From aerospace to Doe Valley, it's a small world for Randy Brinkley
By Paula WalterRandy Brinkley, one of Johnson County’s newest residents, made the decision to move from California to Johnson County when he realized the beautiful mountains of northeast Tennessee were just as spectacular and breathtaking as the mountains of his home state of North Carolina. Originally from Valdez, a small town close to Hickory, Brinkley spent many hours in the mountains, never realizing that Tennessee had so much to offer.
While Brinkley was visiting Roan Mountain, he soon discovered just how close Tennessee was to the North Carolina border. “I have spent my whole life on the other side of these mountains,” Brinkley said. His search for a retirement home suddenly took on a different outlook as he turned to the hills of Johnson County. “I was just taken with how beautiful Watauga Lake is,” Brinkley recalled. After he kept returning to the area for approximately two years to visit, he decided to take the plunge and make Tennessee his home. According to Brinkley, Johnson County takes him back to the time when he was growing up back in late 1950’s and early 1960’s in Valdez.
Although he has just been here approximately six months, Brinkley has found kindred spirits in our mountains. “The people have been so incredibly kind to me,” he mused. One of the first Johnson County events he attended was this year’s Memorial Day service at Ralph Stout Park. “I was taken back by the patriotism here compared to most of the places I’ve lived,” Brinkley said. He was most impressed with the number of people who provided transportation so even the oldest of previous military personnel could enjoy the service.
Brinkley retired as a Colonel in The United States Marines after serving his country for 25 years. It didn’t take long once he made the move to Tennessee before he was introduced to fellow Johnson Countian, John Wayne Jeffries, who lives just beyond Brinkley’s home in the Doe Valley area of the county. As they began to compare memories of their service with the United States Marines, they soon realized they both served with the Third Marine Division in 1967 and 1968. At that time, Jeffries was a corporal in the First Battalion and Brinkley was a company commander in another division. Although they never met in Vietnam, they share many of the same memories. Jeffries was in the midst of one of the most challenging battles with the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam era. While Brinkley and his company were not participants in the same fight, they were acutely aware of the horrific combat nearby. During the battle that lasted for three days and three nights, over three quarters of Jeffries’ fellow soldiers had been wounded or killed.
Brinkley’s military career took him from Vietnam to the United States Air Force pilot training program. He flew more than 4,000 hours in 42 different types of aircraft. Along the walls and shelves in his den are awards and plaques, a tribute to his military career. With an undergraduate and master’s degree under his belt, Brinkley graduated from Navy Fighter Weapons School, also known as TOPGUN, Amphibious Warfare School, NATO Defense College and the Marine Corps School of Engineering, more than ready for the challenges he encountered in his career.
Brinkley’s front porch gives him a breathtaking view of Doe Mountain and the open sky. In his living room is a plaque with the latitude and longitude of his home, along with a picture of the mountainous area he now calls home taken from the cameras of the International Space Center (ISS). The size of a football field, the ISS houses six astronauts from United States, Russia, Japan, Europe and Canada. It can be seen from Earth with the naked eye. Its purpose is to serve as a space environment laboratory that conducts various scientific experiments. It can also be used to test spacecraft equipment for other missions.
The ISS rotates around the earth every 90 minutes, and those aboard witness both sunrises and sunsets every 45 minutes. It was on one of these rotations 250 miles above the planet Earth that the picture of Brinkley’s piece of Johnson County was taken. The picture was detailed enough to capture snow-capped mountain ranges. Brinkley had been the Mission Director of the Hubble Repair Mission. It was his job to coordinate the efforts to repair the lenses in the Hubble telescope aboard the ISS, as it had been ground to the wrong prescription. The challenge was how to repair something so intricate and detailed from space while the astronauts wore protective hand gear comparable to the size and thickness of boxing gloves. It was during this time that Brinkley worked with Dr. Brenda Ward who happens to come from our own Johnson County. They worked together on the initial repair of the Hubble Telescope and on the ISS. According to Brinkley, Ward is a true rocket scientist. Her father and sister still live in the county.
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