Thursday, June 22, 2017

NATO - Part II

The flightline at NATO Airbase Geilenkirchen (Source)
So, we're now in Germany at NATO Airbase Geilenkirchen. At the time we had 18 E-3A Sentry aircraft assigned, all registered in Luxembourg, so of course we would sometimes refer to ourselves as the Luxembourger Air Force. In that lead in photo the light gray aircraft furthest from the camera are the NATO birds. The two aircraft in the foreground are USAF KC-135 tankers. We used them a lot when the unpleasantness in the Balkans was going on. The NATO birds maintained round-the-clock surveillance of that area.

So, I've arrived and met my replacement. Here's what he produced, once a week -

"Um, what is this exactly?" I asked of my successor.

"Well, this pie chart shows that for the total number of computer starts last week, the green were the successful ones, and the yellow..."

"Uh, is this for one aircraft?"

"No, the whole fleet."

"This is for the whole week?"


"Alrighty then..."

Then the old E-6 took me to where he stored the handwritten logs of the aircraft computer operators. Those were in a sealed manila envelope, in a safe, along with the print outs of any significant events which occurred during the flight.

Seems that these logs would come in the day after the flight, and our old E-6 would collect them, go to the computer room and enter the flight number and whether or not there were any restarts, either when first loading the computer or during the flight. These events were logged by the operator.

I don't think he ever looked at the printouts. Which, I later discovered, contained a wealth of information. His job, the one I was rushed to Germany to perform, having to fly on New Year's Day mind you, took him all of two hours each day.

"So what do you do the rest of the day?" I queried.

"Whatever I want." Was his answer.

"Alrighty then..."

Seems the pie chart was printed out, marked "UNCLASSIFIED" and then sent to the Operations Wing, the Training Wing, and a copy was filed in our wing admin. (I was in the Software Support Wing, IIRC, later the name was changed to the Mission Support Wing.) Then all those print outs and hand written logs were shredded. On this rinky-dink shredder which would jam if you fed it too much paper. Not a problem when there were only a few logs each week. A very big problem when we were flying missions over the Balkans later on. But I will speak of that shredder, and the Balkans, in a later post.(POCIR)

So yeah, it took about ten minutes to learn that job. The rest of the time I was getting to know my co-workers.

Now I worked directly for a Canadian Air Force captain, René, most of the other guys were German, though there were also two Italians in our office, one civilian, Adolfo, the other military, Felice, from Sicily. The boss was an American major, one of the best bosses I've ever worked for. The division chief was a Canadian lieutenant colonel and the wing commander was a Norwegian colonel. Now that was the operational side of things.

We also had our American administrative chain, we had a senior enlisted guy, and an American lieutenant colonel. While they had NATO jobs, they also took care of the American things which NATO didn't really care about. Like yearly evaluations, promotion testing, golden flow, weight checks, PT, and the various and sundry other things which were meant to keep us all healthy, wealthy, and wise. Well, not so much wealthy or wise, but I digress.

Now the whole shooting match on the base consisted of a number of squadrons on the flying side, which fell under the Operations Wing, the Training Wing handled flight and ground (non-flying) training, and a NATO clinic for the Europeans. We, being Americans are, apparently, built different so...

Being Americans we had to have our very own medical clinic, probably so the medical types could have a cool assignment in Germany which didn't involve the giant base at Ramstein, or the two fighter bases at Bitburg and Spangdahlem. NATO was special, we didn't belong to USAFE (United States Air Force in Europe, the acronym is officially pronounced "You-Safe-Ee," I always called it "You-Safe." It's that pedant thing again.) and we didn't have to play any silly USAFE games. Though there were some silly NATO games, they weren't as anal as the USAFE games tended to be. (And by games I mean operational exercises to test readiness and the like. In PACAF they were called ORIs - Operational Readiness Inspections - which for we enlisted involved a lot of mopping and waxing of floors and doing last minute training that we were supposed to know but only did if an ORI was coming.)

We also had two, count them, two American squadrons, with two, count them, two lieutenant commanders for to command the two, count them, two squadrons. I never did figure out why we had two, eventually somehow higher up the food chain asked the same question and we were reduced to one. I mean it takes time but eventually the Air Force does fix things. Well, they used to, I'm not so sure these days.

At any rate, being in NATO was excellent. Other than this job I had. Which, while not very taxing, seemed a poor excuse to send me to Germany. But, I was in Germany so I definitely had that going for me!

After the old E-6 retired and returned Stateside, I sat down with Johannes to bounce a few ideas off of him to make my job more useful and productive of something other than a pie chart. Which I had discovered our wing would file away, all the other wings would throw it away. Useless drivel that it was.

Well, over time Johannes and I created a system on a PC, unclassified data only, where we tracked which computer operators flew on which aircraft. Which operators took more than once to load up and boot the computer. Everything was on magnetic tape. Yes, we discovered, through talking with the operators, that sometimes the first tape they tried didn't work, though the second usually did the trick. I think they carried three on each flight, yes, sometimes they went through all of them. If they couldn't get the computer to load, it was a mission abort. That big radar dish on the bird's back was no good without the software to drive it.

So Johannes and I came up with a plan, our boss Major Fraker (a most excellent female officer, one of the best officers I had ever the privilege to work for) said, "do it" and we got things rolling. After a couple of weeks we were entering data into our PC and getting interesting results. Things like,
  1. Tapes with a certain lot number never worked.
  2. Certain operators just did not have the knack of getting the tape hung right the first time.
  3. Certain of the aircraft had bad tape drives.
  4. Some of the operators had their own "method" of loading the tape and booting the computer, and yes, you're right, it was unauthorized and didn't work.
When the initial report went out, folks started noticing. Some of the operators would come by and share their insights and problems they were having. That bad lot of tapes, yup, they were dumped.

The maintenance guys also liked the new report. It helped them pinpoint problems with the aircraft computer. They too had suggestions for data to be captured and how to present it.

No one missed the pie chart. No one. In fact, no one ever remarked "whatever happened to those pie charts we used to get?" The word got out, soon nearly every organization on the base who dealt with flight ops wanted a copy. They too had suggestions as to how to improve the report.

Johannes and I also automated the process of generating the report. Our wing's secretary had mentioned that we had made more work for her, though she meant it jokingly, we took it to heart and wrote a simple program which generated the entire report with the "press" of one button. (Not an actual physical button but a software button.) The secretary (a lovely English lady named Moira, with whom I am still friends) was overjoyed. She mentioned that she had been kidding about the extra work, now she joked, "if the colonel sees this I might be out of a job!" (We made sure the colonel knew that Moira had to make sure the report was formatted correctly, made sure that he signed it, and made the necessary copies, collating and stapling same, and then distributing them to the right people. She really did have to do that, printers back then were not what they are today.)

So that's how I made myself useful in Germany for the first four years I was there. The last three were different but interesting, perhaps only from a software wienie's perspective, but that's what I was part of the time. The rest of the time I was doing data entry and then analyzing the results. I even provided ad hoc query services for one of the maintenance guys, a Belgian chap who wanted to make sure that the air crews had the most reliable systems possible. The man had all sorts of interesting angles to look at problems. A brilliant dude and a joy to work with.

Most of my tour in Germany was like that.

Next time, which may or may not be tomorrow, depending on my mood and what I want to write about, I'll get into the social scene in Germany. The wing had a touring committee who came up with all sorts of bus trips, for very reasonable prices. A four day weekend in Paris was the first we went on, I can't remember how many trips we made to the Mosel River wine country in Germany. For one thing there were a lot of them, for another, well, we drank a lot of wine on those trips.

But that's a story for another time. I'm off to bed, having just completed my latest late shift. (Which for you was last night, but which for me is right now. Time travel, neh?)

The town of Cochem, as seen from the Mosel River. Yeah, Germany, from my perspective, was all castles, wine, and beer, oh and schnitzel, mustn't forget the schnitzel. All of which I will regale you with at a later date. (Source)


  1. This is fascinating stuff Sarge. I had no idea what the computers were for bitd. Seems I wasn't alone. Feel kinda bad for the ol' pie chart Sarge. He was probably pining away for the good ol' days when he was a B-36 Scanner. In his shoes, if my only daily job was to spend two hours producing a pie chart, I'd have spent my down hours getting up to no good. I was a master at getting up to no good.

    1. I was pretty good at getting into trouble in my salad days. I was almost caught, once!

      That's a story for another time, maybe.

    2. Statute of limitations is probably up by now? :)

    3. Probably.

      At least I sure hope so!

  2. Yaah.... a very interesting post. Revealing how one person does the same old same old while another looks to change it.

    1. The old fellow had no interest in doing much. The Germans did not care for him.

  3. When I moved back to Tulsa after my discharge I worked for Telex Computer Products. We OEM'd most of the equipment that ended up with IBM's logo on it with tape drives being one of those products. The bad lot of tapes I can understand as it would occasionally happen depending on who the manufacturer was and also bad tape drives happen. But "Certain operators just did not have the knack of getting the tape hung right the first time" I cannot understand! Most people could figure out how to hang a tape on a drive with no training and even the "slow" one's should get it right after being shown the process at least once.

    Please keep up the pictures. Even though I get lots of pic's from my son, I never get tired of them.

    1. That was the key, showing them the right way. Hell, even I managed to learn after one or two tries.

  4. In your next installment, don't forget to mention the Brotchen Bar that started everyone's day. :-)

    1. Oh yes, how could I have forgotten the Brötchen Bar? I still hanker for those.

      (For those who don't know, Bob is another Old AF Sarge with whom I was stationed at Geilenkirchen. A pretty good softball player too, if my memory serves me correctly.)

    2. Ahh yes! The Brötchen Bar! That was the best part of the day. After that was 7 1/2 hours of mind-numbing boredom. Unless you could figure out some kind of a project to get yourself involved in.

    3. Which I did, saved my sanity it did!

  5. Mmmmmmm Schnitzel!!! I had 3 years courtesy the USAF in Germany. In many ways it was a great tour. Being C-130 aircrew, I got to see a great deal of Europe even if only from the air.

    1. Yes indeed, excellent stuff.

      So if you were a Hercules crewdog, were you at Ramstein?

    2. I was at Rhine-Main when the 37(T)AS was moved there from 1977 to 1980. I am an old Air Force dog now fully retired as I did some of my time in the Reserves driving a D4D. The move to Ramstein occurred years later.

    3. How could I forget Rhein-Main? I remember reading about it being closed down in 2005. I was in Germany when they shut down operations at Bitburg, though the housing, BX, and Commissary stayed open.

  6. Thanks for the great story. It is always a pleasure to read your posts; one of the highlights of my day.

    Paul L. Quandt

  7. Doing things that way because "They've always received the report - They expect it!" with no cares about what's done or more usually not done with said report. Get a lot of that with the organization I currently support.

    Other thing that caught my eye was the source for the lead photo. ' Smugmug? What sort of NATO / US Military web site is that?' I continue to be surprised at how much stuff government organizations are passing off to commercial services these days.


    1. Yeah, the Smugmug thing startled me. Photo was taken by a Dutch sergeant assigned to NATO, a NATO photo as they say.

  8. Always looking for a way to build a better mousetrap.
    My kind of people.

  9. After reading all your tales of your "tuff duty" in USAFE all I gots is YOU BASTARD!! (Says the Green Monster of envy...)

    1. Germany, tough duty, someone had to do it. So I stepped up.


  10. I was stationed outside Nuremburg (Pinder Barracks) from '74 to 77. Army, 156 Maintenance Co., Small Arms repair shop. Fix guns, drink beer, and stare down the Rooshins. Yup, tuff duty, indeed. Got to do the Reforger thing on the ground too. Good times!

    The vineyard under the castle in your last photo brings back memories. I had the good fortune to get to know a professional couple who had lived in the U.S. and got to know my dad. They were kind enough to take me on a tour boat down the Rhine. It is truly amazing the variety of wines grown along and up the banks. There is infinite subtlety in which direction the vineyards face, and how and what part of the day they face the sun as the river twists and turns.

    Oh, and don't forget the "lochs mit brot".

    1. Yup, would've been tougher if the Rooskies had shot the Fulda Gap. Glad they didn't!

      Never had that dish, back then I didn't care for fish. Tastes change, now I do, maybe I'll go back!

    2. Right. It's lachs, not "lochs". We used to buy it from street vendors. Yeah, glad the Rooskies stayed home. I think by then they may have been having second thoughts unless we had really provoked them. I know the Germans had some really nasty surprises ready just in case. My service was during the reign of the Peanut Farmer. Our standing joke was the if the Rooskies came though Fulda at 24:00, we could all meet at our mess hall for breakfast.

      Many here may enjoy this book---

      It's a fun read with a decent dose of tongue-in-cheek. There are a couple of chapters about the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. The money line at the end (from memory)--"We in the Soviet officer corps NEW that for at least 10 years, we would not make the mistake of invading a country with a higher standard of living than our own).

    3. Here's another one you will enjoy---

  11. Good food, good times! In my case developed a serious addiction to Apfelwein.


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