My Time in the Air Force
The Draft: Gotcha!
On Feb. 2, 1973, I was inducted into the Air Force. We were supposed to go straight to Lackland, A.F.B. near San Antonio, Texas. However, the weather messed it up. After sitting in the Salt Lake Airport for a couple of hours, our flight was canceled due to the weather. They told us to be back the next day. I got excited and ran out of the airport, slipped on some ice, and tore my achilles tendon. I spent the first 4 weeks of basic on crutches.
I was in a squadron of 50 guys. 20 of them rednecks from Georgia, 20 from Harlem, New York, and 10 of us from Utah. Yep, promised to be an exciting time. Only problem I had was caused our first night there. They got us to Lackland at about 11:00 p.m. Before they did anything, they marched us over to the barber and cut our hair. Funny thing was, we had to pay for it. Some of the guys didn't have money, so the rest of us lent it to them. Wierd how different we looked as we came out. Couldn't figure out who owed whom what.
Scope Dope or How to read backwards.
After basic training, I was off to Keesler A.F.B., near Biloxi Mississippi for training as a Radar operator.
Training was really simple, they gave us 8 weeks, but I was finished in about 1 week and sat around for 7 weeks, waiting for everyone else to get done.
I enjoyed the base and neighboring community. Spent a lot of time at the beach or boating around in the Bayous.
Funny, the training that I got at tech school, had nothing to do with the job I would later do at my stations. The training was for manual sites (Generally Tactical Air Command) while I would generally be stationed at automated (NORAD sites.) The only Manual site I would see was King Salmon, but by then I was a Controller and didn't work as a tech.
8 weeks later and I was off to my first pcs assignment at Othello, A.F.S., near Othello, Washington. I had 2 weeks to get there, so I stopped in Salt Lake City. While home, I bought a new car and then headed for Washington.
Othello: Start Over!
My first assignment was as a radar operator at Othello A.F.S. Othello was a Back Up Intercept Control (BUIC) site for the 26th NORAD region. My job there was as a Weapons Control Tech. I helped controlled interceptors (USAF F-106 and Canadian AF F101). The job was fun and I first got interested in computer games working with the simulators. I was at Othello From June 1973 to January 1975. During that time I achieved the rank of Airman 1st Class. During this time, I actually got my act together and stopped drinking and smoking. I became active in the LDS church and began a new stage in my life.
In Aug. of 1975, I met Joyce Gilbert. We started dating. In September, they announced that the Base was shutting down and I was being transferred to Luke A.F.B., near Pheonix, AZ. We were married on March 4, on our way to Luke. I drove a truck with our things and she drove a car. Great honeymoon.
When we got to Phoenix, I was assigned to the NORAD block house as a weapons controll tech. I controlled F-106s, F-4's, and F-15's out California. In September, 1975, I was sent back to the University of Utah to finish my Bachelor's degree. We were in Salt Lake until I graduated in June, 1976. We returned to Phoenix. I was promoted to Sgt. when I got back. I attended the N.C.O. academy in August. I was also cross trained to be a Weapons Controller.
By this time Joyce was pregnant with our first daughter, Stacy, who was born October 20, 1976. Right after she was born, I learned I was being transferred to a remote site in Alaska (King Salmon A.F.S.) for 1 year.
We moved Joyce back to Washington in December. I left for King Salmon on Jan. 1st.
Back to the U of Utah
One of the best things that came out of my time in the Air Force was Operation Boot Strap. It allowed GI's who were close to graduating from college the opportunity to go back to school, finish, and then return to the Air Force.
I applied in June, 1975 and was accepted. I needed 1 quarter's worth of credits, but they sent me for the entire school year. I accomplished 2 things: 1) graduating from College with a degree in Political Science, and 2) Got my B lack Belt in Wado Karate. I also spent a lot of time Skiing at Alta, Snowbird, and Brighton.
Joyce and I lived in a duplex in South Salt Lake. Joyce was working as Nurse at St. Marks Hospital. I'd finish school and then stop at the hospital, say hi, and head for the slopes. Best year ever. One of the benefits of being married and actually having a stable life was that my grades improved. I got a 4.0 for the year I was in Salt Lake. I graduated in June, 1976. But, Uncle Sam, while he was willing to allow me to graduate, didn't let me hang around to walk.
Back To Luke!
I've heard Arizona is really great in the winter. Joyce and I never really got to enjoy it. We got back to Luke AFB in June and got to enjoy the heat. Dad let joyce and I take his camper back to AZ for a little side trip. We stopped at Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon. Getting back to Luke, Joyce got another job as a Nurse and I went back to the NORAD block house. This time however, I was a Weapons Controller and really enjoyed my job. With my degree, i applied for OCS (Officer Candidate School). I got on the waiting list and things seemed to be going great.
Unfortunately, Uncle Sam had a change in store.
By the time we got back to Luke, Joyce was expecting our first daughter, Stacy. She was born Oct. 20, 1976. At about the same time, I got orders to King Salmon, AK. Oh fun! I was due in King Salmon on 2 Jan, 1977. Joye decided that rather than stay in Phoenix, she would return to Othello and stay with her parents. It worked pretty good, because it was a lot shorter trip to see her when I could get leave.
We stopped for a couple of days in SLC, then drove to Othello. I got about 1 week in Othello before heading to Sea-Tac and my flight to Anchorage.
When I left Phoenix, it was 80 outside. When I got to Anchorage it was -20. I was stuck in Anchorage for a few days because my blood pressure was up and they wanted to get it down before I left. Finally, I was off to King Salmon. The only way in was by plane.
Remote Alaska is both beautiful and ugly. When I got there in January the daytime temperatures were running around -10 below zero. There was sunlight for about 15 minutes a day. (I guess you could call in daylight.) I was assigned as a weapons controller and trainer. I had a lot of fun experiences in Alaska. Nothing beats fishing for Salmon (King, Silver, Red) in a river and having otters and seals swimming around or climing into your boat.
One night one of the guys in the barracks went outside and when he threw the garbage into the dumpster, a Grizzly came out and chased him into the barracks. Everyone ran into their rooms and it took Security about 1 hour to get the bear outside again.
Another time, we had a Bull Moose attack our truck on the road from the Radar site to the the C.A.C. (Combat Alert Cell) where the f-4s were kept on alert. It flipped our truck over and then just calmly walked off.
We constantly had Russian Aircraft testing our radar coverage. We had 2 minutes from the time the plane crossed the radar line to have our f-4s up. Once during an incursion by a Russian Bomber into our air space when they opened the doors to the CAC, they found a herd of Caribue standing on the runway. They were so scared by the sound of the jet engines that they stopped instead of running off. A 4-star general in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado was really mad at us for not getting the F-4s into the air fast enought. They finally bulldosed them off the runway.
During the Salmon run, I worked part time for a while at a cannery in Nak Nak. It paid well and Joyce and I needed the money.
McChord and Out!
In December, they approached me about re-enlisting. They told me that my next assignment was going to be Tinker A.F.B. in Oklahoma as a weapons controller aboard AWACS aircraft. The assignment was going to require me to be TDY all over the world most of the year. After talking it over with Joyce, I decided that spending another 4 years TDY on AWACs planes with Joyce and Stacy stuck at Tinker A.F.B. in Oklahoma, probably wasn't a good idea. We decided I would just get out and go back to school. At the end of December, I rotated back to the states and separated from the Air Force at McChord A.F.B., near Seattle.
I had a terminal leave so that I could find a job and get settled. We headed for Salt Lake City and the University of Utah. I was going to get my teaching certificate. Another chapter in my life came to a close.