Lieutenant Colonel Carter’s Love of Aircraft—and Birds

Blue Skies of Texas resident, Lt Col Tom Carter Lt. Col. Tom Carter

Blue Skies of Texas resident Retired Lt. Col. Thomas Carter is a man in motion. His sense of purpose originates from his 28 years in the United States Air Force where he oversaw aircraft maintenance training and aircraft maintainers in combat flying units.

A love of aircraft—and flyers

Growing up in Portsmouth, VA, Tom was familiar with the Navy life. His father served in the Navy, and his hometown of Cradock was a planned community developed in 1918 to support the work force at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. But Tom’s love of aircraft and his cousin’s influence led him to the Air Force. “I was in my high school’s marching band and liked the discipline,” Tom shared. So, he chose to attend Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, joining the VA Tech Corps of Cadets and Air Force ROTC program.

Throughout his military career, Tom and his wife Linda moved to various Air Force bases throughout the United States  and spent time overseas. During the Cold War, Tom was stationed at Hahn Air Base, Germany to oversee maintenance of a fleet of F-4 Phantom aircraft, one of our most potent and reliable fighter aircraft. In 1983, he was also stationed at Osan Air Base with F-4s, south of the Korean Demilitarized Zone. “That was the closest I was to being on the front lines,” Tom said.

Migrating south

In 1993, Tom retired from the Air Force and the couple chose San Antonio as their new home. Some 26 years later, Tom and Linda moved to Blue Skies of Texas. “I liked the idea of a retirement community for military personnel, but I also wanted an environment with support for my wife if something should happen to me.”

The couple chose a two-bedroom cottage that overlooks The Oaks Lake. It was the perfect location for Tom to continue his hobby of providing housing for Purple Martins, songbirds in the swallow family. “The location is ideal because Purple Martins love to be near water and houses,” Tom explained.

A Smithsonian magazine article had earlier prompted Tom to become a member of the Purple Martin Conservation Association, which in turn, led him to develop a Purple Martin colony at his home prior to moving to Blue Skies of Texas. With agreement from the Blue Skies of Texas’ marketing and sales department, Tom was able to continue to supply homes for Martins when the couple moved. “Purple Martins are almost totally dependent on humans for their nesting needs,” Tom explained. “I’m like a Purple Martin landlord.”

Caring for the flock

Sadly, Linda passed away in May 2017, but today, Tom finds purpose in caring for Purple Martins and teaching others to follow his lead. After erecting a 24-unit colony on The Oaks Lake, Tom discovered an interest in Purple Martins by residents of the Blue Skies of Texas’ Liberty House and installed a 12-unit Purple Martin community for the enjoyment of those and other residents.

Soon, more residents took notice. “A friend wanted to put up houses in his backyard and then another,” Tom said. To date, the Blue Skies of Texas campus features 60 Purple Martin dwellings among five sites. Known for their pre-dawn singing and aerial acrobatics, Martins are aerial insectivores, devouring beetles, moths and other flying insects that attack crops. “They’re magnificent flyers because that’s how they feed,” Tom shared.

When the birds migrate to South America for winter, Tom and teams of bird caregivers take down the bird houses to clean and store them until the Purple Martins return home in March. “Everyone knows how to care for Purple Martins because I’ve given them brochures and instructions on what do,” Tom said.

The association between Tom’s past and present is striking. Where he once maintained legendary aircraft to protect our homeland, he now sustains a species’ habitat to ensure the future of these beautiful flyers. And thanks to being a Blue Skies of Texas resident, Tom can stay true to his man-in-motion lifestyle: days filled with pickleball, poker, billiards—and yes, caring for Purple Martins.

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