Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Harl's Story

The Air Force - its mission and people - eventually became my passion, but the beginnings were not very auspicious. As a military prep school graduate (Manlius Military Academy near Syracuse, NY) I understood that the first day at a Service Academy would be no fun, so I planned my travels to shorten the exercise by arriving late in the day. Unfortunately, the upper class members responsible for my induction were singularly unimpressed by my foresight. After the ritual haircut (I had some then!) and uniform issue, I found myself on the terrazo in fading light with several drill instructors determined to teach me to march. The "instruction" began with a rapid series of marching commands clearly designed to confuse, intimidate and embarrass; but which I followed reasonably well, much to the consternation of my harassers. They assumed I must have been an Academy Prep School graduate, which produced the ritual response, "NO SIR". It took awhile for these intrepid trainers to figure out how I had acquired such marching skills, since I could offer only the three stock answers permitted a dooley - yes sir, no sir and no excuse sir! By that time they had begun to think it was I who was trying to embarrass them, and that first day did not end until many, many push ups had been demonstrated by yours truly.

The next four years are now condensed into a handful of anecdotes in my fleeting memory. There was calculus of course. Who could forget calculus? My parents visited during that first Christmas, and I vividly recall greeting them with the words "I passed Calculus!". With that hurdle in the past, cadet life is recalled as a series of Honor Squadron Banquets. The 13th won three out of four during our time, missing only in our 2nd class year. They were truly magnificent occasions in those days. And of course, the trips to Boulder or Denver to seek the company of the fairer sex. At some point I encountered differential equations, which ended my career in the so called STEM disciplines. It might also have ended my career, period! But the Lord really does work in mysterious ways, and early in that semester the Econ Department invited me to join a fledgling program they had begun with Georgetown University. Goodbye diffy q and hello econ!

Upon graduation, Bob Sansom, Bill Dickey and I settled down in an apartment in Arlington, VA with the goal of earning Masters Degrees by the following summer. Despite the distractions of the big city, which included meeting Mary Ellen, my wife of 43 years now, we all did exactly that and so began our Air Force careers in a rather unorthodox manner. Mine started in the Air Staff's personnel directorate in the Pentagon, where I put my new found skills in econometrics to work. It was there that I came to see a career in the Air Force as a real possibility, not because of the work, but because of the great people that I was privileged to work with. That change in attitude led me to pilot training at Williams AFB, an assignment to F-4 WSO training at Homestead followed by a short stay at Hurlburt Field in Florida where I checked out as a Forward Air Controller in the O-2A.

Leaving a pregnant Mary Ellen behind, I journeyed to Vietnam and a year in support of the 4th Infantry Division in Pleiku Province of the Central Highlands. I think I could still produce a pretty good 1:50 map of our area of operations, and I learned to appreciate the then popular novel, "Catch 22". After a rejoin with my now growing family, we headed to Europe and an F-4D assignment at Bitburg AB, Germany. The weather was awful, for flying at least, and most of our time was spent on nuclear alert, in Spain or in Turkey. Why our families put up with us I still do not understand. Flying always seemed to come 1st and they 2nd. After three years at Bitburg and a year on the command IG team it was back to the States, a short course at the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, and a second tour in the Pentagon. This time in the Directorate of Plans.

Bob Dempsey, who we had served with on the IG team in Europe, had nominated me for assignment to the Europe NATO division. Much of what followed in my career I owe to that opportunity, and hence to Bob. That tour culminated in a year as assistant exec to General David C. Jones, Air Force Chief of Staff, and was followed by a return to the F-4 at Moody AFB in Georgia. A too early promotion to Colonel denied me the opportunity to command a squadron, but another benefactor intervened to provide a different and perhaps better job. Jack Gregory, 347th Wing Commander, called shortly after the Colonel's list was released to tell me I was to be the new Support Group Commander. And oh by the way, no more flying! I was crushed, but in retrospect, that was one of the best assignments I could have hoped for. Learning a bit about the civil engineers, security police, club operations, etc. was a rare opportunity for a young aviator.

As fate would have it, another benefactor soon reached out to steer our career in a new direction. Don Miller, one of our squadron commanders at Bitburg, had assumed command of the F-15 wing at Langley and chose me to be his DO. The envy in those F-4 jocks eyes at Moody was palpable. The F-15 was brand new then, and the 1st Wing DO was a plumb assignment. Six sim rides later, no flights, and I was getting a local checkout at Langley. Not the best way to start as DO of an "Ego" wing, but it all worked out. From there it was a year at the Naval War College, four wonderful years in the F-15 at Kadena, a year as 17th AF/CV in Korea, two as the Director of Plans for PACAF in Hawaii, and two as Director of Operations for the Air Force during Operation Desert Storm. Then back to Japan as 5th AF/CC and Commander of US Forces, Japan. A wonderful assignment where we really learned to appreciate our Japanese allies and their culture.

From Japan it was back to the Pentagon for our fourth Washington tour; this time as Principal Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition. Another wonderful learning opportunity where I gained an appreciation for the acquisition professionals and their partners in industry who develop and produce those wonderful airplanes I so much enjoyed flying. I also gained some more media experience as chief defender of the F-22 program on 60 Minutes! Next came a short but very memorable tour as Commander of US Air Forces in Europe and of NATO's Central Region Air Forces. We fully expected to retire out of that job when fate intervened once more to give us the opportunity of a lifetime and a chance at the best 4 star job in the Air Force. One can only imagine the surprise that followed a call from Ron Fogleman telling me I was to be nominated as the next commander of Air Combat Command at Langley. Joe Ralston had been selected as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and I was be his successor.

Retirement came three years later and much too soon. The chance to command ACC was an opportunity for which I will be forever grateful. The men and women who serve our nation as members of the Air Force are a very special and select group. To be allowed to serve as their commander for even a day is a privilege, and there is no way to adequately express the gratitude that I feel for the many opportunities I was given by so many able leaders. Having just had the best job that anyone was ever going to give me, I decided to embark on a new career as an independent consultant. That has given me the chance to learn more about the industry partners who support our Air Force and the other Services, to serve on a number of boards, commissions and special projects, to mentor at the Joint Forces Staff College and at Joint Forces Command, to serve on and chair the advisory board of our local business school, and many other endeavors that help to ease the longing to serve once again with those wonderful men and women we call Airmen.

Life is good! I look forward to adding some chapters to this story in ten or twenty years. Harl

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