Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

My History

Dan Fink

I was born and raised in Arlington, VA. In high school I was a wrestler in the winter and a diver in the summer. As a result, my doolie year I tried during the winter season to participate both on the wrestling team and as a diver on the swiming team. As both are winter sports, in the fall I tried out for and made the soccer team despite not even knowing the laws of the game. (In soccer, the rules are referred to as Laws.) In the spring I participated on the track team as a pole vaulter. The obvious strategy here was to be on the training tables rather than at attention at the squadron tables as a fourth classman.

I was appointed by Congressman Broyhill who also appointed Frank Packer and Donald Kingsley. Don and I along with Cary O'Bryan all attended Washington-Lee HS while Frank attended our cross town rival Wakefield. Frank ended up with the appointment, Don got an appointment from another VA State Senator as a result of all of the Senator's original appointees failing to pass the physical. I got in as a qualified alternate. Thus three of us from Congressman Broyhill's nominations made the cut and we all graduated.

Carey O'Bryan and I were close friends in both Jr. High School and High School. Carey's Dad was a West Pointer whose home of record was not in VA, and Carey's appointment was technically from a different state. Carey and I used to look at his dad's yearbooks and dream. Thus, three of us from Washington-Lee HS joined the class of '64.

Like many of us, I had many instances where I decided the Academy program was too hard and I was going to resign. Fortunately I never got around to actually resigning. At graduation, I failed the Ishihara color blindness test and my orders to pilot training were cancelled. This was a huge disappointment after four hard years of dreaming of flying. Along with several other non-flyer classmates, I was selected to go into the Security Service. AFSS is the Air Force arm of the National Security Agency and not military police. This particular specialty required higher security clearances than the Top Secret we had as Cadets. Training took place at Goodfellow AB in San Angelo Texas. Newly assigned trainees would have to wait for their clearances to be completed before starting classes. There was some resentment by the non-Academy trainees that our clearances were completed faster because we currently had top secrets from the Academy. While waiting for clearances, the prospective trainees would perform various tasks vital to our national defense such as counting the number of light bulbs on the base.

Upon completion of training, I was assigned to the the 6921st Security Wing at Misawa AB, Japan as an Assistant Flight Commander. There were four flights of appoximately 180 airmen and sailors each. We worked rotating eight-hour shifts of three days each. As a result, you never got your sleep schedule to settle down. Off duty I joined the local Suzuki Motorcycle motocross team. Our team was all Japanese except for myself and one other airman. After a little over a year, we received a message asking for volunteers to join a new AFSS security squadron that was being activated in Vietnam. Despite everyone's advice, I volunteered and shortly found myself flying south for the summer.

Upon arrival in Saigon, I met the only other officer assigned to the new squadron as a PCS. Lt. Finkle was assigned as the maintenance officer for our fleet of leading edge aircraft-C-47's. As time went on, we got a more senior officer assigned as our Commander, Maj. Fisher. The three of us were referred to as the Fink, Finkle and Fisher trio. Our squadron had a unique mission within Air Force Security service. For the first time communications intelligence info was being used to take immediate tactical action. Eventually I became the director of the Airborne Radio Direction Finding Coordination Center. Here we analyzed the previous missions and determined where to best apply both the Air Force and the Army aircraft for the next day's missions. Because I don't know the current classification status of this activity, I cannot go into any details. Approximately six months after my arrival, I was joined by a classmate, Thad Wolfe, who became the Detachment Commander for our detachment at Pleiku. Our mission had extensive high level interest and was closely tied to the CIA. It proved to be highly effective and was a very satisfying experience.

Shortly after the squadron was officially activated, we began receiving a plethora of messages wanting to know who was the Squadron's Bond Drive Officer, Community Relations Offficer, etc. At this time the only two officers in the Squadron were Lt. Finkle and myself. We kept a list of these extra duty positions and alternated our names in responding to the messages. We then did absolutely nothing. Beginning six or seven months later, we began receiving messages wanting to know where our overdue bond drive or community relations reports had been sent. We responded by switching our names saying that their message seeking the report had been sent to the wrong officer and the correct officer was actually the other person. This proved to be a succesful strategy as the messages to the now correct officer did not begin arriving until right at the end of our tours. It was now time to begin the cycle with the names of the officers who were our replacements.

Upon completion of my Vietnam tour in April '67, I was assigned the to Air Staff at NSA at Ft. Meade, MD. In July, I married my wife (of soon to be 44 years), nee Johanna Leigh Hart. While at NSA, I was assigned the additional duty of Security Service Liason to the Air Force Battle Staff at the Pentagon. As a liason officer your job is to sanitize cryptologic intelligence protecting source and method for dissemination to the Battle Staff. This was required as most battle staff members did not have sufficient clearances to receive the informaiton directly from the field. This staff assignment was a real letdown after Vietnam. We had a whole room full of people, the majority of whom were civilians, regurgitating old intelligence reports already published by NSA and Air Force Security Service. Most of the civilians had never been anywhere other than Ft. Meade.

When the Pueblo got in trouble, the Pentagon called out the battle staffs and I got to change my commute from Ft. Meade to the Puzzle Palace. The Pueblo was an NSA ship loaded with highly sensitive material. Should it be captured by the North Koreans and therefore also the Russians, severe damage would be done to US National Security. This was one of the most discouraging experiences of my AF career. The three battle staffs were vigorously seeking to find out what the other battle staffs were going to recommend as an action to help the Pueblo so that their recommendation would be the most politically correct, and meanwhile all assistance for the Pueblo was on hold awaiting orders. As is now well known, no effective action was taken, the Pueblo was captured, and as a result, the Russians were able to read our highly encrypted naval communications for many years. It was the combination of what was captured in association with the information being provided by the Walker spy ring that enabled one of the most serious breaches of National Security. This experience had a major influence on my decision to resign my commission.

While at NSA, I began both an MBA program at The American University and taking computer programming courses at NSA. This qualified me for a job as a programmer analyst at a start up computer time share company, nearly doubling my pay. As a result, in 1969 I decided to resign my commission. This was a very hard decision to make and I still question whether it was a good decision. I have always felt that I ran out on my classmates while they were still POWs.

Upon entering the civilian world, I worked in the computer field for several companies with progressively better pay and responsibilities and finally rejoined the Federal work force at the Home Loan Bank Board. After a year as a beauracrat, four of us started a computer consulting company. Though successful, this required constant travel. I finally quit, ultimately ending up at a small company in Reston, VA name Scope Electronics. Here I joined a project as an engineer that would occupy the next 20 years of my life. We were working on developing computer speech recognition. This was a highly challenging endeavor and, once infected with the speech recognition bug, it is impossible to let go. This quest took me from Reston to Anaheim, CA and then on to Intel in Santa Clara, CA. At Intel, I had the privilege of working with Ted Hoff, the father of the microprocessor. Here Dr. Chi Foon Chan and myself won the Intel Nobel Prize for Technical Achievement. This prize awards a certificate and a reminder to be on time for work the next day. Intel moved our operation from Santa Clara to Hillsboro, Oregon where I still reside.

Shortly after moving our operation, Intel decided to close the effort as the technology of speech recognition was essentially a software algorithm and not a piece of silicon, and therefore not a business of primary interest to them. I then began a series of consulting assignments, published a snowboarding magazine, and finally began growing orchids to sell at the local farmers market and shows. This led to nine years on the Vancouver Farmers Market Board of Directors and finally to a position of Deputy Market Master. On the side, as a result of helping a friend who had a stroke, I became first a Certified Nursing Assistant and then a Certified Medication Aide. These jobs in our nursing homes are extemely rewarding but the pay is lousy and the work is hard. Most nursing homes operate in an understaffed mode, to the detriment of patient care.

I have now semi-retired. I am currently helping an unfunded start-up develop a business plan and am very active with the local VFW Post. I still consult to the Vancouver Farmers Market Board of Directors.
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