Maj. Gen. Alfred Flowers, an Air Force officer who gives dedication to service a whole new meaning, recently returned to Montgomery.
When he retired from the Air Force in 2012, Flowers became the longest-serving airman in military history completing a career that spanned more than 46 years, which included several tours at Maxwell Air Force Base early on in his career and right before he retired.
He also became the longest-serving African-American in the history of the U. S. Department of Defense and ended his career as a two-star general Deputy Assistant Secretary for Budget, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller, Washington, D.C.
This summer he visited Alabama State University to welcome a friend and colleague into the ranks of the retired.
Lt. Col. Tangela D. Spencer, commander of ASU's ROTC Detachment 019 for three years, retired during a ceremony on campus after serving 28 years in the Air Force. Spencer served under Flowers while he was stationed at Maxwell.
"She is an amazing lady. But this is really a transitioning ceremony, because she will never quit," Flowers said. "Six months from now, she will transition to something else, and you'll hear about how wonderful she's doing in that job."
That's where Spencer and Flowers are a lot alike. Flowers refused to quit until he became the highest ranking officer in his field. It was his dream since he entered the Air Force as a 17-year-old from North Carolina.
Raised by his grandparents, two sharecroppers, Flowers had very little and he certainly had no money for college. The military seemed like his best bet at "a better life."
While serving in the Air Force, Flowers was determined to pursue higher education.After serving in Vietnam from 1968-1969 as an air transportation specialist at Da Nang Air Base, he completed his Bachelor of Science degree in 1975 while studying part-time and working. He began his Master's studies a little more than a year later.
He furthered his professional military education at Maxwell attending Squadron Officer School in 1980, Professional Military Comptroller School in 1985 and later returned in 2008 as the Commander of the Air Force Officer Accession and Training Schools for Air University.
Once Flowers was commissioned as an officer in 1978, he moved from being a young airman in supplies and air transportation to accounting, where he was best suited. And excelled. The Department of Defense eventually put Flowers over multi-billion dollar accounts including the first accounts made with the Middle East.
The biggest account he was in charge of was for $170 billion just before he retired.
The military's constrained budget has been in the media spotlight for the last several years. In fact, the Department of Defense is the smallest it has been since World War II and finance and budget staffs are the best defense against dwindling resources Flowers said.
"When I was a finance officer, I had to balance to the penny on all accounts every day. It had to be perfect," Flowers said. "Budgeting accounts on the other hand was more estimating, controlling resources and looking at finance in a broader sense.
"It's a matter of prioritizing and explaining to Congress what you can't do without, but ultimately it will never be enough for want we want to do."
Flowers retired as a two-star general and is proud to be an example for his family to follow. He wife is a retired active-duty airman, their son is a colonel in the Air Force, their daughter-in-law is an active duty nurse and two grandsons plan to serve as well. His advice to them and others is simple.
"We all want to be successful and be the best we can be, but you don't know where life will take you," Flowers said. "You have to perform every day in whatever you do. Do it the best you can and allow others to help you along the way."