Ratpack Airlines: The Low and Slow Airwar Over Southeast Asia

Ratpack Airlines: The Low and Slow Airwar Over Southeast Asia

by Ray McComber

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466994607
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Publication date: 05/29/2013
Pages: 490
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.09(d)

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RatPack Airlines

The Low and Slow Airwar over Southeast Asia


By Ray McComber

Trafford Publishing

Copyright © 2013 Ray McComber
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4669-9460-7


CHAPTER 1

Jack Roberts arrived at McChord Air Force Base, outside Seattle, Washington in the late evening of Friday, 19 Jan. It was a lot colder than he was used to, only about 50 degrees, having just come from southern Texas. It was starting to drizzle and he hustled to get into the passenger terminal from the Air Force bus that brought him from SeaTac Airport. He was only wearing his summer khaki 1505s. Coming from Texas and going to Vietnam, he saw no reason to wear a warmer uniform. Once inside the terminal, he found a place where he could sit down, lay back, rest, and wait for his morning flight, Seaboard World Airways flight U-237. It was very crowded in the passenger terminal with hundreds of military personnel, probably all waiting for overseas flights. He assumed that most all were going to Vietnam, as they were all very quiet and reserved. After a few minutes he started to get nervous of what the days and months ahead would be like. His thoughts went back to how the events of the past few days came about to putting him on his way to Vietnam. These thoughts gave him some comic relief from the nervousness as he chuckled to himself about the way events were handled back in Texas. His head has been one of those that rolled and he was glad of it. It was the only way out of Texas and away from a colonel known as Psycho.

Jack had trained as a pilot before he had joined the Air Force. His uncle, a B-24 pilot during World War II, taught him how to fly his twin-engine plane on his ranch in Nebraska. After joining the Air Force he was accepted in the pilot training program. He was three weeks from graduation when on a training flight with his instructor pilot they were taxiing at Randolph AFB in Texas with the canopy of their T-38 in the up position when a mass of bees got into the cockpit. Jack got one of them under his visor and the bee stung him on the right eye. After many examinations by the medical staffs and flight surgeons, it was deemed that permanent damage occurred. Jack's vision in his right eye did not meet the minimums to continue pilot training. Since Jack was in the top 5% of his pilot training class, he, his Instructor Pilot and Commander lobbied that he be able to continue. They were denied, so they then lobbied for Jack to continue on into navigation training. Jack was in the top 3% of his class in navigation. This was accepted and Jack went on to navigation training and graduated. His vision was corrected with prescription glasses and while flying he had a prescription visor that he wore. When he was flying, most aircraft commanders would let him ride right seat, co-pilot, and navigate at the same time, they soon discovered he was tops in both.

Earlier that week on Wednesday the 17th, he was on duty at his ground duty station as the senior controller at the control tower in McConnolly Air Force Base in Texas. His operations officer was a Colonel Clinton, a person that he and those he worked with called Psycho, not Col Psycho but just plain Psycho. He was one of the most incompetent adults Jack had ever met. Jack often wondered how this person got to be a full Colonel in the Air Force. It was a mystery to Jack and to all who met Psycho. Jack not being a military career minded person still did not comprehend the mindset of a lifer, career person.

Psycho was so self occupied in advancing himself and in tearing down his peers, it was a standard joke that he was a paranoid. At no time should one confront him or offer a differing opinion. As disagreeing with Psycho was an instant threat to one's military career.

Psycho was in the habit of listing the control tower Operational Procedures, OPs, for each day on a 'Read and Sign' sheet. The controllers had to read and sign the sheet each day before they went on duty. This was for Psycho's own protection in case anything happened. He could then point his stubby little finger at someone else and say, 'He knew the rules and did not follow them.' Jack had heard of many a career ruined by Psycho in his own blind and bewildered climb through a military career.

That morning's 'Read and Sign' sheet however had an error in it that would change the lives of all involved. It seems that Psycho's clerk, Ronnie, in making up the control tower operational procedures lists, put the DON'Ts in the DO column and the DOs in the DON'T column. This was pretty normal because Ronnie, known as Ronnie-the-Rummy, spent most of his off duty time at the NCO Club drowning his sorrows and the memories of three ex-wives. In the drowning of his sorrows, he was also making many mistakes on the job that Jack and the other controllers would cover up to protect Ronnie. But this day Jack decided to stop covering and see what would happen. If it were a quiet day nothing would happen. Jack read them out loud and said to his co-controllers, "I wonder if Psycho realizes that his boy Ronnie-the-Rummy fucked up the OPs list again."

Jimmy, a junior controller, said, "I read the OPs list and immediately saw Ronnie's screw up but signed anyway." Both Danny and Joe, the other controllers on duty with Jack agreed that they also saw the mistake but went ahead and signed, as they knew what the correct procedures were anyway.

Jack replied with a sly smile, "I'm ready to get out of Texas and away from Psycho and I'll do almost anything legal to do it."

"How are you going to go about that?" asked Jimmy.

Jack answered, "If anything big comes in, I am going to follow the OPs to the letter and not vary one bit. The only thing we can ask for was some dignitary to come in and be ignored."

At about 0945 they got an inbound notification from the Houston ARTCC of a flight from Andrews Air Force Base, Washington DC. After receiving the notification, Jack checked the weather. It was unusually hot for southern Texas in January, sunny, 84 degrees, winds from the west at 6 mph, and humidity at a high 86 percent. It promised to become more extreme as the day continued. The forecast was for a high of 92 degrees by mid afternoon. It was going to be a very uncomfortable day if you were outside for any amount of time especially if you were just coming in from Washington DC where it was snowing and 15 degrees. The notification also stated that a Senator Hernandez from southern Texas was aboard, probably for a visit to his constituents. The ETA was 1315 and the aircraft call sign was Lima-62. Usually, the OPs list gave in the DOs column those instructions of whom all to call from the Protocol Office, the Operations Office, and down to the Transit Alert Crew to inform them of a high ranking government official's arrival. That day however, there were no such instructions in the DOs column. Senator Hernandez would not have an air-conditioned staff car waiting for him. He wouldn't even have an open-air jeep, he would be walking. Jack gave a sly grin to the others in the tower.

On a normal aircraft landing the Transient Alert Crew is notified so they can go out and lead the aircraft into the transient aircraft parking area and prepare to refuel the aircraft. This is all that happened to Lima-62, the senator's aircraft. There was no parking in the VIP area; there were no high-ranking officers to greet him, or an air-conditioned staff car for him. He exited the aircraft with his aids and looked around wondering why no one was there to meet him. Jack and his crew of controllers watched the senator with binoculars to see what was happening. After about five minutes of standing and waiting, it was obvious that the senator was becoming very hot and upset that the usual protocol procedures were not being followed. He was used to having his ass kissed by Psycho when he landed at McConnolly AFB. Jack knew from past experience that Senator Hernandez didn't like the military and abhorred any lack of protocol or luxury because of a military SNAFU. This would be just one more of a long line of incidents where heads would roll and careers would be on the chopping block.

Senator Hernandez had worked himself into a frenzy on the Transient Alert crew then stormed into the Operations and Protocol building. Jack seeing this said to the others in the tower, "Hold on to your asses because Psycho is about to get nailed to the wall by one highly pissed off and sweaty senator. Then Psycho's shit is gonna to hit the fan and we're standing behind it. Everybody say good-bye to Texas and hello to Vietnam."

Jack then took the binoculars and looked down to Psycho's office and he could see him looking out his window up at the tower and talking on the phone at the same time. Psycho really looked pissed off. His fat little baldhead was red as a beet and looked as if it was about to explode. He then slammed down the phone and left the window. Jack immediately knew Psycho was on his way to the tower.

Jack said to the others in the tower, "Psycho just got called by the Protocol Office and knows that Senator Hernandez is red hot and pissed. I saw him looking up here from his office window and give us a dirty look. Next stop for him, up here, look around and get the place shaped up and look sharp when he gets here. Don't say anything to him unless personally asked, this is my doing and I'll handle it."

The tower was over 100 feet tall and had a single stairway that consisted of 22 flights of 8 steps each. It was manned around the clock every day of the year. There was always someone on duty. The tower had a heavy-duty solid metal security door at the bottom. A person wanting entry needed to use the security phone by the door and call up to the duty controllers with a password to gain entrance. The door had no lock or doorknob and couldn't be opened from the outside.

The controllers looked out and down from an open window and could see that Psycho was at the security door, and he was kicking it trying to get it open. He then called up on the security phone and Jack turned on the speaker so all could hear the conversation and answered the phone in a very military manner saying, "McConnolly Tower, please state the password for access, sir."

Psycho was so mad that he could not remember the password and started yelling into the phone, "LOOK, YOU SON-OF-A-BITCH, OPEN THIS GODDAMN DOOR IMMEDIATELY OR I'LL HAVE YOU IN CHAINS."

Jack hung up the phone ending the call as according to military regulations, all non-military mission conversations are prohibited and Jack felt this was abuse and not productive to the military mission. After he hung up he jokingly said to all in the tower, "No doubt in my military mind that Psycho is pissed off about Senator Hernandez being snubbed because of Ronnie-the-Rummy's screw up."

Psycho knew the tower access rules and also knew Jack was correct in disallowing access to him. So he went back into the Operations and Protocol building to get the password from Ronnie. At this time Ronnie, your typical lifer Staff Sergeant, 18 years in service, short, overweight, alcoholic, balding, and three times divorced; knew someone had screwed up big time, but he didn't realize that it was himself. He knew Psycho was out for blood and urged him on with encouragement by saying, "Don't let those college punks up there in the tower run this man's Air Force. It's us, the career men that run this place. Chop heads, kick ass, and don't take any names." This really got Psycho's blood pumping and he WAS going to chop heads, he WAS going to kick ass, and he WAS NOT going to take any names. Deep inside, Psycho's extreme gut churned and he knew his career was over, but he also knew he was going to be true to his own nature and take everybody he could down with him.

In a few minutes he was back at the door and calling again on the security phone, this time he had the password. The senior officer in the tower was alerted and came from his office just below the tower deck to see what was happening. His name was Col Hastings and was within a few months of retiring with 38 years active duty. Everyone referred to him as Pappy, as he was a very easy going 56 year old and just wanted to get out and enjoy retirement.

Jack said to Col Hastings, "We all read, signed, and followed the OPs list to the letter. I hung up on him as he was abusive and did not have the password. Nobody but nobody gains entrance to the tower without the password; this is in the tower standard operation rules."

Col Hastings replied, "True, correct, and I agree with you 100%, but you realize that Col Clinton will probably go way over the bounds of sanity and people will suffer. You've really pissed him off, even though you are 100% correct in every action you've taken. This is going to be good. I may get my early release."

"We're already suffering and anything would be a move for the better. Something has to give; he's driving everybody crazy with his DOs and DON'Ts. This is no way to run an Air Force. I'm ready to take whatever assignment he can come up with," was Jack's reply.

"Oh, you can bet he has something in mind for all of us already, but for me, its retirement. I've been in this man's Air Force too long already. I hear golf courses calling me all the time."

They all knew how many flights of stairs Psycho had to climb, and that he was also about 100 pounds overweight. They even thought Psycho would have a heart attack or stroke trying to get to the top. Eventually he made it up to the main tower deck and came through the door and slammed it behind him. The first thing he did was bang his fist on the main radio console and yell, "WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE?"

In hitting the radio console, he broke some of the crystals putting the radio out of service. This got the others attention, but it really pissed off Jack as it was an uncalled for action, but he knew he had better keep his cool as Psycho was going to attempt to provoke him into a confrontation.

No one answered him and he then yelled, "WHO THE FUCK IS THE SENIOR CONTROLLER ON DUTY?"

Jack stood at attention and replied, "Colonel Clinton sir, I am the senior controller responsible for the current shift, SIR," emphasizing the second sir.

Psycho then yelled, "DO YOU REALIZE THAT ONE SENATOR HERNANDEZ JUST LANDED AND NO ONE IN THE PROTOCOL OFFICE NOR MYSELF WAS NOTIFIED?"

Jack replied, "Yes sir, I am aware of that, SIR," again emphasizing the second sir, which now he could tell was getting Psycho's ire up.

Psycho then looked as if he had been struck by lightning by Jack's honesty. He looked at Col Hastings then at each of the other controllers. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. He was expecting excuses and blame passing, but got the truth. He was so mad that a vein on his forehead bulged out about half an inch and looked as if it was about to burst.

He continued to yell, "WHY THE FUCK DIDN'T YOU FOLLOW THE OPS? AND DON'T GIVE ME THAT EMPHASIZED SIR SHIT."

Jack's simple but calm reply was, "SIR, I did read, sign, and follow the OPs instructions to the letter, SIR," being sure to emphasize both sirs.

Psycho then again yelled very disgustingly, "BULLSHIT, I WROTE THEM UP THIS MORNING AND I KNOW WHAT THEY SAY, GIVE ME YOUR COPY AND I WILL READ THEM TO YOU, YOU INSOLENT PUNK."

Jack remained at attention, glanced at Pappy who gave him a keep cool sign. Jack kept his cool.

Psycho then grabbed the tower copy of the OPs and started reading. Then he said in a very meek voice, "But these are wrong, Ronnie got the columns mixed."

He stood motionless for a minute his blood pressure building and everyone in the tower again thought the big blood vessel in his forehead was going to explode. Danny, the newest member of the controller team, and still timid towards senior officers, moved back out of the way as if not to get any on himself when Psycho's forehead blood vessel did explode.

Psycho then more calmly but still yelling addressed Jack, "THESE ORDERS ARE WRONG, YOU'RE A COLLEGE GRADUATE, YOU SHOULD HAVE INTERPOLATED THEM AND MADE THE CORRECT REVISIONS."

Jack said in a very military manner, "Sir, with all due respect Col Clinton SIR, I don't get paid to interpolate and change a senior officer's orders. I get paid to follow orders that senior officers give me, SIR."

This struck Pappy as funny, and he replied with kind of a loud laughing grunt, "EEH."

Psycho turned to him and yelled, "PAPPY, YOU SON-OF-A-BITCH, YOU'RE FIRED, YOU WILL LEAVE IMMEDIATELY AND PREPARE YOUR RETIREMENT PAPERS. DO YOU HEAR AND UNDERSTAND ME?"

Pappy got up shook Jack's hand and said, "Don't worry about me, he can't fire me, I retire this spring anyway, I'll just skate till then. Take care of yourself wherever you end up, although I'm sure he will see to it that you go to Vietnam." He did not acknowledge Col Clinton but went straight to the door and left the control tower.

Psycho then yelled again at Jack, "YOU HAVE JUST RUINED MY CAREER, YOU DISRESPECTFUL PIECE OF SHIT, AND I'LL SEE YOU GET ASSIGNED TO THE DEEPEST DARKEST SHIT HOLE IN VIETNAM AS PAPPY SUGGESTS. HOW DOES THAT GRAB YOU, YOU BACK STABBING SON-OF-A-BITCH?"
(Continues...)


Excerpted from RatPack Airlines by Ray McComber. Copyright © 2013 Ray McComber. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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