Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

My History

Les Baer


The Early Years: 1942-1960

I was born in Newark NJ in 1942 and grew up in my father's hometown of Maplewood. I guess looking back I was one of the geeks, good at math and science, homeroom vice-president, audio-visual committee, and not much dating.

As a junior, I began college planning like most of my classmates. I was going to go to either Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken NJ or RPI (Rensellaer Polytechnic Institute) in Troy NY. My mother was thrilled that I would be close to home. But the summer after my junior year was 1959 and the NY Times Sunday Magazine published a big story with photos on the first graduating class of the new U.S. Air Force Academy. My dad and I always did the Sunday Times crossword puzzle together, but that week I was mesmerized by the story about the Academy. From that moment on, my other college plans were forgotten and I jumped through all the hoops to gain the appointment of Cong. George Wallhauser to the class of 1964.

I graduated from Columbia High School in June of 1960 and was quickly on my way to Denver and then on to the Academy.

Academy : 1960-1964

Most of the readers of this memoir lived through similar experiences from 1960-1964, so I'll just mention a few of my personal highlights. Besides the absolutely superior education I received, the cadet pistol team was a big part of my four years in Colorado. Since pistol was officially a varsity sport (sadly that is no longer the case), I got to eat at a training table in Mitchell Hall, which was a great boost to my physical and mental well-being. I was named as a 2nd team collegiate All-American in my 2nd class year and made 1st team All-American as a first-classman. I was also team captain that year.

I also was part of the Arnold Hall stage crew and did the lighting for several of the cadet shows as well as the professional entertainers who performed for us. For some reason, I particularly remember Dave Brubeck. His bassist Eugene Wright made a lasting impression of me and I was saddened to read recently that his drummer, Joe Morello, had passed away.

Reese AFB, Lubbock TX: 1964-1969

When it came time to pick our pilot training assignments, my class standing wasn't quite high enough to get my first choice, but I did get my second choice of Reese AFB. After a whirlwind honeymoon in Estes Park Co, my new bride, Linda, and I drove to New Jersey to visit family and then to Lubbock TX to begin pilot training. At UPT graduation, I had to settle for 2nd choice again as the few single-seat fighter assignment went quickly. I didn't want to go the back-seat F-4 route, so I opted to stay at Reese as a T-37 Instructor Pilot (IP). After two years of early week/late week as a line IP, I became an academic instructor and part-time IP. When the chief of academics job became available, the choice was between Sonny (who now prefers Hugh) Williamson and me. Since we both had the same rank and date of rank, Sonny got the job because he graduation order of merit (class standing) was higher than mine at the Academy. To this day, I am not sure if they were looking for an excuse to give the job to Sonny anyway or if that's really how seniority is calculated.

By now I had been at Reese for almost five years and realized that training and education was where my interest and ability were. I wanted to get a Master's degree in Education and return to the Academy in the newly created Educational Technology department. But you couldn't go to grad school without first going to Vietnam and I was ready to leave West Texas.

Vietnam : 1969-1970

My family and I spent a few pleasant months on the beach in a hotel on Okaloosa Island near Ft. Walton Beach FL while I trained as a FAC in the O-1 Birddog at nearby Holley OLF. The only reason we could afford this luxury was that it was off-season and the only memory I have of the beach is the sand fleas, which apparently are in season all year long there. Then to Turkey Point FL for water survival (“a luxury adventure package including parasailing over the blue waters of the Atlantic”) and snake school at Clark AB in the Philippines before a charter flight into Tan Son Nhut AB, Vietnam. The family headed to Hickam AFB HI, where Linda's dad conveniently was stationed at the time. So I spent my R&R and leave in Hawaii and got to walk my daughter to her first day at Hickam elementary school.

I was assigned to the 22nd TASS, headquartered at Binh Thuy and spent my entire year at Ben Tre (Truc Giang) in the Mekong delta. I lived with a U.S. Army advisory team supporting the ARVN 7th Div. When I first arrived the U.S. 9th Div. was still in the area and the radio procedures were complicated at best getting artillery clearances from both ARVN and U.S. sources in addition to controlling U.S., VNAF, and RAAF fighters and bombers. Contrary to the horrors of my brethren who braved the skies of North Vietnam, things were relatively peaceful in the South. We had our share of near misses from incoming mortars, but the road to our airfield at night was more dangerous than most of the missions I flew. The only time I was actually in mortal danger, I was too naïve to realize it. I was sitting in a jeep at the airfield waiting for someone inside the hooch to come out. I heard the sounds of small arms fire coming from the tall trees adjacent to the airfield. It was only when I saw dust kicking up around the jeep that I realized they were shooting at me and beat a hasty retreat into the heavily sandbagged hooch. A highlight of the tour was being part of a flight of four O-1s that we ferried from Binh Thuy to Ubon Thailand. After a couple of refueling stops in Vietnam, we launched from Pleiku and were escorted by a flight of A-1s across the ‘dog's head' of Cambodia to land at Udorn and then on to Ubon. The aircraft were delivered to Air America and I am sure were put into service carrying sightseeing tourists. This turned out to be my last full-time flying job.

Graduate School, USC: 1970-1971

Before leaving for Vietnam, I had arranged a sponsored Master's degree in Instructional Technology and a follow-on assignment at the Academy. So I knew where my next assignment was before I even started my tour. I had been accepted into the University of Southern California and after picking up the family in Hawaii, we headed for sunny southern California. We found an apartment in Santa Monica and I commuted to downtown LA to go to school. Most of the classes were late afternoon or evening to cater to the other graduate students who worked during the day. Most of my neighbors thought I was a cop because of my short haircut (as the colonel who headed the ROTC unit on campus was my ‘boss' and required that all of the AFIT students on campus maintain a military appearance). Remember this was 1970 and the military was not particularly popular at that time.

Williams AFB, Mesa AZ: 1971-1973

While I was in graduate school, the Academy academic departments did some reorganization and the follow-on assignment to the Academy that I had arranged fell through. The Air Force had to do something with me when I graduated with my Masters in June of 1970, so I was able to wrangle an assignment to AFHRL, the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory which was located at Williams AFB near Mesa AZ. I spent two great years at AFHRL and further bolstered my credentials in the training and flight simulation area. I was the principal investigator and author of the ATC Learning Center Evaluation, designed and procured a lab color TV studio and flew the T-37 to maintain my flying status.

Randolph AFB, San Antonio TX: 1973-1975

I had written two sections of the Mission Analysis Future UPT (FUPT 75-90) while at AFHRL and worked very closely with ATC HQ so it was logical that my next assignment was to San Antonio at Randolph AFB. I was responsible for simulator and training technology plans and wrote the ATC section of the USAF Simulator Master Plan. I got to fly the T-39 and had some fascinating missions transporting the Army burn teams from Ft. Sam Houston all over the country in response to serious burn emergencies.

Luke AFB, Glendale AZ: 1975-1978

Following the pattern of one assignment leading logically to the next (in the Air Force?), I was asked to go to Luke AFB AZ to manage the OT&E of the F-15 flight simulator as part of the TAWC (Tactical Air Warfare Center) detachment there. I also co-authored a USAFA cadet summer research technical report on F-15 simulator scoring algorithms. But the fringe benefit of my 3 years at Luke was that I got over 300 hours flying the F-4C. What a kick that was. I had never flown anything heavier than a T-39 before and I remember on my first takeoff roll, it felt like a locomotive on rails. I towed the DART, ferried airplanes, practiced ACM and flew backseat on the range, so I don't get to call myself a fighter pilot, but boy was that a fun airplane.

Wright -Patterson AFB, Centerville OH: 1978-1982

Since the procurement of increasingly sophisticated flight simulators was becoming more than just a side project for the aircraft SPOs (System Program Offices), they created a Simulator SPO at Wright-Patterson to handle all of the procurement and testing of these devices. I was the Director of Test & Deployment for such varied program as the B-52 WST (Weapon Systems Trainer), A-10 OFT (Operational Flight Trainer), F-16 WST, C-130 WST, C-5 CPT (Cockpit Procedures Trainer), and the C-141 CPT. My daughter Lisa graduated from high school in Centerville OH and my son Lance had just finished 9th grade when it was time to move on. I was thinking that the Pentagon, which I had so far managed to avoid, was the next logical assignment since I had just made Lt Col. But then I got a call from the Personnel Center asking if I would like to go to Australia as an exchange officer working in their equivalent of the Simulator SPO. Our classmate Dick Hackford would be completing his tour there and I was to be his replacement.

Russell Offices, Canberra AU: 1982-1984

The RAAF are headquartered in Russell Offices in Canberra, which is like our Pentagon, with all of the services in the same complex. While there I was the acquisition officer for the P-3C simulator and the FA-18 flight simulator. Both of these devices were being built by US contractors, but I was treated as a foreign national when I travelled to the US to visit the contractors since I was representing the RAAF and not the USAF. This was a great two years for our whole family and I would have stayed longer, but I had promised my son he could finish high school in the US. I had just gone past my 20th year of service and couldn't imagine an assignment to top this one, so I decided to retire. Since my parents were in California and Linda's mother was in the Seattle area, I interviewed in both those locations for the first job of my next career.

Boeing , Kent WA: 1984-1998

I picked the Boeing Company as the best fit and found the transition surprisingly easy, since I had worked on the Air Force side of contracts for many years. It was the same dance, only now I was following instead of leading. I worked on many of the simulator and trainer programs at Boeing including the Peacekeeper Missile Trainer, Peace Shield trainer, and AWACS trainer. I was promoted into management and got to lead teams of some great people, many of whom had come out of the military, but others who just enjoyed working on defense-related contracts.

Boeing , St Charles MO: 1998-2003

In 1998, after almost 14 years with Boeing in the Puget Sound area, my unusual background got me another job. Boeing had just recently acquired McDonnell-Douglas in St Louis and their major US Navy program was the F-18. They posted a job opening for the Director of F-18 training. And I had worked on the FA-18 program for the RAAF. After living in the same house for 13 years, I thought my moving days were over but I just knew I would kick myself later if I didn't at least apply for the job. Well I got the job and Linda and I were off to Missouri. I spent two years on the F-18 program and then another 3 years in Training Systems & Services.

Boeing , Bothell WA: 2003-2008

Linda's health had deteriorated while we were in Missouri and although she had successful CABG (Coronary Artery Bypass Graft) surgery, she needed more of a support system than I was able to provide by myself. So I got a job on the F-22 training program back in Seattle in 2003. While on that program, I was asked to lead the team writing the training systems sections of a proposal to the US Navy for a replacement for the P-3C ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) aircraft. When Boeing won that contract, I became the leader of the training systems team.

Sadly Linda passed away in 2005 and then my son, Lance, died unexpectedly in 2007. So by 2008, I had lost my focus and decided to retire after 23 years with the Boeing Company.

Baer Winery, Woodinville WA: 2000-present

But I am as busy in retirement as I was while employed. My daughter Lisa and I own a small winery in Woodinville WA. This was my son's passion and I had worked with him since 2000 on starting up and running the business. While in St Louis, my vacation time was spent travelling to Seattle for the harvest, crush, bottling and release of each new vintage of wine. When we moved back to Washington, I continued to do the bookkeeping, and manage the suppliers as well as participating in the major activities involved in running a small winery. Since Lance passed away in 2007, Lisa and I have continued the business in part as a tribute to Lance and in part as a sound business decision since we have finally started to turn a profit.

Looking ahead: 2010-???


In 2007, I met a wonderful lady and we were married in May, 2010. I am still “boringly healthy” and plan to stay that way for as many more years as I can. Gerry and I love to travel and we plan to do more of that in the future.

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