Lineage inspires lifetime of service
As a young boy, retired Air Force Tech. Sgt. Mark E. Dunning ’83 dreamed of becoming a paleontologist but knew he would need a doctorate for such a career. Spending time outside exploring creek beds and looking for fossils in Switzerland County, Ind., were highlights of Dunning’s childhood. Therefore, it was a natural progression for Dunning to major in geology at Hanover College, completing an independent study of microfossils – specifically conodonts (an extinct group of jawless vertebrates resembling eels).
A lack of financial resources limited Dunning’s field experience opportunities as a student. Yet upon enlisting in the U.S. Army Reserve in 1981, the summer after his sophomore year, he was able to complete field exercises in a different discipline. He credits his field experience at Hanover and as a Boy Scout for preparing him well for his training exercises.
Dunning’s commitment to the Army lengthened his academic journey, ultimately pushing his graduation date from 1983 to 1984. Upon receiving his diploma, Dunning received an honorable discharge from the Army Reserve and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force.
Coming from a family lineage of military service members, his father a World War II veteran and his grandfather a World War I veteran, inspired Dunning’s commitment to service. Dunning’s deep admiration for these men, particularly his father, shaped his career choice and the man he became.
“I wanted to go to [Indiana University] and take ROTC training, but my father wanted me to go to Hanover; his family had friends who were legacies, and this would give him ‘bragging rights.’”
When Dunning first enlisted in the Air Force, he was interested in computer programming but there were no jobs available at the time. His first duty station was in the United Kingdom at Royal Air Force Bentwaters, now called Bentwater Parks, from 1986-88.
“I was a security specialist, so that was being an Air Force cop, physical security, guarding aircraft, nuclear weapons,” described Dunning. As a first-term airman, Dunning was eligible to retrain, and he became a radio communication analysis specialist.
“For me, having a liberal arts education made me fit in kind of perfectly, especially for the stuff I did, because I was an analyst, so I could do varied jobs.”
A veteran of the Gulf War, Dunning served in Operation Desert Storm from 1992-93.
“I volunteered to deploy because the military service hadn’t seen anything like that since Vietnam. I thought, ‘now is my time to give my combat service.’ My job is what they call ‘in the rear with the gear.’ I wasn’t on the front lines, but I was still in hazardous duty,” recalled Dunning.
He then went on to complete two tours in Korea from 1994-95 and 1998-99. His military career spanned nearly 25 years and his service hasn’t gone without recognition. Dunning received the Defense Meritorious Service Medal in 2005. He led a team effort to set up contingency operations at the National Military Joint Intelligence Center Alternate Command Post immediately following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Service to God and country were instilled in me as a young man through my participation in the Boy Scouts, as well as helping others,” described Dunning.
His deep admiration for his father’s service inspired the leadership he wanted to exemplify during his time serving.
“He had his service medals and awards. You admire those people in uniform.”
Dunning’s commitment to service extends beyond the military. For the last decade, Dunning has been heavily involved with Sigma Chi Fraternity, supporting chapter members at Hanover as well as the national organization. He received the Significant Sig award in 2019. The honor was bestowed upon him in part for his military service, as well as dedication to the fraternity and commitment to his role as warden of the tombstone of Benjamin Piatt Runkle, one of Sigma Chi’s seven founders, located in Arlington National Cemetery.
“I try my best in anything that I do,” he noted.
Dunning is still involved in public service today as a civilian contractor for the U.S. Department of State. He currently resides in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Sang.