I’m not surprised that the U.S. Air Force has picked a black general to be its next Chief of Staff, or a Hawaii-native chief master sergeant as the first female top enlisted person.

I was in the Air Force in the late 50s and it always was a step ahead of the Army, Navy and Marines in doing things the other didn’t. More like the Coast Guard.

We had very racially mixed squadrons. We weren’t big on saluting. I was told that’s because a pilot who depends on an enlisted person to keep his plane in flying condition doesn’t want that person to have any inferiority grievances.

In basic training, we only did “dry firing” of the .30 caliber carbine from the prone position on the floor of our barracks. Nobody inspected our beds for tight sheets or foot lockers for neatness. If we didn’t want to do phy-ed we could roller skate at the Lackland base rollerdome, which was owned by the base commander.

We didn’t have many women yet. In fact, I never saw even one in my 501st Tactical Air Wing in Germany or my tech school in Biloxi, Miss..

Now JoAnne Bass of Mililani is the Chief Master Sergeant of our entire Air Force. The person who advises the top general on matters affecting enlisted people.

I never got beyond airman first class. You couldn’t make sergeant those days unless you had four years in service. I only did three.

My first assignment was in the U-2 spy plane radar-following team at Giebelstadt Air Base in Germany. That’s now an Army airfield and the hangar below was where we housed the super-secret U-2 with civilian armed guards.

From there, I moved to what was called a “Miscue” (MSQ-1) site in a farmer’s field in Mausdorf, Germany. F-100 jets had no satellite GPS in those days. So if war with the Soviets in East Germany broke out, we would direct the pilots via radar light-box signals  to his target with either conventional or nuclear bombs.

And finally a headquarters job at Ramstein AB, each morning logging in which places in East Germany got priority for a nuking if the balloon went up. I always felt bad for all the villagers who would die because their homes were near a Soviet tank encampment.

But we Air Forcers always ate well, had great living quarters with individual rooms, and very little of what’s termed the “chicken shit” regulations of military life.

We also were allowed to stay out beyond the Army’s curfew hour in nearby Nuremberg and Erlangen — which didn’t make the Army boys or Army MPs happy.

The Air Force always knew how to take care of its people.


Published by Bob Jones

Journalist since age 19. St. Petersburg Times, Noticias y Viajes in Madrid, Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt and Paris, the Louisville Courier- Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, KGMB-TV, NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Southeast Asia, and MidWeek columnist. LL.B LaSalle University Law. 3 years in the U.S. Air Force. Covered: Vietnam War, Iraq #1 in 1991. George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished journalism for reporting in China. Married to Denby Fawcett, one daughter. Brett Jones.

3 replies on “Into The Wild, Blue Yonder…”

  1. Didn’t serve because I was in med school but there was a USAF base 8 miles south of my hometown with about 200 airmen. Part of the DEW early warning radar of the Cold War. My dad, a GP, was their ‘staff surgeon’ 3 mornings a week. He always told me, son, if you join any branch make it the AF. When building a new bast they always build the officers’ club first!

  2. The radar looks much like the M-33 radar which we used to track planes in the mid-fifties when I was a battery commander of a 90 mm anti-aircraft battery in training at Fort Bliss, Texas.

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