Courage, loyalty and honor – words on the Oklahoma Military Academy crest and life virtues upheld by cadet John Helbing. He will receive the OMA Distinguished Alumni Award at the reunion this fall. Although he only spent one year on the hill, he reflects fondly on the memories that left their impression on his heart.
Helbing attend the Oklahoma Military Academy from 1966-1967. He participated in drill team, color guard, wrestling and was the first sergeant of A company.
“My fondest memories of OMA were spending weekends with a different cadet at his home, meeting his parents and relatives and enjoying home cooked meals,” Helbing said.
OMA’s instructors taught discipline and leadership but became mentors and father figures who took the time to impart wisdom and show grace.
“Instructor Sergeant Golden believed in me and helped me when I needed it the most. I’m forever grateful for the care and the commitment he made to ensure we had successful futures as men,” Helbing said.
After completing his freshman year at OMA, Helbing transferred to the University of Wisconsin. The 1968 draft interrupted his studies. He served in the Army for three years and then returned to the University of Wisconsin to graduate with honors in 1975 with a bachelor’s degree in occupational safety and health.
During his three years of military service, Helbing served with the special forces in the 173rd ABN and the 82nd Airborne achieving the rank of Specialist 5th Class. He was a platoon combat medic and then promoted to a company senior medic.
For his service he received the Combat Medical badge, the Bronze Star, Vietnam Service Medal with four Bronze Stars, the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm Unit Citation, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medial with Device, the Parachute Badge, the Good Conduct Medal and the Expert Marksman Rifle.
Helbing was honorably discharged from the Army in 1971 and joined the Wisconsin National Guard. He was promoted to Specialist 6th Class upon entry and promoted to Sergeant 1st Class, Medical Platoon Sergeant.
He held various safety management positions throughout his career ranging from plant safety manager to corporate safety director for Fortune 500 Corporations such as Sara lee, Chiquita, HJ Heinz and Bunge North America.
His primary objective was to provide a safe workplace culture that sent all employees home at the end of the day the same way they began the day.
“Employees needed to be active participants in their safety and of their fellow workers. I learned not to dictate safety but to sell it by obtaining employee by-in,” Helbing said.
Since his retirement, his focus is on volunteer work. Wings of Hope, a non-profit that provides free air medical transport to children and adults, is a way Helbing can nurture his love of flying and helping people along the way.
“Wings is a win-win deal. Wings is all about helping people and flying. It’s a place where we work together and share the same belief. We are a family that cares for one another and cares for others,” Helbing said.
In his free time, Helbing enjoys golfing, photography, hunting and fishing, scuba diving, riding his pedal bike and of course, flying.