Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

My History


After pilot training at Williams AFB, AZ, I was assigned as a FAIP (first assignment instructor pilot). While this wasn't the fighter slot that I was looking for, it clearly saved my life in future flying years as I learned much more about flying by working hard to be the very best Instructor Pilot possible. Some of my student pilots still communicate at Christmas time.

PhilRoberts1.jpg From Webb AFB, Texas, we moved to Luke AFB, AZ for my checkout in F-100's prior to heading to Vietnam. Finishing in the top of my class, I got the “chance to volunteer” for a special operations assignment in the A-1 Skyraider. So I ended up at Nakhon Phenom Royal Thai AFB, in northeastern Thailand flying in the 1st Special Ops Squadron as a “Hobo”. I participated in quite a few rescue operations for downed airmen and was privileged to lead a few of the operations as “Sandy Low Lead”. I was privileged to work with real heroes in our wing and with the Jolly Green Helicopter pilots and crews who did the pickups in some mighty fierce situations. Of all the medals and memorabilia from that time, one of the most prized possessions I have from those times is a Green Giant foot pin that was presented to me by one of the senior JG pilots just before I left for the states.

After coming back stateside, I was assigned to the USAF Academy mathematics department who promptly sent me to AFIT at Purdue University to finish the masters that I'd prepared for while at the academy but opted out of in favor of the flying slot. (I wasn't popular with the Dean's staff for that choice). So, with the transferred credits it was just a year before I earned my Masters in Astronautics from Purdue, moved to Colorado Springs, and started a short career as a math instructor.

The math department assignment was short because they soon decided that I should return to Purdue for my PhD and stay at the Academy as a tenured professor until retirement. I have always really liked teaching so once again I “volunteered”. Professor Lochry, USAFA Math Department Head, assumed it would be 4 or more years before my PhD was complete and so when I took the exams and passed my orals with an accepted thesis on “Relaxed Static Stability and Ride Quality of Large Flexible Vehicles” in about 22 months, there wasn't a slot to go back into at the department.

Sooooo…. I was “forced” to go back to flying O-2's in the 21st Tactical Air Support Squadron at Shaw AFB, SC. I was assigned as the O-2 Operations officer, and since this was a special operations unit standing an NCA commitment, I got my chance to “excel” with the US Army Airborne Brigade at Fort Bragg. Of course, this required that I go to jump school at Fort Benning, Georgia. Now, with the rank of major, I took a lot of “hits” from the young army lads, but I was always given the position at “first in the door” on the practice jumps. On my first jump the Army sergeant who was the spotter in the door told me quietly that “if you're not gone in a tenth of a second after I yell ‘go', you'll feel the well deserved imprint of my boot in your behind”. I took the lesser of the evils and was gone quickly!

After a couple of years, I got a call from Col Lochry indicating that I'd be released from my USAFA obligation, if I wanted to take a special assignment in the Joint Cruise Missile Project in Crystal City, VA. After investigating the opportunity, I decided to take the job as a cruise missile interface engineering manager. We worked for Admiral Locke and I really enjoyed this job for about 2 years. Again, I got a call from the Pentagon and the senior officer in the USAF Scientific Advisory Board secretariat offered me a job in the Pentagon as an executive secretary for the Board. Here I met icons of industry, science, engineering, and senior military leaders. It was almost “the” dream assignment. The real dream came next.

I was asked to report to Col Paul Kaminski's office to discuss a possible job. Of course, most are aware that Paul was the key project person to initiate the Low Observables program for DOD under Dick DeLauer, who was at that time the DDR&E. So I became a technical manager for Paul Kaminski in USAF/RDQLO. Here I again learned that our classmate was certainly deserving as a top graduate in our class. His competency in the technical world and his leadership abilities when faced with dire consequences no matter what the decision(s) options allowed, were world class in my view.

Just when I was settling down and enjoying the “stealth” technology job (probably for me one of the best challenges and most interesting job that I've ever experienced) our USAF HQ boss (then LtGen Bob Russ) called me into his office and indicated that I was going to be sent to the National War College at Ft. McNair. This is the only time when I've had a fully chewed cigar (down to the last 1.3 inches) thrown at me while in a general's office. I had just told Gen Russ that I'd “rather stay in the job with Paul than be promoted or get further responsibility.”

So, that's how I volunteered for school and ended up in the Class of 1985 at the National War College. Once again, I was privileged to be in a class with folks that I learned from every day. During that year, I met mid-level, high achievers from all over our government's departments. Some achieved very high rank in their own professional arenas in the ensuing years. One became Commandant of the Marine Corp. as an example. But all, including the USAF comrades that were part of that class were wonderful servants of our country in many ways.

After NWC graduation, I was assigned as the B-52 System Program Manager at WPAFB in Dayton, Ohio. I thought that Gen Russ had sent me to an assignment that I would not like because of the school discussion. On the contrary, the overt job was to modernize and continue to increase the capability of the B-52 fleet. The other 8 projects that I inherited were specially classified projects that ranged across many important areas of air combat capability. All together the 14 programs represented about a billion dollars a year of our tax dollars. Once again, I was able to recruit and work with some of the very best project officers that one could wish for anywhere. As a result we never had a project (within the 14) while our team was in control that was over budget or behind in schedule. This is a record that I'm very proud to have participated in, but the credit goes to all of the teams and the officers and project leaders that did the work and made the decisions.

So faced with a potential promotion and having moved (at one point in my career) 11 times in 13 years, I decided to retire while still at Wright-Patterson.

My career was the best that I could ever have hoped for in any scenario. I never had a job that I didn't like and I'd never choose a different path if I could go back. This career was the best because of every person I was honored to work for, with, and beside.

Thank God for every serving military person today.


And now a personal after-action post script. Since retirement, I have the privilege to work as a General Manager of a small corporation doing logistics for our government. Then, I worked as the Director of Advanced Technology Acquisition at the headquarters of Ford Aerospace Corporation. Next, I helped sell Ford Aerospace to Loral Corp. and moved to a position as director of aviation for Ford Motor Company in Detroit. After retirement from that company, I have enjoyed being the President of my own small consulting firm, PAR Travel Tech, Inc. That company has involved me in micro-electronics design technology, the travel industry, and business aviation in a major way.

Since my days at Webb AFB, Texas, I've been guided by the strength of a loving wife, my best friend, and wonderful confidant – Jonell. Deborah, Deidre, and Dyan, our three wonderful daughters, have grown into wonderful citizens with three highly competent and loving husbands. We are currently blessed with 7 grandchildren and many friends in our local community of Dayton, Ohio.

As a side activity, I've been working with the Board of Trustees of the National Aviation Hall of Fame which is co-located with the Museum of the US Air Force at WPAFB. In this office, I've once again been privileged to meet and work with wonderful people who have earned the honor to be called icons of the US aerospace industry.

I'm reminded by the above activity, the people, and their achievements that our real goal in our remaining years is to mentor and “pass along” and/or “pass forward” the best of our lessons to the new leaders, heroes, and heroines that are emerging in our future. So the circle of cadet life continues, even now.

God Bless America and the USAFA.

Phil Roberts
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