He grew up on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation in western New York, and his journeys have taken him all over the globe. Yet, his heart lies here, on his ancestral land, the land of the Oneida Indian Nation. It is here that he wishes to return one day.

“This is my Nation,” said Patrick McLeod (Bear Clan), a staff sergeant in the United States Air Force. “Eventually, I would like to live in Oneida, on Oneida land.”

Patrick’s work has him on the move. He is an aircraft mechanic, specializing in C-130 transport planes. Patrick recently concluded a four-year tour of duty at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska and has since been transferred to Moody Air Force Base in southern Georgia. The dramatic climate shift will not be a problem, said Patrick. He said he has adjusted to southern temperatures in the past. His first assignment in 1985 was in Little Rock, Arkansas.

“After high school, I tried a variety of jobs, but nothing too thrilling,” said Patrick. “I decided to join the Air Force Reserves in 1981, which is where I learned to be an aircraft mechanic. Four years later, I found myself in a full-time job that didn’t hold my interest, so I enlisted for active duty. I was 26 years old at the time.”

The work is involved, said Patrick. He conducts thorough inspections and performs preventative maintenance on the airplanes. Sometimes planes require total refurbishing, a time-consuming, painstaking process, he said. To refurbish a plane, everything must be taken out, stripped and rebuilt.

Life in the Air Force has meant living a life on the go. He has been to Saudi Arabia and England for two months each, and once stayed overnight in the Dominican Republic. During his stint in Alaska, he went to Korea for another overnight and later to Japan for 45 days. The trip to Japan was intense, said Patrick. The planes needed to be completely refurbished, requiring 12-hour shifts, seven days a week. The change of scenery was welcome, however.

Alaska’s winter climate was severe. Temperatures ranged from -15 to -25 degrees Fahrenheit, sometimes for two to three weeks straight, said Patrick, who worked outside most of the time. Despite the bitter weather, Patrick liked Alaska for two very different reasons.

“Half the people in Alaska live in Anchorage – it’s an active urban setting,” said Patrick. “Yet only one hundred miles away, there were very few people and the hunting and fishing were fabulous. It was the best of both worlds.”

Patrick has eight more years before he can retire from the Air Force. But, he has further career plans. As an aircraft mechanic, his skills are very specialized. He was trained to work on C-130s only. To work on other types of aircraft would require complete retraining, something Patrick is not interested in doing. Instead, he would like to try a different direction – computers.

“Everything involves computers today,” said Patrick. “I know computer knowledge will be necessary in any other job I pursue. My hope is to come to work for the Nation using my new skills.”

Although Patrick has never lived near the Nation, he has not been a stranger. He visits whenever possible and attends Council meetings each time. He has aspirations of one day becoming involved with the Nation’s government.

“The Nation is making great strides,” said Patrick. “It provides housing, health care, and is in the process of reacquiring our lands. Compare it to what other tribal nations are doing and they pale in comparison.”

He has stayed abreast of the Nation’s accomplishments through discussions with his Clan Mother, Marilyn John and Bear Clan Council Representative Brian Patterson. Patrick said he’s convinced the Nation will continue to grow, and would like to be part of that growth.

“There is something very progressive here to come home to,” he said. “A Nation that is working to help its people.”

A version of this story first appeared in The Oneida, Vol. 8, No. 1 in January 1997