Lindsey Graham retires from Air Force ahead of expected White House run

Washington CNN  — 

Lindsey Graham is leaving the Air Force Reserves – even though he “wouldn’t leave if they weren’t making me,” he says.

The South Carolina senator and likely Republican presidential candidate said Thursday that he’s retiring after more than three decades of Air Force service – including brief work in Afghanistan over the Memorial Day holiday – because he’s reaching the mandatory retirement age when he turns 60 on July 9.

“The Air Force has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me,” Graham said in a statement. “It identified and developed my talent, and helped me become useful to my country. It offered me adventure and showed me the world. It gave me a purpose bigger than myself. It put me in the company of patriots. It’s been almost like family to me.”

He added: “I’m going to miss it an awful lot, and I wouldn’t leave if they weren’t making me.”

Graham is a leading hawk in the Republican Party and has lambasted President Barack Obama for what he’s called a too-passive approach to problems like ISIS in Iraq and Syria. He’s called for the United States to do more to support revolutionary forces in the Middle East.

Graham was on active duty with the Air Force for six years, from 1982 to 1988, which included four years in Germany. He also served in the South Carolina Air National Guard from 1989 to 1995 before joining the U.S. Air Force Reserves in 1995.

As a judge advocate in the 1980s, he exposed the mishandling of urine test samples that had led to false positive tests and dismissals of Air Force service members.

Graham retires with the rank of colonel.