Class Of 1964 USAF Academy

Jim's Story

One Day At A Time...

jim.jpg As 4th Class Cadets at USAFA in 1960, each day brought new challenges and surprises ... sometimes a lot more than we wanted! Particularly during BCT and the early part of the academic year, we were unsure what was coming next; but we learned to hang together and to take ‘one day at a time.' Over four years, 493 of us survived from the original 772 that entered on 27 June 1960. For each of my fellow graduates – the men of the USAFA Class of 1964 – I have enduring respect and profound admiration.

I suspect that my reflections are fairly typical as I look back on the years since 1964: our Class had four very unique years at USAFA; we entered active duty just ahead of the Vietnam War and found ourselves in a war time military environment unlike anything we expected; the ‘rules' changed even before many of us reached our first assignments. The months and years passed quickly and our careers took off in directions we could never have anticipated; the world changed and we changed with it. Of necessity, our Academy experiences quickly faded into the background; and we became students in the ‘real' world serving in the ‘real' Air Force. Most of us served in SEA; some Classmates became war heroes; some never came home. Others severed ties with the USAF and pursued civilian careers; all of us pressed on professionally while starting families and looking to the future optimistically.

One lesson from Cadet Days that we all relearned post-USAFA was that you have to be alert; life brings its challenges and opportunities to us ‘one day at a time.' Now – 50 years after we pinned on our brown bars and started our individual journeys – we can all look back with satisfaction that we are privileged to be a part of the most dynamic, distinguished, and talented Class to graduate from the Air Force Academy.

When each of us is asked to put our own story in the context of the Class of 1964, a natural reaction is to pause, to feel a bit overmatched, and to hesitate to take pen in hand. But, upon reflection, this is not a competitive exercise; it is rather an opportunity to add a few lines to the history of the Class of 1964. With that in mind, I offer this short narrative for inclusion in the Class Archives.
Entering USAFA was a natural for me. I had grown up as an Air Force brat and had an adventurous interest in flying jets and becoming an astronaut. Having lived in Ohio, New Mexico, Florida, California, Massachusetts, and Japan as an Air Force dependent I had some insight to the military lifestyle. It was not surprising that the lure of the new Air Force Academy was too great for me to resist as a high school student in Dayton, Ohio. Since my father was on active duty, I was able to apply for and eventually receive a Presidential Appointment to the Class of 1964.

My Academy years had the normal ups and downs that all Cadets endure, but I managed to make some Lists, enjoyed my share of academic and military successes along the way, and generally enjoyed the experience. ( Of course, I should note that the passage of time has tended to magnify the successes and to sublimate the ‘other'.) My memory does not suggest what was the most memorable part of my Cadet years; nor does it identify the least memorable. But, what I recall with great clarity is that I served with a unique, accomplished group of men that would have been remarkable in any setting.

After graduation – having failed the vision portion of the USAF Flight Physical and therefore not eligible for UPT – I embarked on an active duty career that over 20 years produced experiences that could never have been foreseen or programmed. First stop for my new wife and me was at Procurement Officer School at Amarillo AFB for a quick six week course and then on to Los Angeles Air Force Station and duty at the Space Systems Division (SSD) in the Titan III – Manned Orbiting Laboratory SPO. SSD was located in a complex of office buildings in El Segundo; there were very few AFA grads; and the excitement was all about space programs and expanding the USAF role into manned flight. It was an interesting and nontraditional start for my Air Force career.

As events unfolded, I was drafted to become the briefing officer for the SPO; and I was reassigned from Procurement to the SPO Director's Staff as an Assistant Executive Officer. The new assignment put me on the road with our Director and soon I was a regular visitor to the halls of the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill. My exposure to the ‘real' Air Force working directly for a B/G was unlike anything I had encountered at USAFA or ever anticipated. I quickly learned to like the perspective from the top of the food chain – not a view most 2nd Lieutenants get to see – and, when asked, I accepted a transfer to Vandenberg AFB to become the Aide de Camp to our SPO Director when he was selected to be the Commander of the AF Western Test Range in late 1965.

The following 18 months were full of unexpected adventures in the world of missile R&D from Vandenberg and manned space launches at Cape Kennedy. Having not been able to become an aviator or to aspire to be an astronaut, this tour gave me an up close view of where the USAF was headed; and it was a satisfying, motivating experience from beginning to end.

In early 1967, my boss was named for a 2nd Star and alerted for another move. For me, it was a signal to get back in the flow. Fortunately, my academic pursuits at USAFA had included some liberal arts courses, and I was able to convince the Poli Sci Department that my engineering major would not prevent me from becoming a good political science instructor. Chapel Hill and the University of North Carolina became the next stop on the path back to Colorado to join the Academy Faculty in August of 1968.

It was strange at first to have become one of ‘them'. As Cadets, it was always ‘us' against ‘them', and now I was on the other side. All in all, it was a very fulfilling experience. There were many opportunities to be involved with the Cadets and Academy activities. Being an Officer Sponsor for my old Squadron – Friendly First – gave me the chance to counsel the younger generation and to share the wisdom of a ‘grad'. Ironically, some of the Cadets I worked with were my age – 25 – and a few with prior service and/or prior college were older.

In the Fall of 1970, the Dean and the Commandant decided that the ‘Terrazzo Gap' between the two organizations would be well served if some Faculty officers were assigned to the Comm Shop for an exchange tour. I got volunteered and found myself teaching part time and working as the Executive Officer for the First Cadet Group Air Officer Commanding. Several weeks later, an unexpected event left CS-08 without an AOC; and I had a new job that was to last until the end of 1971. In a different context, the AOC experience would be worth a chapter or two; but I'll save it for another time.

Next, it was my turn for a trip to SEA and with it a special assignment in conjunction with Project CHECO. For a political scientist, it was a fascinating opportunity to see National Defense Policy up close and personal ... suffice it to say, the class room and the war zone have very little in common. I traveled throughout the region interviewing senior officers and gathering data for my classified project. Eventually, I retreated to Udorn, NKP, and then Bangkok to interact with the allied intelligence community while finishing my final report. Ironically, when I returned to the ZI, the Air Staff stamped my report with a classification above my security clearance – how can that happen?

While in SEA, I had time to think about my career options both in and out of the Air Force. I decided that my unusual first eight years – Procurement Officer, Executive Officer, Aide de Camp, Graduate School Student, Poli Sci Instructor, AOC, Political Affairs Officer – while interesting, had not carved out a career path that would help me progress up the ladder. A sketchy plan emerged, and I opted to petition AFIT to go back to school for a second Masters Degree.

After the usual bureaucratic resistance and my submission of a Resignation Letter, AFIT offered to grant a waiver for a second grad school tour if I would attend the Graduate Systems Management School in residence at Wright-Patterson. Since I had entered the Academy from Dayton and most of my family lived there, it was exactly the assignment I had hoped for.

The 18 months as a member of GSM-73 were busy and productive. Met some very talented fellow officers and left AFIT feeling well prepared for my follow-on assignment in the Foreign Military Sales Division of the F-5 International Fighter SPO. The Weapons Systems Acquisition career field had always been of interest and being able to combine my poli sci background in the FMS arena was an unexpected bonus. Within a few months of my arrival in the F-5 SPO, the Swiss government launched an FMS Case to purchase 72 aircraft. I was initially assigned to assist the 0-5 that was designated as the Swiss Program Manager, but a health problem soon sidelined him and I became the PM. Talk about being thrown into the deep end ! It was a challenge that would keep me on the road between Wright-Patterson, Los Angeles, the Pentagon, and Switzerland for two years before the final contracts were signed in April of 1976. Many unique and fulfilling experiences along the way; but, they to, will have to be saved for another time.

My next assignment came about unexpectedly. Several years prior, in the summer of 1971, while assigned to the Poli Sci Department, I was TDY to the Pentagon to serve as the Secretary for the “Middle East Task Group” which was an ad hoc committee to advise the SECDEF on Middle East issues. The Senior Air Staff representative later became the Superintendent of the Academy. Thus, when Gen. Allen decided it was time to get the newly formed USAFA Association of Graduates organized and moving forward, he asked me to join his staff and to serve as the Executive Director of the AOG.

So, in the summer of 1976, with wife and two kids in tow, I reported back to the Academy for what would be seven years of immersion in the nurturing and development of the AOG. Gen Allen and his successor, Gen Ken Tallman, were both West Point graduates and understood and believed in the value of a healthy, involved, progressive Association of Graduates. Working with some really outstanding fellow USAFA graduates in an environment that was receptive to the emergence of an active graduate organization, we were able to build the foundation that has produced the AOG of today.

For the first three years, my Staff consisted on one Secretary, one Clerical Assistant, and me. My blue suit job was “Director for Graduate Affairs”. In practice, that meant that anything involving a graduate – good or bad – would usually find its way to my office. That, in turn, lead to a lot of involvement with the Academy Senior Staff and produced many opportunities to interject the AOG into the affairs of the Academy. Wearing two hats was sometimes difficult and my AOG job grew as we expanded the services offered to the graduate community and the AOG membership became more engaged. It was a very busy time!

For the AOG it was a time of rapid growth and major change. The ‘AOG Newsletter' became ‘Checkpoints', and we added a four color cover and started selling advertising. The data base for the ‘Register of Graduates' was computerized, and we found corporate sponsors to help fund the new, expanded version. The Life Membership Program continued to grow and we had to learn how to manage and to invest the money. I found myself running a nonprofit Colorado corporation from a government office in Harmon Hall while filling an active duty billet on the Superintendent's Staff ... can anyone top that as the most unique job in the USAF ?

During my extended tour there were a lot of ‘firsts' and a stream of new services for the AOG membership. In addition, the legitimacy of the AOG was established with the graduate community and with the Academy community ... sounds easy, but it was not. The enlightened leadership of General Ken Tallman, who had been a member of the original ATO cadre that trained the Class of 1959, facilitated the maturing of the AOG immensely and his real worth was accented by the opposite attitude exhibited by his successor.

A lot of memories bubble up from the AOG years, but there are two projects that I proposed that have become a permanent part of the Academy landscape and tradition. The first, the Class Wall on the east side of the Chapel Wall facing the Cadet Area, was the result of a challenge from Gen Tallman. He voiced a sentiment that was also being heard from some graduates, that USAFA was becoming ‘West Point West', and we needed to do something ‘different' to establish unique traditions that were not just patterned after USMA and USNA. Because of my jobs, I had an involvement in the Ring Dance each year and with the Class Ring Committees so I was sensitive to the uniqueness of each Class Coat of Arms. One dot quickly connected to the next, and I started to formulate a plan that would culminate with the creation of the Class Wall. We had to do some catch up to get all the early Classes involved, but we only had to go back to 1959, not 1802. Clearly, we now had a new tradition that not only was not borrowed from West Point; it could never be duplicated by West Point either. Success !!

The second project that has lasted well beyond my tenure is the Thunderbird Overlook near the South Gate overlooking the Cadet airfield. One of my Blue Suit duties was to serve as Secretary of the Academy Memorial Board which functioned as an advisory group for the Superintendent on all matters related to memorials and traditions. So, when the idea of creating a memorial to the Thunderbirds surfaced, the management of the project landed on my desk. Long story short: we raised private money from civilian sponsors, ‘borrowed' the T-38 that had been on display in the Cadet Area for years, enlisted civil engineering support from around the Air Force, and produced what still stands as a tribute to the Thunderbirds. If you have not visited the site, you should take a minute on your next visit to stop.

All good things come to an end and in the Spring of 1983, I departed USAFA for what would become my last PCS. Returning to Systems Command at Wright-Patterson seemed like a natural move, but I soon discovered that it was not easy to slip back into an environment that had been altered dramatically by economic and political factors during my sabbatical to USAFA. The F-16 SPO provided a dynamic setting and the excitement of the program kept everyone running on adrenaline. All things considered, I probably could have gotten back on the horse; but, I just did not have much interest in rejoining the Program Management rat race again. And, with an ex-wife and two kids to deal with at long range, I once again found myself at a decision point.

Various USAF options surfaced and I was pleasantly surprised that there were civilian options as well. It was not an easy decision, but ultimately I decided it was time to step away from the only life and lifestyle that I had ever experienced. I was going to be a civilian !!

San Antonio had been an occasional TDY destination during my two tours at Wright-Patterson in airplane SPOs, but I had never considered moving there ... it's too hot in the summer !! But, in July of 1984, I arrived in SA and started a five year stay at USAA. My initial assignment was to the Property and Casualty Insurance Company; but, three short weeks later, after a visit with General McDermott, I was dispatched to the newly chartered USAA Federal Savings Bank as a member of the start-up team. McD had assembled a very talented team of experienced bankers to get the bank up and running, but he wanted a ‘military presence' in the bank to make sure the USAA culture would appropriately migrate to the new enterprise. So, with that start, an adventure commenced that would teach me about banking and teach the bankers about USAA.

Initially I was the VP; Marketing, Public Relations, and Training. As the cadre became larger, my title narrowed down to VP, Marketing and my staff of professionals grew as our marketing campaigns rolled out in quick succession. It was an exciting time for us all; and the FSB grew rapidly as we introduced Credit Cards, Mortgages, and other bank services to the worldwide USAA membership. With the rapid growth came rapid change and I eventually moved into a ‘banker' position as VP, Mortgage Services.

In late 1989, an opportunity came about to step back into the university world in a capacity not unlike the earlier role I had played at USAFA with the Association of Graduates. From Texas, it looked like an interesting opportunity existed for me at St. Leo University in Dade City, Florida. But, soon after I arrived in Florida, I realized it was a bit too parochial and a bit too far removed from the mainstream to hold my interest for long. I enjoyed the position, VP for Institutional Advancement and Development, and additional duty as EVP of the St. Leo Foundation; but, it was just not the right spot for me at that point in time. As a result, a year later I was on my way back to San Antonio and yet another new profession.

The next Chapter was to last for three years and proved to be an interesting, educational, and lucrative adventure into the world of investing. My necessary security license training was sponsored by a local firm, and then I went to work with Merrill Lynch providing financial planning services to professionals – lawyers, doctors, retired military – throughout Texas. I was integrated into an established team and became the point man for the retired military clients. This role gave me an opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people, provided me with a valuable range of experience in a short period, and sparked my interest in opening my own financial planning firm.

In late 1993, along with two cohorts from Merrill Lynch, plans were finalized for us to establish an investing boutique to cater exclusively to the retired military community. I was the first to opt out of a contract renewal at Merrill, and I took a few months off while waiting for my future partners to sever ties and join me full time in our new adventure. Well, as sometimes happens, the plans went off track when one of my future partners was offered and accepted a promotion at Merrill, and the other became entangled in a domestic situation that precluded him following through on our initial plan.

Lacking the capital, experience, or expertise to launch the new enterprise on my own, I was receptive to an offer from a retired Army Doctor I had met at an investment seminar to take on a short term contract to evaluate a nonprofit service organization where he served on the Board of Directors. My background for the role he had in mind combined both my Program Management experience in the Air Force and my tenure as the Executive Director of the Association of Graduates. His guidance to me was to undertake an in depth study of the operations and future of the organization and to render a recommendation on how best ‘to kill it or to cure it.'

The study turned out to be a bit more complex than originally anticipated and took a turn I had not expected. Specifically, I got interested in the mission of the organization and decided that not only was a ‘cure' possible, I was the right person to guide the new programs going forward. Now, it is 2014 and I am about to wrap up my second 20 year career and will retire from the District 2-A2 Lions Sight Research Foundation this year. In 1994, I had no plans to stick around; but launching community service programs offering vision screening services, building a Low Vision Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, and working with the Lions Clubs of District 2-A2 have all added up to twenty productive and interesting years.

One unexpected sidebar in my story came 20 years after my active Air Force career ended when I once again became involved in the governance of the Association of Graduates. As most will recall, in the Spring of 2004 sexual harassment issues at the Academy became the topic for national stories and a lot of chatter on graduate websites. When the AOG did not respond and basically stonewalled the emerging questions from the graduate community, a vocal few challenged the AOG leadership to get involved.

Realistic constraints existed to limit AOG involvement, but the reluctance of the leadership to interact with concerned graduates lead to more questions about the real role of the AOG at the Academy. In turn, some members started to question the intentions of the AOG leadership and the legitimacy of their positions. While many issues surfaced, the most disturbing information to come to light concerned how AOG Board Elections had been conducted in recent years and the fact that the Board had empowered themselves to unilaterally change the AOG Bylaws without member approval. From this, even more questions arose about the Board Director nominating process, AOG Staff salaries, and how AOG funds were being invested.

Since I was a distant observer from Texas, it came as somewhat of a surprise when I was recruited to lend my Academy background and AOG experience to assist a group of concerned graduates that were interested in asserting the right of the membership to govern their alumni association. Given my early role in the formative years of the AOG, two terms on the AOG Board in the late 1980s, membership in the Sabre Society, and active involvement in the Alamo Chapter of the AOG, I clearly had an interest in getting the ship back on course.

As events unfolded, more concerned graduates joined the dissenting ranks and a consensus emerged to get organized and to challenge the status quo. From that came ARC – the AOG Reorganization Committee – which adopted a platform aimed at electoral and governance reform for the AOG. I was drafted as President and became the spokesperson for the Colorado nonprofit that we chartered. The AOG leadership dug in their heels and even took ARC to Court. However, ARC prevailed and the grassroots battle was carried out over the internet and in ‘Checkpoints'. Two ARC candidates were elected to the AOG Board in 2005 and in 2007 six more ARC candidates were added to the Board. I became the AOG Board Chair in 2007; and the Board initiated needed governance reforms and Staff changes. Living and working in Texas while serving as AOG Chair was just not an optimal arrangement for me or the AOG so I opted not to run for a second term as Chair in 2009. My experience encouraged me to lobby for the Board to select a Chair from Colorado who could personally have a presence at the Academy and could build working relationships with the Senior Academy Staff and with the AOG Staff.

The AOG has from day one had three basic goals: to serve the needs of the graduate community; to support the Academy, and to maintain and to protect the traditions of our school. The Mission of the AOG is not friendraising so that some other organization can focus on fundraising to support projects that the AOG membership did not have the opportunity to select or approve. And, of note, the membership has no say – no vote – in selecting the leadership of the organization that is charged with the fundraising and setting the Agenda for privately supported projects at USAFA

Not all graduates understood or supported ARC, but all AOG members benefitted in that ARC was successful in returning the organization to the membership. Only time will judge if the graduate uprising had a lasting impact, but it was by any measure a valuable precedent to put in place as a reminder to future AOG Boards that the AOG must first represent its stakeholders, the AOG membership; and the AOG should never be controlled by an elite subset of the membership.

Reading back through what I said would be a ‘short' narrative, I see that it got a bit long. But, it was fun to reminisce; and it certainly brought back a lot of pleasant memories associated with the Class of 1964, my Classmates, and friends made along the way. It's been a good ride.

The natural question becomes “What's next??”

The answer: “Who knows??”

But, I plan on taking it “one day at a time”, and I'm looking forward to it.

30 June 2014
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