Saturday, May 20, 2017

Off We Go...

F-4D Phantom  66-8709 of the 80th* Tactical Fighter Squadron (USAF Photo)
There are days when I look at today's Air Force and tell myself that if I were to do things over again, in this day and age, I'd probably join the Navy. Then again, I'm not sure. I know at least one guy in the Air Force who went to high school with The Nuke and The WSO. Good kid, he likes what he's doing, then again, the guy always had a fighter pilot's mentality, even as a kid. So there's that.

Though I read John Q. Public whenever he's got something new, some of what he writes about is hard to believe. This story I found particularly concerning. While I had knew of a couple of very senior generals who really abused their power back in the day, it didn't seem as endemic as it does now.

One of the things we used to joke about was it seemed we'd get a new set of uniforms every time the Air Force got a new Chief of Staff. Some of them really sucked in my estimation. (We Are The Mighty has a good take on that. Kinda funny, kinda not. I still want to heave every time I hear Tony McPeak's name!)

Some of the bad stuff I hear always seems to emanate from the good old Continental U. S. of A. Overseas we seldom had time for the sort of crap which seems to occupy the shoe clerks who tend to camp out in the U.S. and avoid overseas tours like the plague. Well, at least they did in my day. Probably still do.

Two of the best assignments I ever had were both in PACAF, Pacific Air Forces, Japan and Korea. PACAF being headquartered at Hickam AFB in Hawaii, a place Juvat is very familiar with, as he was with Kadena and Korea. Those guys in PACAF, for the most part, took care of their people.

When I first got to Kadena, in Japan, on the island of Okinawa, I didn't really care for it all that much. Most of our senior sergeants thought we were still in Vietnam. So we were on 12-hour shifts. While they did seem to realize that it was actually peace time so we had two days off every week, much of what we did could have been accomplished on eight-hour shifts. But "that's not the way we did it during the war" was their hue and cry. They didn't appreciate this young airman (moi)  telling them "dude, the war's over, chill."

Eventually all the old Vietnam and Thailand guys rotated back to the States. Mind you, most of the younger sergeants were awesome (yeah, Russ, I'm looking at you) and I learned a lot from them. After my first chief departed for the "Big BX" (which is what we called the US of A, BX = Base Exchange, think military department store) we got a new chief, a guy I will never forget, Chief Colona. (Though the correct spelling of his last name escapes me, be in reality I always just called him Chief.)

Guy was amazing. Though I knew a number of E-9s when I was active duty, Chief Colona was the first one I worked for and probably the only one I ever respected. (Now there were guys I worked with who went on to make chief and might have been good ones, two spring to mind right off the top of my head who were probably outstanding chiefs.)

One thing I need to mention. The rank of Chief Master Sergeant in the Air Force is in the pay-grade of E-9. Referring to someone as an "E-9" is most definitely not a mark of respect. Referring to someone as "Chief" is. Just thought I'd mention that.

Now you might imagine that I may have been something of a "handful" as an airman. I never been good with dealing with BS, nor have I ever been reticent in throwing the "BS flag" when I thought it was called for. Now on Okinawa I was an unhappy camper at first. I had had an assignment to Thailand (Udorn RTAFB to be specific) and had taken some getting used to the fact that I wasn't going to Europe. Which is what I wanted. One of the sergeant's at my training squadron took me aside and convinced me that I would absolutely love Thailand. (Yes, I would have, knowing what I know now.)

But Udorn was going to be closed and Big Air Force knew it, why assign people there only to have to re-route them elsewhere. Well, short story is that's what bureaucracies do, and outside of the flying bits of the Air Force, there is a crap ton of bureaucracy. So my orders to Udorn were cancelled and because I had orders to Udorn, I was going to go to Okinawa, where the guys who hadn't finished their tours in Thailand were being sent.

Long story short, I was a pain in the butt until Chief Colona and I had a "come to Jesus meeting." He showed me the errors of my ways and I became a pretty decent troop after that. But I see that I have digressed with this bit about the Chief and Okinawa.

Main point I was trying to stress is that being in PACAF was heaven, being Stateside sucked (so I was told) and mother Air Force kept trying to suck me back to the States. I wanted to go to Korea. (For many reasons, okay, one reason.) So I kept extending my tour at Kadena, six months at a time. The Chief asked me when I would stop extending, I told him that when Big Air Force gave me an assignment to Korea or when I retired, whichever came first. (I should note that Chief served a LONG time on Okinawa, I want to say 20+ years.)

Chief understood and hooked me up with a guy he knew from PACAF HQ. No sweat the guy from HQ said, when do you want to go? How about right freaking now and how did you do that? Randolph AFB (where Air Force assignments was home based) couldn't do squat for me and told me constantly, "there are no slots available". As the guy from HQ told me, "You belong to PACAF, as long as we want to keep you, you can stay. Big Air Force has no say past the coast line of California. Because...

Or something like that.

Now I spent six years and four months in PACAF. Loved it most of the time. We were there to fly and to fight. (Well, I was there to maintain the jets. Guys like Juvat and Tuna actually flew them. Wasn't much fighting at the time either, but with North Korea only a short flight away, we had to be ready.)

Eventually all good things must end, but whereas most of my compatriots were sent to Florida to work in the hot sun repairing our dwindling numbers of Phantoms of the "C" and "D" model variety, I received the Stateside dream assignment for my career field. Denver, as in Colorado, as in no jets, we maintained the weapon control system trainers used by the trainees and instructors. As a training base we were last in line for spare parts. So we had a lot of spare time.

Now for a Stateside base Lowry (which used to be the base there in Denver) wasn't all that bad. It's where I went through training and, much unlike other training bases, they didn't feel the need to treat the young airmen going through the schools there like subhuman slime. Like some other bases, yes Keesler and Shepperd, I'm looking at you. Now I have never been to Shepperd (near Wichita Falls, Texas), but guys who went through training there didn't care for it, not at all. I have been to Keesler, in Biloxi, Mississippi but that was as a Staff Sergeant. In the mornings we would watch the new airmen being herded marched to school where we sergeants were lounging about at our ease (as sergeants often do when there is nothing better to do). Talking to a couple of those airmen, who were in the same school as I, they mentioned that it wasn't much better than basic training.

Okay, so it was the Air Force so it couldn't have been that bad, neh? I mean what's the worse that could happen, having to eat lobster twice a week? Having one's tee time moved? (I kid, I only had lobster once in the Air Force on Uncle Sam's dime, it was during basic training. Rough I tell you, really rough.)

I did have another overseas assignment, in Germany, as I may have mentioned 26 or 27 times over the years. But it wasn't in USAFE (US Air Forces in Europe), no I had the privilege and honor of being a NATO asset. No USAFE games for this troop. No sir. I had heard that USAFE was just like being in the States, only the natives spoke German, rather than English.

Another great thing is that where I was stationed in NATO had been in the British Zone of Occupation after the war. Most of the US presence in Germany was down south around Kaiserslautern, which invariably was Americanized to "K-Town." Very Americanized it was down there. My base, outside Geilenkirchen, was much more rural. While the party life for a young airman was very lacking, we had very few young airmen there. The assignment was intended for the more mature types. I loved it. Of course, it also helped that I spoke a bit of German and got along famously with the Germans.

That was a great assignment, did seven years and five months there. When the Air Force asked me to stay another couple of years (as a Master Sergeant I had to get out at 24 years, which, like most things in the Air Force could be waived) I asked if I could stay in Germany. They said no, I said stuff it, I'm retiring. Which I'm really glad I did. I retired when housing was cheap and jobs were somewhat plentiful. Not so much the case later on.

For the most part I had a great time in the Air Force, I just wonder if it's just getting really bad press lately (the last Air Force Chief of Staff was a complete ass, even worse than McPeak in my estimation). One reason I chose the Air Force over the other services was the caliber of the people and the stability. (Air Force bases, unlike aircraft carriers, tend to stay in one place.) I knew I did not have what it took to be a Marine (I'm too damned lazy) and the Army jerked me around at a time I really wanted to enlist. So if they couldn't play fair with me when I wanted to join, I could only imagine what it would have been like once I was wearing the green. So to speak.

But to do it all over again in today's Air Force? I don't know. This picture kind of summarizes my feelings about the modern Air Force. Some cool stuff, but some WTF stuff as well...

So the photo was taken back in 2009. At an "undisclosed location" in Southwest Asia (which I read as somewhere in the Middle East) and was meant to showcase the various uniforms worn by airmen over the years. At first I thought it was pretty cool, then I noticed the footwear. Really? You can find all those vintage uniforms but in only one case can you find the right footwear (the young lady third from the left, front row). As to the rest of you, okay the combat boots I'll let go, but running shoes and, dear Lord no, just no, Crocs??!! Of which I see at least two pair.

That sums up the modern Air Force to me, lack of attention to detail and wasting time and resources (in a freaking war zone no less) "showcasing uniforms." This, mind you, is the same bunch who wants to retire the A-10 Warthog. Damn.

Child please... (US Air Force Phot0)
Damn, I'd almost join the Navy if I had to pick one today, absolutely, maybe.

After all, the old girl looks pretty good in gray.

(What? They don't fly the Phantom anymore?!?!?!)

But in reality, what would Buck say at these semi-anti-Air Force mutterings? No doubt he's somewhere shaking his head saying "this just won't do..."

So, if I had to do it right now? Well, like the song says...

Yup, off we'd go into the wild blue yonder once again.

Damn, but I do get teary eyed when I hear that song.

Aim high my brothers and sisters in Air Force blue, fix the stuff that's broken and drive on.

I'm with you in spirit.

So is Buck.

* The original photo had this IDed as a 35th TFS bird. As Juvat so correctly pointed out, the 35th didn't have a yellow fin flash, their's was blue. So this is an 80th TFS jet, in other words, this jet belonged to the Juvats! (And Juvat would know, where d'ya think he got his nom de blog?


  1. Great post, Sarge. Spot on about the AF. First tour at Kunsan, I thought the AF was going to be cool, not a lot of BS. Then two tours in TAC refreshed my memory on bureaucracy. Coming to Kadena, the first Friday in the Squadron Informal Debrief Facility, I had an overwhelming feeling of "I'm Home".
    As I said Great Post! Just one, not so minor, quibble! The 35th TFS did not have a yellow fin flash. ----Juvat!

    1. Thanks Juvat, so it wasn't just me that noticed that?

      I have corrected the caption for "66-8709" (a jet I actually worked on) and had the editor sacked. I added a footnote to indicate that errors were made and have been corrected.

      I had to look up 66-8709 to see her fate. Sigh, expended as a target in 1998. Fitting as my own career was winding down at that time. While I was not literally expended as a target, there are days it feels that way.

  2. Another "must read" post.

    I have said from time to time, "If I did the enlisting thing again, I would thing long and hard about the Air Force."
    When I was joining Forrestal I spoke to a parachute rigger standing in the admin check in line who mentioned that the FID (First In Defence) was his first ship. He had been in 19 years. When I switched to the reserves at the end of my second hitch, I had five years of sea duty and two years of shore duty and I was staring another five year sea duty tour in the face.

    There were sailors like the parachute rigger who saw little of shipboard duty, but that was not what happened in the Machinist Mate rating.

    1. Hahaha, the grass always seems greener on the other side doesn't it?

      I can't figure why someone would go into the Navy and not go to sea. Then again, I can see getting out when you spend too much time at sea.

      Yeah, I would venture a guess that Machinist Mates would spend a LOT of time at sea.

  3. Another good post that reinforces why I check here every day. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Nylon12. We certainly try to please.

  4. Long story short, I was a pain in the butt until Chief Colona and I had a "come to Jesus meeting."

    Hmm. Brings to mind 1st Sgt, later Sgt Maj Nick Womack. An expert at taking the rough edges off miscreant PFCs.

    1. I would venture that it's an odd troop who didn't need that at some point in their service.

      I get the feeling we're kindred souls. "Taking the edges off," nice turn of phrase WSF!

  5. Wonderful post Sarge. Brings back lots of memories. Stateside I liked TAC although even on a SAC base by being in the bomb dump we were pretty isolated from the base CS. I cannot remember what command is under in Guam and Okinawa- PACAF perhaps? Four years in was not long enough to build up tons of memories, but I have my share. I remember thinking very hard about which service to join. Guess I'd do the same back then, but now? Probably Navy. Thanks goodness that choice will never arise.

    Hope that you are enjoying a wonderful weekend.


    1. I'm pretty sure that Andersen AFB on Guam belong to SAC. Okinawa was definitely PACAF!

      Weekend is great so far, hope your's is excellent!

  6. Thanks for the post; definitely one of the top ones. I, too, am not sure about today's USAF. It is not the service in which either my father or I served. Sometimes I even go so far as to think it should be put back under control of the U. S. Army.

    Paul L. Quandt

    1. I have those days as well Paul. I sometimes wonder just what they're thinking.

  7. I had no problem choosing Navy... no nectie.
    Where I screwed up was in selecting a critical rate as the third choice on the dream sheet for training school.
    Had I reupped it would've been somewhere near the end of my second hitch before I saw anything like shore duty.

    1. I wore a tie a couple of times on active duty. Usually it was fatigues and then later BDUs.

      I always told the young 'uns to be careful what they put on their dream sheets. Sometimes you'd get what you asked for!

  8. "I was a pain in the butt until Chief Colona and I had a "come to Jesus meeting." Yeah, maybe just a little, at least
    you were quite opinionated. But they were a good natured, humorous opinions (most of the time). That's why everyone
    called you Chuckles.

    And you are spot on about Chief Colona (I think it was spelled Cologna but my memory can be quite suspect these days).
    I knew a number of Chiefs while I was in and he was definitely Number 1!!

    You are also correct about stateside duty, it was all about reg's and doing everything the AF way even if it wasn't
    always the best way. At least that was true in SAC and TAC. My final assignment at Tyndall AFB was Air Defense Command
    and was really easy going, there weren't even any fences or gates on the base! We only had 6 F-4's (in sky blue
    instead of camo)for a special Westinghouse project and I quite enjoyed it. I also worked with Chief Colona's younger brother who was a tech rep for Westinghouse. After teaching WCS at Lowry, I thought I really knew our radar system
    but 'Little Brother Colona' (I wish I could remember his first name) really taught me the ins and outs of that system especially the Sync and the TIC. I aced the proficiency part of the WAPS test after working with him and got my
    promotion to E-6.

    1. By the way I just took another look at your pic of #709 and it had the Loran D mod. I don't think there were
      too many of them around. We had a few at Udorn and that's the only place I ever saw any.

    2. I have a story coming about that bird. Standby for monday.

    3. I remember a few birds with LORAN-D (the fence on the back, right?) at Kunsan (IIRC) but I don't remember any of those at Kadena.

      As to the Chief's last name, you may be right Russ. I do remember you mentioning working with his brother in Florida. I had wondered what Chief's first name was, then I remembered. It was "Chief."

      Oh Juvat, you tease. (A reason to look forward to Monday!)

  9. As Nylon12 said, "another good one." Always enjoy hearing about RAFB. Just yesterday my little "circular firing squad" of retired AF, Marine, and Army flyers were discussing when Gen Iouse became CG of AETC. That was during my second tour there, I had to move my Corvette every 15 or so minutes to keep it from being painted TAC beige under the new command. Your comment on the Personnel Center reminds me of the comment I once heard one of the Warrant Officer Division "handlers" make to a friend: "When personnel tells you that they can't do something, it means they don't want to." regards, Alemaster

    1. "When personnel tells you that they can't do something, it means they don't want to."

      Truth, right there.

  10. If the things I hear are true, and if I had to pick today, I think I'd pick my nose. That said, You really only hear the bad stuff and no one writes about or complains about the stuff that works.

    I was blessed to serve with some of the most outstanding men and women the species has ever produced. NCO's and Officers who spent time and effort that they didn't really have to to steer me back onto the right course. And when I fleeted up to the lofty ranks I had juniors teaching me good lessons and keeping me humble.

    During my time the vast majority of career corpsmen did a single tour of sea duty in 20 years. I knew a lot of guys who retired and never earned a sea service ribbon. I was in a CME class at Portsmouth Naval Hospital one time, the only one out of 50 or so who had ever been to sea. The instructor was a nurse corps LCDR who thought she was pretty salty. I'm sure she was a great nurse and she knew her stuff and was a pretty good instructor. But she made the mistake of pointing to me and saying, "What's the mission of the navy medical corps, petty officer?" To which I replied, "To put fused ordnance on target on time at the direction of the commander and chief. Maam." Sometimes you get to do good work.

    1. Or "warheads on foreheads" as the kids these days like to say.

      Portsmouth Naval Hospital? My oldest granddaughter was born there. Small world.

    2. "she made the mistake of pointing to me and saying, "What's the mission of the navy medical corps, petty officer?" To which I replied, "To put fused ordnance on target on time at the direction of the commander and chief. Maam."

      And, with that statenent, Shaun you've confirmed what I've always suspected. You, Sir, are a Fighter Pilot! Being a Fighter Pilot is not a specialty code, rather an attitude. There are not many about, but you are one!

    3. He most certainly is. Cool call Juvat.

    4. You know that was a Confederate hospital during the War of Yankee Aggression, right? They were pretty proud of that at Portsmouth when I was there. So your granddaughter was born in a place swimming in history, and a tiny fraction of that history included -- me! Which makes us all family in my book. :)

    5. Holy smokes, that's a nice thing to say fellas. I let down the side a bit in my inability to type Commander In Chief vice commander and chief though...

    6. As to commander and chief, no worse than my "cool call" vice "good call."

      Sometimes the keyboard is not your friend!

  11. AF different in early 60's at Norton AFB, CA. In Systems Command (ICBMs). Most everyone lived off base. Had an IG on base and easy to get a ride to HI or Europe. March AFB was south and a SAC base. George AFB north and ramping up the F-4. Went thru altitude chamber at George to get certified to hitch a ride on a T-33. Appreciated greatly time at Norton.

    1. Had a couple of buddies who were at George and went from there to Kadena. Good times. The old Castle AFB isn't too far south from where my son lives. I heard they have a good museum which I need to go visit.

    2. Came from Itazuke to George and the love of my life turned out to be a Victorville telephone operator. Met her in February of '65, married in July. Still loving her. One of the best parts of ramping up was traveling TWA to St. Louis and getting those new Phantoms!


  12. I too, enjoyed PACAF as an initial assignment 1962-1964 (68FIS, Itazuke AB, Fukuoka Kyushu). I am so thankful that I seemed to have enjoyed some of the "old espirit d'corps". Protecting the "huns" and later the "Farmingdale Squat Bombers" from the Korean menace was a great job for this (then) Lt (and very junior at that). The Deuce was a great machine to learn how to fly in. We had sand seeking missiles and rockets for close-in attacks on those bears. My flight commander was a Korean vet. Oh Lord, what he must have put up with from me and others assigned to him. He also led me in the great war of Eastern-Western Culture Clash. Showed me how to strafe with the mighty GE whiz gun and lay down Monsanto's finest with a grease pencil "X" on the windscreen.
    RE: the picture of the uni's from olden times - my favorite has always been silver tans and 1505's. And say, what's with the brass buttons on that lady's silver tans?

    1. Wow, loved the tune "I Fly the F-4D" and had to think and google "Farmingdale Squat Bomber," two references I found one was here to your comment, one was to your "First Trap" post - for those who must know that refers to the mighty Thud, the F-105.

      The 102 was a sexy looking bird. And yeah, I loved the 1505s, they still issued them in '75. As to the throwback unis, I have no idea about the brass buttons. Or the Crocs, or the running shoes... Ad nauseum.

      I'm still doing the whole East meets West thing and loving every minute of it!

      (Oh yeah, for the other rookies, the Hun is the F-100.)

      Thanks for the memories Dave!


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)