45 years filling "Dyer" needs

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Chuck Broadway
  • 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Twoscore and five years ago, a young man named Jeffrey Dyer signed up to join the United States Air Force performing aircraft security as an air police member. It was 1967 and the country was entrenched in the Vietnam conflict, the Beatles and "The Beverly Hillbillies" dominated radio and TV and the first ATM was put into service.

Following a 20-year career, Master Sgt. Jeffrey Dyer, a cross-trained court reporter, retired from active duty and shortly thereafter, entered civilian service performing the same duties he retired from. 

On April 29, 2016, Mr. Jeffrey Dyer, 4th Fighter Wing Judge Advocate court reporter, will retire once again after 25 years as a civilian and 45 years of total service to the Air Force.

“The Air Force is my life,” Dyer said. “I never expected it to be my life. Maybe when I finally retired in 1987, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up. Things kind of fell into my lap and I’ve stuck with it.”

It wasn’t always easy for Dyer, who said he struggled early in his career as an air policeman at Ramstein Air Base, Germany and Whiteman AFB, Missouri. The turning point came at the eight-year point when, after retraining into the administrative career field, he retrained again into legal services.

“The biggest reason I’m where I’m at today was getting retrained into legal and receiving court reporter training while in technical school,” he said. “When I was a cop, I had the biggest negative attitude of anybody I knew. I couldn’t wait to get out. I had a staff sergeant supervisor toward the end of my cop career ask me if it was the Air Force or the job that I didn’t like. I told him, it’s the job. He directed me to personnel and suggested I retrain and if it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be in the position I’m in now. I went into an office job and the people became my salvation.”

After serving as a court reporter for 12 years on active duty, Dyer retired at K.I. Sawyer AFB, Michigan and followed his wife, Rebecca, a paralegal, to Howard AB, Panama.

Unsure of his next move, Dyer was in the right place at the right time when a position opened up at the legal office at Howard AB, and thus his civilian court reporter career began.

When his wife received orders to Nellis AFB, Nevada, Dyer thought his days as a court reporter were through, but fate had other plans.

“I left Howard [AFB] thinking I wasn’t going to continue and went right into another court reporting position [at Nellis AFB] and the rest is history,” Dyer said. “My wife could not stand Las Vegas. We spent seven years there and the entire time she kept chipping away at me to move. I finally told her, ‘If you can find me a job, we’ll go, and she found a court reporting job at Pope AFB, NC.”

Dyer spent 12 years at Pope AFB until the mission was realigned and he took over the job at Seymour Johnson AFB in May 2012.

“Mr. Dyer's contributions to the legal office [here] have been vital to the court-martial process,” said Capt. Sean Hudson, 4th FW assistant staff Judge Advocate. “If he wasn't here, we would have to request a court reporter from another base for each court-martial, discharge board, or hearing that had to be recorded. Having him in the office and able to be in the courtroom at a moment's notice has helped us to avoid potential delays.” 

During Dyer’s tenure as a court reporter, he’s witnessed a lot of changes in how military court reporting operates. The methods of reporting have changed from steno masks, where reporters speak through a mask, resembling an aircrew oxygen mask, to “open-mic,” voice-recognition software.

With the steno mask, reporters’ words were recorded onto a cassette tape, then transcribed manually by the reporter. Typewriters and carbon paper were the method of choice and mistakes were unacceptable.

Dyer said the most difficult part of the job is maintaining concentration. It’s mentally draining and you’re tired at the end of the day.

“In the courtroom, you can’t slow people down and they speak, on average, at 175 words per minute. When you get people clipping along at 300 words per minute, it’s hard to keep up with them.”

Through advancements in technology, Dyer is now able to control the volume levels of eight microphones around the courtroom to provide the best possible coverage of a trial. Dyer was also a key contributor to acquiring proper acoustic materials and changing the layout of the courtroom to better assist both court reporters and judges during trials.

“It can be a very frustrating job. When you have trouble understanding people, who may speak different dialects, and your job is to transcribe what happened during a particular case, you have to get it right,” Dyer said. “If something is wrong, omitted or there’s an error, it can overturn a case or do away with a sentence. It’s a very responsible job and [the transcript] is an everlasting memory of any hearing. People are going to forget what people said, but that record the court reporter creates doesn’t go away.”

While the job can be stressful and that stress can add years to a person’s life, Dyer said it’s been the people he’s worked with who’ve kept him young.

“I love being around these folks, especially in the legal office,” Dyer said. “They are highly intelligent folks. The caliber of individuals in the Air Force today is a lot better than it was in the 60s and early 70s when I came in. They’re more educated.”

The education of those in the legal office goes both ways as many, including Hudson, have leaned on Dyer’s experience to better themselves.

“He has decades of experience in both court reporting and the legal career field and has been the go-to person for all things court-related,” Hudson said. “His mentorship with both the paralegals and the attorneys has been invaluable and will be sorely missed. In his time as court reporter, he has seen a lot of attorneys come through the courtroom and he knows what works and what doesn't work. As someone who watches the entire trial from start to finish, his feedback has definitely made me a better attorney.”

With his wife receiving a transfer in her job and no positions available, Dyer decided now was the right time to pull the plug and retire. His love for the job kept him from retiring earlier and if there was a position available, he said he’d continue doing it because he loves the people, the courtroom and the surprises the environment brings.

“My wife is excited about [my retirement],” he said. “We’re both concerned about what lies ahead for me and she’s concerned about what I’m going to do to occupy my time.”

Dyer said he’s going to turn to hobbies such as the golf course or woodworking to keep him busy. He said the only certainty right now is the complete elimination of an alarm clock from his life.