Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Air Force Assignments and Stories

by Gabe Faimon


High Flight

Despite the cacophony of the first days of Basic, the phrase, “I have slipped the surly bonds of earth and danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings,” echoed in my mind.

My first flight aboard an Air Force aircraft occurred while I was a Doolie. On January 19, 1961, I was one of many cadets who were traveling aboard C-130s to participate in the Inaugural Parade of newly elected President John F. Kennedy.

Following graduation, I began living my dream to become an Air Force pilot, beginning UPT at Vance AFB, OK.

Five months into T-37 training, I encountered sinus problems with increased frequency and pain. Numerous meds and referral by the flight surgeon to an ear, nose and throat specialist in Oklahoma City did not produce any significant results.

Nine months after graduation, my dream of becoming a pilot was crushed by the surly bonds of intractable sinus infection and scar tissue. The condition medically disqualified me from future flight crew duty.

Assignment Preference

While out-processing at Vance, recalled my first flight aboard an Air Force aircraft. I expressed preference for an assignment which involved the C-130 Hercules.

After three months of technical training at Shepard AFB, TX, I received orders to the 464 Tactical Airlift Wing at Pope AFB, NC.

Shop OIC

At Pope, I was assigned as OIC of a management analysis and visual aids shop. The shop supported analyses of a wide variety of status reports. It also produced an extensive array of visual aids for briefings and plans, including 464 TAW presentations to the Secretary of the Air Force and the Commander of Tactical Air Command (TAC).

The shop was manned by two NCOs and three enlisted men. I was fortunate that an exemplary NCOIC, MSgt Dewey Powell, was assigned to the shop. His coaching and mentoring helped me to quickly learn and master fine points and techniques for objectively gathering and presenting information.

Honor Guard

Approximately two months after arriving at Pope, I was assigned an “additional duty,” commander of the Pope AFB Honor Guard. The honor guard consisted of 2nd Lt. Reilly, SSgt Miller and 15-18 enlisted men. All members, except me, were volunteers with duty assignments in various squadrons on the base.

SSgt Miller served as NCOIC. His display of talent with the bugle was superb, often “cracking” the third-to-last note of “Taps” to bring a flood of tears at funerals. Particularly when a young widow, often with small children, was involved, his end to “Taps” heightened the challenge for me to be unemotional while I presented the flag which had been draped over the casket.

While traveling with the Honor Guard to a funeral in central North Carolina, I encountered my first face-to-face experience with the issue of racial segregation. Two enlisted men, Lt. Reilly and I were members of the Honor Guard's minority group.

As we got off the Air Force Blue bus for a lunch break, several men stood outside, not going into the restaurant. I questioned why they did not enter. One of them stated that they did not like “the” sign inside.

Stepping inside the restaurant, I saw a large sign on the back wall with an arrow pointing to a side door. In big, bold letters, it read, “Blacks enter only through this door.”

Two men were standing near the cash register. I told them we were leaving, immediately.

As I started to walk out, an employee approached, asking if we would like to be seated. I replied that the sign on the back wall made it clear that we were not welcome. He commented that he would call the manager.

Most of the men were on the bus when the manager approached. He told me that since we were in uniform, the sign did not apply to us. I told him that the sign did not indicate that.

As I boarded the bus, the manager offered to reduce all menu prices by 50%, if we stayed. I told him that he made the wrong offer. I commented that if he truly wanted us to stay, he would have offered to immediately take down the sign and guarantee that it would not be reinstalled.

During my watch of nearly three years, the Honor Guard rendered honors at funerals for 32 USAF active duty or retired personnel. Also during that time, the Honor Guard and the Ft. Bragg Honor Guard jointly rendered honors at arrival/departure ceremonies for several general offices and a variety of elected or appointed dignitaries, including Vice President Hubert Humphrey, during his visit to the Special Forces Center.

Accident Investigation Board Recorder

To transition pilots from other aircraft to the C-130E, a Replacement Training Unit was established at Pope.

A pilot trainee assaulted the runway with a C-130 while attempting to demonstrate C-130 assault landing proficiency. I was assigned as Recorder for the TAC Aircraft Accident Investigation Board.

The attempted landing blew right landing gear tires, broke the right side of the box structure that carried the wing across the top of the fuselage, and sheared most the pins that held the tail in place above the ramp door. Fire broke out on impact as the aircraft skidded to a halt down the runway.

From my vantage at the shop, it looked like the bird and half the runway was on fire. Fortunately, all crew members escaped, with a few incurring minor injuries.

As the accident investigation progressed, I soon realized that the shop could contribute significantly to preparation of the accident report. The shop “crew” became indispensable, helping to organize, assemble and display photographs and a wide array of documents for the Accident Board.

As a side note, I gained a healthy respect for engineering and metallurgy behind production of Hamilton Standard prop blades on the C-130E. As the right wing of the bird started to separate from the fuselage, the prop blades chiseled out grooves, ½ to ¾ inch deep in the concrete runway. Shards of prop blades sliced into structural members of the fuselage and its skin. Several shards were also found in the grass beside the runway, some as far as 30-33 feet away.

Nature 's Fury

Since the 464th TAW was a sponsor for a USAFA squadron, I did not hesitate to accept an invitation to join the Wing Commander, Col. Welch,as a member of the "delegation" to visit the Academy during graduation of the Class of 1966. Ironically, member of the class and I were alumni of the same small Northwest Kansas rural high school.

A flight plan for the return trip to North Carolina had been prefiled, with routing from Peterson Field to Forbes AFB (Topeka, KS), to Richards Gebaur AFB (Kansas City), and east. When we arrived at Peterson Field to prepare for departure, we were advised that severe thuderstorms were predicted for the Forbes area at the time we were scheduled to fly over. The flight plan was changed, routing from Peterson to McConnell AFB (Wichita, KS), to Whiteman AFB, MO, and east.

While we were over McConnell at 1930 on June 6th, we observed a massive super cell thunderstorm to the northeast. Radar reports indicated that cloud tops were 65,000-69,000 feet.

Next morning, at Pope, I opened the Charlotte, NC, newspaper. The front page carried the headline, "Torndao Slices Topeka." A photo was featured below the headline. A briefcase on an instructor's desk was in the center of the photo. The walls of the Washburn University classroom building where the desk stood were gone. Massive amounts debris and broken trees could be seen in the background.

The accompanying story and additional pictures inside the newspaper described the fury of the tornado. It had been more than one-half mile wide when it sliced through the center of Topeka, southwest to northeast, producing eight fatalities.

At the time, little did I realize that event would influence a future decision to become a Severe Storm Spotter for the National Weather Service. Seventeen years later, I covered a smaller tornado which produced one fatality. The tornado path was parallel to, but approximately four miles south of the 1966 tornado path.

Protests and Riots

In the spring-summer of 1967, while two 464 TAW squadrons were deployed to Southeast Asia (SEA), the two remaining squadrons were tasked to airlift troops and materiel to protect the Pentagon and several other Federal buildings from anti-war protestors and riots. Although some elements of the 82nd Airborne Division had recently returned from SEA, they became part of the D.C protection force.

During efforts to coordinate 10-day shuttle cycles to/from Ft. Bragg, I had the opportunity to work with two West Point Class of '62 graduates. We agreed that none of us had dreamed, as cadets, of being thrust into the role which brought us together -- to defend American institutions from Americans.

“Coordination” was not one of the topics we discussed at the Ft.Bragg O Club during two evenings, several weeks apart. We struggled with attempts to balance the protestors' and rioters' arcane perspective of "freedom" with our sense patriotism, Duty, Honor, County.

My two colleagues had experienced loss of men while on search and destroy missions in SEA. We shared common frustration regarding conduct of operations in SEA, particularly the rationale for measuring "gains" by body count, instead of holding ground on which American blood had been spilled. We agreed, the rationale simply did not track.

TAC TDY Assigment

I received a TAC 90-day TDY assignment to the 33rd TFW, Eglin AFB, FL. When I signed in at Base Personnel during the first week of January, 1968, I was told that I would be reporting directly to the Wing Commander, Col. Chappie James.

I had seen several media reports regarding his combat leadership role in SEA. I never imagined that I would have an opportunity to work with him -- to report directly to him.

During our first meeting, he told me that two 33 TFW F-4D squadrons had been selected for a "high priority" assignment to SEA, air drop sensors in and along the DMZ between South and North VietNam. He stated that the first squardon, scheduled to be in-county by the middle of January, had failed two operational readiness tests. He commented that the second squadron, scheduled to be in-country before the end of March, was also encountering the same type of readiness problems. He stated that he hoped I would be able to help identify and remove obstacles which were keeping the 33 TFW from meeting its commitment.

Bottomline, his order to me unequivocal- identify problems, determine their causes, develop and recommend solutions to resolve them, keep him informed. He concurred with the strategy I proposed, attack the problems through small group meetings.

I quickly found that Col. James had laid groundwork for my assignment, inside and outside Wing Staff. I did not encounter reticense or reluctance to assess the problems, regardless if aircrew, maintenance or supply issues were involved, except in one situation. Col. James called the squadron commander and me to meet with him. During that meeting, the squadron commander's perception of my role was realigned.

Through small group meetings with crew chiefs, pilots, WSOs and maintenace and supply officers and NCOs, we discovered a variety of issues, technical and procedural inconsistencies, and agreed to approaches for remediating them. Five of the approaches required Col. James' or higher level approval for implemetation.

Both squadrons were successfully deployed. The last one departed Eglin in the middle of the 3rd week of March.

During the staff meeting on the day I was scheduled to leave Eglin to return to Pope, Col. James stated that he was departing for a series of meetings at TAC Headquarters. After the meeting, he asked if I could delay my departure for a day, since I was driving, so that I could to join him for dinner the next day, following his return from Langley.

As we walked to the parking lot after the dinner, he stated that although he wanted to go home, he was going back to the O Club "to be with the guys," for that was where he was expected to be.


13th Air Force

As a logistics planning officer assigned to Headquarters, 13th Air Force, I quickly learned that 13th AF had an unique mission, serving as a bridge for PACAF Cold War contingency planning, while supporting SEA operations.

Geograhpically, 13th AF was responsible for command, control and Cold War contingency planning for Taiwan, the Philippines and the Pacfic, south and west of 5th Air Force responsibility for Japan, South Korea and Pacific islands south and east of Japan. The 7th Air Force and its zone of combat operations in Southeast Asia was exempt from Cold War contingency planning. If the Cold War started to get hot, 13th AF was responsible for planning dispersal of units out of South Viet Nam and Thailand. Consequently, my duties involved frequent visits to all AF bases in SEA, except Utapao, Thailand.

In addition to keeping dispersal plans up to date as units rotated into and out of SEA, 13th AF Logistics Plans also covered: support for combat testing to kill SAM sites, linking laser targeting capabilities of AC-130 Spectre gunships with emerging laser guided bomb delivery by F-4 Phantoms; transfer of 32 A-1E Skyraiders and associated assets to the South Viet Nam Air Force; and, activation of a highly classified site on the Asian mainland.

Logistics planning involved five officer slots, a colonel, a lieutenant colonel and three majors. Although I was the junior captain assigned to one of the major slots, I never suffered from lack of support from two outstanding leaders, Director of Logistics Planning, Colonel Robert Murphy, and 13 AF Commander, LtGen Marvin McNikel.

During our initial meeting, Col. Murphy commented that good comunication was essential so that wing and squadron commanders did not question my actions or authority. He added I should always remember I was working for a colonel who reported directly to a three star general, but that I should never act like I was either.

I had numerous opportunities to observe General McNickel during command center briefings, particularly when operation of Spectres and Phantoms was discussed. Although he may have been uncomfortable with some new conditions or requirements which came down from DOD or PACAF, he continualy maintained a steady, positive demeanor. During a 72-hour nuclear war exercise, Gen. McNickel often acted as a servant leader, mingling with staff throughout the command center.

While a visit by Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos to visit 13 AF HQ and Clark AB was in the planning stage, I was assigned as commander of the 13th AF Honor Guard. During the arrival ceremony, several heavily armed guards were posted on top the control tower and several flight line buildings.

The day after Marcos' visit, during the command center briefing, Gen. McNickel asked if I was nervous as I walked beside the "prime target." I replied that although I was aware that Marcos was intensely disliked, I was not concerned, adding I had been involved in planning for Marcos' arrival and knew that US/USAF personnel, not Phillipine personnel, were providing security.


As the TRN-6 TACAN Logistics Program Manager, only a few Air Force personnel worked in the massive OCAMA building at Tinker AFB, OK, for most of the workforce was civilian.

Although the TRN-6 was a mechanical, tried and proven system, in 1968 the Air Force had embarked on development of a solid state phased array replacement. When unforeseen technical problems developed, AFLC determined that production of the TRN-6 should be resumed.

Soon after assuming logistic managementresponsibility for the TRN-6 system wordldwide, I discovered that new equipment warranty expired while units were in storage. During a series of discussions of the problem with my OCAMA civilian engineering, contract and maintenance counterparts, they concurred that modification of the contract with ITT appeared to a logical approach. They agreed that warranty should begin on the date of installation on site, instead of the date of delivery to OCAMA. However, they indicated that the colonel who was division director likely would not be receptive to the idea.

With their agreement,I initiated informal, exploratory discussion with my counterpart in ITT. Within three weeks, he stated that ITT would be agreeable to the change, if OCAMA initiated the contract modification.

When I requested approval from the division director to prepare and submit a contract modification to ITT, I stated that preliminary cost-benefit analysis indicated the Air Force would realize a savings of not less than $450,000 in five years. The colonel laughed, stating that $450,000 was "fuzzy" money, that the idea was ridiculous. He added that the ITT "big boys" would never approve it. After telling me I should not devote time to the "dumb" idea, he authorized me to proceed.

Five to six weeks later, when I submitted the ITT-signed contract modification to the colonel, he stated that it was a "joke." Later, through my ITT counterpart, I learned that the contract modification had been signed and was in force, and that the AFLC Commander had expressed appreciation to ITT for the initiative.

Based on previous assignments,I never dreamed that I would encounter behavior exhibited by the colonel. He continually demonstrated obvious disrespect for junior officers and OCAMA civilian employees, alike. His attitude was supported by an incredible, unashamed lack of integrity and ethics.

I could not understand how or why the Air Force promoted and retained him.

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