Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Raymond E. Rodgers, Jr.

The Early Years

I was born in Brooks General Hospital, San Antonio, Texas, on the ides of March, 1942. My Dad was in the US Army/Air Corps and remained on active duty until July 1969. He retired with 32 years of service as a Chief Master Sergeant after a career in aircraft maintenance. So I grew up in a military environment on or near a number of Air Force bases (including Langley, Kelly, Brooks, Hill, Rhein Main, Ardmore, Sewart, and Connally); and attended multiple schools including 3 different high schools. I graduated from Connally HS near Waco, TX in 1960. The highlight of that year was meeting and falling in love with one Barbara Ann Kolar. I loved school and wanted to go to college, but Dad was not too keen on the idea. “Those places are expensive, how are you going to pay for it?” or words to that effect was his position. My Mom had heard about the Academy though, and encouraged me to apply for a “free” education. I was accepted under a Presidential nomination, eligible thanks to dad's active duty status, and off I went.

Cadet Days

I think I had a pretty typical academy experience, at least for the first three years. I was in the chess and bridge clubs and was the "car rep" for my squadron. I even made the Dean's List a couple of semesters after surviving the hysteria of Doolie year. The company Barb worked for just happened to have an opening in C. Springs and she transferred out to Colorado during 3rd Class year, a very gutsy move on her part, but not one much appreciated by her folks. She became kind of a den mother for the Fightin' Forth Blue Tags storing illegal civies in her closets, hosting parties, etc. Four of the guys formed a folk singing group and we had some great times listening and singing along.

I assumed that I would go to flight school upon graduation and become a pilot, but my experience with a sadistic IP while taking the first couple of weeks of UPT the summer before first class year changed all that. I came back to the "Zoo" not knowing what I wanted to do in the Air Force but knowing damn well it wouldn't be flying. My grades and class rank were not good enough to make the Aerospace Engineering cut, and I opted for Civil Engineering. Mom was not impressed." Aren't those the people who come out and fix our toilets?" was her initial rejoiner.

Opting out of flight school while being physically qualified did not sit well with the AOCs, and as a result I received a full ration of hazing from them the entire year. Needless to say I was ecstatic to see the chapel in my rear view mirror for the last time on June 3rd.

Following graduation, six of my Fightin' Fourth squadron mates: Bob Clark, Chuck Clifton, Paul Dole, Dave Mueh, Bill Sieg, and Mike Wood, with his bride Dianne, came down to Waco, Texas for our wedding. It was indeed a joyous occasion for us. We were finally able to get married, and made extra special by the friends who came to help us celebrate. The group enjoyed several days of frivolities leading up to the occasion: backyard barbque, a homemade ice cream social, pool party, etc., and we had the traditional crossed sabers exiting the base chapel after the wedding.

The Air Force

Keesler AFB, Mississippi

My first PCS assignment, after attending Civil Engineering School at Wright-Patterson, was with the 3380th CE Group at Keesler AFB, MS. Keesler was #1 on my dream sheet, chosen as being warm, on the ocean, and inexpensive. It turned out to be a good choice. I was assigned as head of the Construction Inspection Branch, supervising 5 inspectors and a secretary. The base pay of $222.30 didn't provide for a lot of luxury, but we lived well. Barb got a job she liked at the base credit union. We kept a change jar and whenever we saved up $100 we took off for the French Quarter in New Orleans for the weekend. Hard to believe now that we could get a nice room, dinner at one of the excellent restaurants, and a few drinks on that budget back then. Keesler was good duty and I learned a lot about the real Air Force.

Texas A&M

In the Spring of 1966 I was accepted by AFIT to return to college for a master's degree. The Air Force had dreamed up a program called "Environic" engineering which entailed taking courses in various engineering disciplines with the idea that a military civil engineer needed some background in the civil, electrical and mechanical disciplines. It was a 2 year program and I graduated in June of 1968. After the Academy, A&M was a walk in the park (well except for that differential equations course). Barb landed a secretarial job with a local engineering firm and we acquired a cat. Life was good.


After grad school I went to South East Asia, along with most folks in the military in that era. Barb stayed in Bryan/College station with Albritton Engineering. Bryan was only a couple hours drive from Waco so she saw her folks quite a bit.

I was assigned to the 56th Civil Engineering Sq. at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, affectionately known as "Naked Fanny". At first I was the Chief of Operations and Maintenance and about half way through the year tour moved to the Chief of Programs Development slot. I enjoyed the programming work. The big project in design at the time was a concrete runway and aircraft parking apron. The flight line at the time looked like a WWII movie set. The runway was made of Aluminum matting and the aprons of pierced steel planking (PSP). There was too much debris to operate jets, and we had A-26s and A-1s flying mostly night missions trying to make life as miserable as possible for users of the Ho Chi Minh trail. We were always short of resources and a 7 day work week was the norm. I shared an unairconditioned hooch about the size of a typical USAFA dorm room with 3 other guys. It was quite the adventure. I got away from the base twice during the tour. I met Barb in Hawaii for a week of R&R and got up to Chaing Mai with hooch mate Steve Mugg one weekend.

Headquarters USAFE

My next assignment was USAF Europe (USAFE) Headquarters in, Wiesbaden, Germany. Ironically I had lived in Wiesbaden as a kid and my brother was born there. Barb delivered our son Greg in the same hospital on January 15, 1972. Wiesbaden is a beautiful old city, pretty much spared by WWII bombing and we loved it. I worked in the resources area, in a branch overseeing the "Prime BEEF" emergency response engineering units at the various bases throughout the command. In 1973 the headquarters relocated to Ramstein AFB (to be across the Rhine), and we extended for 2 years to make the move. In Ramstein I was reassigned to work in the Programs Division, planning and obtaining funding for facilities construction, maintenance and repair projects. We lived on base in a 4th floor walk up with communal laundry facilities in the basement. The work was great, and we traveled extensively, seeing as much of Europe as leave and funds would allow.

Space and Missile Systems Organization (SAMSO)

1stTestFltEAFB.jpg In the Fall of 1974 we were assigned to Los Angeles, CA where I worked in the Directorate of Civil Engineering for SAMSO, a division of Systems Command. We had a very hard time finding a place to live, finally buying a fixer in a seedy part of Carson in South LA, which we soon learned was way too close to a huge new sewage treatment plant. I was very fortunate to be assigned to work on the Space Shuttle Program as the CE liaison to the Shuttle System Program Office (SPO). It was in the early days of the program and the concept at the time was to build a second launch site on Vandenberg AFB, CA. It was very interesting work and I became excited about the program. I traveled a lot to Vandenberg planning the facilities, and back to Systems Command HQ and the Pentagon conducting briefings usually centered on why the facilities needed more funding. Barb undertook an Interior Design Program at UCLA, totally redecorated the house, and kept up with Greg and his new mix breed dog Max. In 1978 we sold our then fixed up place in Carson and relocated to Hermosa Beach, a huge improvement in quality of life. When we left SAMSO we kept the house and rented it out, hoping to come back to the organization in the future. Barb completed her degree and graduated just before we left LA.

Allied Forces, Northern Europe (AFNORTH), Kölsas, Norway

We wanted to return to Europe so when reassignment time came around in 1979 I put NATO on the dream sheet, and we crossed our fingers for Naples or Brussels. Personnel HQ, in their infinite wisdom, called with good and bad news, the good being that I could have the NATO job, the bad (or at least we thought so at the time) being that it was in Oslo, Norway. We are not lovers of cold weather, but after some soul searching and research we decided to give Scandinavia a try. Good move! Again finding a place to live was difficult as there was no on-base housing and civilian accommodations were few and pricey, even with the COLA. By expanding the search radius from home to office and expanding our budget to the max though we found a gem. Our Norwegian neighbors were wonderful to us. [STORY]

The work was rewarding, reviewing facility project submittals from Norwegian, Danish and North German bases, and visiting the bases annually. I spent about 90 days a year TDY. The base staff was a mixture of US, British, German, Canadian, Danish and Norwegian military from all services which made for a dazzling array of uniforms, multiple languages, and new customs. Only full birds and above were saluted as a result of the myriad uniforms. The official language was British English, so I would give our Norwegian secretary letters and trip reports and she would translate them into Brit-speak, adding a few "whilsts" and changing "defense" to "defence" and so forth. The work year culminated in the annual "Slice" submittal to SHAPE of major construction projects for the coming year. After getting it in the mail the office closed down for a long week end and we repaired to a primitive "hutte" in the mountains for a few days of long cross country ski treks during the day and nights eating frozen dinners brought from home, playing liar's dice and drinking a "bit" of aquavit. Norway turned out to be a fabulous experience for the whole family. Greg attended the international school with most of the other military brats and a lot of embassy personnel kids of many nationalities. Barb and I took on leadership of the local cub scout pack. We learned to cross country ski and sail. A group of us formed a men's cooking club. We learned a little Norwegian.

Air War College

We knew we were leaving Norway in the summer of 1982, but not where we were going until shortly before departure. The Colonel's promotion list was due to be released and whether I was on it or not affected the assignment. Luckily my name appeared on the list, so it was Air War College in Montgomery, AL. Except for being a disappointing year for Greg's schooling, we enjoyed Montgomery. The War College experience was interesting. The class logged a lot of hours receiving the wisdom of visiting generals and high ranking civilians. I'm sure a little of it must have sunk in. On the home front we acquired an English Springer Spaniel. Again I knew I'd be reassigned at the end of the school year, but was one of the last in the class to receive orders.

Minot AFB, ND

I was assigned to be the Commander of the 91st Civil Engineering Squadron at Minot, yep, of "why not Minot - freezin's the reason" fame. I had a superb Deputy and secretary, and a 450+ squadron of mostly outstanding officers, airmen, and civilians working for me. Barb landed a nice job being the only interior designer in a several hundred mile radius, and Greg recovered from his lost year in Alabama in the good schools of North Dakota. The weather was tough, surprisingly much colder than Norway, but we survived. Strider, the Springer Spaniel, grew a heavy coat. The paranoia that is life on a SAC base had to be experienced to be believed. I hadn't been so glad to leave a place since USAFA graduation. When we left in January of 1985 it was so cold that the moving van simply backed right up to the front door, leaving nary a dent in the frozen lawn.

Space Division, Los Angeles, CA

We played the Beach Boys on the stereo all the way to LA, moved back into our home at the beach, and I immersed myself into running the Directorate of Acquisition Civil Engineering that I had been assigned to previously. Our main item of interest at the time was building military family housing on a piece of government property in San Pedro. The Great American Public in the local area fought the project tooth and nail, and whittled the size of the housing area to a bare minimum. We succeeded in getting it built though, an achievement I felt good about. My folks lived in Rancho Cordova, CA so we saw a lot of them during this period. Greg learned gun safety, and did some fishing with his Grandpa. Dad never said anything directly to me, but I sensed he was proud to have a "chicken colonel" as a son. Mom came around to feeling that my being a Civil Engineer wasn't so bad. I retired from active duty as soon as my promotion obligation was up. I figured if I was going to have a second career I'd better start it as early as possible and also we wanted our son, unlike his dad, to go through his high school years in one place.

Civilian Life


Not long after retiring, a friend and fellow Air Force retiree offered me a job at TRW (the aerospace arm of the company, not the credit one) right in the local area. He ran a small Civil Engineering division within the company and our main project at the time was planning facilities for the Rail Garrison Program. This brilliant scheme envisioned moving nuclear missiles around the country in rail cars so the Soviets would have a harder time targeting them. (No I am not making this up.)

After that program was scuttled I was lent to Proposal Operations to help write the facilities input on a request for proposal to the government. This lasted for a period of several months. For some entirely unexplainable reason I found that I enjoyed working proposals, work that most of my compatriots loathed. Maybe it was the insane hours, working through weekends, bad food brought in to keep you on schedule, who knows. Long story short I transferred into Proposal Operations when the opportunity presented itself and worked there for about 6 years.

Meanwhile Barb had worked her way through several design jobs, finally settling in with Knoll International, her dream position. Greg did well in school, earned his Eagle Scout badge and acquired degrees from Dartmouth and the University of Virginia School of Law.

In 1997 I decided I wanted to start cutting back some, but wasn't ready to fully retire. Barb was offered what we thought at the time was a great opportunity to leave her Knoll and join a small business firm in San Diego, so I retired from TRW and we moved once again, this time on our own nickel.


My intention was to continue to work proposals as an independent consultant, taking some time off between jobs, and scale back to about half time or so and thus ease into retirement. I formed my own company of one, OnCourseProposals, and was working on my first proposal within a month. In actuality I worked just as many hours as before, only scrunched together into big lumps. While that did provide some breaks in between, it did not feel much like scaling back. I worked on some interesting submittals though including SDI in Crystal City, VA and the Navy's littoral destroyer (DD21) at Ingalls in Gautier, MS. DD21 burned me out though and I retired for real in 2001.


Since my Air Force retirement, I had steadily became more and more interested in sailing. So much so that for a time I tried to talk Barb into selling our home and living on a sailboat for "a few years". She had gone along with many of my crazy ideas over the years, but she very wisely put her foot down on this one. She enjoyed "bare boating" though, i.e., just the two of us out by ourselves or with a couple of friends. We started in the BVI, charted in Baja, and spent a month sailing in Tahiti to celebrate our 50th birthdays. As a compromise we bought a 36' sailing sloop, put her into charter and had the use of her for 6 years (and also time on a sister ship in one of the 2 dozen other company locations around the globe). We have many fond memories of our times on "Gypsy Too" and her sister ships and were able to share our adventures with many of our friends and relatives. I'm glad we didn't wait longer to follow this particular dream.

Current Status

Sometime in about 2006 I started noticing that Barb was becoming more and more forgetful. A series of tests resulted in a diagnosis of Alzheimer's Disease, a devastating blow to our dreams of a long, healthy retirement. We had already lost both of our Mothers to AD so we were well aware of what we were facing.

For the last few years Barb has been on a couple of medications which act to slow the progress of the disease and at present she is still functioning pretty well. She gave up her driver's license last year which was a big adjustment. Her near term memory is poor but she is still ok with current activities and conversation. She's maintained her sweet disposition, upbeat attitude, and joy for life. We still do a hell of a lot of traveling, and we continue to enjoy it right now. I take lots of pictures to remind us of where we've been. Barb remains the light of my life and the best thing that ever happened to me. We're taking life one day at a time and still enjoying the ride.

Our recent good news is that we are grandparents of a healthy, happy, handsome grandson, Franklin Robert Rodgers, born to our darling daughter-in-law Leah and our son Greg in August of 2009.
[Initial input, March 5, 2011]

June 2014 Current Status Update

Much remains the same as three years ago, I'm still caring for Barb at home, and, although she has slipped quite a bit, she is enjoying life. We are still traveling quite a bit, currently on the tail end of a two month trip that included driving cross country in our son's old Z3 sports car; a group walking tour in the Italian lakes area; a driving tour through Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria, Croatia and Slovenia; and visiting "the kids" in New York City. An overnight in Wheeling WV, earned Barb her all-50-states badge.

We are signed up for the upcoming 50th class reunion and looking forward to it.

Venice , 50th Wedding Anniversary, June 2014


Our son, Greg, wife Leah and one and only grandson Franklin

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