March 1, 2012

Always Bring Them Home

I read with great interest Richard Halloran’s article, “Return to Vietnam” [January, p. 60]. The work accomplished by the airmen and Navy Seabees to renovate three medical clinics and build a library for a Vietnamese orphanage is admirable, and it helps to further the international image of America’s military as one of compassion as well as strength. But I was very disappointed that his list of US military interactions with Vietnam failed to mention the two-plus decades of humanitarian work done by the Hawaii-based Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command and its predecessor organizations.

The worldwide mission to recover, identify, and return our fallen to their families is JPAC’s sole task, yet providing medical and other assistance to villagers in some of the most remote parts of the world is also an important element of every operation. The Full Accounting Mission was the key to enabling the US to begin normalizing relations with Vietnam, which we all hope can be repeated soon in North Korea. The Full Accounting Mission fulfills a soldier’s promise to never leave a fallen comrade behind on the battlefield, which should provide some level of comfort to a military at war and their families at home—if they only knew the mission existed. A little ink would go far to recognizing the promise that JPAC and its 500 military and Defense Department civilians continue to keep on behalf of others.

Joe Davis,

Alexandria, Va.

While I was pleased to read of the improved US-Vietnam relations and the contributions of our airmen, I wish that SrA. Darren Clemen would have purchased the “souvenir” American dog tags from the Vietnamese vendor. It may have helped to identify the many MIA/KIAs still unaccounted for.

David N. Thatcher

Fullerton, Calif.

They Stay in the Dark

I enjoyed Ms. Grant’s recent article, but find that I should correct one error and offer a slightly different perspective on some of her statements [“Black Bomber Blues,” January, p. 54]. I was General Scofield’s deputy director for quality assurance and, as such, was responsible for the successful fabrication, clearance for flight, and signing the USAF acceptance documentation for the first B-2. I held a similiar position on the B-1B earlier in my career.

The picture on p. 57 states “Pico Rivera.” The actual location is AF Plant 42, Site 4, in Palmdale. The larger sections came in from several locations by air and there was no runway at Pico. Security would have ruled out any operations at Pico, as well as the nearness to the LAX flight paths. Site 4 is an example of the $1 billion to $2 billion of milcon mentioned in the article—it was built and sized for a B-2 production run. Its location also indicates that future plans would have reduced security somewhat because the program could not have maintained true “black” status at that location.

The article states that Mr. Weinberger restarted the B-1B “as a backup.” B-1B was restarted because it could supply needed assets in the shortest possible timeframe. It was started from a “warm” base. Key parts and tools were still in existence/storage in nearly 200 sites all around the country. We were able to field that aircraft in barely three years because we had two B-1A testbeds and eight landing gear forgings in storage in Cleveland (forging lead times by themselves are usually greater than three years). My belief is we needed both systems ASAP and based on the reduced B-2 numbers, it turned out to be a wise decision.

Ms. Grant also states: “In theory, so-called black world acquisition streamlines the process and lowers cost.” The acquisition process may have been streamlined because General Scofield trusted his people and allowed us to do what we thought needed to be done. However, most black programs never completely “come out” and many of the routine programmatic tasks, such as logistics, configuration, and engineering, are performed by the contractor for the life of the program. Seldom will total numbers ever be seen, and there’s probably not a strict accounting between R&D and sustaining-production. The B-2 was a “mil-spec” program. We had a full program office and were doing all the tasks required to field a standard USAF production aircraft, just with fewer people. In other words, there were a lot more things going on with the B-2 a lot earlier in its life cycle than normally seen in most black programs.

The article mentions several technical aspects of the program, but doesn’t mention one key one. In manufacturing and QA, we were inventing stuff every day. We were building the first aircraft of composite materials to tolerances tighter than metallics. This was a truly marvelous accomplishment, but it did take time to do. There was a tremenduous amount of information, materials, and equipment transferred to the private sector as a result. I imagine that Boeing is running -787 parts in autoclaves bought for the B-2 and declared surplus.

Finally, we did it in spite of the hurdles in our path. We all share in the unmatched achievement. On that beautiful, clear day, two days before Thanksgiving 1988, when the first B-2 rolled out, we threw down the gauntlet and the Russians couldn’t pick it up. In one day, their entire air defense system was 25 years behind and nearly obsolete. Hindsight might be 20-20, but in terms of what was gained, the B-2 should be viewed as a continuing investment, not as a sunk cost.

Maj. James D. Sellers,

USAF (Ret.)

Mansfield, Tex.

Off Life Support

Your January 2012 issue of Air Force Magazine did a very nice job of highlighting the great work the airmen and civilians of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base do to support and defend our nation [“The Strike Eagle’s Nest,” p. 46]. However, I would like to correct one of your pictures and captions p. 48, caption 2). It improperly identifies the function as the “life support shop.”

As of October 2007, the prior career fields of aircrew life support, under operations, and survival equipment, under maintenance, began merging into a new career field: aircrew flight equipment, with an AFSC of 1P0X1. In 2008, AFSCs 1T1X1 and 2A7X4 were eliminated and merged under the single AFSC of 1P0X1.

Like other career fields going through functional changes/mergers, it is important for AFE to be identified properly by news media as it builds a new career field culture. We often hear, “It’s all the same and still life support.” I was on active duty when the merger process started and can confirm it was much more than a “name change,” and it’s not “just life support.”

The name change was much more than that and not an attempt to create an OPR/EPR bullet to get someone promoted! In reality, the merger took the unique skills of both career fields and merged them into a new career field—now under operations. Our AFE airmen now have nearly double the tasks and skills compared to the previous AFSCs, while dealing with the advantages and challenges of merging work concepts and cultures into new ones. All of this had to be done in the midst of establishing new technical school-technician training requirements, supporting two wars, and taking significant manpower cuts as a result of Program Budget Decision 720.

Although not an official motto, I think the mottoes of the two old career fields combined are appropriate: Aircrew Flight Equipment: “Your life is our business—Last to let you down.”

CMSgt. Michael J. Freebury,

USAF (Ret.)

Lebanon, Ill.

That Was Then, This Is Now

I read with interest the article, “Dual Capable,” by Michael C. Sirak in the January 2012 issue of Air Force Magazine [p. 32] partly because he includes information about the still-active B-52s, which are striving to maintain a 74 percent mission capable rate. That seems to be an acceptable availability rate in today’s economic climate. However, that rate is sharply lower from what the early B-52 aircraft sought to (and did) achieve: 95 percent. I worked in B-52 logistics from 1959 to 1972, beginning at the B-52 Priority Section, where our mission was to get timely parts support for the most urgently needed components, whose shortages would otherwise ground the airplane—preventing the mission. The difference between then and now is that “then” was the Cold War, and we had all the funding we needed, while “now” the threat is not considered as imminent, and funding is limited. As far as I remember, during the time I worked in that priority section, we did not fall below that 95 percent availability standard. In early March 1961, we actually had 100 percent availability on one notable day—I still have the message from Lieutenant General McKee congratulating our division for that achievement. We used priority airlift, dedicated truck delivery, and even “pilot pickup,” when the requiring unit would send their own airplane to physically fly to get the needed part, wherever it might be.

In today’s economic and political climate, it is not likely that enough parts and resources will ever again be made available to enable such a support posture. I can appreciate the efforts of today’s logisticians, who are probably working just as hard to keep today’s airplanes flying, though in a far different climate.

Wayne Haile

Fort Collins, Colo.

Glory Denied

With respect to the article “Encounters in the Tonkin Gulf,” on p. 71 of the January 2012 edition, the author reports, “Two aircraft were lost during the strikes, one of them an A-4C Skyhawk flown by Lt. j.g. Everett Alvarez Jr., who was captured and became the first American POW of the Vietnam War.”

In reality, George Fryett, US Army, was captured December 1961, as the first POW in Vietnam. He was released in June 1962. In addition, Floyd Thompson, US Army, was captured in March 26, 1964, (months before Lieutenant Alvarez) and was released in March 1973. He was the longest-held POW in Vietnam. Good article overall.

Col. Yvonne Schilz,

USAF (Ret.)

Arlington, Va.

Beyond Understanding

The joint statement of Senators McCain and Graham regarding US relations with Pakistan is on target (“Verbatim: The Fertilizer Factory” January, p. 31). We hear talk of the progress we are making in Pakistan and Afghanistan in our attempt to defeat terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Haqanni Network. Based on my personal experiences, I question the progress.

I spent 15 months in Peshawar, Pakistan, in the late 1960s, and while there, I was able to visit Kabul, Afghanistan. Mohammad Ayub Khan was Pakistan’s President at the time, and many believe he was most responsible for aligning his country with the US in international affairs and securing our military and economic assistance. In his autobiography titled Friends not Masters, he outlined his views on foreign policy. He emphasized friendship, not subservience, and he sought high returns for his country. Ever since then, we have been pouring billions of dollars of economic and military assistance into Pakistan. Ayub Khan’s desires for high returns have materialized, but at what cost to the United States?

Pakistan has allowed the establishment of safe havens for terrorists. Afghan and Pakistani boys are educated in religious schools (madrassas) in Pakistan, where many develop into militant Islamists taught to hate and fight. Some of the students are ushered into the Taliban where they seek to establish a puritanical Islamic state that will not tolerate forms of Islam different from their own beliefs. They scorn democracy as an offense against Islam.

There are claims that the Taliban was overthrown with the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. If they were overthrown, they surely were not defeated. They retreated to Pakistani border enclaves where they regrouped. Today, they are again present in too much of Afghanistan, and they enjoy virtual immunity from law and authority in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Many of us in America do not understand what drives the Islamic militants. We cannot comprehend the deep-seated hatred of our way of life by the militants and the myriad people they so easily influence. I wait for the day when we bring our brave men and women home from battlefields in far off lands, but I hope we do not mistakenly interpret progress as victory.

Col. Bill Friel,

USAF (Ret.)

Dayton, Ohio


I had to chuckle as I read the confession of faith by U. Stephen Antos in the January edition of Air Force Magazine’s letters to the editor [“On a Clear Day,” p. 7]. It could have been any of the letters that crossed my desk back in the days when I was responsible for responding to FOIA requests (demands?) for everything Offutt Air Force Base had on the existence of UFOs. I was in charge of the cats and dogs appended to the 3902nd Air Base Wing. Being one of the few rated officers in the wing, I had the job of responding to sonic boom complaints, jet noise complaints in general, lawyers demanding to speak to aircrews who had flown sorties years in the past—and UFO FOIA requests, among other things. Of course, the real Air Force doesn’t now bother itself with collecting data on UFOs, let alone archiving it on any number of bases. My response to UFO data requests was a piece of boilerplate that the legal office had developed that explained that we had no such data and that they should go bark up some other tree I have long since forgotten the name of.

Like Antos, the UFO FOIA requests were more confessions of faith and an unwavering willingness to believe every crackpot story that has ever been printed in any number of entertainment magazines. There is a term for that kind of faith: blind gullibility. There are some people who are quite willing to believe only what they want to believe. I had an aunt with that tendency; not surprisingly, she claimed to have seen a UFO.

I am a disbeliever. I was a rated navigator from 1961 to 1985; during that time I logged almost 5,000 flying hours over parts of Earth that ranged from the tropical Pacific Ocean to the ice-covered Arctic Ocean—and lots of places in between. I flew in all kinds of weather, both day and night. I have seen lots of phenomena that caused me, on first glance, to ask myself, “What the hell is that?” In every case, after some time making careful observations, I was able to identify the sometimes very strange sights that appear in the sky. I have seen the spectacularly spooky sight of what turned out to be a blood-red moon, in eclipse, peeping over the horizon between Guam and Wake Island; it took several minutes to convince two pilots that the sight out ahead of them really was a rising moon. I am also an amateur astronomer and have been for about 50 years. Nowadays, I do astronomy the way the ancient Babylonians did it, but I have more than passing familiarity with the sky, both day and night.

In half a century of looking at the sky from a wide variety of places with a wide variety of vantage points, I have never seen anything I couldn’t ultimately identify. People who believe in UFOs want to believe in UFOs.

Gerald P. Hanner

Papillion, Neb.

Eyes In the Back Of Your Head

Thanks for a great article about B-52 gunners [“The B-52 Gunners,” January, p. 64]. I have a special appreciation for gunners, and SSgt. Sam Turner in particular, since I was the aircraft commander of Sam’s aircraft (Brown 3, B-52D, 56-0676) on Dec. 18, 1972, when he shot down a MiG-21 over North Vietnam.

Our crew (McCoy E-09) was the No. 1 spare for the launch, but ended up taking off when the last aircraft in the stream aborted on the runway at U Tapao with a fuel leak. It has been almost 40 years since that night when two enemy aircraft came up behind our formation, but I still remember the aircraft shaking when the guns were fired, and Sam’s voice (about two octaves higher than normal) when he transmitted over the interphone and said, “I think I hit him!” I quickly looked out the pilot’s window and saw the reflection of the explosion under the left wing.

The crew was truly thankful for Sam’s timely action. We were also appreciative of his pair of eyes in the back of the aircraft on other missions when he pointed out and tracked surface-to-air missiles launched in our direction.

Turner took care of his crew just like hundreds of other B-52 gunners had done over the years. An unofficial duty of the gunners, especially the more experienced ones, was the “care and feeding” of young crew members. When I was a second lieutenant, someone gave me some great advice: “Find a good NCO and learn everything you can from them.” They were absolutely correct. Staff Sergeant Turner is no longer with us, but his accomplishments and those of all the other gunners who took care of their crews will long be remembered. MiG Killer One, 56-0676, still proudly serves as a display aircraft at Fairchild AFB, Wash.

Col. Nick Whipple,

USAF (Ret.)

New Port Richey, Fla.

I am writing in regard to Peter Grier’s interesting article on the B-52 tail gunners. There are a couple of minor errors that I would not mention had the aircraft not gotten so old that many of the troops—even the old ones—have never seen a B-52, other than the H models now flying. Even then, the gunners are long gone now.

I have been out of the Air Force for 50 years this May. I was in maintenance on them and the B-47 when the BUFF first came out. I then flew as a gunner for several years.

The B-52, through the B model, had the A3A gunnery system. It had two electronic primer 20 mm cannons. It did not have an optical sight. It did have the capability to lock on to two targets at one time. The rest of them, to the G, had one-to-one optics—search and track radars. The G had basically the same system, except it had a closed circuit TV that showed the optics and CRT. The H was in a different world altogether, with a Gatling gun similar to the B-58 Hustler. When I left the military 50 years ago, the gunnery chief gave the mandatory briefing, advising me that I was to say nothing about the B-52 for 12 years. He then chuckled, saying, “Of course, it won’t be around then, anyway.”

Gary L. Holtman

Columbus, Miss.