at a base exchange while stationed overseas in Germany. Cash also created his first band with fellow Airmen while in Germany called the “The Landsberg Barbarians.” Cash’s legendary “Folsom Prison Blues” was written while he served in 1953. He served as a Morse code intercept operator for the U.S. Air Force Security Service where he was the first radio operator to hear news of Joseph Stalin’s death.

4. Chuck Norris

Actor Chuck Norris shakes hands with an Air Force commander
Gen. Tom Hobbins, U.S. Air Forces in Europe commander, thanks actor Chuck Norris for his visit to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, Sept. 19, 2007. Chuck Norris visited various bases overseas to thank Airmen, Marines, Soldiers and Sailors for their service to our nation. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Airman 1st Class Kelly LeGuillon/Released)

Before he was the Texas Ranger, Chuck Norris got law enforcement experience as an Air Force security forces member. Known for his martial arts skills like roundhouse kicks and overall toughness, Chuck Norris, real name Carlos Ray Norris, is a an actor and household name. Norris first learned his famous martial arts moves while stationed in Korea. His love of karate is also where he got his nickname Chuck. After four years Norris left the Air Force to start a new career – opening his first karate school.

5. Morgan Freeman

Actor Morgan Freeman suits up for egress training at Columbus Air Force Base
Master Sgt. Curtis Chiles (left) conducts egress training for actor Morgan Freeman before his orientation flight in a T-37 Tweet at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., Aug. 12, 2004. Freeman, who starred in the 2002 movie “Sum of All Fears,” also ate lunch with about 50 Airmen from the base and visited the radar approach control facility and the air traffic control tower. Sergeant Chiles is assigned to the 14th Medical Operations Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by 1st Lt. Jennifer Moore/Released)

With dreams of being a fighter pilot from the war movies he loved to watch, Freeman joined the Air Force. Freeman loved aviation so much he turned down a drama scholarship to enlist. He worked as an automatic tracking radar repairman for just under four years before deciding to return to the dramatic arts. Freeman did return to the skies by getting his private pilot’s license at the age of 65.

6. Sunny Anderson

Suny Anderson, a Food Network chef, cooks at a military holiday breakfast
The Food Network’s Sunny Anderson (right) and Master Sgt. Megan Parrot, 514th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, make grits for the 23rd Annual Holiday Breakfast Dec. 13, 2012 at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J. Anderson previously served as a broadcaster in the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Shawn J. Jones/Released)

While she is best known for whipping up delicious dishes in the Food Network kitchens, Anderson hasn’t always been a celebrity chef. She grew up as an Army brat living around the world and then got her start serving in the military. She enlisted in the Air Force, but even during her time in the service she wasn’t working in the dining facility. Anderson worked as an Air Force broadcaster stationed in South Korea and Texas. Her start working on the airwaves of Armed Forces News led her to successful work as a radio personality after her four years in the Air Force.

7. Bernard James

Beale Airmen and 9th Reconnaissance Wing commander, Col. Phil Stewart pose with Dallas Mavericks forward Bernard James before a contest with the Sacramento Kings, April 5, 2013. Stewart and the Airmen met James before the game. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bobby Cummings/Released)
Beale Airmen and 9th Reconnaissance Wing commander, Col. Phil Stewart pose with Dallas Mavericks forward Bernard James before a contest with the Sacramento Kings, April 5, 2013. Stewart and the Airmen met James before the game. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Bobby Cummings/Released)

Those familiar with Beale Air Force Base, Calif., may know of the Harris Fitness Center there. This is where Bernard James spent time on the court perfecting his basketball game. Before James played for the National Basketball Association, or even for the Florida State Seminoles, he served in the Air Force as a security forces specialist for six years. As a defender, Staff Sgt. James deployed to Kuwait, Qatar and Iraq. While in Iraq he guarded detainees and survived a mortar attack which claimed the lives of six.

8. Micki King (Maxine King)

Micki King poses for an official Air Force photo
Capt. Maxine (Micki) King poses for an official U.S. Air Force photo. (Courtesy photo)

Micki King was already an award-winning diver when she joined the Air Force in 1966. After her close loss at the 1968 Olympic Games when she broke her arm mid-dive, King trained at the U.S. Air Force Academy for her next chance at Olympic gold. She made a remarkable comeback to take the gold medal at the 1972 Olympics in the three-meter springboard event. Post-Olympics she took her athletism to the USAF Academy where she instructed physical education and became the first female to hold a faculty position at a military academy. She was also the only female coach in any sport to coach a male athlete to an NCAA championship at the time. King wasn’t done breaking barriers though, she served on the committee that led the way for opening the military academies to women. Col. Maxine King retired from the Air Force in 1992. Blue runs in the family too, as King’s own daughter, Michelle, graduated from the USAF Academy in 2005.

9. James (Jimmy) Stewart

Actor Jimmy Stewart poses for an official Air Force photo
Brig. Gen. James M. Stewart, USAF Reserve. (U.S. Air Force photo)

No, this photo is not from a wartime movie. The “It’s a Wonderful Life” actor Jimmy Stewart did actually serve in the Air Force. He was originally drafted in 1941 as an enlisted man, but a month after the strike on Pearl Harbor Stewart commissioned as an officer. With over 400 civilian flight hours he took his flight training at Moffett Field, Calif., to earn his pilot wings. After serving as an instructor pilot for AT-6, AT-9 and B-17 aircraft, he left for England as commanding officer of the 703d Bomb Squadron, equipped with B-24s. Stewart held various assignments during World War II and ended the war with 20 combat missions. After the WWII he stayed in the U.S. Air Force Reserve obtaining the rank of brigadier general in 1959. He bade farewell to Big Blue by retiring in 1968.

Did we miss any of your favorite famous Airmen? Share about your favorite “superhero” who serves in the U.S. Air Force!