Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

My History

Charles Holder


Hm-m-m. A “history” of “me”. Nothing very esoteric here. Born in 1942 to an Air Corps father and a Southern lady mother, I really don't remember much of my early life in Atlanta, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and southern Indiana. After WW2, Dad had joined the Dupont Company, and we moved almost as much as a military family. I finally managed to spend both junior and senior high school in the same school system in Wilmington, Delaware. Along about my junior year, I think my folks finally realized that college was going to be an expensive proposition (I had three younger siblings, all spaced about four years apart!), so Dad, a O-6 in the USAF Reserves, pushed me to apply for the “new” Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. I had good grades, I was an Eagle Scout, I at least knew what sports were (even if I wasn't all that good at any), and the rest, as they say, is “history.”

My first jet plane ride occurred on a Continental Airlines B-707, as with many of us, between my home town and the Mile-High City of Denver on June 25, 1960, just ten days after graduation from high school. I really didn't know what to expect from this upcoming adventure, but I got to spend a day sight-seeing in Denver and caught a bus for Colorado Springs the morning of the 27th. Everything else about that day, and the following couple of months, is sort of a blur! Doolie Summer cannot be explained --- it can only be experienced!

June 3, 1964. OK, we in the Class of '64 can now marry; and marry we did. Not me --- but I was a member of the wedding party for eight of my classmates in the seven days following graduation! Combined with the necessary rehearsal dinners and the receptions, I don't think I had ANYTHING to drink but champagne for that entire week.

Following that week of revelry, I went back to Delaware for leave prior to UPT (pilot training) and got a temporary job as the Rifle Range Counselor at the local Boy Scout camp. At the end of the summer, I was off to Moody AFB, Georgia for Class 66-B and the T-37. After 120 hours in the “Tweet” and an additional 120 hours in the T-38, I was ready for The War in SEA, right? Wrong! Rather than take a back-seat F-4 assignment, I decided I'd really like to learn more about flying by trying a stint as an ATC instructor. I got a T-38 back to Moody in the same squadron and flight I had just left. The biggest difference was I now had the drawer on MY side of the table! Three years, and about 2600 hours, later, I was ready to face the villainous Viet Cong in my supersonic fighter jet. Instead, I got: The A-1 Skyraider!!! Truth be told, I had never even heard of that airplane! And an assignment to Nakhon Phanom, Thailand??? Where's that in relation to Danang? My entire fledgling Air Force career had so far been 100% jet-powered. Plopping this hot-shot jet-jockey into a big-ass 2800hp recip bomb-dropper was quite a shock. However, once I got used to a tendency to “wander” a bit on the takeoff roll (and I sorted out all the various levers and switches required to keep The Beast running), I grew to absolutely love the airplane and The Mission (Combat Search and Rescue, CSAR). And “Naked Fanny” wasn't all that bad for an assignment. I can still find my way around a map of Laos with no trouble!

Two hundred and eight missions later, most of them at night on The Trail or over Barrel Roll, I headed back to Hurlburt Field as an IP in the Skyraider. Only spent a year there, then I was off to grad school at Louisiana State University. Aeronautical Engineering; I can handle that. At least I thought so, until I discovered my very first class would be in Electrical Engineering! I had trouble changing light bulbs… Anyway, I persevered, studied a little, bought a motorcycle and learned how to motocross, and, most importantly, met and married the love of my life, Gail Branton. We were hitched at Barksdale AFB, near her parents' home in Shreveport.

We honeymooned in the Bahamas, then set off to our first assignment as a couple --- as an aeronautical engineer in the Air Force Logistics Command (AFLC) at Vandenberg AFB, California. This was the era of the “Rated Supplement”, where pilots and navigators were assigned to ground-oriented jobs as a “career broadening” effort. I was now associated with maintenance of the Minuteman and the Titan intercontinental ballistic missile programs; in fact, I think I'm the only A-1 pilot who also wore the Missileman “Pocket Rocket” on my dress uniforms! (PS – first son born here!)

June 1975. Oh Joyous Day! The rated supp job was now behind me, and Gail and I were on our way to Maxwell AFB for some PME (Professional Military Education). One year at Air Command and Staff College, where I guess I majored more in “Staff” rather than “Command”, and we were off to Holloman AFB, as an instructor pilot in the T-38 in the Fighter Lead-In Program (FLIP). What an absolute BLAST that job was! Take the T-38 and fly it like a fighter, then modify it to drop bombs (well, BLU-33 practice bombs), fire rockets, and shoot a mini-gun, all with rated pilots and navs as “students”, and you have the makings of one of the best flying jobs in the Air Force. As an additional duty, I was initially the executive officer of the squadron, then, after reorganization formed the 479th Tactical Training Wing, I became the first wing exec under the newly assigned commander. (PPS – second son born here!!)

If Holloman could be called a “great” assignment, the next posting could only be called a “dream”. Headquarters Pacific Air Forces, in the Security Assistance Affairs office. Stationed at Hickam AFB, I made periodic trips throughout the PACAF region to provide a connection between our Asian allies, PACAF and the Air Force, and the defense contractors who provided the goods and services under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. Lots of great travel; no onerous office work; and much time off, most of which was spent on the beach at Bellows AFS!

Now, though, it became time to “pay the piper” for the Hawaiian assignment. We were assigned to Bergstrom AFB in the 602nd Tactical Air Command & Control Squadron (TACCS). Bergstrom, not bad; Austin, not bad; ground TACS, not great! Just like a command-post-in-a-tent. Scuttlebutt had it that the only “promotable” position in the squadron was that of commander --- and I wasn't the commander! The scuttlebutt was correct…. We decided in 1987 that 22-1/2 years was enough for an Air Force career, and I retired as an O-5 at Bergstrom in January of that year.

Civilian life --- Gail had started a typing service, primarily for students of the University of Texas, and I helped out with that for a while. Then, one Sunday morning, I saw an ad in the Austin newspaper for persons “familiar with the USAF Ground TACS System” and “willing to relocate”. I interviewed for the job, and got it! We packed the household goods and headed to Leavenworth, Kansas, and the Army's Battle Command Training Program (BCTP). For the next 19-1/2 years, I was an Air Work Cell Controller on the Blue (Good Guy) side in the Army's Warfighter Exercise Series. When one of the Red Air Controllers retired in 2007, I was selected to take his place --- so I spent the last two years of my time with BCTP as a Bad Guy.

Finally, family; married to the same girl since 1971, we have two sons and three grandchildren: Jason and Jeremy, plus Jake, Cody, and Madelyn. I have been retired from active employment since 2009!

As they say in the TV commercials, “Life's Good!”
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