When the 20-year-old decided to join the U.S. Air Force, he envisioned working as a police officer and getting money to go to college.

Doug Cummins didn’t know he had a special knack for quickly mastering foreign languages and that the military had a unique job that he seemed suited for. After he took his entrance test, he was taught a fake language and mastered the test for it, too, and his plan was determined.

Cummins, who now works as a magistrate judge presiding over thousands of small claims, protective orders and collection cases each year, was to become a Russian linguist.

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He joined the Air Force in 1986, and the military needed members who could master foreign languages, since the brain’s ability to learn new languages diminishes after age 6.

He learned the language, then he had to learn the equipment before he could start in his new job. He was sent to Japan, and began flying on board the Air Force’s RC-135, which is a modified 707 aircraft.

Cummins worked on a giant flying computer on reconnaissance missions, where his job was to help gather information for the military, analyze the data and share it. During times of peace, he and the other airmen built databases of information.

During war times, they shared information in real time with the Navy, Seals and Rangers with one goal: to keep other members of the military from being killed. Information gathered on his aircraft was used to craft war strategy and provide the joint chiefs of staff a view of the air war during the Gulf War.

“It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had,” Cummins said.

His first trip lasted 100 days. He remembers his boss working without budging for 12 hours straight. Cummins described the plane as a giant flying computer that would refuel in the air, was kept cold due to the equipment and filled with people working or training who are analyzing data on the enemy’s defenses. Only 12 such aircraft were in existence in the entire military, he said.

In the coming years, he qualified to be the missions supervisor and coordinate all of the information gathered on the aircraft. He described his fellow members of the Air Force on the reconnaissance planes as some of the brightest in the military because of their ability to intercept and quickly analyze detailed information about the enemy and in such conditions — in the air, with dozens of conversations taking place and while looking at multiple radars — when seconds matter.

When a base was going to close in the Philippines, he had three months to learn yet another language so he could begin doing missions in that area.

By the time he left the Air Force in 1996, he had been on 500 missions, with 200 of them being in the Middle East. He was deployed 11 times. He earned multiple awards, commendation letters and medals and was an honor graduate of both basic training and the Defense Language Institute.

“We had a good record of taking care of the people we were supposed to take care of,” Cummins said.

Cummins had hoped to become a pilot, but that required earning his college degree. He lived in Japan for eight years and tried to enroll in college classes anytime he could, but his missions schedule often made it impossible. In the end, it took him 12 years to earn his bachelor’s degree.

He decided to get out of the military after 10 years, because he was ready for a change of pace and to tackle something new.

He had stints as a bartender and business owner, and became a dad. One day, he watched a TV show about child molesters and decided instantly to become an attorney. Nearly immediately, he took the law school entrance exam, enrolled and became an attorney.

He worked as a clerk for recently retired Superior Court 2 Judge Cynthia Emkes and as a deputy prosecutor, focusing on domestic violence cases, sex crimes, crimes against children and child pornography for more than a decade. In 2013, he was selected as an appointed judge, or magistrate, for the Johnson County courts.

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Michele Holtkamp is editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at mholtkamp@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2774.