Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

My History

Jon Ernest Prenez

PrenezPic300.jpg I was born on November 6, 1939, and spent my early years in Newark, New Jersey. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of aircraft formations flying over our apartment building in Newark and my mother telling me that they were flying to the War. The War came home to me personally in 1944 when, during a visit by my uncle, Charles “Chick” Prenez, I barged into the bathroom while he was changing the dressing on a grievous hip wound he had received in the Pacific Theater. That scene has never left my memory. I took my first flight in a Cessna when I was about ten years old. Tex, the pilot, took my cousin and I on a flight from Morristown Airport, NJ, over our Newark neighborhood, and then out to and around the Statue of Liberty. I was hooked….

I attended Seton Hall Preparatory School in South Orange, NJ, and graduated in 1957. During my junior and senior years, I developed an interest in attending a new Academy in Colorado. Mr. Matthew Farrell, a History instructor at Seton Hall and an officer in the Air Force Reserve, helped me put my application paperwork together to apply for a Congressional appointment to the new Air Force Academy which, at the time, was located at its temporary site at Lowry Air Force Base in Colorado. I failed at my first attempt at entry to USAFA when I failed an eye test. Subsequently, it was shown that the test was given incorrectly….. As a result, I attended Newark College of Engineering for a year, all the while looking forward to a second attempt at USAFA.

My second attempt at USAFA entry ended in a “modified” success. My testing went OK, but because the Academy was only accepting reduced size classes, I received a telegram from the Air Force informing me that I had missed the cut by about fifty. The telegram also queried me as to whether or not I might be interested in a new Air Force program where I could join the Reserves, go through Air Force Basic Training at Lackland AFB, Texas, and then attend the Naval Academy Prep School at Bainbridge Naval Training Center, Maryland, before trying again for USAFA under the enlisted category. I jumped at the opportunity.

I entered the USAF Academy as a member of the Class of 1963 on my dad's 50th birthday, June 26, 1959, a few weeks after the first USAFA class had graduated from the permanent Academy site. My cadet career went relatively smoothly until I ran into a science buzzsaw in the second semester of my second class (junior) year. Though failing two science courses at the end of that semester, my standing on the Commandant's list and my varsity athletic status (fencing), favored my retention to repeat my second class year and subsequently graduate as a member of the Class of 1964. It was the best thing that happened to me at the Academy. As a member of the Class of 1964, I had my “awakening”. I made the Superintendent's List, became a Basic Cadet Training Squadron Commander, the first semester Squadron Commander of the Playboy 19th Squadron, and the Captain of the Air Force Academy Varsity Fencing Team. I went to the National Championships in 1964 and with a tournament record of 27 wins, 8 losses, finished 7th in the nation as a saber fencer. I graduated with my true class on June 3, 1964, my parents' 30th Wedding Anniversary.

After completion of Navigator Training in 1965, I reported to Mather AFB in California, for duty in the Undergraduate Navigator Training Program as both an academic and inflight Instructor. I married my wife, Judy, in 1966, and our son, Scott, was born in 1967. I attended Squadron Officer School in 1969 and was selected to attend graduate school, beginning in 1971. After completing my Master's Degree in Communicative Arts/Public Relations at the University of Denver, I was assigned to Danang Air Base, South Vietnam, and flew electronic reconnaissance missions, 1972 -1973, and also served as the 6498th Air Base Wing's Director of Operations Executive Officer and Wing Executive Officer. I returned to the States in March 1973, and assumed duties as a Public Affairs Officer at Luke AFB, Arizona. My daughter, Michelle, was born at Luke in 1975. I continued duties at Luke in the 26th Air Division (NORAD) until early 1976, when I left to attend Armed Forces Staff College (AFSC) at Norfolk, Virginia.

After completing AFSC in the Summer of 1976, I was assigned to fly C-141's at Travis AFB, California, barely missing a Pentagon assignment because of the requirements to meet flying gates (Phew!). From 1976 through February 1979, I flew international airlift missions, primarily in the Pacific region, including stops in Hawaii, Midway, Wake Island, Guam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Korea , Japan, Formosa, Okinawa, The Seychelles, Diego Garcia, Alaska, and many others.

While on one of our “Coral Runs” into the Pacific in 1978, I learned of a project going on at Enewetak Atoll in the Marshall Islands to clean up the islands of the radioactive soil and debris left from the United States' testing of nuclear devices on the Atoll during the 1940's and 1950's. The goal was to make the islands safe enough for the Enewetak people to return to the islands after an imposed exile of over thirty years. I made inquiries and found that majors and lieutenant colonels were needed to fill 179-day Temporary Duty (TDY) assignments to command the 6015th Support Squadron (Provisional) which was part of the Joint Task Group doing the clean-up work on Enewetak. Of ten volunteers, I was selected to command the Squadron from February to August 1979.

The assignment to Enewetak was one of the very high points and the most interesting assignment of my career. My squadron had a host of responsibilities which included Airfield Management, Medical Services, all Petroleum/Oil/Lubricants (POL) services on the atoll, Postal Services, Long Range Off-Atoll Communications, and Field Radiation Support (Site Safety). My tenure on the atoll encompassed the most critical times of the clean-up, and involved decision-making every day which directly affected the eventual success of the project. The 6015th, though a small unit, (approximately 85 men – a commander, 2 doctors, the rest NCO's and Airmen), had diverse and critical responsibilities, and the harsh climate, the lack of recreational facilities for the men, marginal food, and the environment of a joint command, tested leadership skills to the utmost. I had some of the finest personnel in the Air Force and their expertise, imagination, and discipline under very trying conditions never failed to amaze me. My fondest memory from that assignment came during my last fifteen minutes on the atoll. I had boarded the C-141 for my “freedom flight” when the loadmaster asked me to come to the door of the aircraft. When I went to the door, I looked across the tarmac to see my entire squadron lined up along the airfield fence. As I stepped outside, the first sergeant called the men to attention, and, as a unit, they rendered a hand salute. There could have been no finer or more appreciated affirmation of my tour with those outstanding men.

When I returned to Travis, I took over duties as the 22nd Air Force (Military Airlift Command) Executive Officer, where I served until leaving in June 1982 to become the Professor of Aerospace Studies and Commander of the 940th Detachment (AFROTC) at the University of Wyoming at Laramie. I thoroughly enjoyed the teaching and leadership aspects of the job, and was sure when I left in 1985 that I wanted to continue to teach in some capacity further down the road.

My last Air Force assignment was as the Chief of Base Operations and Airfield Manager at Mather Air Force Base, California, where I served from 1985 until my retirement on 30 June 1989. My flying time as an Air Force Navigator and as a civilian pilot totaled approximately 6000 hours. During my time at Mather, I worked with the Sacramento Metro Chamber of Commerce as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Airport Land Use, and as Vice-President of the Sacramento Chapter of the National Defense Transportation Association. By the time of my retirement, Mather had been named for closure by the Department of Defense, and Sacramento County had begun to look at Mather as a possible civilian airfield after Air Force departure. Following my retirement from the Air Force and as a result of my experience at Mather, Sacramento County hired me as their Senior Consultant to the Commission studying reuse options for Mather, especially those involving aviation. I was instrumental in developing and writing the draft reuse plans for the airfield and the rest of the base, and served the County Board of Supervisors for three years, until 1992.

During my last years at Mather, and during/subsequent to my tenure with Sacramento County, I taught for both Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and the University of Phoenix in both undergraduate and graduate programs, thereby reaching my goal of getting back into the classroom. For the last few years, I have tried to play as much golf as possible and spend time volunteering at our local elementary school, helping kids with math and English. But most of all I enjoy family time, especially the special time spent with my grandsons and their activities!

I feel that I owe all of my career successes and the satisfactions of a life honorably spent to my wonderful family and the training I received at the United States Air Force Academy. I have made friends for life in the Class of 1964 and especially my Classmates in the Playboy 19th Squadron. They are the best…. As Ron Bliss, my Classmate and friend in the Playboy 19th once said: “Ours will always be a special gathering of unique men.”

A Toast to the Host.

Jon Prenez February 23, 2011

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