Class Of 1964 USAF Academy


Montgomery_50thWeddingAnniversary.png Like most of our class, I entered the Academy straight out of high school with no inkling where my appointment to the Academy would lead me. All I knew was that I wanted to fly. Looking back, that did happen, but I would never imagined the path that I would follow for the next 54 years. Rather than make this account a mere travelogue or recitation of my assignments or an obituary draft, I will try to make it somewhat more interesting by relating things that for one reason or another, still stick in my mind after 54 years.

One thing I definitely remember was arriving at Stapleton Airport in Denver bright and early the morning we were to report after my first ever airplane ride (DC-6 from Chicago Midway) and my first ever stay in a motel. (mom and pop motel on Colfax Avenue). I could not wait to get to the Academy. Luckily, several of us waiting at Stapleton were unable to get on the first bus and we were forced to wait for a replacement bus to pick us up. It was our introduction to the military concept of “hurry up and wait”. After arriving at the Academy and finding out what awaited us, I was thankful for that broken bus since it spared us five additional hours of being harassed by the “Red Tag Bastards” (RTB's) of '62 who seemed to take an almost sadistic pleasure at making us “feel welcome”.

After graduation, I did not want to rush into marriage right away, so I waited two days before marrying Mary Jo and heading off to Williams AFB to join UPT Class 66A. For some reason, one thing about pilot training that I will always remember and be thankful for is a single, solo T-38 flight near the end of training. Maintenance had generated an extra T-38 and it needed to be flown for them to get credit for generating the aircraft. There were no IP's or students available in the flight room, so the scheduler who took the call, told me to go fly it. I had already completed all my training sorties, so I asked the scheduler what I should do. He told me to just go up and bore holes in the sky and have fun for an hour or so and that is what I did. Its hard to believe that, as a 23 year old kid and neophyte pilot, I was handed the ‘keys' to a multi-million, dollar supersonic aircraft and told to do what I wanted with it for an hour. After takeoff I headed to the big training area that existed to the northeast of Williams AFB and spent the hour doing acrobatics and nipping at the building cumulus clouds to see how close I could get. Of all the hours I have in a variety of Air Force aircraft, that single flight made me realize what John Gillespie McGee was getting at when he wrote “High Flight. I really did feel that I had “…slipped the surly bonds of earth and touched the face of God.”

After graduation from UPT, a less than stellar class ranking netted an assignment to B-52H's, so off Mary Jo and I headed to Grand Forks ND with our new daughter to finally become part of “the real Air Force”. Having grown up in Wisconsin and after going to school at USAFA, I thought I knew what cold winter weather was---it did not take long to prove that wrong! We were introduced to 48º below zero temperatures and four-day blizzards. Despite the weather, flying the “Buff” was both interesting and challenging.

I still say that mid-air refueling the B-52 is still the most difficult thing I had to do in my flying career. Try taking on 120,000 pounds of JP-4, going from a relatively light gross weight to close to the aircraft's max gross weight limit---then do it at night and in the weather. Add in 24 hour airborne alert missions, crosswind takeoffs using the crosswind landing gear and sitting nuclear alert and it was, as I noted, “an interesting experience”. When I left Grand Forks AFB in 1968, I was the youngest aircraft commander in the 46th Bomb Squadron and had a great deal of respect for the professionalism of SAC and its people.

While at Grand Forks, we found out about the death of our classmate and squadron mate, Frank Packer, in an aircraft accident at Homestead AFB. It was a total shock. Then we lost a squadron B-52H that was being picked up at an east coast depot that had diverted to another base with an emergency. Six Air Force members were killed in that crash. The apparent immortality which we had always taken for granted was proving to be imaginary---things were hitting too close to home and it was going to get worse with the war in Southeast Asia continuing.

Somehow I managed to “escape the clutches” of SAC and was assigned to RF-4C training at Mountain Home AFB before going “pipeline” to Udorn Thailand. What a pleasure it was to fly the F-4, even if was the reconnaissance version. I loved flying old “double ugly”. It was a “go fast machine”, could pull lots of g's and climb like crazy when you lit the burners. When I left for SEA, I had a high degree of confidence in my ability to fly the airplane and accomplish the mission---plus, it was FUN since we had a “license” to fly both low and fast tactical reconnaissance aircrews.

There was a movie made starring Robert Stack about tactical reconnaissance and it was titled “Alone, Unarmed and Unafraid”. We soon learned that the real title should have been “Alone, Unarmed and Scared Shitless!” Almost everyone's SEA experience was different depending where you were, what you were flying and when you were there. When I was there, LBJ's bombing halt was in effect, so most of our missions were flown in Steel Tiger (Southern Laos) or Barrel Roll (Northern Laos) or even later in 1970, Cambodia, which was very highly classified at the time. We did have one mission called “Phase Tester” (a name someone in 7th Air Force in Saigon obviously dreamt up) which sent us into North Vietnam---everywhere but the Hanoi-Haiphong area--to see what was going on during the bombing halt and as a “show of force”.

I had been at Udorn about five months before I was assigned a Phase Tester line. There were reports of SAM radars targeting B-52D's when they were bombing the Ho Chi Minh trail system in Laos and that was what we were trying to find and photograph. The target area included known heavy AAA positions, suspected SAM sites and came within 20 miles of an airfield that had MIG-21's on strip alert. We had two F-4D's loaded with CBU's and MK-82 Snakeye to accompany us for “flak suppression/retaliation” if we were being shot at or shot down. We also rendezvoused with two F-105 Wild Weasels on the refueling tanker who would provide electronic warfare support for us while we ingressed at low altitude.

During the preflight briefing with the senior fighter guys who were to escort us, we had to convince them that going 540 knots was necessary, but once we showed them the map with the defenses annotated, their eyes got big and they decided that maybe they could do 600 knots if they cut us off in the turns. I vividly remember sitting in the cockpit prior to engine start before checking the fighters in on frequency, looking at the route map and suddenly getting this queasy feeling that this was not some game or training exercise anymore. There were guys with guns, big guns, who were just waiting out there at those sites marked on the map wanting to kill us.

Well, luckily things got busy enough that I was able to put that out of my mind and get on with the mission. It went pretty much as planned. We got great imagery of decoy SAM's the North Vietnamese had put out, as well as finding the location of the real SAM's and their supporting radar vans. We went “feet wet” over the Gulf of Tonkin and headed back to Thailand by heading south and then west rather than egressing back over North Vietnam.

As a bonus, while we were going “feet wet” at 50 feet and 500+ knots, we got good photos of the gunners in multi-position 57mm and 85mm AAA sites trying to track us. The next morning at “oh dark 30” my navigator and I were at the squadron planning our routine fragged mission for the day when the 432nd Wing Commander, Colonel Daryl S. Cramer, a crusty old WWII vet with an ME-109 to his credit, walked in and said to me, “…Montgomery, you really screwed-up.” I was terrified but had no clue why he was saying that. Then he continued, “…if you were a little bit further left, I could have read that son-of-a-bitch's name tag…” referring to the gunner in the photo below.

After leaving Thailand, I headed to Bergstrom AFB TX for a year before entering the AFIT program at Wright-Patterson AFB OH. Bergstrom was kind of a holding pattern before AFIT with no real responsibilities other than to be proficient in the RF-4C which meant terrorizing cattle and oil derricks in west Texas during our low level training.

When I was selected for AFIT, it was for the graduate program in Reliability Engineering, but when I arrived, they said that program had been scraped and replaced with a Systems Engineering program. While it does not sound like a big deal, the Air Force personnel system never changed my output AFSC (Specialty Code) from being a qualified reliability engineer to a systems engineering manager. I spent the first year after graduation trying to explain to the MPC (Military Personnel Center) managers that I was NOT a qualified reliability engineer.

MPC was under tremendous pressure to fill the reliability engineering slots at the Ballistic Missile Division in Los Angeles and I actually had orders and was two weeks from having a report date. A letter I had the Dean at AFIT write to MPC telling them that there was no way I was a qualified reliability engineer finally got their attention. and my orders were cancelled. I sometimes think about what a disaster that would have been for the Air Force if I had been forced into that assignment.

I then spent three years at Eglin AFB working in the Air Force Armament Lab and had the chance to see the advent of the digital age as it related to air munitions weapons systems, such as radar processing computers, laser guided bombs and other precision guided weapons systems. I was selected for Air Command and Staff College (ACSC) in 1976 and spent a year in Montgomery AL while the family remained in Florida. Just before graduation from AFSC, I was told by the personnel types at TAC that I would be assigned to the Tactical Air Warfare Center at Eglin AFB as a test manager. That would have been great for us personally because the family had remained in the Eglin area while I was at ACSC.

A couple of weeks before graduation, I was told by a neighbor who lived near us in Florida and who worked at TAWC, that the DO (Director of Operations) did not want me in that position and had handpicked the guy he wanted. The neighbor told me that if I took the assignment, I would be moved to a “nothing job” as soon as the DO could make it happen. I felt I was qualified for the job and if I could talk to the DO, he would change his mind.

Wrong Bucko! I had made an appointment with him and met him in the Test Ops squadron commander's office, where he had his feet up on the squadron commander's desk and one file folder in front of him. The first words out of his mouth were, “I looked at your record and am not impressed.” Tapping the folder with a finger, he told me that if TAC forced me on him, he would basically make my life miserable. Since this was the era of General David Jones's well meaning but ill-conceived “One, Two, Three” OER system, this meant I would automatically be a“3” before I set foot in the door and would forever remain so as long as that DO was at TAWC.

One call to a friendly MPC personnel manager and my orders were changed to report to Shaw AFB and RF-4C requalification training. I spent two years at Shaw AFB, ending up as the Ops Officer of the 18th TRS with a high likelihood of getting a squadron in a year or two. Interestingly, I ended up getting “1's” on my OER's at Shaw AFB while the guy who took the job I had been slotted into at Eglin AFB got passed over for Lt Colonel because of the “3's” he received at TAWC, while I got a “below the zone” promotion. Fate works in funny ways sometimes.

My good friend, former roommate and master of the Russian language, Nick Lacey, had convinced me that a Pentagon tour was almost a necessity if you planned to stay in Air Force and have a successful career. I fell for that line “hook and sinker”. In retrospect, he was probably right, but I ended up spending almost five years there instead of the planned “two years and back out to get a squadron” route that I had envisioned.

Well, I learned a lot about how the Air Force and Washington DC in general work and not all of it was reassuring. I met some great Air Force people and a few not so great—but seeing future Air Force leaders as they rose up the ranks was especially illuminating.

I worked in the Directorate of Air Force Requirements, Tactical Fighter Branch. Of course I was not technically a fighter pilot being a “recce puke” which some of the fighter guys would occasionally remind me of. After working in the branch for close to two years, my branch chief, Colonel Dale Tabor (USAFA '62) called me in and told me I had been selected by General Robert Russ to be the Executive Officer for the new Director when General Russ left the TAC Vice Commander job.

I was not happy about that since I did not know who the new director was going to be and the working hours for a Pentagon exec were known to be daunting, plus I was enjoying the projects I was working in the branch. (if you have gotten this far in the narrative, first let me say “congratulations”. I thought very few people would suffer this long, but if you have, say the code word “Enforcer” to me and I will buy you a beer and tell you a long, but interesting story about the Enforcer which was one of my projects)

Anyway, I told Dale I did not really want the job and told him my reasons. He said that sounded reasonable and we could go down and discuss it with General Russ. So in we marched to General Russ's office and I laid out why I should not be the new exec. It sounded pretty good and well thought out--at least to me--so when General Russ after listening to my logic told me, “I take it you are not a volunteer?” I was sure I had gotten through to him.

When I told him “No, I am not” the next words out of his mouth were “Good, I am not looking for a volunteer, let's talk about how we are going to train you for this job and what you need to know…” Dale Tabor then made a hard 180º without a word and was out of the fight and the room before I even knew he was gone. And that was how I became the exec for Maj General Bill Gorton, who was about as hard core of a fighter pilot as there ever was.

General Russ had told me that he could not tell me the name of his replacement at the time, but he said that the replacement and I would get along great---and as usual, he was right. General Gorton had a great sense of humor and respected my opinions, which made me work even harder to keep the administration of the directorate running well. I learned a lot from Bill Gorton and maintain a friendship with him to this day.

One aside is that the directorate had a “black program” branch in which our classmate Paul Kaminski worked as a Colonel in charge of a top secret, restricted access program. I was told that I did not have a “need to know” for program access and that since I did not know if I needed to know, I really did not have a “need to know.” (Catch 22, but true!) That program turned out to be the Air Force stealth program and when Paul and his boss rolled into General Gorton's office for a meeting, I knew it was important. Well, it was not hard to figure out that they were working on a secret aircraft development program by knowing who was running the program, where they travelled and who the contractors were that they dealt with. While Paul might not be the “Father of Stealth” he was an important cog in making the program successful.

After working as an exec for a year or so, I was ready to leave, but the new Secretary of the Air Force had a change of policy that was meant to keep Air Staff officers for at least a four year tour for continuity reasons. That meant no squadron for me and no Air War College even though I was on the school's list. Finally after almost five years, my tour was up and I was a “Colonel-Select” and again ready to go back to the “real Air Force”. (not sure if I ever found the purported Real Air Force during my career, however)

General Gorton told me he would work my assignment---and that my friends is how the Air Force assignment program really works for senior officers---and he would take care of me. He would periodically tell me the assignments that MPC had offered---there were some of real interest to me—and why he turned them down. I found out through a friend that there was an opening in the NATO Defense College in Rome that had a ton of requirements, all of which I filled. The MPC guy I talked to said I was perfect for the slot, so I told Mary Jo to pack her bags and we were probably going to be headed to Rome!

When I told General Gorton about the school, he said, “I told you I would work your assignment and now you call them back and tell them to take you off that list.” And with that, he got me assigned to the 26th Tactical Reconnaissance Wing as Zweibrucken Germany as the Director of Operations.

In all honesty, I was not ready to be a DO since I had been out of the cockpit for five years, but I figured it was a small wing and I would learn on the job. The Wing Commander was someone who had been in the Pentagon and had a reputation for being hard to work for, but I had always found a way to work with people and figured that I could adapt. Well, I won't relate everything that happened in that wing, but I felt I was contributing to the wing and making the flying operation not only safer, but training the pilots and navigators to be more professional as officers, as well as being top notch, mission oriented aircrew members.

After 14 months as DO, I was “relieved” and sent to Zaragoza Spain as the Deputy Commander for Resources, which was a Lt Colonel's position. Seems I had angered a general officer at USAFE headquarters about a position I had taken regarding a personal matter and he told General Gorton who was now the 3rd Air Force Commander at Torrejon Spain to “take care of me and find me a job”. General Gorton told me that the Zaragoza assignment was only temporary until the general officer at the headquarters had left, but then General Gorton retired shortly afterwards and I was on my own with a dim career future ahead of me.

Luckily, another classmate, Mike Pavich—a directorate chief at Hill AFB--called and told me he had a division which was in trouble and needed someone to put it back on course. He wondered if I was interested in being a division chief for him in Logistics Command. My answer was a definite YES! It took some convincing for all the people involved to approve the assignment since I was not a logistician, but eventually Mike convinced them that I was would be a good addition to the command. My guess is that USAFE figured that sending me to Logistics Command at Hill AFB would be a good punishment for a rated officer and a fitting end to my career. My feeling was “send me into that brier patch!”

I spent four years at Hill AFB as Chief of the Munitions Division and then as the Chief of the F-4 Division. It was a learning experience to work in a mostly civil service organization and like any large unit, there were great people and there were people just getting by---the key was sorting them out and giving the responsibility to the right people. During my tour with Logistics Command, all the leadership and management training I had at USAFA and in the Air Force came into play, but I felt that I left both organizations in better shape when I left than when I came in as chief. That is something I always had as a goal when I moved into a new unit. Credit USAFA with that mindset.

When it was time for reassignment, I talked to the nice folks at Colonel's assignments at MPC. They told me, based on my background and language aptitude scores, they wanted me to be the Defense Attache to Finland. Mary Jo would have to agree since there was a lot of entertaining to be done as attaché and that she would also have to undergo the 11th month Finnish language course at Monterey with me. Her answer was both emphatic and swift----”NO!”

When I told MPC and asked where they would send me, they replied that most likely, I would go to Wright-Patterson AFB and Logistics Command Headquarters for my last assignment. Since I had no desire to work at a headquarters again, regardless of the command or location, I elected to retire after 26 years of service.

We decided to stay in Utah since we fell in love with the state and the west in general. I worked as a consultant for a company bidding on a Korean F-4 contract for several months and was offered a full-time position with them, but turned that down. I also had some job offers to work as the local office guru for a couple of companies that did business at Hill AFB, but turned those offers down since I viewed them as being a “door opener” or “bag man” positions, neither of which were things I aspired to do.

Since retirement, our interests have been in tandem bicycling, long distance bike touring, sea kayaking, backcountry skiing, backpacking, mountaineering and other outdoor related pursuits. I worked as a ski guide and host at a local ski area for several years and served as a gate judge for the men's Olympic Downhill race at the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Utah.

After two hip replacements---a learning experience and thank goodness for the internet where I learned about the newest and best hip replacement doctors and options---it limited some of my more strenuous activities and I gravitated towards photography as a serious hobby. A backcountry ski friend who was a professional photographer and had seen some of my snapshots told me I had an eye for a “frame” and that I should pursue photography professionally. I “caught the wave” as they say, when the digital revolution in photography occurred. Based on both my interests and ability as a photographer, I have now worked as a professional in the field. I do event photography for local races, such as marathons and triathlons, and shoot as a freelance sports photographer for the local paper. Do what you love and that is now what I am doing.

So, where that all that leave you, the reader? Well, I do have a few observations based on my fifty plus years of experience. One is that you might think you know where you want to be in the future, but trust me…you don't have a clue. Fate and happenstance will alter your most carefully thought out plans. In many instances, while the hand that has been dealt to you (love those clichés!) looks bad, over time you find somehow that it worked out for the better or at least something, that while unexpected, turns out to be fortuitous.

I look back to 1960 when our class entered the Academy and if I went back 50 years, I would see the West Point Class of 1910 (there was no USAFA!) graduating. It was only seven years since the Wright brothers first powered airplane flight and aircraft were rudimentary and of little practical value. I am sure that is how the USAFA Class of 2019 feels that way when they see or read about us---a bunch of “geezers” who grew up in a simpler time and who cannot relate to the world as it will exist when they graduate.

That is only true on the surface. While time will change things such as how we communicate, how we travel, and how we go about life in general, the basic principles of leadership will still apply. People will always value honesty, integrity and the ability to relate to others. The West Point graduates of 1910 faced the same problems the USAFA class of 1964 faced and the USAFA class of 2019 will face. Its about people and how we fit in and contribute to society during times of change.

I can look back on my career and see how I contributed at least a small measure to making the Air Force organizations I was part of better at accomplishing their assigned missions and that I helped people who needed help with their careers and in their personal lives. My accomplishments are small and we have classmates who have made huge contributions in making both the Air Force and the country better today because of their efforts. Make no mistake. The lessons we took from USAFA have stood with us thru time and made us what we are today even though we did not see it that way as cadets.

In closing---how we used to love hearing those words from USAFA guest lecturers---I have decided to add include an inscription on a plaque I received from the Munitions Division at Hill AFB when I left as chief. We all have received plaques when leaving an assignment, but because this particular plaque captured what I had spent 25 years of my life doing for the Air Force and the country and it is special to me, I elected to include it.

Initially, I hesitated whether to make it part of this narrative since it might sound like I am blowing my own horn, but after thinking about it, each and every trait cited on that plaque was something that resulted as result of lessons learned at USAFA and through my Air Force experiences. The inscription starts with the phrase “IN APPRECIATION…” and this is what follows:


I am grateful that the people in the division recognized and appreciated those traits. If you think about it, those are character traits that every single person in our class took away from USAFA. In some cases they were taught during lessons in military training or academics, while others were lessons learned the hard way by making mistakes as cadets. The bottom line is that the traits instilled in us as cadets endured and carried over into our Air Force careers and into our lives as civilians. Make no mistake about it.

I am thrilled to say some of my best friends today are my USAFA classmates and that I am proud to be a member of the USAFA class of 1964. Going to USAFA was the smartest decision I ever made. (not counting marrying my wife, of course)
[ Home ] [ Table Of Contents ]