Ron Strong

One of the NCOs on the school staff was Master Sargent Soulev Sepp. (I hope his name is spelled correctly.) He had escaped, at great risk from, one of the Baltic countries (Latvia) while it was under Soviet occupation. Sgt. Sepp was very anti-Soviet and had volunteered to go back to his homeland as part of an invasion force or as a guerilla if ever the Cold War were to become "Hot." After the course was over he told me that I was a "real warrior" because of the way I had handled the interrogations. This was the highest complement possible. It meant a great deal to me then and still does. I wonder if he has been able to return to his beloved homeland after the Soviet Union fell. I certainly hope so. He would have rejoiced greatly.

After Stead we again went back to our original duty stations and some mundane duty to pass the time until we were to go PCS (permanent change of station) to Offutt AFB which is just south of Omaha, Nebraska. Dave and I were assigned to work in the 376th Bomb Wing flight scheduling section until leaving in December of 1965. I'm sure Dunc must have had some equally enthralling job, too. While working in scheduling I met a Capt Bill Ernst who was an excellent KC-135A (an aerial tanker/transport) pilot and aircraft commander. Later, he was one of the pilots from Eielson that flew Lisa Ann from Shemya. A number of years later, as Colonel. Ernst, and as Chief of Recon Ops, an office in SAC's Reconnaissance Center, he assured me that I would not have to go to Shemya again as an Operations Officer. I returned in March 1981! This was, by far, the best tour of duty of all of my 23 years of Air Force assignments!

Dunc had some career broadening experiences while waiting, in addition to the 376th job. He went to the Army jump school for parachute training. Then he checked out in EB-57s at Stewart Field, New York and volunteered for all their undesirable TDYs, and logged about 100 flying hours in the process. Years later he went into the very high altitude RB-57G program. Even later Dunc went into the F-105 Wild Weasel electronic warfare operations in Viet Nam. There he was awarded the Purple Heart for combat wounds.

After the B-47s were phased out, before going to Greenville, and during these last few months we still had to fly in something to qualify for flight pay according to Air Force Regulations. It really didn't matter what we did while we were in the air. We just had to be airborne. Dave and I flew at least four hours a month on EC- and KC- 135s assigned to Lockbourne. In those days there were requirements for 2000 flying hours in seven years and 3000 hours in 15 years to remain on flying status and continue to draw flight pay. Because the B-47s were gone, and many of the crewmembers were also waiting for assignments, these -135s had lots of extra folks flying on them to accumulate the needed flying time. Most of the time was spent reading something. I read The Complete Sherlock Holmes and several other books. There was also time to watch the boom operators refuel B-47s and B-52s from the boom operator's pod which is in the bottom of the fuselage near the tail. Somewhere I still have some 8mm movie films of those refuelings.

At that time SAC had what was called the Mission Capable Supply (MCS) system, whereby squadrons and wings in SAC competed with each other to get points for on-time takeoffs, on-time landings, fuel offloads, etc. MCS drew a lot of attention and intense competition across the command. It was very prestigious to have the highest MCS score. On one flight the receiver, probably a B-52, canceled for some reason. But, to get some MCS points, the tanker took off anyway, jettisoned the 80,000 pounds of fuel that would have been passed to the receiver, and landed. All that waste just to get an on-time takeoff for a few MCS points!

In the middle of August of 1965 Molly's mother, Lucy Hunter, died in Cape May, New Jersey where her dad, Dr. James Hunter, was the chief medical officer of the Coast Guard installation hospital. Lucy was buried in West, Texas not far from where Molly's dad was born. We flew to New Jersey for services and to Texas for the burial. This was a sad summer except for the news that Molly was expecting our first child.

Some time in November of 1965 I received PCS orders for Detachment 1, 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing at Offutt. Fortunately, my former B-47 aircraft commander, Jim Walther, was at SAC Headquarters there at Offutt. I called him to ask for help in finding a house. Jim found us a nice house rather quickly. He described it to us on the phone, and Molly and I decided to buy it sight-unseen. It is a nice house sitting part way up a hill and right across the street from an elementary school. We assumed a 5% loan and have had the house ever since. In the Air Force the normal tour of duty used to be only a few years. Molly thought, as she looked out the window at the school, how nice it would be to live in the house long enough for our children to go to school there. Little did we know that our sons would go through almost all of the whole Bellevue school system. We arrived at this, our first house, on December 2, 1965 after three days of driving, and a broken 1964 Volkswagen in Grinnell, Iowa. We towed the '64 VW with Molly's old '57 VW to Des Moines. Fortunately, we were able to get the '64 fixed in only a day. And, it was still under warranty! Even after we had all of our furniture moved in the house seemed empty. The entire lower level had nothing in it but a large, braided, oval rug in the family room. Somehow, after all these years, we've managed to fill every corner, and add extra rooms. Oh, for a basement!

Before long the entire Lisa Ann personnel package had arrived at Offutt. We were given some office space on the second (top) floor of what had been Modification Center B (Mod B) of the World War Two Martin Bomber Plant. Mod A and Mod B were on the flightline, adjacent and perpendicular to the runway and opposite the theater entrance of SAC HQ. These were very long, round topped, old wooden hangars that were built in the early 1940s. The two were joined by a broad, two-level, enclosed "walkway." They housed the bulk of the 55th's aircraft maintenance activities, a cafeteria, a barbershop, and various other tenant organizations, including even a British Royal Air Force detachment, and a branch of the Air Force courier service. These two buildings were so old and in such relatively poor condition that the Base Fire Marshall would later say, "There are only two solutions for what to do with these old buildings: burn 'em up, or burn 'em down!" Mod A was torn down probably 20 years later, but Mod B is still standing and now houses the Base Fitness Center.

We had to scrounge virtually everything for the office, including furniture and telephones. Our space was in about the middle of the building and only a few doors away from the cafeteria. Several windows looked out into the hangar floor area and we could see what was happening down there. These windows had screens over them but were coated with decades of grime so that "seeing out" was almost a misnomer. Charlie Levis was put in charge. George and he had the same date-of-rank, but because Charlie had more flying time and more flying experience, he was given the nod. Also, alphabetically, he had graduated earlier and had a slightly lower serial number.

Our little detachment within Det 1 soon set about establishing a regular military routine of sorts. We studied the manuals from the Texas training, flew T-29s for time, started writing check-lists to use on the plane, and bided our time until more orders came. Our little group was located quite a distance apart, several blocks, from the main body of the Detachment partly because of space limitations. But it also gave us a sense of anonymity and autonomy. The rest of the Detachment left us alone to do whatever we needed and wanted with the project. They didn't really know what we were up to anyway. We still had to comply with the regular periodic military training activities and other requirements, however. These included small arms qualification, Code of Conduct training, an annual physical, and a number of other items.

Mod B had a lot of little-used, semi-abandoned nooks and crannies that absolutely demanded exploration. Some of the places were on the main hangar floor, and others were up and down the hall on the second floor with us. One such place on the hangar floor had rows of small, disused wooden lockers that had been forced open when the area became disused but still had their military combination locks on them. On a whim I tried the standard factory shipping combination of 10-20-30 on one of them. To my surprise, and delight, it opened! The former user had been too lazy to enter a new setting. I kept the lock, used it for several other applications, and still have it but with a proper combination that I've since forgotten.

Because I was the junior officer and the only 1st Lt., everyone else being captains, the responsibility fell on me to be the security officer. I held this job until the end of my association with Lisa Ann, and fell into it again when I came into the 343rdSRS about two years later. It was a thankless job that no one wanted but was very necessary. As the security officer I was the custodian of the several safes and all the classified material in them. Anything classified as Confidential, Secret, or Top Secret then had to be accounted for on a SAC Form 310 that listed document description, date, location, and disposition. Top Secret and cryptological material had additional handling and documentation requirements, but I didn't have to worry with them until Shemya. Once we were on Shemya the classified material was kept inside a large, stainless-steel, walk-in freezer. The unit was never used for food storage. What a freezer was doing in a hangar that had nothing even resembling a kitchen I have no idea, but there it was and we put it to good use. I remember that the refrigeration equipment was not even installed, but it was lighted and lockable using the combination lock that I found in Mod B at Offutt. The freezer may not have strictly met the requirements for a safe according to proper standards, but it was in Hangar 3, which was a secure facility, on a small island hundreds of miles from everywhere. Everyone on Shemya had to have some kind of security clearance, even the janitors for the other Shemya buildings. All sorts of classified material was kept in the freezer including raw and processed mission data and the cryptological material used while flying missions.

Time passed slowly while we again waited for more orders. The "other shoe" always seemed poised, ready to drop. It did drop in late February of 1966 when TDY orders came for us to report to Greenville, Texas again to "Participate in Crew Training/Evaluation." This time we were to report to LtCol Russell, AFLC-LO-T, Temco Electro-Systems, same place, same project, just a bit different name on the orders. The "Those That Care" and the maintenance troops departed Offutt March 23 and returned April 22. During the stay we had more hands-on equipment time, more checklist writing, and flew on April 7 and 11. Molly didn't come down this time because she was quite pregnant with Travis who was born May 7,
1966. I don't remember where we all stayed, but it may have been the Cadillac Hotel again, or a motel. The first flight had LtCol (Major, then) Horace G. Martineau as the aircraft commander. At one point he was the chief recon pilot at SAC's Combat Evaluation Group (CEG). CEG was SAC's command-level standardization-evaluation (stan-eval) unit. A wing stan-eval's normal function was evaluating crews for flying proficiency and knowledge of procedures, manuals, and regulations all on an annual basis. CEG's mission in life seemed to be to make life miserable for everyone involved by arriving at a base, unannounced, to evaluate a number of crews on both a notice and no-notice basis. Units and crews feared and hated their coming. Their mission was to evaluate the unit's evaluators and a few other crews, but they had no one to evaluate them but they themselves, and they never failed. Some of the CEG people tended to be arrogant and overbearing. When they came to Shemya we had to tell them what we were doing so they could evaluate us on how well we did what we were supposed to do. The paradox of it all! Martineau was a good pilot, however, and the first flight with him at Greenville had a landing so smooth that we hardly knew we were down. That made him almost as good as then-Capt Reg Urschler, but really at all nothing like him, especially on a personal level. I will always greatly respect and admire Reg as a pilot, commander, and friend.

Both of the flights from Greenville were short because no aerial refuelings were included. Total flying time was only 7+15. The runway at Majors Field at the LTV plant was short and this limited the amount of fuel that could be carried for takeoff. The flights were generally uneventful except for the thrill of actually seeing the radar operate against real targets, probably fighters, rather than the simulated targets that were computer-generated while on the ground. While we were there we wrote and rewrote checklists for all phases of equipment operation, from preflight to after landing. These were continually refined as new techniques, procedures, and requirements developed, even while we were on Shemya doing the real thing. These were "living documents" and were changed and revised as better procedures were developed. As operational scenarios changed so did the procedures. Flexibility is always the key to success. We received another certificate of completion for the Crew Evaluation and training that was also suitable for framing.

During one of the weekends while we were at Greenville we all went to an airshow at Carswell AFB, just west of Fort Worth. There were several interesting planes to inspect including a long-wing WB-57 and an A-12, the predecessor of the SR-71. While these two and other aircraft were impressive, the most spectacular was the XB-70 Valkyrie. Only three were ever made. We even had the very rare privilege of seeing this six-engine, twin-tail, Mach 3 plane fly during the airshow, but not at Mach 3! Its engines were in a row between its twin tails rather than in pods under the wings like the B-52, B-47, and RC-135. Revolutionary and radical can be used to describe the canard winglets behind the cockpit and wing tips that tilted down for high speed flight. Decades would pass before canards were again used on US combat aircraft.

Once again back at Offutt we again became accustomed to, but not liking, waiting for more orders. All the time we had frequent contact with the SAC office in charge of our fates, DOORP. The first O in the office symbol indicated that it was in the Reconnaissance Operations-Plans realm. It seemed that in DOORP a Capt. Werner Stricker seemed to be very unreasonable and quite arbitrary in any decision; however, we did not know what was happening behind the scenes and probably never will know it all. As it happened the Air Staff had been directed to shut the program down at one point and there was a great deal of machination before it was all sorted out. The situation could have been vastly improved, if we had been kept informed. Even so, he was a real pain. We also had numerous dealings with DPLC-3 at SAC, an office that dealt with some aspect of Personnel. The dealings were probably to keep us assigned to the project and sent TDY with the plane.

Flying time while waiting still had to be accumulated. This time it was by flying in T-29s, much the same airplane we had flown in navigation school. These were available right there at Offutt and were used as SAC courier aircraft. We flew with pilots, navigators, and EWOs from SAC HQ who also had to log flight time. There was even less to do on them than on the KC-135s at Lockbourne, but the flying time still counted. We even had to pass annual flying requirements just like when still in B-47s. These requirements were more of a joke than anything else because we were just logging time and not trying to remain proficient in any flying specialty.

Near the end of April 1966 more TDY orders arrived. This time we went to Wright-Patterson AFB near Dayton, Ohio to visit the Foreign Technology Division (FTD) of Air Force Systems Command. This was for telemetry training, indoctrination into "other intelligence sources," and other training. This is also where our mission materials from Shemya were to be sent for processing. We left May 10 and returned May 13. It was an enlightening few days, a real eye-opener, especially the information on the "other intelligence sources." Travel out and back was via a SAC courier C-97. The C-97s were derivatives of the old B-29s of WW II fame. They were old, slow, cold, and used "almost" as much oil as gasoline, but they were transportation.

For some while we had anticipated going to Hickam AFB at Honolulu, Hawaii for some real equipment operation and testing against a live USAF ICBM. Word came in early July 66 to deploy. Some time prior to Hickam Pete Hurd had most unfortunately developed what was thought to be Hodgkins Disease and was sidelined for several months. The problem was later diagnosed as sarcoidosis. Very happily, Pete was able to rejoin us in February 1967. We left July 5 on another C-97 for Castle AFB at Merced, California. The next stop was Moffett Naval Air Station which is 10 miles north of San Jose, California. The last leg was on a Young Tiger KC-135A deploying by way of Hickam to Vietnam. Young Tiger was the name given to the operation that had tankers deploying to Southeast Asia to support bomber and fighter refuelings in Viet Nam. They were always packed full of equipment and usually had hardly any space available for passengers. I had to sit with my feet under a jet engine. Fortunately, the flight was fairly short, about four hours. Our personnel deployment package had 21 enlisted and six officers.

Hickam was really nice. The weather was almost perfect and temperatures were in the mid-80s most of the days. We even had our own little air-conditioned trailer out near the flightline for office space. Because we were waiting for the test launch of a USAF missile from Vandenberg AFB in California, we had little control of when we were to fly. The launch was called "Copper Cup" and was delayed until everything was just right. It was a two-hour flight to the impact area and we had to be sure of a launch before taking off. While we waited there was plenty of time for sightseeing on Oahu. We went all over downtown Honolulu, and visited various shops and sights, including the infamous Hotel Street. Then it was a magnificent place to shop and find all sorts of "local color." More than once we went to the other side of the island to the Kanoehe Bay Marine Corps Air Station for some water skiing. Boat and ski rental cost little, if anything. This was grand fun. However, flying only once in almost a month made the time drag a little. All in all, it was a great 3 weeks, except for being away from our families. How wonderful it would have been to have brought them along, too. In retrospect, except for the air fare costs, we probably could have.

The Hickam flight line was really big because it was shared with the Honolulu International Airport. The Air Force side had a long row of really big hangars with the old pre-WW II star-in-a-circle emblems on them over the front doors. The base itself was lush and beautifully maintained, with unpatched bullet holes in the buildings from the December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor strike kept as a reminder, probably, not to lose our vigilance.

A favorite spot in Honolulu was the Fort DeRussy beach which was well stocked with all sorts of interesting sights, especially near the end of the TDY, because our wives were not there. Another side trip was to Diamond Head. The view from the top is absolutely gorgeous. Beautiful flowers are in abundance everywhere on the island.

The open-air movie theater on Hickam saw a lot of use by us. It was adjacent to the Officers' Club and the quarters where we lived during our 25-day stay. Movies were shown every night after dark, just like at a drive-in theater and we saw most of them. Seating was on long, white, wooden benches. Only a really bad rain stopped them. More than once a light shower came along in the middle of a film. The O'Club bar also received a lot of business during the many days of waiting. Liars' dice was a popular game, as was liars' dollar bill. More than once I would say to the others that it was time to go to supper. Dick Reeves, who had somewhere acquired the nickname "Riverboat," was famous for saying "Food is for pigs. Have another drink!" His nickname may have come from his liking to play poker - rather well. Spirits were never a problem, however, either there at Hickam or Shemya.

LtCol Ziba Ben Ogden, the Shemya detachment commander, joined us for some first-hand experience with Lisa Ann. His TDY to Hickam may have been more boondoggle than valuable, but he had been on Shemya for some while, plus it did afford him a good chance to see what was happening with what would later be his new airplane. Someone had been appointed as the Lisa Ann Task Force Commander and it may well have been he. Only two sorties were flown while at Hickam. All the flight tests on Lisa Ann including those flown from Hawaii were conducted by AFLC-LOT. Buzz McCoid was not the aircraft commander on the first flight but was on the second. The SAC crew, however, did participate in the tests out of Hawaii. Oil pressure on number 4 engine was fluctuating and while we were worrying about that the oil pressure on number 3 began to fluctuate. We declared and emergency and headed for Wake Island. We shut down engine number 4 enroute to Wake and started it backup prior to landing, touching down with all four engines running. After landing it was determined that both engines were losing oil. At some point in our stay the plane was grounded while waiting for an engine change. The engine was lost for several days in the supply system and finally found in New Jersey.

I wasn't on the flight that went to Wake Island. My flight came on July 25, the day before my 28th birthday. This sortie was almost 16 hours long because of several last minute delays in launching the missile from Vandenberg. We had to have been refueled inflight at least once and possibly twice. Lisa Ann was able to do her stuff, and good data was collected. I even picked up the telemetry from the reentry vehicle. Because of all the excitement of the first- time experience, I thought I was receiving it all the way through re-entry, but actually it had to have gone into "blackout" for a short while because of the ionization of the heat shield caused by atmospheric friction. During blackout all radio transmissions are always completely blocked.

Little did we know that the entire program was very nearly canceled just before we deployed to Hickam. The Air Staff in Washington, D.C. had given the word in the Spring of 1966 to "pull the plug" on the project. Costs were rising more than anticipated, and not much progress was being made in passing the flight tests. Major Joe Cleary, in DORQX at SAC Hq, was the chairman of the RC-135 Working Group and he convened the group with the problem. The project had to be saved because Lisa Ann was the only system that could provide vital intelligence on Soviet missile capabilities. The result was that the Group concluded that SAC was in a better position than AFLC- LOT to run the flight tests and to run them from Hickam AFB, Hawaii. Hickam was the only base with C-135 support that was anywhere near the Kwajalein Missile Test Range. Kwajalein Island was the site for re-entry events of ICBMs launched from Vandenberg. If Lisa Ann could successfully run against the Vandenburg missiles she would have a better chance of passing the flight tests. She had been assigned to cover missiles being launched from White Sands Missile Test Range in New Mexico. While it was near to Greenville, the missiles were smaller than what Lisa Ann was designed to operate against with the result that test objectives could not be met. Another benefit of Hickam: the about $10,000 per day cost of having the plane on the Greenville runway was eliminated. Altogether, it took 18 missions flown from various locations for Lisa Ann to pass the flight tests, but pass them she did.

Other bits of back-end equipment were checked out at Hickam by NCOs from Eielson. Frank Campfield, a Security Service inflight maintenance technician (IMT), was stationed at Eielson from 1964 to 1967. Three others and he flew from Eielson to Spokane on a KC-135 and on to San Francisco on a lumbering old C-119. They had to wear parachutes on the C-119 because of the age of the plane. From San Francisco to Hawaii was by commercial airliner. Because they were carrying a piece of cryptological equipment it was mandatory that it be escorted by an armed guard. This task normally fell to the highest ranking individual. Because of a pilots' strike the only seats available were in first-class! Obviously, they were questioned about carrying the weapon onboard. After much discussion the pilot finally agreed. Now, after 9-11-2001, a firearm might possibly be denied. The person carrying it was not have anything to drink so the pistol was passed on down to the lowest ranking person, much to his chagrin. The stewardess kept asking what was in the sealed bag that needed an armed escort!

Kingdon R. Hawes (Webmaster)
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