November, 2002 Newsletter - Section II

By Darr King (63-64)

As a former ELINTer and one who spent his first assignment out of tech school at the 12th, Berliner Phil asked me to pen something regarding the “Life of an ELINT Person” for the Berlin Island Association newsletter.  I agreed.  I wrote the assignment on my calendar of things to do…then promptly misplaced the calendar.  Phil emailed me today  (8 November) and reminded me I was facing a deadline (14 November, in time to make a 15 November newsletter publication).  I have no idea where to begin…except at the beginning…nor what to say that would be interesting enough to add to a “newsletter.”  So bear with me…and I hope this fits the assignment.

My first recollection of the career field was at the infamous Green Monster at Lackland (Flt 448, 3706 BMTS…March 1962).  I was still in a state of shock, standing in line (TI always said…”Git yer a _ _ in line…don’t matter what the line’s for…you see a line, just git yer a _ _ in it!”)  I was standing there rubbin’ my shaved head and feeling like I’d been snatched through a knothole backwards…when I heard “KING”…in a booming voice.  That wasn’t unusual…every voice on Lackland was booming.  Saw a finger in the air above a crew cut, fingering me in his direction.  The guy had three stripes on his arm…I knew he wasn’t God…SSGT Richard Chandick, my TI, was God…but this guy certainly must sit at the right hand of God.  Three stripes said I had pretty good AQE scores, that is in all but electronics…only made a 20 in electronics.  Made a 95 in mechanical.  Three stripes said…”You like mechanics, huh?”  I said in my best wussie booming voice…”YES SIR!”  He said…”Great!  Yer goin’ to electronics school and yer gonna be an EIO, Electronics Intercept Operator; AFSC 292X0 (?)!  Any questions?”  I said…”Uh…”  Three stripes said…”Shut up and git yer a _ _ back in line!”   I became an ELINTer.

I bussed outta Lackland at oh-dark thirty, on a Greyhound headed for Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi.  Some call Keelser the armpit of the universe.  I thought it was pretty nice, actually…hot, humid, marched around on crushed oyster shells.  By the time the bus left Lackland and pulled on to Highway 90 East, I was sound asleep.  Next thing I knew…we were at Keesler…somebody in the front of the bus, in a booming voice…was boomin’…”Git yer a _ _ off this bus and git in line!”  MAN!  I’m thinkin’…”Where the heck is this REAL Air Force everybody keeps talkin’ about?”

Since I arrived at Keesler some ten days before my class start date, I was assigned to “academic KP!”  I’m soon to be 62 years old and I STILL don’t understand what’s “academic” about KP.  It meant getting up at 0300…staggerin’ down to the chow hall and working all day.  We finished around 1800; staggered back to the squadron (3403rd); collapsed…only to wake at 0300 and do it all over again.

Finally the big day came to start school…”A” shift…getting up at 0300…still!  We were to be the first class of EIOs to go through the long course…meaning we would get 10-12 (?) weeks of basic electronics (BED) followed by about the same number of weeks of the practical application (SET’s) of the AFSC.  Classes ahead of us didn’t get the basic electronic portion…they went straight to SET’s.  I have no idea what the thought process was that caused the adjustment…what I DID know was that after the longer course, we would graduate with two stripes (Airman Second Class) and go on to our assignment as an A2C…whereas those before us graduated with one stripe (Airman Third Class) and showed-up at their assignment as an A3C.  I remember arriving in Berlin and our two stripes getting stares from those who had been there for a while and were still wearing only one.  It didn’t matter…we were JEEPS, no matter how many stripes we had!  As I recall our schooling in BED consisted of principles of electronics, AC/DC/series and parallel circuits, antennas, transmission lines, receivers, etc.  I had a heck of a time getting through BED…had to repeat at least two of the blocks…spent the entire time in after-class study hall.  After finally getting through that…with a lot of help from a lot of close and caring classmates…I got into SET’s and had a better aptitude for listening to signals, signal recognition, using ancillary equipment, etc.  One of the principle receivers, as I remember, was an R-390.   After leaving Keelser I don’t recall ever seeing one again.

During SET’s our class of first termers was joined by a group of re-treads…older guys with rank who were retraining for one reason or other.  Made for an interesting mix.  I’ll never forget the day we finally got our assignment orders.  All the first termers got assignments like Berlin and Wakannai.  The retreads got assignments like Shemya, Trabzon, Samsun, etc.  You shoulda heard the moanin’ and groanin’!  One of the retreads was a standout however, so I gotta mention his name…Jackie D. Foster!  I’ll never forget him.  He’d brought his family to Biloxi…had the entire class of first termers out to his little rent house for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I’ve bumped into him once in all these years…at the Ft Sam Houston commissary here in San Antonio a few years ago.  Recognized him immediately…he was surprised!  We hugged, and grinned, and talked for an hour or so…got a little misty eyed.  He was just passin’ through town and stopped for snacks.  Some guys you meet during your military career you just never forget…Jackie D. Foster is one, of many, for me.

After graduation, a few weeks at home…we finally left for our mysterious assignment “Behind the Iron Curtain!”  In those days it was considered a security violation to associate place name with APO.  Family and friends at home only knew I was goin’ to Europe.  After arriving in Berlin, and only after being inbriefed by Col Hugh McCall and First Sergeant “Sleepy Mac” MacCrossin (sp)…did I write home and let the family know where I was.  Sleepy Mac said it would be okay.  Can’t remember how we were assigned to a particular trick…but Richard E. Smith (who I had buddied-up with during the last few weeks at Keelser) and I wound-up on Baker Trick.  The veteran ELINTer’s Steve Zercher, Larry Rhode, and Richard Selsdorf met us after the inbrief.  We were handed an extended sheet of tractor fed six ply that was to be our schedule from that day forward…all the way to DEROS.  The shift began with and consisted of three swings/off a day, three mids/off a day, three days/off three days…three-one, three-one, three-three.  Smitty and I reported for our first swing, were escorted through the ops area on the sixth floor of head-building east, all the way back to the infamous “Blue Room.”  As I recall there were four, maybe five separate intercept positions, located sort of in the back of the room…just inside the entry door and along the right side was the ancillary equipment; recorders, cameras, etc.  Seems to me the prize position was one of the “D” positions.  Intercepts of airborne activity...meant working with the “pit” and tying everything in with the voice controllers.  The most exciting of activity being that associated with new generation aircraft.

Then came introductions to the NCOIC, then SSgt Hank Miller...followed by one of the nicest guys in the world, SSgt Oliver N. Mueller.  Seems to me Hank was pretty close to rotating…didn’t spend a lot of time with him as I recall.  Most memorable…and his leadership stayed with me through my entire career…was Walter J. Mercer, Assistant NCOIC.  I never forgot Walt.  I can’t count the number of very long mid shifts Walt would spend sitting sidesaddle and talking with the jeeps.  And his conversation wasn’t always about signals intelligence.  One night he asked me…”Where do you wanna be a year from now…two years from now?  What are your plans for continued service?”  No one had asked those questions till then.  Kinda got me thinking.  I have no reservations telling anyone, Walter J. Mercer probably had the most influence on my decision to stay with the AF.

During those brief years in Berlin…and as an ELINTer…I encountered some very exciting situations…came to a realization, this was serious business.  Shoot-downs of the T-39 and RB-66; the Polish pilot defector who flew a trainer right into the Templehof air field…and he had his family onboard; any number of forward area penetrations of new generation aircraft deployments; discovery of new and sophisticated surface to air missile systems…and on and on!  Then there were guys like Bob Holmes, Ron Davey, Willie Peer, Bill LaChance, Gary Anderson, even Phil Adams, and a host of others who made the assignment textbook perfect.  Anybody remember a guy named Barnes who worked in communications?  Ever try to keep up with him while runnin’ the strasse?  How ‘bout a guy named Viceroy (pronounced VIKER-ROY)…who had more bullsh_ _t stories and jokes than any stand-up comedian.  Walt wouldn’t let him hangout in the Blue Room more than a few minutes…we couldn’t get anything done while he was around.  It would be difficult to point out a shift of duty where SOMETHING didn’t happen.  Oh yeah…there were mids where it was tough goin’ just to hold your head up.  For me, it took a few weeks to understand the mission.  But Walt and Doug Bichon put it in perspective pretty quick.  They explained the coordination between our mission, voice controllers, and the “pit.”  I don’t think there was another ground site in the entire command that had that kind of package.

All good things come to an end.  I rotated just before Thanksgiving in 1964…was reassigned to Det 1, AFSCC, Brooks AFB, here in San Antonio.  Not much of a mission at all.  We were deployed to Hurlburt Field in Florida a few times…had a couple ELINT intercept vans we’d set-up on Santa Rosa Island and wait for Eglin aircraft to penetrate coastal radar nets.  Kinda boring after Berlin.  Tim Snook and I spent most of our time water skiing and lighting-up hunks of solid propellant we found on the beach that came from Bomarc (sp) missiles fired at drones.  Man…that stuff really burns!  Brooks was more of a holding unit between overseas assignments…there was no place for an ELINTer in the states.  Think there were a couple ranking positions at Security Service Headquarters…but who in the world would want one of those?  One afternoon a message came from one of those staff weenies wanting to know if there was an ELINTer or two who wanted to fly with the airborne communications reconnaissance program (ACRP).  I jumped at it.  In short order I passed a flying physical, went through aircrew survival school at Stead AFB, physiological training, and was soon on my way to Yokota AB, Japan and to the 6988th Security Squadron.  Went through sea survival school at Numazu then jungle survival at Clark.  We flew ten hour missions on C-130-Bs.  As an ELINTer our mission was pretty much the same as it was at ground sites.  Big difference of course was that the intercept platform was moving.  Most of my time in Japan was spent being somewhere else.  Between Southeast Asia, Okinawa, and Korea I didn’t see much of Japan.  After three years of that…I rotated to Homestead AFB…flew on a rickety old C-130-A with a wonderful bunch of Spanish lingies.  That’s a whole ‘nuther story in itself.  And, oh by the way…while in the Fareast …I spent a lot time flying with none other than Hank Miller.  Got to know Hank reasonably well…found out he was one heck of fine guy…intensely dedicated…loved his duty.  Wonder what ever happened to Ol’ Hank?  My time at Homestead was just about a year…a little less actually.  Reassigned to Eielson AFB, in Fairbanks, 6985th Security Squadron, in December 1969.  Flew RC-135s for three and half year’s…lot of TDY to England (great duty, by the way!).  Reassigned to the Headquarters in San Antonio in May ’73…Airborne Stan/Eval Team…three years of always being somewhere else…but great duty, none-the-less.

Then the ELINT business suddenly wasn’t as attractive as it once had been.  It occurred to me the REAL ELINT mission was back in Berlin…on top of a rubble dump outside the city.  I should have spent some time in personnel and tried to get myself back there.  Instead an opportunity arose to retrain to the first sergeant career field.  After nearly 12 years and just over six thousand flying hours…I simply got bored.  I took the retraining opportunity…never spent another boring day, or night, after that.  My ELINT days were over.

So that’s it…not much about the “Life of an ELINT Man.”  Berlin was, indeed the premier assignment for the ELINT business.  There was none better.  The assignment to one of the most international cities in the world was a “coming-of-age” tour for most of us 18-25 year old kids…especially for those of us from “rural America.”  That time in Berlin was probably the best two years out of my 26 years, one month, and five days with the Air Force.  I haven’t forgotten a single day of it…and cherish every one of them.

© 2002, The Berlin Island Association

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