Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

DJ's History

I had a very short leave after graduation as 14 classmates and I headed off to Georgetown to pursue a Masters in Econ or International Affairs. (Another 14 or 15 headed off to Purdue for a Masters in Aero or Astro, so they also had short summers). Successfully gaining my objective (and the Air Force's, or at least the PolySci Dept's at Blue U) and gaining the knowledge that let me understand certain things about the upcoming war—but obviously interpreting things differently than certain leaders, military and civilian, that we would have running that war-

I headed south to Craig AFB, Selma, Alabama just in time for the famous (or infamous) March Over the Pettus Bridge. Did ok at Craig too, but got married to my wife of 45 years within hours of receiving my wings, so as my wife likes to say: “and got them clipped the same day.”

Our “honeymoon” was the drive from Selma to Stead AFB in my brand-new green-with- saddle-tan-interior ‘Vette fastback (traded in my white Buick Wildcat convertible for something a little more in line with the image of “fighter pilot”, which is what I had wanted to be, and was on the way to becoming), stopping only in New Orleans to go to Preservation Hall, in the Springs to visit the Academy, and at the downtown office of the DMV to get a new license plate, since my Pennsylvania tag (which had gotten me a ticket in Alabama for speeding, for 1 mph,…damn Yankees!) had been ripped out of its holder because some full-service Yahoo in Texas thought the gas tank was behind the plate and wouldn't ask where it really was! (Oh yes, like classmates and Sq 16 mates Donnie Graham and Jack Sweeney, all of us from Pittsburgh, I am a life-long Steeler fan…although I'm not sure how loyal Jack is.)

Finally arrived at George AFB, where I did both of my RTUs (but in different squadrons), and then to Ubon RTAB where I did both of my combat tours (in the same squadron—the 433TFS, 8th TFW--but different hootch, the second houseboy did a better job shining boots).

Somebody once asked me what I did in combat in the back seat of an F4 and I told him, without stopping to think: “whimpered a lot.” (For all of our classmates that got to be combat GIBS, they will understand this—I don't know how many times there were situations where all your training and instincts are telling you that the correct action to take is to break right…and the AC breaks LEFT, or during night ops with tracers arcing across the sky in your general vicinity having to ask the front-seater why he is in a 85 degree climb?)

Even though I remember a lot about certain “Deep Six” missions, my fondest memories are of the guys that were there at the same time, like watching Mitch Cobeaga say good-bye to the F4 back seat (he didn't say much, but he did something that some would consider unspeakable) or hearing “Stevie B” Croker tell how Robin Olds got two Migs, not because of him, but in spite of him. One of the other results of this tour was that I made up my mind that if I ever had the chance to be a Wild Weasel, I'd jump at it—we never had anything to shot back with!

Front seat tour was a less dramatic thing (well, most of the time), simply because of LBJ's curtailment of bombing around Hanoi. (Scheduled to be Element Lead for Mig CAP, when the Migs had been coming up, the day it happened.) I did get my second hundred over the North though. The “fun thing” was flying wing to Joel Aranoff on night missions (my GIB was a '66 grad) while Joel was also on his second tour…it is rumored that Joel tried for three tours by going to the Chief of Staff and the Secretary (pulling a Patton) but, when denied, went to Israel. (Going to Israel was not a rumor, but fact.) Three or four missions other than those with Joel stand out, but the most gratifying one (ok, here comes a short story) resulted from, as the Brits say, a “cock-up”—and for which I received one of my DFCs for aerial achievement!

On one night mission in RPI toward the southern end, it was noticed that someone was drawing a lot of AAA fire from a certain location, so the decision was made that if I ever had a “route recce” in that area, I'd investigate. Finally got the chance. Now, I liked to lead from the Number 2 aircraft, simply because the flares were always carried on the Number 1 aircraft, and I felt that I had better tactical control from the other aircraft. Anyhow, my wingman and I get into the area, he drops a flare where I wanted it, and the whole west side of this stream lights up with AAA firing in our general direction.

I lined up for a run over the offending guns to deliver CBU-2s (to be effectively delivered, the CBU 2s needed an airspeed of over 450 knots and a low altitude, about 200 feet AGL which in itself is pretty scary if you let yourself think about it, particularly at night.) In my excitement, I completely forgot about wind drift and for those who know anything about CBU-2s, that is a pretty stupid thing to do. So, I get fast and I get low, and I pickle two strings out, and I wait a couple of seconds before starting to ease in back pressure to prevent blowing my own tail off (we weren't allowed to carry these weapons for some months because some other folks had done just that and paid a price for it), looking back for results…and not seeing much, until my wingman starts to yell on the radio, forcing me to look back over the other shoulder. There, on the east side of the stream were the usual “twinkle” of the CBUs—and multiple secondaries.

To make a short story long, we put all of our ordnance into the ever-expanding area of secondaries (the west-side gunners really going crazy), some recce guy from about 75 miles away comes up on Guard and asks if he can come on down and take pictures, so I cleared him in, departed to RTB to Ubon, but did check in with the ABCCC and asked that other flights be diverted from “non-counter” Laos missions to “counter” missions in RPI. The place blew up well into the next day. (Oh, and it turns out that on the west side of the stream there was located a AAA training facility…the would-be gun crews came out at certain points in their training program to shot at suspected targets: thus the volume of inaccurate fire. Or so I was told by intel…after the mission!)

Finished up that tour about three weeks before the bombing halt, got to vote in my home precinct using one of those pull-lever machines that you see in old movies—the only non-absentee vote in my military career—and took off for Hahn AB, Germany. (If observant, you might notice a trend here…Craig, George, Ubon, Hahn…fortunately, the next three places I flew from were Peterson, Kadena, and Andrews before ending my career flying out of Torrejon…oh, and my European check out familiarization flight was from Ramstein to Wheelus, which as we all know is also closed to American flights but at this moment might be a target under another name.)

After a few months of pulling Victor Alert in F4Ds, my squadron got the opportunity to convert back to F4C Wild Weasels. I jumped at it (after a communication breakdown that would have sent me to Soesterberg in the F4E instead). Hahn was a typical fighter tour for Europe (excepting Soesterberg) with a lot of Victor and TDY to exotic places like Wheelus, Aviano, and eventually, Zaragoza in Spain.

Spent more time each year “behind the wire” or on TDY than I did flying at home. But, that was typical, just ask any fighter pilot stationed there in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. Had a lot of '62 and '63 grads in the squadron when I first got there, some of whom helped in the transition to Weasel as we became an “all combat vet” squadron (one of our backseaters was the wing EWO for a C141 outfit, but he did get credit for missions in and out of Saigon, so he counted) not that having SEA experience counted for doodlie-squat in USAFE at the time. Lee Downer was in this squadron too.

Getting from Hahn to USAFA was a bit of a frazzling experience in that a PCS freeze was in effect, but my squadron was PCS-ing from Hahn to Zweibrucken. Took USAFE Personnel six weeks to figure out that I was going to PCS, period, so they let me go to USAFA to the PolySci Department for what was arguably the second best assignment of my career. Not only was teaching cadets fun (despite a common joke among some of the more academic types that ran: “Well it's time to go cast pearls before swine…not real pearls mind you, but real…”), intellectually challenging at times even, and the people around me were fantastic.

I had been prepared to teach American Government, but when I arrived I was informed that I would be team-teaching Political Theory. (I guess because I had gone to Georgetown and something must have rubbed off from the Jesuits that were my classmates there.) Ended up flying T-29s, for which I never did put in the paperwork necessary to get credit for the hours I flew. There were classmates all over the place (Tim Kline in History for one), including some over on the “other side of the bridge.” (I became a “bridger”, even though Robin Olds was long gone as Commandant—even got to address a pep rally one Friday night, but that is another story for another place. This was really hard for me, simply because as a cadet, I always seemed to be on one of the Commandant's lists, and it wasn't the one you wore something on your uniform for). Some of the non-grads I taught with are now life long friends. As for what I did teach, it was mostly Defense Policy (PoliSci 412, which a lot of us had in our firstie year) and an elective, Politics of Insurgency (PoliSci 421, not available to us).

Had orders to McDill, but they got changed at the last minute to Kadena because of the Weasel specialty. Not much to say about that tour, except it was odd seeing former students show up as fighter or recce pilots. Was involved in convincing PACAF that F4Cs could be deployed on a 1.5/day sortie rate which led to WTDs at Clark, use of the electronic warfare range at Crow Valley, and “country club flying.” Now that was fun, plus I got to bring back an interesting basket or two in the travel pod, thereby keeping the wife happy with the TDYs. Also had an article published in the old AU Review, which earned me my 15 minutes of fame in the electronic warfare community.

Air Staff, Concepts and Doctrine was next, and that lasted almost three years, since part of the last year was spent in DoD as Country Director for Turkey and Acting Country Director for Greece. Now, a lot of people hate having to serve in the Pentagon, but I loved it, mainly because there were grads I knew all over the place (would you believe an “all-grad” carpool with a future 4 star and 2 star—Lee Downer?) and the work was meaningful.

I overlapped with, and then replaced, classmate Bob Clark, worked on a lot of NATO tactical publications, which were considered as “standards” to be met by the allied air forces (although TAC did not feel so obligated most of the time), and got involved (just before I moved up to DoD) in the long-standing air control fight with, at the time, “NATO's Seventeen Nation”, the USMC. (Another minor short story highlighting the difference between how the Air Force and the Marines lent importance to service doctrine. One of Sec/Def Weinberger's first foreign visitors was Turgut Ozal, (who would become Prime Minister and then President of Turkey), accompanied by one of the 4-star “rulers” of Turkey after the coup of 1980.

I was forced to miss the cocktail party in SecDef's suite because I was running a message giving instructions to our negotiating team in Greece at a very critical time in the process of renewing the existing bi-lateral agreement. (It was embarrassing having to separate SecDef from the crowd to have him sign off on the message and then running it to the Comm Center.) Folks were just sitting down to dinner when I finished the Greek thing. One of my tablemates was the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Barrow. Of course I introduced myself, as is customary in such situations, but the General showed no special interest, as I was just another DoD flunky. After about 10 minutes of the usual table chit-chat, General Barrow snapped his fingers, looked at me and said (paraphrased for obvious reasons): “I know you…you're the S.O.B. who's trying to steal my airplanes.” I don't think any of our generals had a clue as to who was working the Marine side of the issue. Oh, and every single one of the Marines working the issue made general!) By the way, the “compromise” arising from this issue fight is still basically in effect, or at least it appears to be if the press reports and published accounts of our last few wars are correct. (I also started working on my PhD in Government at Georgetown during this tour.

Off to London for a year's tour as an Air Force Research Associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, following in the footsteps of Jay Kelly. Arguably, this was my most enjoyable assignment in my career…not necessarily the most satisfying or worthwhile, but thoroughly enjoyable. Even managed to publish an Adelphi Paper, which Jay could not due to review constraints (as I understood it, no matter how much Jay stated “personal opinion”, there was a fear that others would take what he said about nuclear matters as “gospel” by our enemies).

Back to DoD, where I handled military affairs with several NATO allies, but most prominently, Spain. Again, a lot of trips to Europe, interesting work that led to a sense of satisfaction because I felt something worthwhile was being done. There were some frustrations also, as there always are. (Did work next to one political appointee, who was undoubtedly brilliant but totally lacked common sense and had no experience with the military, and who did not seem to have a specific job. In a much later Administration, he was an Assistant Secretary who was responsible for planning for the post-Hussein future with no practical results, leading to the chaos and insurgency that ensued after our splendid conventional victory.) Probably learned more about how governments actually work in those three years than in all the proper education I'd undergone and books I'd read on the subject. (Warning, don't ever ask to see how a hot dog is made in a sausage factory.) One advantage of being a uniformed officer working in DoD is that you are trusted to be—and treated as—non-political, at least at the 0-6 and below levels.

Last assignment was in Spain in the JUSMAG-MAAG, located in the Spanish Air Force's headquarters in Madrid, first as Chief of Bi-lateral Affairs and then as Deputy Chief of the organization, by then renamed an Office of Defense Cooperation. In general, working with the Spanish was sometimes easier than working with the Services in getting things done. On the other hand, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and Desert Shield started to unfold, the Spanish initially took a “work to rule” approach because the U.S. side, way above the pay grade of anybody actually in Spain, hadn't followed the recently negotiated Bi-lateral Agreement in at least one very important regard. When that little nicety got taken care of (got to write and send the second “flash” message of my career), the Spaniards were very cooperative. Did you know that Spanish C-130s were used for transport to deploy a fighter squadron's assets and personnel “down-range”? Did you know that the Spanish Army burned out four (I think) of its lift helicopters hauling bomb bodies from Rota up to Zaragoza so that our B-52s flying combat missions from Zaragoza would have sufficient ordnance?

In retirement, my wife and I wanted to live in Santa Fe, but after looking unsuccessfully for a house for slightly more than six weeks, my wife came down with an allergy from something in the environment there. That started a seven-state plus the District of Columbia search for The Place to Live and I couldn't convince her that Pittsburgh was to be home again (she is from Mars—which is actually a town in Western PA, but both of our families were scattered away from there).

We eventually ended up in the Springs, but the how and why of that is for sitting around, sipping wine and telling war stories. Have done some things with cadet squadrons over the years, served as class president for a term, and am especially proud of what we did as a class in supporting Contrails for Fourth Class use (although it has become apparent that Contrails isn't used quite the same way it was almost 51 years ago: one can say the same thing about Doolie Summer as well—they actually make sure the newbies are fed!) Worked on my golf handicap for a few years (it is worked on regardless of the direction in goes), then got back to work as an advisor to one of my former students, who currently sits in the Colorado House of Representatives.

Obviously, I have been involved in the political scene but the most productive thing I've done recently has been to join and work in the VFW, presently being the State Commander (I'm sure most of our classmates belong to a volunteer organization somewhere, so they know the fulfillment and frustrations that are involved with being involved!). If eligible, you should try joining the VFW. To be completely selfish, one of the good deals of being Commander is that I've gotten treated to the VFW's March Washington Conference two years in a row—my daughter and our two grandkids live in Northern Virginia, ‘nuff said.

In sum, I guess I can say that I am exceedingly grateful and thankful for how the Academy shaped me and for my career in the Air Force, but most of all for knowing you, my classmates. Unlike others I've met in my life, I know that I can trust you. I've enjoyed working with you. The 50th Reunion is not too far away—please plan now to come. We still have a lot of history to make!

Among his many contributions to our nation and our class, DJ Alberts served as President of The Class of 1964 from 1999 to 2004. Under his leadership, The Class of 1964 initiated The Contrails Project. Click the link below to read the story.

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