Monday, June 19, 2017

Attitude not a Specialty Code

You've heard me say "Fighter Pilot is an attitude, not an AFSC".  AFSC stands for Air Force Specialty Code,  it's called MOS in the Army and I'm sure the Navy and Marines have their own acronyms.  They all accomplish the same function, it allows the Shoe Clerks the ability to account for all the people in that branch of the service by what they're trained and qualified to do.  I was an 11F, Fighter Pilot.

However, there are Fighter Pilots and there are Pilots who fly fighters.  There is a difference.  There is an accompanying saying.  "The Air Force is composed of Fighter Pilots and Shoe Clerks.  Fighter Pilots know that the Mission of the Air Force is to Fly and Fight.  Shoe Clerks are in direct opposition to that Mission."

Much like Fighter Pilot is an attitude not an AFSC, so also is Shoe Clerk.  My wife is definitely a Fighter Pilot even though she worked in Personnel.  I also believe Sarge to be a Fighter Pilot even as a Radar Fixer Upper.

Which brings me round to my story today.

Col Joe M. Jackson received the Medal of Honor for actions taken on May 12th 1968 when he successfully rescued 3 members of an Air Force Combat Control Team from the airstrip at Kham Duc South Vietnam.

He is one of the men on the Monument at Lackland whom I didn't recognize their name. Researching this post, impressed me.  Col Jackson is not only a Fighter Pilot, but also a warrior.

So, a little background, because reading about him brought forth a few interesting details that I'd like to sit down with him and discuss over a beer.

Yes, he is still with us at 94.

Col Jackson started out his Air Force Career as a crew chief on B-25s before being accepted to flight school commissioned and checked out in the B-24.  During the Korean War, he flew 107 combat sorties in the F-84 earning the Distinguished Flying Cross.  After which, he was one of the first pilots to fly the U-2.

Now, in his third war, he's in South Vietnam flying the C-123 Provider where he flew 298 combat sorties.  The C-123K is a 2 engine prop transport outfitted with 2 auxilliary jet engines to enhance it's short field capability. Which will come in handy as our story unfolds.

Col Jackson is airborne on a routine sortie, so routine, that it is being used as a Check Ride.  Check Rides were semi-annual events where you had to go and prove your skills to a Check Pilot from the Standardization and Evaluation section.  (Stan-Eval, semi-formally, Stanley Evil behind their backs.)

Check rides were a general pain in the lower posterior anatomy.  Basically the best that could happen was you'd pass.  Everything else was worse, up to and including losing your wings.

So the Colonel is getting a check ride when he gets diverted to a Special Forces Camp near the Laotian Border.  The camp has been under attack for a couple of days and is being evacuated.  The evacuation had been thought completed with the loss of a C-130 on the ground and another one shot down on takeoff with the loss of all on board.

However, as the last C-130 lifts off with what was believed to be the final troops on board, the Crew Chief sees 3 Americans running for the aircraft as it begins its takeoff roll.  Not wishing to leave anyone behind, the aircraft circles around to make a landing and pick them up but is hit by AAA and badly damaged.

Colonel Jackson, having been diverted, has arrived overhead and hears the story as it unfolds.  He tells the controllers that he will attempt to land as he has seen where the survivors are located on the airfield.

Aaron, do NOT attempt this on YOUR checkride.

He sets up 9000' above the field.  Configures the aircraft for landing and starts a maximum descent 270o degree swooping dive, arriving at the overrun exactly on speed and touches down.  He reverses thrust and gets the aircraft stopped exactly beside the survivors.
Copied from an Air Force Magazine Article I used a s a source, I couldn't find this picture big enough to be useful.  As it's caption says, this is believed to be the only picture of a Medal of Honor event taken while it was happening.

Leaving the jets running to minimize time on the ground, he lowers the back door as the survivors sprint for the aircraft.

As he's waiting for the word that they are on board,. his co-pilot (the check pilot) exclaims "Oh, my God!"  He turns and sees a rocket headed straight for him.  Fortunately, it breaks apart in mid air and comes to rest under the nose of the C-123 and fails to explode.

Hearing that the survivors are on board, he cobs the power and takes off from midfield.  Everybody and their brother is firing at them as they lift off, however, they successfully take off and recover back at Danang AB.

He had been on the ground at Kham Duc for 50 seconds.

I'd bet it felt like an eternity. Major John Gallager, TSgt Mort Freedman and Sgt Jim Lundie were glad he dropped in for a visit.  (The team he rescued.)

Later, at Danang, he does his post flight inspection of the aircraft and finds that the aircraft sustained no damage whatsoever, not one bullet hole.

At the ceremony where he was presented with the Medal of Honor were 3 other recipients.  The Marine recipient happened be well known to Col Jackson as they were both from Newnan Georgia a small town on the outskirts of Atlanta.  (I love those little coincidences.)

He currently works for a local church providing meals to the hungry.

This is truly a Fighter Pilot, and more than that, a Warrior!

Here he is telling his story.

Col Jackson's Citation:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Lt. Col. Jackson distinguished himself as pilot of a C-123 aircraft. Lt. Col. Jackson volunteered to attempt the rescue of a 3-man USAF Combat Control Team from the special forces camp at Kham Duc. Hostile forces had overrun the forward outpost and established gun positions on the airstrip. They were raking the camp with small arms, mortars, light and heavy automatic weapons, and recoilless rifle fire. The camp was engulfed in flames and ammunition dumps were continuously exploding and littering the runway with debris. In addition, 8 aircraft had been destroyed by the intense enemy fire and 1 aircraft remained on the runway reducing its usable length to only 2,200 feet. To further complicate the landing, the weather was deteriorating rapidly, thereby permitting only 1 air strike prior to his landing. Although fully aware of the extreme danger and likely failure of such an attempt. Lt. Col. Jackson elected to land his aircraft and attempt to rescue. Displaying superb airmanship and extraordinary heroism, he landed his aircraft near the point where the combat control team was reported to be hiding. While on the ground, his aircraft was the target of intense hostile fire. A rocket landed in front of the nose of the aircraft but failed to explode. Once the combat control team was aboard, Lt. Col. Jackson succeeded in getting airborne despite the hostile fire directed across the runway in front of his aircraft. Lt. Col. Jackson's profound concern for his fellowmen, at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself, and the Armed Forces of his country.



  1. Naval officers have designators and NOBC (Naval Officer Billet Codes). A designator, i.e. NOBC 1130 is an unrestricted line special operations (SEAL) officer, is a general category that you carry with you. NOBC's are specific qualifications that officers can accumulate based on education and experience. Picking up NOBC's come in useful when it comes time for reports on the fitness of officers (FITREPS). But at least in the US Navy, attitude is clearly not an NOBC.

    1. Interesting, seems like a bit finer granulation than the AF has. The AFSC's had a letter identifier at the end that specified which aircraft they were currently qualified to fly, but that was about it.

  2. I'm surprised he wasn't medically disqualified from flying after that because his balls were so big.

    1. Well....obviously that was why he was flying a cargo aircraft. More room for large objects.

    2. Your response made me laugh more than when I wrote my own! Well done.

  3. Yeah, what Tuna said.

    Great post Juvat!

    1. Thanks, Sorry for the delay, my battle rhythm got disrupted by the loss of internet connectivity down here. Doing the final read through immediately before retiring for the evening is not a good idea.

    2. No problem, been there, done that. I don't know how many grammar and formatting errors I've missed when posting late. I always notice those the next day. If I'm lucky, I notice them before the readers do.

    3. To quote a great American....


  4. Thank you for making this fine American known to me.

    Paul L. Quandt

  5. The other two with them in the Wikipedia picture are Lt Clyde Lassen, UH-2 Seasprite pilot and only rotary wing Naval Aviator to receive the medal during the war, and SSGT Drew D. Dix, the first enlisted SF soldier to receive the medal during the war.


  6. I've heard his story before, and Tuna's correct...Big. Brass. Balls.

    Of course in today's climate he probably would have been written up for hazarding his aircraft. As a side note, I had to laugh a little when the video started; the theme music is "Fanfare for the Common Man". Col. Jackson, as with every other MoH awardee I'm aware of, are anything but common.

    Good stuff...

    1. You're right on your music recognition as well as the irony of the selection. My take on him from the vid is that I think I'd really enjoy sitting down and having a beer with him, even if he didn't share his war stories.

  7. Sooo, I'm guessing he passed the check ride... And yes, he clanked when he walked then, and now!

    1. He may have asked the check pilot if he wanted to do the ride over. I'll bet the answer was no. There's such a thing as pressing your luck.

  8. Thanks Juvat! I'm wondering how you knew to write exactly what I needed to read today. That's kind of a miracle too.

    The Colonel's actions were certainly heroic, but when he explained that earning the Medal meant that he had to represent all of America's soldiers and make them proud it sent chills up my spine. There's a reason it's called "the service" and I think Colonel Jackson defines that reason.

    Thanks again.

    1. I got a similar reaction on hearing that. And that was when I knew what my subject was going to be for today.

  9. Late here, but wanted to toss in the fact that I flew two sorties in support of that operation as a F-4 back-seater in the 390th TFS "Wild Boars" . Put in a bunch of snakes & Nape each time--all low level stuff designed to keep the natives at bay and prevent the overrun of the camp. Practically every swingin' d*** in the wing flew in support of that evac--kept the FACS busy putting us in as we were stacked up to 15 grand waiting to be cleared in

    1. PS: And that doesn't even count the Marine air from the 1st MAW on the other side of the runway..

  10. A very impressive feat of bravery and skill indeed. Not to worry, such a situation is unlikely to occur on my check-ride (assuming such ever happens) unless the usual suspects whose motives will never be known get even more frisky at Flint airport and then there's a need for a dust-off, which is again pretty unlikely.

    I figure Col Jackson needed a lot of right rudder on takeoff not due to P-factor or torque, but to counteract the weight of his big brass ones in the left seat tilting the plane leftwards.


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