I’m heading back where it really all began for Doctor Aviation: The United States Air Force Academy. USAFA Class of 1984 is gathering for a reunion. It will be #35
I wonder who I will see at the place where I first tasted of aviation. My T-41 ride during Basic Cadet Training. My T-43 ride as a 3 degree. Bob McDonald soloing me as a 2 degree in the glider. Then the Fall of 1983, when I first soloed…in the T-41 Mescalero.
I wonder if Phil will be there. Phil and I sat next to one another in statistics as 3 degrees, taught by one of the funniest captains I ever had. I don’t remember his name, but I remember that he had a “pocket rocket.” He told us that if you saw a missile you could get a pocket rocket. He also told us it was hard to type on a beach, a feat he apparently tried while getting his master’s degree.
Back to Phil, he, like me, went off to pilot training. He, like me, probably never expected to be at war. When we graduated on May 30, 1984 the only foreseeable foe was the USSR and that situation seemed to be at a relatively safe standoff. Yet, Phil and I and so many of our other classmates found ourselves as the bulk of the fighting Air Force in the First Gulf War. Phil flew one of the very first missions of Desert Storm. He ended up on the cover on the LA Times as his crew chief reached for his helmet after that first successful mission. It was one of the most satisfying smiles I ever saw.
I wonder if Arnie will be there. Arnie and I served as young lieutenants at Fairchild AFB. I was in the MIGHTY KC-135 while Arnie was in the BUFF. Arnie was already somewhat of a legend. He had done well in pilot training and requested an FB-111. He told the board that he wanted to “fly low and drop bombs”. Well they gave him his wish, but not in the plane he desired.
Arnie did not let it get him down or bitter. He set off to do his very best in the B-52. His talent and hard work were recognized by the 92nd Bomb Wing Deputy Commander for Operations: Colonel Leo “The DO” Turner. Turner tapped Arnie and set out to help make his star rise. It certainly did, Arnie recently pinned on his 4th Star as the head of Air Force Material Command – a well deserved honor I might add.
I wonder if Jeff will be there. We went to Reese together for pilot training. He in Class 85-06, me in Class 85-08. I bunked at this house for a few nights while I awaited my accommodations. Jeff was “Faiped” and flew T-38s for three years at Reese. He recovered from a horrific car accident and the Lord was gracious to allow him to earn back his flying status.
From there he went to A-10s at Myrtle Beach, a “cush” assignment, unless a war starts. Jeff had to get mission qualified before his commander would allow him to come and be in my wedding—he informed me on Monday. Jeff called on a Tuesday to say he was mission qualified and would be out. He called Wednesday to say he would not be out. His commander informed him he was “going to the sandbox”. The was slang for Saudi Arabia. It was August 1990; Desert Shield was underway.
The next time I saw Jeff was on World News Tonight with Peter Jennings. Jeff was flying wing for his squadron commander in the A-10. The squadron commander was featured as this was his second war, the first was in Vietnam, where he had been shot down. Thankfully Jeff came back safely. We talked it over at Christmas of 1991. “War is an ugly thing” he shared with me.
So, I return, I return to where it really began for this aviator. Back to see my friends and classmates, many of whom served this country nobly as the Class of 1984. The United States Air Force Academy. USAFA Class of 1984 is gathering for a reunion. It will be #35