Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Jim Hinkel's Observations

I realized while still at the Academy that it wasn’t as hard to get ahead as one might suppose. Basically, things like doing what you are told to do (by your boss), assuming the responsibility of your job and taking care of the people under you go a long way. These are simple things, but, at times in haste, many people seem to forget them.

I had my first (1965) and last (1995) operational flight in the KC-135. The final aircraft had much improved engines and avionics, but it was still the same airframe. This says a lot about politics - - and, the KC-135 is still our prime airborne tanker at this writing (Jan 2011). I really enjoyed flying the C-141; the fact we never knew for sure where we would go each day made it kind of exciting. Unfortunately, I spent the majority of my time in those assignments doing things other than flying.

I enjoyed my time in helicopters very much. They were exciting to fly, something like aviation’s barnstorming days. I always stayed close to the ground and didn’t go very far from home since I flew the small ones. I flew the heavies some when I was in the Rescue wing and realized I liked the small ones best since they were a hands-on flying machine.

My year as the AF Chief’s Exec was mostly uneventful. It was very nice to be in a place to see what happened in the AF from a position near the top. One event sticks out, though. You may recall Dick Cheney was the SECDEF then. He jumped my boss in a very public way with a Washington Post writer, saying the Chief was dealing with Congress about strategic nuclear matters without his approval. He must have known the DEPSECDEF, William H Taft, had cleared the Chief to discuss the subject on the Hill. I realize now he was trying to make a point with the uniformed military. With the benefit of time since then, I’m not surprised this happened.

My time in the Rescue wing on the west coast and in the Airlift Division job in Hawaii gave me many opportunities to travel throughout the Pacific area and Asia. I spent a lot of time in the major countries - - Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Guam - - but I also got to Diego Garcia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, Johnson Island, American Samoa, Kwajalein Island, Midway Island, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Perhaps the saddest trip was to Clark AB in the Philippines after the eruption of Mt Pinatubo in 1991. The ashes on the base looked like snow - - that’s bad in a tropical country where most of the vegetation has large leaves. Trees were on the ground; it was terrible. At the Navy’s Cubi Point I saw a DC-10 on its tail due to the weight of volcano ash aft.

My 3rd Pentagon tour in Transportation was an eye opener; the office was in AF Logistics so I learned a lot about what it takes to keep things moving on time. It was also the closest I came to joint as I spent a lot of time with the Army transporters. Getting things on time was really critical to them and they did a very good job. I had also spent several months in Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War (TDY from my job at Hickam) helping the Army airlift its stuff back home. I didn’t see the camel that went back to the states in a large container, but I heard about it (and his demise). Speaking about the Gulf War reminds me of my first C-130 flight into the international airport in Kuwait - - the smoke from the burning oil wells made it seem like night. It was a long time before this got better.

After my tour at Hickam in the summer of 1992 I went TDY to Panama and Peru to do a joint investigation with the Peruvians of an incident where one of their aircraft fired on a USAF C-130 involved in the anti-drug business. As you might imagine, it occurred due to the lack of attention to detail by US and Peruvian agencies involved. While in Peru, we stayed in Lima and wandered around the city on our free time. With me was an AF lawyer from Langley and, as our interpreter, a young AF communicator who was originally from Puerto Rico. After a while, I wondered why the young guy always held back as we walked around. Then I realized he was thinking of his own skin - - the lawyer and I were both blond gringos. He was right too. One night when we returned to our hotel from dinner we noticed all the glass on one side of our hotel was missing. El Sendro Luminoso (Shining Path) insurgent group exploded a bomb nearby.

As I get older I realize I shortchanged my family if I was pressed. I’m probably not the only one who has done this, but I would do better if I had to do it over again. My son-in-law does a lot better job at this than I did and he’s in a very demanding and well paying job. I think it’s more of a mind set than a necessity. I’m probably speaking to the choir.

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