Ask not what your country can for you. . . . Ask what you do for your country.”
At the time of his inaugural, of course, President Kennedy could not have known all that the months ahead would hold. He had not yet been to Vienna. Berlin’s status quo obtained. Laos was a far-off land whose name we all had trouble pronouncing.
Exactlyhow many Americans have asked themselves the question posed by the President last January is beyond speculation. But these past few months more than 27,000 Air National Guardsmen and Air Force Reservists (along with their compatriots in the Army and Navy) have met the challenge by leaving their civilian occupations for mobilization in the interest of preserving world peace. Many of these men were being called for the third time in twenty years. Some formed “41-51-61 Clubs.”
Yet, this time things were different. These men were being called not for hot war but to beef up Uncle Sam’s tactical and airlift strength—to fulfill an obligation that called not only for fighting if war developed but first to deter war by their presence as “in-being” forces at home and overseas.
Any examination of the timetable the units followed underlines the tremendous task the Reserve Forces faced on recall. With tension mounting over Berlin, units were alerted in August for “possible recall.” In September, thirty-four units —thirty-three flying units and a tactical control group—were ordered to report for active duty on October 1.
Thus, on that day, eighteen tactical fighter squadrons, four tactical reconnaissance squadrons, six C-97 air transport squadrons, and one tactical control group, plus their supporting elements, were activated from the Air Guard, and five C-124 troop carrier squadrons were recalled from the Air Force Reserve.
Three ANG F-104 fighter-interceptor units—from Knoxville, Tenn., Phoenix, Ariz., and McEntire (then Congaree) Air National Guard Base, S. C., joined the force a month later, and a few days afterward their sixty planes were airlifted to Europe in the bays of C-124 Globemasters.
The tac fighter units included the 101st, Boston, Mass.; 131st, Westfield, Mass.; and the 138th from Syracuse, N. Y., all flying the F-86H Sabre. Units with the F-84F Thunderstreak included the 119th, Atlantic City, N. J.; 141st, McGuire AFB, N. J.; 149th, Richmond, Va.; 162d, Springfield, Ohio; 164th, Mansfield, Ohio; 166th, Lockbourne AFB, Ohio; 112th, Toledo, Ohio; 113th, Terre Haute, Ind.; 163d, Fort Wayne, Ind.; 110th, St. Louis, Mo.; 169th, Peoria, Ill.; and the 170th, Springfield, Ill.
The F-100 Supersabre units included the 120th, Denver, Cob.; 121st, Andrews AFB, D. C.; and the 136th, Niagara Falls, N. Y.
The RF-84F Thunderflash squadrons were the 106th, Birmingham, Ala.; 153d, Meridian, Miss.; 160th, Montgomery, Ala.; and the 184th, Fort Smith, Ark.
The C-97 Stratofreighter squadrons included the 109th, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn.; 133d, Manchester, N. H.; 139th, Schenectady, N. Y.; and the 115th and 195th, Van Nuys, Calif.; and the 125th, Tulsa, Okla.
The tactical control group was the 152d T-C Group, Roslyn, L. I., N. Y., which included units from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island.
The Air Force Reserve units included the 78th Troop Carrier Squadron from Barksdale AFB, La.; and the 303d and 304th, Richards-Gebaur AFB, Mo.; 305th, Tinker AFB, Okla.; and the 77th, Donaldson AFB, S. C. All of the Air Force Reserve units were recently equipped with Globemasters.
Together, they represented a lot of men. And the mobilization of the men meant mobilization of families. Not only the men but their wives and children, too, stood in line for identification cards, photographs, and fingerprints. There was a mad hassle to find birth certificates. Marriage licenses had to be dug out of attics and college degrees from cedar chests. There seemed to be no end to the number of forms that had to be completed.
Most bases did not have adequate housing facilities. Many had no BOQs or enlisted men’s barracks at all. That meant hotel and motel rooms had to be mustered for the “out-of-towners.” Mess halls that had operated on a one-week-end-a-month schedule suddenly were pressed into seven-day-a-week service.
Legal problems multiplied the complexities. Wills, powers of attorney, and other documents had to be executed. Mortgage payments for families suffering drastic salary cuts had to be eased. Allotments had to be made.
Families unfamiliar with government-sponsored moves suddenly became experts. And most of the wives, though accustomed to lonely weekends, found their husbands’ new schedules much more demanding than before.
Although most pilots were already combat ready, they found new demands on their skills—on the bombing ranges, in rocketry, and in gunnery. They flew long-range navigational missions and practical cruise control. The aircrews were immersed in intelligence briefings, survival training, and lectures on air-ground operations. Men from the Air Force Survival School at Stead AFB, Nev., and from TAC’s Air-Ground Operations School at Keesler AFB, Miss., visited almost every mobilized unit. Pilots slated for the deployment not only had to be fitted with rubberized antiexposure suits but also had to leap awkwardly into swimming pools to make sure that the suits didn’t leak.
In addition, the maintenance crews in the Guard had to remove Guard insignia and replace them with “U.S. Air Force.” The big antibuzzing tail numbers had to be replaced with smaller combat-type numerals. TAC’s lightning-struck shield went on the tails. Pilots scrolled their names beside the cockpits, and Flying Eight Ball and other personalized designs were painted on the fuselages. Later, the mottoes and insignia had to be removed. That, someone pointed out, was the way it was done last time.
Units got acquainted with flyaway kits. The squadrons had to be packed, ready to go on a moment’s notice. Obtaining the necessary supplies for the kits wasn’t easy, but somehow, some way, and from somewhere the supply officers and noncoms dug them up.
Those poor supply folks! The Guard and Reserve clothing allotments were naturally far short of the demands for Regulars. The Reservists, for instance, might have been required to have only two sets of fatigues, while Regulars might need four. GI underwear, towels, and the like had never been stocked.
Medical personnel also were taxed. Everyone got physical and dental exams. Immunizations, of course, are as much a part of mobilization as putting on the uniform.
These were just some of the problems. But they underscore the multitude of obstacles the units faced.
The new units scheduled for deployment had the added responsibility of reactivating bases overseas. That’s something like playing a championship football game on two different fields.
“We had to take over bases overseas just eighteen days after we were recalled,” explained Brig. Gen. Donald Strait, Commander of the 108th Tactical Fighter Wing at McGuire AFB, N. J. He said it almost as though he himself could hardly believe they had done it.
“It was rough,” he admitted. “We had to provide billeting and messing facilities, establish base exchanges and servicemen’s clubs, and get a whole base in operation. No, it wasn’t easy. Of course, we didn’t have any furniture to speak of—it was still on the ships bringing it over. And we didn’t have any vehicles.
“Remember,” he added, we were doing all this, processing our men and their dependents, and flying our heads off, too. In that month before the deployment, the squadron flew 500 hours. Normally you’d stand down and get ready for something like this, get the maintenance caught up. But we couldn’t operate that way because we had to fly all those new missions.
“That month we had thirteen engine changes—replacing older engines with later-model, more powerful ones. We had to install ’em, check ’em, and then test-fly ’em. And all that took a little time, too.”
While all this was going on, Air Force and TAC set about planning the deployment. “Operation Stair Step” they called the move. Gen. Walter C. Sweeney, Jr., the tall, hard-charging Commander of TAC, was handed the responsibility. General Sweeney insisted that perfection would be the rule. Fresh in his new post from an assignment as Commander of SAC’s crack Eighth Air Force, the General seemed to have his finger in every phase of the operation. He worked around the clock doing it, the personification of a “take-command” fellow taking command. That included such items as checking one night on billeting arrangements for a group of incoming pilots, all lieutenants and captains, who were to ferry the T-33s across the pond. Such interest in the welfare of his men did more than anything else, perhaps, to guarantee a successful deployment.
Midnight oil was common at TAC Headquarters at Langley. Flight plans grew. Because the Air Guard had no in-flight refueling training—or on some aircraft not even the capability—the planes would have to island-hop across the Atlantic. That meant the F-86Hs and T-33s would take the northern route, through Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland. The F-84Fs and RF-84Fs would take the Newfoundland-Azores-Spain route.
No RF-84Fs had flown the Atlantic before. Thus the Air Guardsmen became pioneers. Nor had but a handful of the Guard pilots flown across any ocean before.
But by the time the planes started across, the loose ends were as coordinated as a well practiced chorus line. The top-priority deployment had the support of many commands. The Navy and Coast Guard had ocean station vessels along the routes. Air Rescue Service, manned mostly by Air Force Reservists called to temporary active duty to take part in the operation, provided “duckbutt” support with rescue aircraft. ADC’s vast radar network, plus its RC-121s, played a key role in guiding the fighters over the Arctic route. SAC gave KC-135 tankers to the operation generously. The tankers were being used mostly for communication relay, rather than as aerial gas stations. But, in an emergency, they might come in handy. And so they did! MATS worked overtime, too, carrying supplies and personnel to the staging bases and the “bed-down” airfields overseas where the units would be stationed. Air Weather Service exercised their WB-50s, providing up-to-the-minute weather over all routes.
Lt. Col. Sam Burgess, chief of TAG’s command post and a veteran of many years in directing overseas movements, hand-picked movement-control-team (MCT) leaders who would be stationed at the staging bases along the various routes. Maj. Robert Tulk from McClellan AFB, Calif., was his choice to lead the team at Lajes in the Azores. Tulk had been at Lajes for three years and was well aware of the problems.
At Goose Bay, Labrador, Lt. Col. Bill Murray, from Cannon AFB, N. M., was team chief. He, too, was a veteran of three years’ previous service at the post. At Sondrestrom, Greenland, Maj. Lynwood Cook, from Langley, headed the team. He had four years’ past duty in that neck of the woods. These men, in turn, chose experts in weather, maintenance, supply, and other categories to fill out the teams. As teams, they were responsible for preparing for the incoming planes, refueling them, taking care of the crews, providing maintenance, if required, briefing the aircrews, and launching them.
TAC’s aerial command post, a C-135 equipped with a bundle of radio equipment, also took part in the operation. General Sweeney was aboard during two days of the movement.
TAC F-84F, RF-84F, and F-86H fighter pilots from reactivated Guard squadrons not making the deployment were also aboard the command post and KC-135s. These men, carrying their Dash Ones, computers, and anything else they thought they might need, would be in a position to offer advice to their fighter jock buddies in an emergency. This writer, for instance, was the F-84F representative aboard a KC-135 out of Griffiss under the command of Capt. Len Sheffer, aboard was an RF-84F representative, Maj. George (Buck) Thrailkill of the 153d Tac Recce Squadron at Meridian, Miss. Qualified F-86H drivers were aboard the tankers along the northern route. And other qualified representatives held down slots on the teams at TAC’s ground command post at Langley, which closely monitored the crossings.
The Guard units started their exodus October 27. The F-84Fs and RF-84Fs moved to McGuire. The F-86Hs and T-33s went to Loring AFB, Me. From McGuire the ’84Fs moved on to Harmon in Newfoundland. The RFs went to the Naval Air Station at Argentia. The ’86Hs and T-Birds moved to Goose Bay.
Because of good weather, the ’86Hs began their crossing two days ahead of schedule, starting off on their 874-nautical-mile trip to Sondrestrom October 30. The T-Birds followed on November 1. The ’84Fs and RFs began their long flights to the Azores on schedule November 1. For both these planes, the trip represented a challenge in endurance. The ’84Fs’ route was 1,481 nautical miles, a distance that demanded a fifteen-knot tailwind if they were to reach Lajes with a comfortable margin of fuel. The same demands rested on the RFs, which had nearly 1,300 miles to drive between Argentia and Lajes, and which hold about 400 fewer pounds of fuel than their sister F-84Fs.
Weather for the flights was poor in many cases, but well within, established minimums. When General Strait led his F-84Fs from the 141st into Harmon, they split up into two-ship elements and made GCA landings through a 1,400-foot-overcast in light rain. On November 1, the unit had to take off with low overcast and rain.
Because of the long distance to be flown, the ’84Fs were towed to the end of the runway for starting. The planes were tilted so fuel could be “packed” into the forward sections of the pylon tanks. Under normal refueling, the tanks don’t get quite filled.
“We got about 500 pounds of extra fuel that way,” Strait explained.
He admits, of course, that the extra weight penalty (about seventy-one gallons) made the takeoff a little “hairy.”
“‘We had an 8,200-foot takeoff roll,” he said, “a wet runway, and no barriers.”
But this was still within the safety margins established and observed throughout the flights.
The Harmon runway is 10,000 feet long, eighty feet higher at one end than the other. Just beyond the runway—hills.
At Lajes, the planes sneaked in under a 1,000-foot ceiling from a clear area seaward. Partly because the RFs were low on fuel the controllers started straight-in descents when the flights were seventy miles out. It worked so well with the RFs at the ’84Fs followed suit.
At Moron in Spain, the pilots had a comparatively easy descent through a 7,000-foot overcast. But at their new home at Chaumont, France, they had to crack a lower ceiling in heavy rain. But these ex-civilians breezed right in.
As for his men, General Strait had this to say:
“Those guys were just terrific. And if anyone wants to talk about readiness, this is about the greatest example ever demonstrated.”
Drama marked some of the crossings.
As Capt. John F. Leahy, of the 110th Tac Fighter Squadron of St. Louis, moved to stow some maps beside his seat some 119 miles out of Lajes, the bulky sleeve of his antiexposure suit activated his emergency fuel switch. His engine flamed out. Quickly, he moved to pickle off his 450-gallon fuel tanks to stretch his glide. Only one dropped. He was all over the cockpit before he finally got the other one free. As he passed through 25,000 feet, he tried to restart the engine. No luck. He tried again. Another failure. Uneasy thoughts about sharks began to creep into his mind. He tried again. And again. Finally, at 10,000, the engine—on the sixth try—boomed to life. It was close. But with his engine running again, he climbed back to 25,000 and flew into Lajes with no more difficulty.
Col. Ervin H. Bucher and Lt. Verlin K. Egley of the 122d Tac Fighter Wing at Fort Wayne, Ind., had an interesting trip, too. Trapped by headwinds and unable to pick up their overwater checkpoints by radio, they chose to attempt an aerial refueling from one of the KC-135s between Harmon and Lajes. Neither pilot had been close enough to a tanker before even to read the tail numbers, much less try an aerial refueling. But they needed fuel. So the two “amateurs” latched onto a tanker. And they stayed on, too, and got enough fuel for Lajes.
The success of the deployment is a story written by thousands of individuals, from four-star generals down. When the Air Guardsmen were bedded down at Etain, Chambley, Chaumont, Phalsbourg, Toul-Rossiers, and Dreux in France, and at Bitburg and Hahn in Germany, they could rest assured they had played a leading role in a difficult deployment. But they were equally certain that they could not have performed so well without the cooperative and hard-working supporting cast.
The deployment represents one of the most challenging yet spectacularly successful tests in the Air Guard’s fifteen-year history. In Korea, seven months passed before the Guard’s 136th Fighter-Bomber Wing went overseas. Now, however, only twenty-seven days went by before the North American F86Hs, Republic RF-84Fs and F-84-Fs, plus a handful of Lockheed T-33s, were on their way.
And the Air Guard’s three F-104 squadrons, activated November 1, went through a transition almost as supersonic as their airplanes. Previously assigned to the Air Defense Command, they suddenly were reassigned to TAC and on their way overseas a scant ten days after activation. They did it only by riding the Mach all the way.
The main force of planes in the deployment began leaving their home bases on October 27. Twelve days later, all 218 planes that had started the trek were at their new bases overseas. All but a half dozen were there in nine days. These six were delayed at Lajes for parts that had to be flown from the States. But all got there, not one plane or pilot lost, not one left behind. And the entire deployment was made without a single accident!
The performance was strong confirmation of what Air Force leaders had been saying right along about the Guard’s readiness. After the move, Air Force Secretary Eugene Zuckert said, “The manner in which the deployment was conducted so soon after recall could only be the result of sustained superior performance. It is my desire that every man. . . know of the pride the whole Air Force feels in this accomplishment which reflects the high standards set and maintained in Air National Guard training.”
For his part, Gen. Curtis E. Le-May, Air Force Chief of Staff, emphasized that the deployment “required the utmost in leadership, planning, and cooperation on the part of the units and personnel involved.”
“All obstacles,” he said, “were overcome by ingenuity and determination in spite of the extremely short preparation time available. The end result of the safe and expeditious arrival of the fighters should be a source of great pride to all who had a part in the operation. I wish to offer my congratulations for the outstanding manner in which this difficult and vitally important task was successfully accomplished.”
However, no one accepted the success with complacency. A special report was ordered by Hq. USAF to pinpoint problems that cropped up in the recall and deployment and to document the lessons. There were many. Significantly, the 1961 recall showed great improvement over the 1951 mobilization for Korea. Then, some 45.000 Air Guardsmen were mobilized, more than twice the 22,000 called this go-around.
More than 54,000 Air Force Reservists answered the call for Korea compared with some 5,000 initially ordered to duty in 1961.
Air Force leaders concede that the problems last October and November were proportionately fewer and less staggering than they were in Korea.
“We’ve come a long way,” explained Maj. Gen. Chester E. McCarty, newly designated Assistant Chief of Staff for Reserve Forces. General McCarty, incidentally, is a Reservist himself. He has remained on active duty since his recall in Korea.
“Our forces are better trained now. They are much better equipped,” he said.
One of the major factors contributing to the improvement, he feels, has been the “gaining-command concept,” in which the command to assume control of activated units on mobilization is made responsible for inspection and training of those units in their Reserve status. This concept became effective in 1960.
In 1951, General McCarty explained, the gaining commands had no idea of the capabilities of the forces they adopted in the recall. Considerable time was wasted finding out. But this time the commands knew where these forces stood.
In comparison with Korea, the recent recall went smoothly, the General said. “We had very few hardship cases. Oddly enough, the inquiries on how a person could get on standby status came not from the men themselves, but from sympathetic employers, neighbors, and friends.”
While some of the Guard units lost up to ten percent of their personnel for hardship reasons, lack of skills, and the like in Korea, less than one percent of the 1961 total was similarly released, according to Maj. Gen. Winston P. Wilson, Deputy Chief of the National Guard Bureau and the number-one Air Guardsman.
One weakness that did show up in the recall, General Wilson felt, was the “lack of adequate planning for mobilization under circumstances other than general war.” There just were no plans, he said, for the situation that developed. “And the basic plans for utilization of Reserve Forces have got to be changed to allow for other than general war.”
This can be accomplished, he believes, through more flexible unit manning documents (UMDs) which define the organization and mission of a unit. As an example, he said that because of the lack of flexibility in the UMDs of the Guard’s F-104 units, men were called to active duty only to be separated from their squadron when part of the personnel went overseas. The separation of the men from their units was the last thing Air Guard officers wanted to happen, he said.
“What we have to do,” General Wilson went on, is to make these UMDs flexible enough so that we can call only people we need.”
With that flexibility squadrons could be called without necessarily activating the wing headquarters, or pilots and maintenance crews could be recalled without forcing the air base units into activitation. Under such a plan, he said, the recall could be tailored more closely to the demands of the situation.
• Units were not equipped adequately for rapid deployment. Flyaway kits were not ready to go, and supplies for the kits ran as low as fifty percent in some units.
• Fighter units had only limited aerial refueling experience.
• Administrative error in selecting individual Reservists for recall as “fillers” caused some personnel to be pulled from Reserve units not activated to “fill” vacancies in both Reserve and Guard squadrons called to duty.
• Too critical a time limit was placed on the Reserve Records Center to get the people to the units by the time they were called up. Because the Center’s operations had been geared to a general-war mobilization, it could more easily have called up 30,000 men than 3,000.
In addition, the instability of the UMDs left the Records Center filling vacancies in some cases only to find that the vacancy no longer existed because of a change in the UMD.
One of the basic problems cited by Air Force officials was that Reserve Forces units were not permitted to have 100 percent of manpower on board. Under a limitation established by the Department of Defense in 1957, a ceiling of the number of drill-pay positions in the Reserve Forces reduced manning of the units to ninety percent of their authorized strength.
Since that time, the ceiling has remained while requirements have increased. As a result, the units found that while they had ninety percent manning in 1957, they only about eighty percent in 1961.
Thus, when the forces were called upon to move so quickly, they were handicapped because of personnel shortages brought on by limitations placed on the peacetime strength of the Reserve Forces.
As mentioned earlier, the Air Force is documenting all “lessons learned” in the recall of the Reserve Forces and the deployment of the Guard units. Already action is well under way to improve these situations if more of the Reserve Forces should be needed to maintain the peace.
At the same time the President ordered the mobilization of the Reserve Forces, he raised the troop ceiling of the Air Force on a continuing basis. Personnel people in Hq. USAF have launched an all-out campaign to attract 2,000 qualified Reserve officers for extended active duty to take the place of the Guard and Reserve officers upon their release later this year. Being sought are career-minded lieutenants, captains, and a few majors who have college degrees and are willing to return, if rated, in a nonflying status. Recall for accepted volunteers is available immediately. The numerical requirements are so great that consideration is being given to all career fields. Applications may be made to the Air Reserve Records Center, 3800 York St., Denver 5, Colo.
The author, Major Elliott, is a tactical fighter pilot with the 149th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Byrd Field, Va. Until his recall to active duty last October 1, he was a military writer with the Norfolk, Va., Ledger-Star. A veteran of World War II and a newsman for more than ten years, he attended the University of Denver and holds an M.S. degree from the Columbia Univ. Graduate School of Journalism.