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For six years during the Cold War, Air Force pilot Buz Carpenter sat in the cockpit of the world’s fastest jet, the SR-71 Blackbird, flying reconnaissance missions. Now retired from that work, Carpenter shares true-life tales from the skies as a volunteer docent at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles airport.
“My daughters give me a hard time,” he says. “They say, ‘Everything you’ve flown is now in a museum.’ ”
Washington’s many museums and cultural institutions take volunteers. We talked to Carpenter about his experiences.
Why did you sign up to be a docent?
I’ve been an aviation fan most of my life. I flew a lot of different airplanes. I had personal time with aircraft engineers Kelly Johnson, Ben Rich, and Jimmy Doolittle. I felt I ought to pass those experiences on. Someone can stand there and say, “It’s this long and weighs this much,” but people get more excited when someone can talk about people. We need to educate and motivate those coming behind us.
You started volunteering in 2003, when the Udvar-Hazy opened. What memories stand out?
For Air and Scare [an annual family Halloween event], I come dressed as an alien from Area 51. I wear a big green head, green hands with four fingers, and green feet. The first year, one of the kids said, “I really feel sorry for you, alien. I’d like to give you a high-five, but you only have four fingers.” Now when I see kids that are shy I’ll kneel and say, “Give me a high-four.”
What advice would you offer?
We all have skills. Raise your hand and volunteer because it really is uniquely American. I think it has to do with how we grew as a nation. When you headed west and needed your barn put up, people worked together.
Many nonprofits need volunteers who can lend a hand during workday hours—and retirees often fill that need. Groups particularly suited for seniors include Experience Corps (mentoring/tutoring children; experiencecorps.org), Iona Senior Services (supporting Washingtonians who are sixty-plus with adult daycare and home visits; iona.org), Interages (pairing older adults with children; interagesmd.org), and Senior Corps (matching seniors with local opportunities; seniorcorps.org). You can find more resources at your county or area office on aging.
>>Want more ways to do good? Check out our full charity package.