By Morgan Bryce
As a youngster, Opelika resident and Air Comfort Services owner Terry Hanners remembers being mesmerized by a multitude of films starring John Wayne depicting life aboard ship during wartime.
Following his graduation from Lanett High School in 1974 and completing a one-year certificate at Troup County Technical School (now known as West Georgia Technical College), Hanners was able to realize his childhood dream in September 1975 when he joined the U.S. Navy.
Hanners completed his eight weeks of basic training in Orlando, but was detained from his first assignment because of the ship’s distant location in the southern portion of the Pacific Ocean. After brief shore leave back in his hometown of Valley, he was sent to California.
From there, Hanners took a nearly 18-hour flight to the Phillipines. Upon his arrival, he boarded a food-supply ship that carried him to his first ship: the soon-to-be decommissioned Essex-class aircraft carrier named the U.S.S. Oriskany.
“The thing I remember most is someone pointing the (Oriskany) to me and thinking wow, ‘there’s my ship,'” Hanners said.
Named after a battle from the Revolutionary Way, the Oriskany or “Mighty O,” as it was affectionately named by its crew, had been in service for nearly 25 years at the time of Hanners’ arrival. The carrier’s most notable accomplishment was receiving two battle stars for its service during the Korean War.
Hanners’ stay on board the Oriskany was brief. He helped “mothball” the ship and finalize its decommission on Sept. 30, 1976.
Following a few months of service with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and completing “A” school at a base in New Jersey, Hanners went back to the sea, this time on board the U.S.S. Nasvhille (LPD-13), an Austin-class amphibious transport dock.
Hanners spent the last two and a half years of his naval career on board the Nashville, helping oversee refueling of planes and other vehicles on board the transport.
Despite two plane crashes and the loss of one crew member, most of Hanners’ career was smooth sailing. However, he recalled one incident that nearly claimed his life and the lives of two other crew members.
“Gases often surround the fuel tanks on a ship and we were down there, not realizing how bad the leak was. We began wondering why we were acting so strange … come to find out, someone had left (a tank) unbolted, which I was able to fix real quick,” Hanners said. “Thankfully, some Marines were above us and able to help us get out after that. Being on a ship is inherently dangerous – you got a lot of people in a small space and a lot of big equipment.”
In September 1979, Hanners retired from the U.S. Navy with the rank of petty officer. Shortly after retiring, he embarked on his post-military career working in the heating and cooling and refrigeration industry.
Through a refrigeration course he took while in the service, certification from Troup County Tech and skills his handyman father had passed down to him, he said he knew it was the most natural career path for him to follow.
Starting in Columbus, Hanners worked his way back home to the Valley and West Point area. After working under several different bosses, he opened Air Comfort Services in Valley in 1992.
Hanners relocated his business to Opelika in the mid-2000s following some personal health issues and marrying his wife Denise, who was born and raised in the area.
According to Hanners, dependability, honesty and competitive pricing have been the cornerstones of his success the last 27 years in business, and something that has helped build a loyal customer base within the Auburn-Opelika area.
“I wish I’d found this out years ago but Opelika is a great place for a small business. The people here take pride in their homes and want to take care of them,” Hanners said. “I don’t think of my customers as customers, but instead as neighbors calling me needing some help. I’m just there to help the best I can.”
Services offered by Air Comfort Services include maintenance and replacements of units in existing houses and minor duct work. By not dealing with new construction, Hanners said he and his staff “remain free” to help customers in a faster and more efficient manner.
Air Comfort’s customers range from commercial to “the sweet little grandma down the street” according to Hanner. While business peaks in the summertime, he said business is steady year round, even during the winter months.
Hanners, Denise and three other employees comprise Air Comfort’s staff. With age and increased business, he said he has allowed his wife to take over paying bills and maintain their bookkeeping.
“With us, everybody gets their hands dirty. There’s no secretary, sales person and no accountants. We’re all workers,” Hanners said.
While his naval career may have ended four decades ago, Hanners said he still enjoys connecting with old shipmates on Facebook and reminiscing on their days on the open sea.
“What I enjoyed most was that camaraderie with my shipmates. We’d play around a lot, because you gotta do something to pass away some of the boring time at sea … but created a lot of lasting, lifelong memories along the way,” Hanners said.
In his spare time, Hanners said he and Denise enjoy traveling in their camper to nearby lakes and state parks. He is also an avid antiquer and coin collector.
For more information about Air Comfort Services, call Hanner at 334-663-7265 or like and follow the business’s Facebook page.