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Two Struthers brothers carry on family’s legacy of proud military service

Richard Zanni, 62, and Robert Zanni, 61, both of Struthers, each served in the Air Force Reserve. (Submitted photo)

EDITOR’S NOTE: To suggest a veteran for this series, which runs through Veterans Day, email metro editor Marly Reichert at mreichert@tribtoday.com.

STRUTHERS — Brothers Robert and Richard Zanni both joined the Air Force Reserve to follow in the footsteps of their father, Salvatore, who was in the Army Air Corps (a precursor to the Air Force) during World War II.

However, they joined for different reasons. Robert, now 61, thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to see, and more importantly, help, the world. During his military career, he traveled to six of the seven continents.

“I was fortunate enough to do a lot of traveling. I volunteered to go into the Air Force Reserve because I wanted to serve our country. My father, Salvatore L. Zanni, was in the Army Air Corps as an enlisted flyer and flew on B17s and was also a radio operator. My father then joined the Air Force Reserve in 1948. It’s interesting. I became an enlisted crew member as well, flying combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Robert said.

He volunteered for the Air Force Reserve in 1989. He went to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, which he describes as the gateway to the Air Force. After basic training in San Antonio, Robert went to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, for technical school.

“Then I reported to the Youngstown Air Reserve Station for my duties. I was an air cargo specialist and then in 1991, I cross-trained as an enlisted crew member. My specialty job was a C-130 Hercules air crew loadmaster, and this was my job until I retired,” Robert said.

Robert and his crew had deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Our unit was deployed to the Middle East many times. Our crew was involved with Operation Iraqi Freedom, and we have also done aerial spray missions during hurricanes Katrina, Floyd and Harvey. Our unit provided comfort in Bosnia, bringing in humanitarian aid to Sarajevo (capital of Bosnia Herzegovina). So many of us did so many things, everyone I served with did their job,” Robert said.

The brothers’ service continued the family legacy of military service, and the chain continues with the next generation.

“My brother, Richard and I were both in the Air Force Reserve and his son, Joey, just enlisted in the Navy. My father was in the military as well as his brother,” Robert said.

Robert is now a school teacher.

“I am very proud, humbled, and fortunate to have had the opportunity to serve my country in uniform, and I’m happy to have served alongside some of the finest men and women in the United States. I just did my part when called upon, and part of a long legacy of men and women, past and present, who have served. I would say the most rewarding aspect was being a part of something that is so much bigger than yourself. You know that you are doing your part,” Robert said.

RICHARD ZANNI

For Richard Zanni, being a flight nurse really intrigued him into joining the Air Force Reserve. Richard, now 62, was already a registered nurse for eight years before he volunteered for the Air Force Reserve.

During his 28 years in the military, he served as a flight nurse, flight instructor, flight examiner, officer in charge of air crew training, and he retired as a major.

“I loved every second of being in the Air Force Reserve and being a flight nurse. I was always interested in the medical field, and I always loved all the aspects of medicine. I volunteered because I had a strong desire to serve our country and doing my part to preserve our freedom,” Richard said.

“I love flying airplanes. I used to pilot a single-engine aircraft. My father, Salvatore, served during World War II and the Korean War and served a total of 33 years before retiring. He has since passed away. Today, my son, Joey Zanni, is serving active duty in the U.S. Navy. He entered right after high school and shipped out this past July,” Richard said.

In 1991, just two years after his brother, Richard went to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, for his basic training. The course he was given during his training was medical indoctrination for medical service officers.

“Then I was at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, for flight school and then returned to Lackland Air Force Base for land and water survival training. Following this, I went to pre-hospital trauma care and then I went to medical emergency response training. After this point, I had to complete nuclear, biological, chemical, radiological emergency care training. All of this training was spread throughout 28 years,” Richard said.

Richard’s first assignment was with the 315th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, which was at Charleston Air Force Base in North Charleston, S.C. Richard was then with the 459th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George’s County, Maryland. He said the bulk of his career in the Air Force Reserve was at these bases.

“We provided routine live air evacuation missions during peace and war times. The missions were at different times covering the areas of Panama, Cuba, Puerto Rico, The Azores and Germany. Our mission was long-range flights, and they would centralize patients or casualties in Germany and we would fly them back to the United States. The most rewarding aspect was taking care of casualties at 30,000-plus feet, traveling at 500 miles an hour,” Richard said.

During his last five years in the Air Force Reserve, Richard worked as a field medic. Richard now works as a registered nurse at Baxter International in the Global Medical Affairs Department.

“I had to retire from the Air Force Reserve because I reached the maximum retirement age. If it wasn’t mandatory to retire at that age, I would have stayed in the Air Force Reserve. I loved every second of it, and I loved taking care of casualties in the sky. I loved the camaraderie, quality, organization and knowing that I was doing my part for our military forces,” Richard said.

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