Reflections : A Long but Interesting Journey
by Al Freathy
It seems so long ago. I am amazed at the classmates who seem to have such vivid memories of life at the Academy. Mine seem to focus on the great guys I had for roommates, Ed Mechenbier, John Jacobs, Jim Davis, and close friends like Fred Gregory. Just one brief story to get started:
About two weeks into Doolie Summer, I got notice to report to the room of one of the First Classmen, Sam Hardage, Class of 1961. His message was short and to the point. I was from Mississippi and he was from Mississippi. If I screwed up, I was going to have to answer to him, personally. Any questions? Post! If you remember him, Sam was a very imposing figure and his speech that day gave me lots of extra motivation. It has been a long journey since those days in 1960. I had 25 years on active duty (including the cadet time) and now am approaching a total of 51 years of working in or for the USAF. Very few days pass that I don't reflect on how well the Academy prepared me for a career. When we started, we did not have major courses of study. Those came about our 2nd Class year and there were only four very general fields of study. I defaulted to Basic Sciences. I had a year of college before I was old enough to apply to the Academy. Thus, when I graduated I had 217 semester hours of college credits. As with many of us, I knew a little bit about a lot of things.
Kay and I married in July 1964 and are blessed with two children and six grandchildren. I attended Pilot Training and remained at Craig AFB in Selma, AL, as a first assignment IP (FAIP). For good or bad, that set my future operational career path. I progressed to Stan/Eval Flight Examiner, continued to Columbus AFB as part of the initial cadre there for Air Training Command, then entered the pipeline for Vietnam in 1969. Qualified in the F-100 just as they were being pulled out, so went to 7th Air Force in the Frag Shop. Of course, there was no available training for anyone completing a tour. Enter the dreaded Rated Supplement! There were 5 of us who came out of the F-100 RTU with very similar experience. I watched the first get a missile silo assignment. As we sat around discussing whether or not that was the worst assignment in the world, the next in line got assigned as a Military Training Officer to Lackland. The next morning I was in personnel. I inquired about grad school only to be told I wasn't eligible. The GREs were required and wouldn't be available again in time for my assignment. Once again, the Academy came through—I made him pull my records folder and find out that the GRE scores were there. Next stop was AFIT in residence in Aero Mechanical Engineering. Great times! Most of the class were pilots, many just back from Vietnam, and everyone pulled together and socialized together. The POW return is still vivid. Many of our class were near Dayton and all showed up at Base Ops to greet Ed Mechenbier and the other returnees.
From AFIT, I finagled my way into the Test Wing at Eglin AFB and learned about weapons and their testing. Flew the T-39, shuttling the Senior Staff, as an additional duty. From there I went to Armed Forces Staff College but escaped the Joint Staff assignment because I needed gate time. Finally, got my re-entry into Fighters with the F-4 RTU at MacDill, back to Eglin in the 33rd TFW (F-4E Air-to-Air), then Kadena (F-4D Air-to-Mud). Flight skills were always good but the FAIP label was hard to overcome; my tactical experience was always very far behind my rank. Returned to Eglin with the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center, which was a great fit for me, combining the engineering, test, and operational backgrounds. After two major program IOT&Es, I retired and began my second career in 1985. Five PCS moves in 40 months had caused me to really dig my heels in.
It has only gotten better. I ended up with Jacobs Engineering, the Engineering Support Contractor at Eglin, and quickly gravitated to Fuzing (with a “Z”). As we are quick to mention, without a good fuze, all those weapons are simply guided rocks. It has been a wonderful trip with no dull days. I have approached another retirement twice but have been asked to stay on by the Air Force Customer. Now, it looks like the third time may be the charm in December 2011.
How does all this tie together? Modern fuzing involves so many specialties and, within the small program office teams, everyone needs to be able to perform in multiple areas. I am working on a safety-critical, complex system with 2.2 million different combinations of operating modes, power supplies, settings, and other variables and which is required to dud safely in any undefined combination. All of this has to fit in a standard fuzewell approximately 3 inches in diameter and 9 inches in length. It involve aerodynamics (air-driven power supply and safety sensing), mechanical structures that must survive impact shocks above 40K Gs, explosives, software and firmware logic, digital communications, electronics to sort through everything, aircraft and weapon integration, factory test set design, strength and compatibility of materials including corrosion prevention, production and manufacturing, logistics, human factors, failure analysis techniques, penetration dynamics and modeling, and at least a few other areas. Best of all, I still get to communicate with Ops guys several generations younger than we are and relate to the new environments and challenges they are experiencing. How rewarding it is to be able to understand what their real questions are and provide useful information that can further mission accomplishment. Two recent milestone accomplishments: Fuzing lead for the weaponization of the MQ9 Reaper and the John J. Welch Jr., (Team) Award for Excellence in Acquisition Leadership, virtually unprecedented for a small team such as ours.
I still wake up every day looking forward to work and wondering what new and interesting events are ahead. Does it really get any better than that?
[ Gone But Not Forgotten ]
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