The Army has it's claim to fame;
The Airborne Rangers, the Green Berets.
The world knows the Navy Seals;
Life of Danger, Men of Steel.
The Corps have their elite too;
Recon Patrol, the Proud, the Few.
But when it comes to us, not much is heard;
We're just the Cops who guard the birds.
In Vietnam, through toil and strife,
We gave it all, our hearts, our life.
A page in history, a chapter in time;
We fought for freedom, yours and mine.
We stayed vigilant through cold and rain,
and bear the fatigue, hardship, and pain.
This piece of ground, we will defend,
Side by side `til the bitter end.
So fear not pilot, you can fly all day,
This base is guarded by the Blue Beret.
The concept of ABGD or (Air Base Ground Defense) began early in WW2 with the advent of the German Blitzkrieg tactic which overran British air bases. The Royal Air Force had no plan in place to protect them. Winston Churchill devised a plan whereby the RAF would be responsible for air base ground defense. This concept was adopted by the United Sates Army in 1942. Military Police units made up mostly of black soldiers were armed with heavy weapons and tasked to defend American air bases in combat zones. After the war the United States Air Force was created from the Army Air Forces by the National Security Act of 1947. At first Air Force security forces were named the Air Police. They defended American air bases at home and abroad. During the Korean War American bases were virtually ignored by the enemy. This all changed in Vietnam. American bases were regularly attacked starting with the attack on Bien Hoa air base on November 1, 1964. Over the course of time it was discovered that K-9's were instrumental in detecting enemy activity. This was the beginning of the Air Force Security Police K-9 Corps which is one of the best in the world and regularly trains civilian K-9 officers. Ever since Vietnam the Air Force has put more and more emphasis on air base ground defense training. In 1966 the name of the Air Police was changed to Security Police. Finally in 1997 the Security Police was changed to the United States Air Force Security Forces.
|Security Police defending Ton Son Nhut Air Force Base during the 1968 Tet Offensive|
I was 17 years old in January 1968 and half way through my senior year at East Nashville High School. The Vietnam war was much in the news with the North Vietnamese assault on the Marine's at Khe Sanh. We didn't know at the time that this was the opening phase of the 1968 Tet Offensive. America was averaging over 500 KIA's (Killed In Action) a week in Vietnam. It was decision time for me. The possibility of being drafted after high school was real. Debbie and I were getting serious after an on and off again relationship since February of 1966. We planned to marry right after graduation. I had big plans because I wanted to serve in the military and attend school on the G.I. Bill. My generation grew up on the myth that college was the short track to success. On top of this I was a baby boomer. The child of a World War 2 veteran. I grew up listening to inspiring stories of bravery. We were taught how our country rose to super power status as a result of that war. America kicked the butts of two formidable enemies at the same time. The Germans and the Japanese. For a boy from the South it wasn't a matter of if I would join the military but when. Vietnam wasn't my daddy's war. It was much more complicated than that. President Johnson wasn't fighting to win like we did in WW2. For that reason the war was growing more unpopular. Americans were okay with fighting Communism. But not with the way we were doing it. I drove down to the old Federal court house building on Broadway in Nashville. There I talked to an Air Force recruiter who told me me that there was a long waiting list to join the Air Force. I was five months away from graduation but he said that I could enlist in the delayed enlistment program, We graduated on June 6, 1968 in our football stadium.. Debbie and I were married on June 21st and my name came up for induction into the Air Force on August 5th. After a difficult six weeks of basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio Texas I received orders for Kingsley Field Oregon.
Growing up in the 1950's I watched war movies like the Sands of Iwo Jima, Sgt York, the Fighting 69th, the Longest Day and Pork Chop Hill. We played army and cowboys and indians. I loved playing with toy soldiers and had a Civil War set and a World War 2 set. John Wayne was my hero. Watching reports of the Vietnam War on the afternoon news however brought home the reality of war. As a paperboy I kept up with the death announcements of local boys, some who were not much older than myself, in the daily newspapers. I wanted to serve, but I wasn't John Wayne. My cousin Roy married his childhood sweetheart which was my second cousin, in the summer of 1967. Calm down people, I know this is the South, but they were both related to me, but not to each other. Roy joined the Air Force a full year before me. He told me that the Air Force was a good branch for a married couple and he was assigned to the Air Force Security Police. His first duty station was at Siskiyou County Airport, which was right on the California - Oregon state line near Mount Shasta. Ironically a year later I was assigned as a Security policeman to Kingsley Field, just 17 miles north of the California line and like Roy I was able to bring Debbie with me. These 18 months were some of our toughest months as a married couple but we made many close friends. They were months of character building and my son Robbie was born on April 19, 1969.
Debbie and I arrived at Kingsley in October 1968 after a difficult and tortuous ride on a Greyhound bus from Nashville. Our ankles were swollen to twice their size after sitting for so long. Everything we owned was on our backs and in our luggage. I had to sell my Chevy 2 in order to have the money to take Debbie with me. Big mistake. I should have kept the car and lived in the barracks until I could save the money to send for her. You live and learn I guess. We arrived in time to endure one of the worst winters in years. Most Security Policemen pulled 6 weeks of basic training and 6 weeks of Tech School. Then they were sent to their first duty assignment. Because of the critical need for cops, due to the war, I was sent DDA ( Direct Duty Assignment ). I would have to learn my job by OJT, (on the job training). I was a E-2 (Airman) and naturally I pulled the worst posts. Security, whether in the military or civilian life, is one of the most boring and mundane jobs that you can have. Most of our posts were very important however. At Kingsley we were guarding alert F-101's and later F-106's that were uploaded with either heat seeking conventional or tactical nuclear missiles. We also had to man a radar site called Keno.Our base was part of ADC or (Air Defense Command). The mission was to intercept unidentified aircraft, which were usually Russian Bear bombers. They were routinely testing our air defenses over the Pacific Northwest during the height of the Cold War. While at Kingsley I humped aircraft, which was a cop slang for walking post. We were exposed to every kind of weather condition. Ice, snow, sleet, and rain, in the winter and blazing heat in the summer. I have walked post in snow that was above my knees. Occasionally I would luck up and get an inside post on mobile patrol or the nuclear storage site. We were armed, depending on the post, with 38 caliber pistols or an M-2 carbine, since the M-16's were needed in Vietnam. The M-2 was a fully automatic version of the M-1 semi-automatic carbine.
While at Kingsley most of the men in my unit were rotating in and out of Vietnam or Thailand. I heard war stories from the returning combat veterans like SSgt Kersee, a black cop from Clarksville Tennessee. He told me how he had to run ammunition from bunker to bunker during the Tet Offensive under fire. Men talked about the frequent rocket and mortar attacks on the various bases and how they would run for their shelters. Occasionally they fought off a perimeter penetration by Viet Cong sappers. I became familiar with the names of Vietnamese bases like Da Nang, Ton Son Nhut, Phan Rang, Bien Hoa and Cam Ranh Bay just to name a few. Cam Ranh Bay was described as a resort area because of the beautiful beach there. It was notable because they never seemed to get hit. While I was at Kingsley my cousin Roy was assigned to Sewart AFB in Smyrna. I thought how lucky can you get? It wasn't long before he got orders for Phan Rang. He was only in country about a month when he fell out of a guard tower breaking his foot. So badly that he had to be sent to a stateside hospital for treatment. Roy had several surgeries and spent a long time in and out of the hospital. Maybe it is a man thing but I began to feel guilty for not pulling my weight in Vietnam. I remember the opening scene of Patton when he was giving a speech to his men in front of a huge American flag. To paraphrase Patton he said that it was a privilege to serve in combat. He went on to say that when your grandchildren ask you what you did in the great World War 2, you won't have to tell them that you shoveled shit in Louisiana. I felt like I was missing out on something big and wanted to volunteer for Vietnam. Debbie was very much against it. Over the years I have told this to many Vietnam veterans and to a man they tell me I was lucky that I didn't go. I didn't miss a thing..
About January 1970 I got orders for TUSLOG Detachment 93, Erhac Turkey. My orders had me leaving the states on May 31,1970 and serving to May 31st 1971. My year in Turkey was very hot. with a short but cold winter.Temperatures in the summer averaged 125 degrees. Erhac was a Turkish Base and their F-100 fighters were uploaded with our nuclear weapons. It was part of USAAFE or (United States Air Forces In Europe). The place was a rat hole as far as living conditions were concerned.We affectionately called it the (Hog). I was told that the barracks was built around WW1. There was no air conditioning anywhere in the detachment, except for a trailer that passed for our NCO Club. I didn't drink but I spent a lot of time in there enjoying the AC. Everything was in the same building that housed our barracks. Administrative offices, chow hall and billets. For the entire time I was there it was virtually impossible to take a shower in the daytime. There was never enough water pressure until late at night or very early in the morning hours. Many times I would be all soaped up and then the water would turn off. Often I would have to go to work without a shower. We received five full length movies a week that were shown on a bed sheet hanging from the wall in the chow hall. The best movies were repeated on weekends. In our recreation hall we had two pool tables and a ping pong table.
There was Doc Swope, a medic that took care of our health problems. For any real emergencies the men had to be airlifted to the big base at Incirlik. The men got one of our nerdy guys really drunk one night as a joke. After they put him to bed he suddenly got sick to his stomach and ran to the latrine. He tripped over a broom and as he was falling he grabbed hold of a heavy steel door which slammed on his finger cutting it off. Doc Swope put his finger in a jar of alcohol on his desk. I was sick with chronic diarrhea for much of that year, falling from 220 lbs to 175 lbs. I blame it on the water. Bottled water wasn't available like it is now. Doc Swope put chlorine in the water but it didn't work in my case. I envy the modern military who are able to talk to their loved ones from anywhere in the world via the Internet or cellphones. We felt very isolated. The mail would come in spurts and was mostly brought in by aircraft and we had no radar system. If there was cloud cover the planes couldn't land and we could go for days and weeks without mail. Debbie would sometimes send me audio tapes of her and Robbie. If I talked to her we had to drive for about 6 hours over treacherous roads across mountains. risking bandits and terrorists. We drove to a radar site at Diyarbikir Turkey and talked on a phone that had a hideous connection during the early morning hours. I was only able to talk to her four times during the year I was there. On one occasion a friend named Garland (Chet) Atkins and myself were shot at on a trip to the nearby city of Malatya. As we were driving down a winding road near a small village we saw two men standing in the middle of the road. One had a rifle. I was driving a ragged International Scout and as we closed in on them they were trying to flag us down. We were off duty and unarmed. Turkey was not a combat zone and we were not allowed to carry weapons off duty. It was near dusk and I was not about to stop so I sped around them. I heard a loud bang and the inside of the vehicle lit up from the muzzle flash of the rifle. Looking over I noticed Garland slumped over in the passenger seat. Fearful that he had been shot I shouted "Chet, are you okay". He looked up and said, "Get the hell out of here". I had the pedal to the metal but we were going up hill and our top speed was about fifty miles per hour in that piece of crap car.
As we traveled the base at night we had to carry a flashlight with the daily color code. If we encountered Turkish guards, who usually walked in pairs on the road, they challenged us by leveling their rifles at us. By contrast we were trained to challenge at port arms. Because of the nature of our mission at Erhac we had to learn demolition. We were trained with TNT and plastic explosives which was not my favorite training. I would sweat bullets. Especially when I had to crimp blasting caps on to fuses. For safety sake we held them behind our butts so nothing vital would be injured if they blew up. We were also trained to arm nuclear weapons on the ground. Before going stateside most cops received orders for some of the worst bases in the states. As far as duty for a Security Policeman was concerned. They were mostly SAC bases, (Strategic Air Command) at places like Minot North Dakota, Grand Forks North Dakota, or Ellsworth South Dakota. If you were lucky you might get missile silo duty. At least it was out of the weather. The worst case scenario was humping B-52's. It gets mighty cold in the Dakota's in the wintertime. When my orders came in I was going to NORAD or (North American Air Defense Command) in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs Colorado. This was one of the choices on my dream sheet and needless to say I was ecstatic.
After a thirty day leave I packed up the car, and a U-Haul trailer, Debbie, Robbie, my brother Mark and myself headed for Colorado Springs in our 1964 Chevy Impala. I became my brother's legal guardian and he would live with us until he turned 18. NORAD was the most interesting job that I ever had and my year there was easily the happiest of our life. Not long after my arrival I was promoted to SSgt and was assigned to the relief Flight. We had a permanent day shift, swing shift, midnight shift and our shift that rotated relieving all three. We worked 3 swings, 3 midnight shifts, and 3 day shifts, with a 72 hour break before starting the cycle all over again. NORAD was deep inside of Cheyenne Mountain. There were 11 steel buildings mounted on huge springs that acted as shock absorbers in the event of an earthquake or nuclear blast. These buildings were inside of a man made cave. We had a chow hall, surgical suite, BX, barber shop and a water reservoir. We could live for 30 days or more inside the mountain in the event of a nuclear war. There were 2 twenty ton blast doors that we opened one at a time. When we let a group of people in from the outside we would open the outside door, allowing everyone to walk in between the doors. Then we would open the inner door. People waiting to leave would enter and the cycle would be repeated.
|Entrance to NORAD|
|Inside the tunnel|
|Yours Truly checking our barbers line badge while operating the blast doors at NORAD|
|The blast doors at NORAD|
In the center of the complex was command post. It was here that we monitored the activity of Soviet ICBM's (Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles), SLBM's (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missiles) and Soviet bombers. Each country had a triad system composed of all three elements. There was a large computer screen in command post showing the North American continent. We could see any planes, ships, or submarines off our coasts, and near our airspace. If we were to detect a real attack a message would be sent to the White House. The president would make the decision to respond. Orders would be sent to SAC (Strategic Air Command). There they would launch our bombers, and ICBM's. The Navy would launch it's SLBM's. It was estimated that we could shoot down two thirds of their bombers but the remaining third was enough to destroy our cities. We had no defense against ICBM's or SLBM's. Our nuclear policy was based on the Kennedy policy of MAD or (Mutually Assured Destruction). Most Democrats felt that we didn't need an anti-ballistic system because this policy was deterrent enough. We also had Space Defense Command which kept up with any threat that might develop from space. Their primary concern was keeping up with the space junk floating in earth orbit. This was from old satellites and missiles that were constantly re-entering our atmosphere. Most of it disintegrated but occasionally large pieces would make it through posing a danger to people on the ground..
Because of my appearance and knowledge I was chosen to be the escort for CINC (Commander - In - Chief) NORAD AND Vice CINC NORAD. The CINC was a four star American Air Force general named Seth McKee. The Vice CINC was a Canadian 3 star general whose name escapes me. NORAD is a joint American - Canadian command. There were American and Canadian military serving there, along with every branch of the American military. Whenever the CINC or Vice Cinc came into the complex I was always out ahead of them. I had to know the complex well. Many times there were VIP's such as senators, congressmen, foreign dignitaries, governors and celebrities. I also escorted the tours that were given to civilians that were conducted on a daily basis. My job was to make sure no one strayed away from the group. Because of this job I had the opportunity to hear many national security briefings. These gave me a well rounded education on our Cold War defense posture. Debbie became pregnant almost immediately after I returned from Turkey and after a very difficult pregnancy my oldest daughter Misty was born at the Air Force Academy hospital on March 8, 1972. On May 4th I was discharged from the active duty Air Force.
|General Seth McKee|
Five years later in October 1977 I joined the 118th Airlift Wing of the Tennessee Air National Guard. It was a C-130 unit stationed at Nashville's Berry Field. I received a broad range of experience and training over the 16 years I was in the Guard. We provided security for Air Force One and Two whenever the president or vice president were on the ground in Nashville. We were involved in the security of presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Vice presidents Walter Mondale, Dan Quayle, and Al Gore Jr. There were five overseas deployments while I was there. Germany in 1983. Belgium in 1985, Germany in 1987 which I was unable to deploy, England in 1990 and Hawaii in 1993. Numerous stateside deployments. The Guard was where I received the bulk of my training in air base ground defense. When I was on active duty we would train in Air Base Ground Defense only if we were deploying to Vietnam. In addition we provided security for air shows in Germany and the United States. In October 1980 we provided site security after a fatal crash of one of our C-130's in McMinnville. I am very proud of my career in the Air Force Security Police, which included a very short stint as an Army MP in an Army Reserve unit in Melborne Florida. My service was very modest compared to those men and women who have sacrificed their minds and bodies under combat conditions for their country. When people thank me for my service I feel very humble because I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to serve my country. Although the call to put myself in harms way in the way that America's combat veterans did, never came for me, I feel like I would have done my duty if called upon. On this Veterans Day I would like to honor my branch of service. The United States Air Force Security Forces.
|Security Police longevity badges|
|Crash of F-104 at Rein Main Germany - 1983|