Darrel D. Whitcomb graduated from the United States Air Force Academy in 1969 and went on to serve three tours in Southeast Asia as a cargo pilot and air controller. He flew combat missions over Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia until the final days of conflict in 1973. Whitcomb was awarded a Silver Star and two Distinguished Flying Crosses for his service. He retired from the Air Force Reserve as a colonel in 1999. Following retirement from the Air Force, he spent four years as a pilot for Delta Airlines.