Chapter 11: Assistant Director of Operations
A grim welcome
An atmosphere of doom and gloom greeted me when I arrived at Global on 1 August 1970. Production of computer flight plans (CFPs) for the Military Airlift Command (MAC) had been transferred from an AWS detachment in Suitland, Maryland, to AFGWC that very morning and things were not going well. By mid-afternoon we were more than five-hundred CFPs behind schedule and my new boss Director of Operations (DO) Colonel Dave Saxton had little time to talk with me, for he was constantly popping out of our office to check on the latest problems.
This was just the beginning of a very trying period for GWC. Colonel Saxton’s post-analysis of what was just beginning to happen that day was that the two MAC officers sent to Omaha to monitor our efforts were not sympathetic to our start-up problems, but seemed, rather, to be more interested in documenting failure than helping us solve our problems.
CFP production back at Suitland had been on a dedicated computer and the system was stable for some time. We, on the other hand, had to integrate CFP production into an already complex production schedule and would take time.
MAC terminals had been used to ordering multiple CFPs for all possible routes across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, many of which would not be flown. It would have helped if the user temporarily decreased their demands, but instead, terminals on both coasts increased their demands on us every time our production fell behind schedule, exacerbating our problems. Hard feelings developed that would take years to diminish, while our production efficiency continued to improve.
Colonel Saxton invited me to join him and some of my new colleagues for a “staff meeting” over drinks at the O’Club after work. It had been a stressful day for everyone and I sat and listened quietly, hearing about Global’s internal problems for the first time.
The two largest problems I recall were, first, lightning strikes that interrupted commercial power and halted the computers in the middle of production runs requiring the interrupted job to be rerun from the beginning, and second, system program bugs that still lay undetected within the thousands of lines of coding executed daily in Global’s monster system. There was also the intrinsic unreliability of the rotating drums, UNIVAC FASTRANDs, used at the time for external mass data storage. By 1970, Global had already established the world’s largest and most complex environmental data base.
Power fluctuations would continue to plague Global throughout my entire assignment there. Only after I retired four years later did Global finally win approval for a no-break power system: a bank of batteries constantly being charged by commercial power while they provided uninterrupted power to the computer room. Any time lightning interrupts commercial power the batteries will have sufficient charge to last through brief interruptions or allow an orderly shut-down if the interruption lasts more than a half-hour or so.
At the club that afternoon someone quipped that the only time he ever heard forty people say “ah shit” at the same time was one day in AFGWC’s computer room after a lightning stroke.
AFGWC’s system software problems faded away slowly over time as UNIVAC and Air Force programmers laboriously identified and corrected each system software bug. This is an unavoidable part of computer operations, especially after converting from one computer manufacturer’s hardware to another’s.
Hardware problems with rotating drums would also continue through my entire stay at Global. Global would have to wait many years for the more reliable disk-storage technology to be installed.
My initiation that afternoon was a realistic introduction to how life at Global would be and it fired me up, for I always enjoyed solving problems. As assistant DO I would be involved in an interesting mix of solving day-to-day problems, matching our capabilities with customer’s needs, helping to plan for the future, complying with military requirements and regulations such as periodic visits from the inspector general, while also keeping abreast of product improvements and new capabilities.
I was later given a tour of the entire organization and was awed with the scope and complexity that I saw. But before the tour I had to go through the usual processing that any new arrival must endure. Major Don Baker gave me my orientation briefing. One of the subjects he was required to cover was the enforcement of Air Force personal appearance standards. He read the pertinent parts of the regulation to me that described acceptable length of hair and style of haircuts (tapered in the back, not blocked), specified that mustaches could not extend out past the corners of the mouth, and that sideburns could not be grown lower than the bottom of the ear hole.
At this point, Don stopped momentarily, and, looking directly at me across the table said “By the way, Colonel, your sideburns are down to the limit.” Looking Don back straight in the eye and without flinching I responded challengingly, “Yes, they are!” . . . . End of conversation. I was within regulations and wouldn’t be intimidated. Don recalled this encounter to me years after we both retired and we both had a laugh.
This encounter occurred during a stressful time in the military. Long hair had long before become the norm among young people. My own son Doug let his hair grow long while we lived in England and even I had changed my hair style from the crewcut I previously wore to parted hair with sideburns. My only concern over Doug’s new hair style had came when he started off on a hitch-hiking trip across Europe in the summer of 1969. I was afraid that with long hair he would be less likely to be offered a lift, but since he was willing to take that risk I left it to his own discretion. As it turned out, he had no problems. European drivers had long before accepted this new look.
During these same years, young male recruits were constantly testing Air Force authority by letting their hair grow longer than Air Force standards allowed. While I understood that it was my duty to enforce this aspect of military life (as Don reminded me) I never really enjoyed it.
“Jack, when I’m not here, you’re the DO.”
Dave Saxton was the most intelligent man I ever worked for. I learned a lot from Dave in a very short time about the essence of Global’s production philosophy by simply listening. The best way I can describe that essence is for me to quote Dave’s own words from a talk he gave to a group of visiting forecasters from base weather stations across the country; colleagues of ours who used our products daily to support their customers. After Colonel Saxton finished addressing the group, I asked him if I could have his notes, never imagining that I would want to quote them in this context twenty-five years later. Here is what he said:
• Using MULTAN and SIXLVL (two of our numerical analysis and forecasting programs) in a twice daily cycle without monitoring might produce a 60% success rate. (Success being a computer flight plan tail-wind factor within acceptable limits as defined by our customers: Plus or minus 25 knots over an entire flight path)
• Increasing to a six-hourly production cycle might increase this rate to 70%.
• Add a monitoring analysis system to control the analysis and we should reach 80%.
• Add a dedicated programmer to systematically identify program problems (border problems between different geographical windows within their blend, and initialization problems with winds, smoothing function in the 6-level forecast model) and correct them, and we may reach 90%.
• Now give our forecasters the tools to identify and rapidly correct small problem areas in the forecast field (Jet Stream cores, shear lines, etc.); if we, in fact, let him override in critical areas we are up to 95%!
I encourage you to be a part of this man-machine mix. You in the field are the ultimate quality control for products we ship out. Take charge and let us know . . . . . Right or Wrong!”
This concept of computer-based – not automated – was the key to Global’s success. Colonel Steele had installed this philosophy deeply into the heart of the entire organization. My job would eventually include visits to potential customers to explain this philosophy and describe the ways we successfully applied it.
Early in our relationship Colonel Saxton told me that when he was not in the office, I was the DO. I accepted this responsibility and used it a few times during our time together. One incident was rather amusing. I had listened at my desk to a series of conversations between Dave and two middle-management officers from our Analysis and Forecasting Section. They came to him for permission to relocate a line-printer in their work area. Colonel Saxton wasn’t convinced that this was wise and kept putting them off.
One day they came into the office to talk to him again, but he was out of town on business. When they told me what they wanted to talk about I told them to go ahead and move the printer. They would have to live with the consequences of their decision, so go do it and good luck.
After Colonel Saxton returned the following week I was out on the floor in their area and overheard the two officers pointing out to Dave where they were going to relocate their printer. I held my breath for a moment, for I hadn’t yet told my boss what I had decided for him in his absence. When I heard Dave say “But I haven’t given you permission to do that yet,” I turned around, smiled at him and said “Yes you did.” He immediately understood what I meant and nodded his approval. I think he was pleased I had taken him at his word.
It was also interesting to me that the printer was never moved. The men and women who actually used the printer objected when they were told what was to happen and their bosses backed off. This incident reinforced a previously held conviction of mine that such decisions are best made at the lowest possible level of management. Leave such minor details to the people who will be affected the most.
Tying off a loose end
So here I am, a key player now at AFGWC, the hub of meteorological forecast production in the Air Force. How could I test my new authority? Could I, for instance, just walk down the hall to the Automation Section and direct them to implement the revised products list for High Wycombe that Colonel Galligar and his staff had labored over so arduously the previous winter? Let’s find out. As soon as I took care of all of the processing-in stuff, that’s what I did.
Ben Lawrence was a civil service employee and assistant to the Chief of Automation. I took Ray’s list down the hall to Ben’s office and filled him in on what had been happening and told Ben to implement Wycombe’s request ASAP. Within two days Ben returned to my office with the deck of program cards that would implement the changes. It took just a few minutes for us to review the deck for accuracy after which Ben put the package into the production run that very afternoon. Just like that! There had been nobody between us to slow us down. The whole transaction was just between Ben and me. Too bad it couldn’t have been accomplished that easily months before even with all the intermediary offices involved. Billie Aldridge called me from Wycombe the next day and thanked me for Ray and the rest of the gang.
No more painful than losing a lung
A few weeks after the family arrived in Omaha it came time for us to send our oldest child off to college. Doug left for Stanford university in early September. Juanita and Bruce Huber, our dear friends from Alaskan days, were also stationed in Omaha, and Juanita asked me whether it was hard for us to see Doug fly off and our family be forever changed. I answered that “It was no more painful than losing a lung.”
After driving to Madrid during the summer of 1969 we had dropped Doug off to hitch-hike his way back to England. On our drive back to England we had a preview of this upcoming separation. Our Rambler American station wagon seemed much larger without Doug’s long body crowding his brother and sisters in the rear.
Doug tells me that his sojourn that summer spelled his coming-of-age. Whenever he arrived at a new city, perhaps Milan or Rome, he no longer had Dad along to check him into a motel. He was on his own.
During the spring Doug had realized that many of last year’s football players at Central High would be returning to the U.S. during the summer with their families and he decided that he would try out for the team in the fall. We ordered him some expensive football shoes through the Sears catalog and I told him that no matter what else happened on his trip I expected him to be back in London on the last Monday morning in August and be standing in those shoes out on the football field practicing. He agreed.
As the family sat eating dinner on the Friday evening before this deadline, the phone rang. It was a German operator asking me if I would accept charges from a Douglass Sharp from Cologne. I said yes.
“Hi Doug. How are you? Have you visited the great cathedral in Cologne yet?”
“If I stoop down in the phone booth I can see the top of the cathedral from here, Dad, but I’ve seen enough cathedral. All I want now is security. Will you be able to come pick me up at Victoria Station at 7:30 tomorrow morning? I just bought a boat-train ticket to London and don’t have enough money left for the train fare out to Beaconsfield.” Diane and I gladly drove to London the next morning and picked up our Douglass who was now a man.
That time it was much easier to say good-bye to Doug, for we knew the separation would be temporary, but this farewell was more or less permanent – the first of many as Almira and I eventually saw all four of our children make their inevitable move to autonomy. We said good-bye to Doug at the airport through our tears. From this day forward he would be an infrequent visitor in our home. Such is life!
DMSP satellite imagery was one of the most important tools used in special projects. I was invited to join Colonel Mitchell and others each morning in a daily routine of going “behind the Green Door” into our special projects section that provided support to all classified missions: “special strategic programs.”
When I first arrived at Global, Major Ralph Collins was the principal programmer for GWC’s cloud forecast model, and each morning the fifteen to twenty of us who were invited to stand with our commander around a light-table while Ralph critiqued his brainchild’s performance the previous twenty-four hours.
Ralph’s program was still having problems telling the difference between snow cover and cloud decks. Both surfaces have a high reflectivity, and the cold temperatures of a snow surface was too easily confused with the temperatures of low clouds. Afternoon cumulonimbus (thunderstorms) like those over the Florida peninsula which explode like popcorn most afternoons during summer months were also troublesome.
One morning Ralph identified a new problem. His program had gotten confused by plumes of hot air caused by the burn-off of natural gas from numerous oil refineries on the desert. The nephanalysis (cloud analysis) program identified these hot spots as clouds, and Ralph’s cloud forecast model then spread this fictitious cloud cover downwind over a large area to its east including the Sinai Peninsula. If special projects had used this erroneous information to brief any U-2 reconnaissance plane that day AFGWC would have been embarrassed. Here was another example where Global’s man-machine mix paid off.
There was excitement once when someone in special projects recognized the shadow of a mushroom-shaped cloud on an otherwise cloudless Gobi Desert. The top of the cloud itself was round as one would expect, but the low sun-angle caused its tell-tale shadow profile to be cast on the desert floor. It was later confirmed that the Chinese had indeed detonated a nuclear weapon that day and its signature was caught on DMSP imagery. We looked for a similar profile following a later French test near Tahiti but there were too many other clouds in the area to identify the man-made one. Also, shadows don’t show up well on ocean’s surfaces.
With one-third of a mile resolution, DMSP pictures showed great detail. While the ground was snow-covered during winter months we could make out the Trans-Siberian Railroad right-of-way. We could also identify the bluffs on the Iowa side of the Missouri River across from Omaha. Pictures taken by a ten o’clock bird showed their shadow cast across the river flood-plain while the sun was still to the east.
I stood in awe each morning amidst this highly intelligent group: Major Chuck Stephens, the most effective staff officer I had ever met; Lieutenant Colonel Tom Madigan, also on Colonel Mitchell’s staff; Major Lynn LeBlanc, a meteorologist/mathematician who worked on our numerical models; Lieutenant Colonel Ken Hadeen who was developing our boundary layer model (a program that dealt with the challenging problems of the complex dynamics of the lowest five-thousand feet of the atmosphere); Major Jim Kennedy, Global’s liaison with the DMSP’s System Project Office (SPO); and Major Ralph Collins who developed Global’s forward trajectory model, plus many others. Colonel Steele had gathered this talented group around him and assigned challenging problems to each of them. In their company I felt humble.
Lieutenant Colonel Don Krider, a classmate of mine in basic meteorology at Penn State, was chief of Global’s Special Projects Division and in one respect was an excellent choice for the job. This Phi Beta Kappa from Yale was an intense and extremely capable individual. His answers were always well prepared. In one other respect, however, he was not the best choice. Don worked seven days a week and expected all of his people to do the same. I remember walking out of Building D one Friday afternoon close behind two bright young lieutenants whom I knew worked for Don. I overheard one say to the other with a note of sarcasm in his voice, “Well, only two more working days till Monday.” Many of Don’s brightest young officers had the mistaken impression that Air Force life would always be a string of “super important” projects that could not be solved in a five day work-week, so many of them left the service after their four year commitment. This was costly to the Air Force.
Other useful intelligence gleaned from Global’s data base
Global’s forward trajectory model was a useful tool that by 1970 had many applications. However, Scientific Services Division at AWS Headquarters checked the accuracy of the initial version and found unacceptable forecast errors that Global determined to be caused by mathematical truncation.
As Dr. Edward Lorenz of MIT, the father of the new science of chaos, discovered in 1961, the atmosphere is extremely sensitive to initial conditions. This means that if any parameter (temperature, pressure, water vapor content, etc.) is changed, even slightly, the result is entirely different future weather patterns. For a description of how Lorenz discovered this principle of what has since been termed chaos, see Technical Note 6 in Appendix A.
If this model had been available during the 1950s it would have helped us to track the Russian thermonuclear weapons debris we chased across the Arctic with more accuracy, but as I previously mentioned, Global’s first numerical forecasting model did not become operational until 1964.
This model follows the path of a parcel of air through time and space. In the case of radioactive parcels, it can trace the debris from a nuclear weapons explosion clear around the globe. Forecast wind fields from Global’s numerical forecast models accurately predicted the paths of such parcels in four dimensional space/time.
Another interesting and useful application of the trajectory model (useful to the intelligence community) was to trace the path of air parcels captured on the earth’s surface backwards in time and space.
Imagine that an air parcel sampled at a point somewhere on Earth at ground level is found to contain radioactive material. This parcel can be traced backwards through a series of upper air analysis fields (always more accurate than forecast fields). The result is a line of position (LOP) along which will lie the source of the radioactivity. If three or four similarly contaminated parcels are later detected at other geographical points, these parcels can similarly be traced backwards. If three or more of the LOPs cross each other at a common point, then one could speculate with some confidence that a nuclear power plant or, worse yet, a nuclear weapons plant is located in that country even if its existence has not been acknowledged by the local government.
The National Weather Service has provided forward trajectories, routinely, over the U.S. for some time now - forecasting tools that are routinely used by both government and private forecasting services.
Another example of how AFGWC’s expertise provided significant intelligence to our nation’s security was by computing the amount of infra-red radiation absorbed by the atmosphere from an energy source before this energy passed into space.
We monitored Sino-Soviet weapons development from outer space and could identify the launch of an ICBM. The intense heat emanating from their rockets (infra-red energy) radiated out into space and was measured by one of our surveillance satellites. However, as this energy passed through the Earth’s atmosphere, a certain amount of it was absorbed by the water vapor and carbon dioxide mixed in the air. Carbon dioxide amounts are relatively stable day-to-day, so this calculation was easy, however, water vapor content in the atmosphere varies dramatically in time and space. If Global is provided a latitude and longitude and a time of day, it can compute the total amount of perceptible water in the air column above this point and provide this number to our customer who could then compute how much infra-red energy was lost and add this amount to the amount received reaching the satellite’s sensor. The resulting profile across the infra-red wave length spectrum could then be compared with known “signatures” of weapons already known to exist. If no match is found, this might mean that a new weapon is being developed, and the amount of infra-red energy emanating from its rocket will provide intelligence about the amount of this rocket’s thrust.
During the fall and winter of 1970-71 Colonel Steele made a couple of visits back to his previous position of power at Global and I was privileged to sit in on his meetings with Colonel Mitchell along with Colonel Saxton and one or two others. His visits were interesting and gave me a clearer picture of Colonel Steele’s communication style. He would begin the meetings by asking a series of questions, questions that I suspected he had already pondered and for which he already had an answer: usually the only answer that would satisfy him. This, of course, is manipulative and Colonel Mitchell felt the manipulation: he would become anxious and his voice would raise at least one octave as the meeting wore on.
I said very little, but on one occasion offered a comment: “Colonel Steele, it seems to me that you already have an answer to that question in your mind that is acceptable. It would help us if you just told us what your answer is.” He gave no hint that he heard me, and I’ll never be sure if he did. This is a good example of how I thought that I would have gotten into trouble if I had ever worked for him. Under the present conditions, however, I was immune from any potential wrath from him. I must say, though, that I still admired Colonel Steele very much.
Since then, people who worked for him assured me that Steele admired those who confronted him, as long as they were sure of what they said.
Assembling a top-notch DMSP briefing team
By late spring 1971 Colonel Steele arranged for Jim Kennedy to be transferred to AWS Headquarters. Since Jim had the best grasp of the technical end of the still classified DMSP program, including how it benefited its customers, than anybody else at Global, he became the principle DMSP briefer at the Pentagon. His studies at MIT in aerospace engineering had given him this advantage. Besides, Jim was an effective speaker who could think on his feet and adjust his delivery to the level of his audience. Steele recognized this, so at Scott, Jim would continue in this role.
In the meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Cas Mendez-Vigo was caught in a discouraging situation in 3rd Weather Wing’s Weather Support Unit (WSU). His efforts were not appreciated by one of his superiors and Cas was afraid his career had hit a dead end. I can still remember him moaning and groaning whenever we got together that spring. “I’m doomed, I might as well forget about being promoted to colonel.”
Almost in desperation Cas called Jim at Scott AFB and asked if there was any job available anywhere that Jim might help Cas escape to from his present situation. Jim said he would check things out and call Cas right back. Within two hours Jim returned Cas’s call and told him of two openings that he thought would be interesting for Cas. One of the two was the obvious choice, especially after Jim told Cas that he couldn’t even say on the phone what office Cas would be working in. He could only tell him that the job was in the Pentagon.
This secrecy meant, obviously, that the job was connected to some TOP SECRET operation. As it turned out, it was more a TOP TOP SUPER-SECRET operation: the job was in Detachment 1, Headquarters AWS, the AWS liaison position at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) located in the basement of the Pentagon, and at the time, one of our nation’s most sensitive offices within the Military/Intelligence Community. The mere existence of this office was not acknowledged until late 1995; six years after the Cold War ended.
Colonel Steele arranged a quick transfer for Cas to DC. Choosing Cas for this position was a wise decision, for Cas fit the requirements of his new position to a tee. Earlier in his career he had served as AWS liaison officer to the National Weather Service’s TIROS program and was familiar with weather satellites. Cas also would be hobnobbing with some very important people within the DoD, up to and including Under-Secretaries of Defense, and Cas’s friendly, but sometimes disarmingly unorthodox, personality would be a great asset to AWS that opened doors that otherwise would have stayed closed to a more inhibited person.
Few people forget Cas after meeting him. He is fun to be around as well as effective on the job, but he can also be frustrating to his coworkers. I could testify to that from our three years together at Pinecastle in the early ‘50s.
As I inferred, Cas’s job was mainly political while Jim Kennedy’s was technical. Both talents were needed to sell a new idea within the Pentagon. So with Cas and Jim now in place and Major Chuck Stephens assuming Jim’s position at Global, the time was ripe for Steele to begin pressing for an upgrade in Global’s computer power to better support the DMSP, and thus the NRO and its spy satellite Corona, plus additional “special strategic projects” that still cannot be discussed.
Using UNIVAC 1108s, it took up to three hours for DMSP’s data to be processed and a forecast based on this data to be generated and broadcasted to Corona. Because the accuracy of any cloud forecast model deteriorates rapidly out to an ultimate limit of nine hours, AWS saw that it would be worth the expense for the NRO to buy Global one of UNIVAC’s brand-new and more powerful 1110s. Chuck Stephens had also listened to UNIVAC’s announcement of their 1110 earlier, and recommended this system over any other, including any of IBM’s System 360 models. It would have taken years to reconvert Global’s software back to IBM code, and anyway, it would be a waste to maintain two versions of the same programs. UNIVAC had gained a foothold within Global in 1967 that would last for decades.
Dedicating a U1110 exclusively to DMSP forecasting would shorten forecast delivery time considerably and allow Corona to take advantage of the “sweet” (more accurate) portion of Global’s cloud forecasts which in turn could be equated into dollars and cents saved by lengthening the useful life-span of each Corona spacecraft, while also providing higher quality support to NRO’s other systems.
Cas’s job was to prepare the scene politically. He began by utilizing an AWS service organization collocated with the CIA at Langley AFB, Virginia, who had access to computers for mathematical analysis. He asked them to run some Monte Carlo analysis curves (probability curves based on certain assumptions). After trying a few times and not getting the curves he wanted, Cas admits now that he did the analysis backwards.
Figure Missing >>
Figure 8 above describes approximately the rate of forecast accuracy decline with time. As this curve shows, by three hours approximately 40% of the accuracy has vanished, so if forecasts can be provided within two hours, more of GWC’s forecast accuracy can be utilized by Corona. The increase in accuracy from having 1110s, as envisioned by AWS, was computed to amount to an annual savings of over $80M from the NRO’s budget.
With these figures in hand, the time was now ripe for an all-out assault on the power structure to convince them to give AFGWC a UNIVAC 1110. As it turned out, this would require a great deal of luck as well as expert testimony.
The day we saved the DMSP but lost AWS”
Chuck and Jim, with Cas orchestrating things from his position within the NRO, had made a couple of futile attempts during early 1971 to sell this concept to the Pentagon, but the “Palace Guards” could not be turned on to the concept. You have to understand that you don’t just call an Under Secretary of Defense and tell him or her you’ll be there next Monday to present a briefing. Instead, you start much lower in the pecking order, hoping to convince the underlings as you progress upwards to your target audience, and not everyone in this cavernous building had sufficient imagination to comprehend the benefits of what every “salesperson” has to offer.
Meanwhile, the Under Secretary of Defense for Budget reviewed all DoD programs every six months. Approval for continuing DMSP was a mere formality. Cas would attend these meetings and never heard any opposition. However, in early 1972, Cas was out of town and could not attend this meeting. In his absence, the DMSP program was “red-lined” (eliminated) from of the next year’s budget.
By February, 1972, Cas had his Monte Carlo curves in hand so once again Colonel Steele sent Jim and Chuck on yet another visit to the NRO. At least that’s where they would have to start. They hoped to eventually gain an audience with the bright new Under Secretary of the Air Force John L. McLucas (who would eventually become Secretary of the Air Force). McLucas’ domain included the NRO.
What happened on this fateful trip was the uncovering of an unfortunate lapse in communication within the Pentagon that was parlayed by Cas and Jim into a stunning coup for our AWS that would result in an astounding dollar savings that surprised everyone. This unfortunate communication lapse turned out to be fortunate for AWS, for in the wake of its confusion, Jim and Chuck were able to gain access to the top man himself: McLucas.
Upon their arrival at the NRO, armed as they were with their briefing charts plus Cas’s curves, Jim and Chuck first talked with some non-weather types, one of whom abruptly interrupted their spiel with the startling news that “I’m afraid you’re a little too late. Secretary McLucas just canceled the entire DMSP program. It’s been scratched. . . . Sorry.” All three men were stunned for even Cas hadn’t heard this news yet.
This guy simply passed on information he had heard; catastrophic news that was nothing more than a temporary misunderstanding, but none of the present participants knew this at the time.
Jim tells me that he immediately called Colonel Steele, expecting to be told that AWS Commander General Bill Best would be coming out on the next available flight to sort this matter out, but instead, Steele response was “Well you’re there right now, so you take care of it.” Being a brand-new “lowly” lieutenant colonel at the time, Jim’s immediate reaction was panic. “How the heck can I do that?”
Reacting almost instinctively, Jim, in his own words, “immediately began to brief anyone who would listen to us.” Cas recommended they begin with a Mr. Fumio “Bob” Naka, the Under Secretary of Defense for Space Systems also positioned within the NRO, whom Cas knew personally. Arranging this briefing took a few days, but in the end Mr. Naka understood full well the value of the DMSP and was the perfect one to begin with and he immediately began making opportunities for Jim and Cas to brief higher-ups. And so the misinformation they were met with just a few days before became the break they needed to circumvent the Palace Guards. Naka was definitely not one of them, he was a high-placed resident of the palace.
They next briefed Air Force General Robins, Chief of Data Automation for the Air Force, who fully understood their pitch. Next in line was the Undersecretary of the Air Force for Finance, a Mr. Schedeler. When they quoted the potential saving they projected, $80M, Schedeler’s eyes opened wide and he stopped the briefing to call the NRO’s comptroller to his office to hear this figure. This man was tough, and his response to their assertion that he faced such a huge reduction in his budget, he got very angry. It obviously seemed preposterous to him that AWS could save the NRO that much money. This ended the meeting. Schedeler almost literally threw Cas, Jim, and General Robins out of his office.
Back in Robins’ office, the general said that he would go back to Schedeler the next morning and brief a proposal that they put up the $5M for the UNIVAC 1110 with the condition that if within one year the anticipated $80M saving was not realized, that the NRO would take the computer back and the Air Force could easily be used by some unit. Schedeler agreed.
Naka next arranged for them to seek the approval of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Research and Development, Mr. Grant Lewis Hansen, who set Jim, Cas, and Chuck back on their heels with the disturbing comment, “Why can’t the generals get their weather the same way I do, by turning on their TV.” This man obviously didn’t appreciate AWS’s value at all, so Jim took a deep breath and described AWS’s philosophy of mission tailored forecasts to him, a fundamental AWS concept. After Jim finished talking, the Under Secretary commented that “Well, I’m not sure I believe everything you’ve said, but I believe that you believe what you said, so I’ll arrange for you to brief Mr. McLucas.” All of the prior approvals depended on McLucas’s approval to restore DMSP’s budget. What a coup! They would finally get to brief the man!
After they left Mr. Hansen’s office and were walking down the hall with Mr. Naka who had accompanied them, they stopped in a stair-well and broke out laughing over what they had just heard. Jim quipped, “I’ll have to call AWS and tell them that I have good news and bad news. Today we saved the DMSP but lost AWS.” Naka and Cas chuckled.
The next day Cas and Jim were ushered into McLucas’s office and met this amiable man who was surprised to hear that the off-handed remark he had made was so grossly misinterpreted. What actually happened was that a few days before the annual budget review, McLucas met with a few members of his staff to review all line items in next year’s proposed budget, and when they got down to an item to purchase some additional mobile DMSP ground read-out units McLucas commented “No, I don’t want any of that.” The surprised underling answered, “Any of it?” McLucas repeated “Any of it!” This remark was interpreted to mean that McLucas didn’t want any of the entire DMSP program in the next year’s budget, so when DMSP came up during the budget review, this confused underling told DoD to red-line it.
After this confusion was straightened out and McLucas made the necessary calls to assure everyone that he didn’t want DMSP eliminated, Jim seized the moment to take advantage of this, in Jim’s words, “precious audience” to present AWS’s idea of how the value of DMSP data would be enhanced by the acquisition by Global of a dedicated high-speed computer, i.e. a UNIVAC 1110, to process DMSP data.
According to Jim, McLucas, after hearing the whole spiel, almost as an afterthought, said “That sounds like a good idea. Why don’t you go ahead and do that.” Miracle of miracles, this end-run resulted in approval from the very top. Years of delay and endless reams of paper work with lengthy justifications would be avoided. Jim, in his description to me of these events, added “His verbal approval was all that was needed to set the wheels in motion.”
After tying up some loose ends and making sure that every last person in the NRO fully understood what McLucas really wanted, Jim and Chuck flew home. On his flight, Jim was so exhilarated that, as he described it, he felt like a Roman conqueror returning to Rome to be met by a cheering throng and crowned with a wreath of laurel. In this case, a brass band at the airport would suffice, but I’m afraid that didn’t happen either. Jim would have to wait a little while longer for his reward: promotion to full colonel five years ahead of his time.
The next week Jim received a call from the Pentagon office for automation acquisition. They had a lot of questions for Jim about the justification for this new system they had been directed to acquire for AWS. Jim thought he detected a wee bit of resentment for having avoided using their good offices and asked whether there was any chance the whole plan might be scrapped. Jim was told that this would be impossible, given that “himself” (McLucas) had directed it to happen.
Lieutenant Colonel Norm Phares, now assigned to headquarters, AWS, was given the task of getting the signature of the commander of MAC General P. K. Carlton on the paperwork. This was an easy job. The General’s asked Norm “How much will this cost me?” When Norm answered “Nothing, sir!,” General Carlton’s only other question was, “Where do I sign?”
Assistant Secretary McLucas came out to AFGWC shortly after this caper to see for himself what Global was all about and returned to DC an even more loyal fan of both Global and the DMSP. We dazzled him!
Before the year was out, Global got its new UNIVAC 1110 and their support to the NRO was proportionately improved. One year after the 1110 was up and running at AFGWC, it was officially documented that the NRO had actually saved more than $200M: more than Air Weather Service’s entire annual budget!
In later years AFGWC began using the slogan “Choose the Weather for Battle.” This is exactly what DMSP helped the NRO do in their intelligence gathering mission. By helping NRO’s birds “choose” clear skies below, rather than wasting film by taking pictures of the tops of pretty clouds, each Corona spacecraft’s useful life was stretched by a significant percentage. Therein lay the savings.
As with the Automated Weather Network, Air Weather Service paid its own way – and then some.
On two occasions I was asked to sell our capabilities to other Air Force commands and at different times teamed up with Staff Weather Officers at SAC and the Tactical Air Command (TAC).
Lieutenant Colonel Joe Hope had returned from Europe and was now Chief of Scientific Services for 3rd Weather Wing that supported SAC. His office was across the field from Global in SAC’s Headquarters building. Joe and I worked together on a project involving one of SAC’s newest Cold War weapon systems: their Minuteman II Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) fleet.
During the infancy of these weapons AWS offered to provide forecasts for target reentry points. Using forecasts rather than climatological (average) values would reduce the weapon’s circular error probability (CEP) by some hundreds of feet, but SAC wasn’t interested because their average CEP at the beginning was still much larger. Time passed and by 1970 SAC had solved most of the engineering problems associated with aiming ballistic missiles, and the Minuteman II was now more accurate so SAC was suddenly interested in AWS’s long-standing offer.
Joe and I met with some middle-management officers (Lieutenant Colonels) from SAC’s planning group who in turn would brief their bosses (full Colonels), who would next brief their bosses (Generals). During our meetings it was interesting to hear them anticipating questions about our reliability which might be asked by their bosses: “How can we tell if the Russians send false data?” was one of the question anticipated. We explained that our computer analysis program that ran every six hours began with a first-guess field, a six-hour prognosis from the previous analysis/forecast cycle, and every piece of data received via the AWN and other sources had to fit this first-guess field reasonably well or it would be set aside for a human to review. Our rationale was that our six-hour forecasts were good enough to allow it to identify questionable data for human review. This was yet another way Global used its man-machine mix to protect the integrity of its data base. Erroneous data can cause large errors in wind direction and velocity plus other parameters. In the end, SAC ruled us worthy of a test. Before they would use our forecasts we must first provide sample forecasts for an extensive test period.
Ballistic missiles are just what the word ballistic implies. Like bullets, that can’t be steered once they leave the muzzle of a gun, ballistic missiles can’t be steered once they are launched from their pads. The two parameters SAC required were wind profiles from reentry points down to the target and high-level air density values at the reentry point. Density variations in the upper atmosphere result in variations in drag. Denser air slows a missile down more quickly allowing it to fall short of its target. Stronger tail winds than forecasted blow a weapon past its target while stronger head winds slow it down and it falls short. Cross winds push it off to one side or the other.
TRW Corporation was awarded a contract to evaluate our accuracy and we were directed to provide TRW with a deck of punched cards twice a day containing our 12 and 24 hour forecast winds and densities across a grid covering the Sino-Soviet. We named the card decks WADs, (for winds and densities) and for twelve months mailed two WADs a day to TRW. At the end of the test we were ruled reliable and given approval to begin providing operational forecasts directly into SAC’s Minuteman II missile silos. SAC was finally convinced that our forecasts would not misdirect a missile aimed at Moscow in Russia to hit the American city of Moscow, Idaho.
Interfacing our computers with SAC's super-secret communication system was a major undertaking. The customer had to be convinced that our computer programs and entire computer complex were secure (sealed off from anyone not having a TOP SECRET security clearance).
My other sales job involved the Tactical Air Command (TAC) headquartered at Langley AFB, Virginia, where I worked with people from the 5th Weather Wing. We met with representative from TAC, primarily a fighter command that also had a fleet of cargo aircraft used to supply their far-flung units, and offered to provide them computer flight plans. Our meetings went well and TAC eventually began using this product for their over-water flights.
An Air Force tradition is honored each New Years day with a Commander's Reception at the O’Club. The ultimate commander at Offutt AFB is the Commander in Chief of the Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC). This four-star general who reigned over our nation's entire nuclear arsenal was a very powerful man. On 1 January 1971, General Bruce K. Holloway was the CINCSAC.
As Almira and I left the reception around two o’clock in the afternoon, a few flakes of snow had begun to fall. Little did I realize then what this forebode. By sunrise the following morning Eastern Nebraska was buried under more than a foot of snow. We had just experienced one of Nebraska’s infamous blizzards.
When General Holloway awoke the next morning he found that he couldn’t even get his car out of the garage let alone drive to his office, and he became furious. When he also found out that the snowfall had overpowered Offutt’s fleet of snow plows and that his runways were shut down due to blowing and drifting snow he went into orbit.
“After General Holloway, his aide and neighbors shoveled his driveway, an Offutt snow plow came by and pushed another one to two feet of snow back onto his driveway. This apparently brought on enough anger that we weathermen could not escape his wrath.”
Holloway’s impatience with weather forecasters was well known to those who knew him previously, but this time his impatience reached new heights. He phoned his four-star equivalent at MAC General Jack Catton and demanded his presence ASAP at Offutt along with AWS’s commander, Brigadier General Bill Best.
I was not privileged to hear what was said during their meeting, so I’ll forever remain unclear whether this angry man ever acknowledged that the snowfall had been well forecasted. The problem was not with our forecast but with communication procedures within SAC itself. His own Command and Control Center did not advise him sufficiently of the severity of what was forecasted. New directives were written following this incident to insure this break-down in communication would never happen again.
In the meanwhile, a large fleet of immense yellow-painted snow-removal equipment was purchased by the base and parked in the motor pool inside Building D just outside of AFGWC’s building-within-a-building. A half-track was also purchased for the CINCSAC to take him to this office in all future blizzards.
Interestingly enough, most Nebraska blizzards occur far to the west of Omaha and for the next three years I watched all of that expensive equipment sit idle. The next major snow fall in Omaha would not occur until January 1975 and General Holloway was by then long gone.
The demise of Weather Plots
During a weekly staff meeting Colonel Mitchell turned to me and advised me that weather service had ordered the High Wycombe AWN site to stop creating the weather plots that I described earlier and that these forecaster aids would, instead, be created at Global and sent back to Wycombe through the AWN for distribution to 2nd WW weather stations. He knew that this would be bad news for me.
After the meeting I stayed behind to voice my opinion - to object and Colonel Mitchell and I stood toes to toes and nose to nose for about ten minutes “discussing” this subject. The decision had been made at AWS; probably by Colonel Steele whom I would have not been surprised viewed the creation of such products as belonging to Global’s mission, not the AWN’s, but Colonel Mitchell agreed with him. I argued my case to no avail and in the end had to (symbolically) step back, salute, and say yes sir.
This is the memory I call upon whenever I think or talk about loyalty to one’s superior officer. Loyalty to me requires you to stand and state your mind. In the end, your commander has the last say for he or she is ultimately responsible for the consequences.
The subject never came up again, but this doesn’t mean that I agreed with the decision. I firmly believed that on a good day, Wycombe could deliver their plots more reliably - at least ten minutes earlier than Global’s. On days when Global had production problems these products might even be omitted in favor of higher-priority products.
After I retired and went to work in private industry I saw less of this brand of loyalty. In my experience, fewer differences of opinion were aired between employee and their supervisor in corporate America than in the military and this doesn’t fit at all the stereotype in peoples minds about military life. It may be possible that the weather service, a close knit corps of mainly bright highly motivated people, is atypical of all service units.
Détente and Vietnam
As the Cold War dragged on, détente was a word heard often from 1963 through 1973. In view of our increased involvement in Vietnam beginning with the Bay of Tonkin Resolution in 1964 this would appear to have been a major contradiction, but, in spite of Vietnam, various attempts to improve U.S. relations with both China and Russia were made during this period. Presidential campaigns were marked by attempts to influence voters that one party or the other was either tougher on Communism than the other, or was more capable of bridging the ideological gap between us.
By late 1970, opposition to the war in Vietnam among the general population had increased considerably, no longer confined mainly to younger Americans. The Tet Offensive more than two years earlier had scored a major propaganda coup for the Viet Cong and the daily body counts released by General Westmoreland’s command had become suspect.
Nixon’s 1968 campaign “encouraged the view that the Republicans could end the war, and he claimed that he had a plan for doing so.” Levering also added that ”public opinion polls showed that most Americans by 1969-70 were anxious to have the war ended, even if the United states lost.”
After returning from England in late June, son Doug visited our former neighbors from Farnham Commons, the Ericksons, in the Washington area and was tear-gassed while he watched an anti-war demonstration on the Mall in DC. Later, during his freshman year at Stanford, Doug participated in a demonstration in downtown San Francisco protesting the bombing of Cambodia. During one demonstration on the Stanford campus late one night during the winter of 1970-71 some shots were fired. Doug was unnerved by this and worried that we would hear about it in the morning and fear for his safety, so he woke us up at two in the morning with a phone call to assure us that he was OK.
Like many of his generation, Douglass became strongly opposed to our continuing this war and told Almira and me that he could not in good conscience agree to be drafted and fight in Vietnam. I did not attempt to persuade him otherwise, but fortunately, he would not have to refuse induction, for the draft lottery number for his birthdate, 10 February, was high (over 300) and he was not called.
An incident involving anti-war protests that involved our daughter Joan and me was more humorous than Doug’s experiences. When the Sharp family finally gathered in Omaha in September, I started to teach Joan how to drive. We were out practicing one Saturday on the same weekend that the radical anti-war group called the “Weathermen,” a particularly venomous faction of the Students for a Democratic Society, threatened all forms of violence against the establishment. Joan and I had meandered down along the Missouri River on the back fringe of Offutt AFB and decided to take a short-cut home through the base. Joan was at the wheel. As we approached the back gate of Offutt I suddenly remembered that the base was on a high state of alert due to the threats and would certainly stop our car to verify our identity. I wasn’t sure what kinds of questions they might ask Joan, so to avoid any misunderstanding on the guard’s part I cautioned Joan to not mention that her daddy was a weatherman.
The ARPA Net, Granddaddy of the Internet
The Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) was a brainchild of the Department of Defense (DoD). More than a think-tank, ARPA funded and actively managed the development of its own projects, believed to enhance our nation’s security. One of the more significant projects spawned by this group was the ARPA Net, an ultra-high-speed communication network linking DoD agencies with some of our nation’s larger universities. The Net would allow transmission of massive amounts of data, which when shared would speed up the development of important research and other developmental projects. The network would also facilitate the sharing of our country’s computer resources.
In the very early 1970s, Air Weather Service was encouraged to join in the ARPA Net project. In mid-July 1971 Colonel Mitchell and I participated on a panel at 6th Weather Wing Headquarters, Andrews AFB, to plan an AWS/ARPA interface.
It was realized that AWS’s Environmental Technical Applications Center’s (ETAC’s) huge climatological data base was a resource that could be shared with certain DoD think-tanks, allowing them to study the potential effects of climate change on geopolitics. If Global were to become a “node” on the net, it could begin developing global weather prediction models which due to their size would require much more computing power and memory size than was available in their UNIVAC 1108s. Anticipating the day when AFGWC might possess super computers like the Cray with its multi-processing capability, AWS would be way ahead of the game if they could use the ARPA Net to develop a global model before such an acquisition.
Until then Global would have to continue to do its global forecasting in “chunks,” running its Northern and Southern Hemispheric models separately, as well as its tropical belt window. This piece-meal method created blending problems in areas where the three models overlapped.
In November of the same year I attended another ARPA Net meeting at MIT and heard a progress report on a DoD funded super-computer and a recently designed laser mass storage device similar to present day Compact Discs (CDs). What I heard gave me a glimpse into the future of computer technology. In a more frightening vein, it was reported that because of an earlier bombing of the mathematics building on the University of Wisconsin campus it was decided to house the hardware at NASA’s Ames Flight Center in California rather than on the campus of the University of Illinois.
At first, AFGWC commander Colonel Danny Mitchell was dubious about Global becoming a node on the Net. His fear was that someday, somewhere, some graduate student would run a program that would clog the network, no matter how fast it was transmitting, but he agreed anyway to put Global on-line. In a real sense, Colonel Mitchell was anticipating the damage that computer hackers would one day wreak with their viruses.
It didn’t take long for AFGWC’s Development Branch to begin sending preliminary versions of a true global model plus necessary canned test data through the ARPA Net to various universities where they would be run on large scientific computers which would have otherwise sat idle overnight. As envisioned, the ARPA Net made resource sharing a reality on a national scale.
A few years later the DoD began looking for sponsors for their pioneering communication network within the civilian community and eventually found some. The ARPA Net would eventually grow to become the Internet – the Information Super-Highway – and my son Douglass would go to work for Microsoft, participating in the development of the tools necessary to unleash the potential of this complex wiring system that encircled the globe mimicking the human nervous system, the World Wide Web.
Years before I became a meteorologist, weather centrals world-wide transmitted their forecast charts via facsimile (fax) circuits. The original technique was to send a stream of analog signals that initiated burns on the surface of a receiver’s fax paper that reproduced a picture of the chart being sent. Transmission speed was slow. If my memory serves me well, every weather chart took the same amount of time, approximately twenty minutes. In the late 1960s, AWS awarded an Air Force contract to the EGG Corporation near Boston, Massachusetts, to develop a digital fax transmission system. I was asked to accompany Colonel Roland Rogers from Headquarters AWS on a visit to EEG. This company with an illustrious history in the manufacture of facsimile equipment needed to talk to us about a problem they were having. I had no background in this technology, so the trip was educational in two different ways.
EGG explained that their development had proceeded on schedule until they began transmitting test charts out in the real world away from their laboratory. Commercial telephone lines introduced an unacceptable number of transmission errors. In other words, their equipment worked well only in an ideal world. They were forced to ask us to approve a developmental cost-overrun to assure delivery of equipment that was useable in the real world (they asked us for more money).
The concept of digital fax transmission is no different than the concept I previously described that we had used for data compression of Global’s print-contour charts sent through the AWN. Savings in transmission time came from substituting a count of bits to be reinserted by the receiving equipment in place of long strings of like-bits (all blacks or all whites). Similar to present-day fax transmission sent routinely around the globe, weather charts with just a few lines on them take only a few minutes to send while more complex images take much longer, but no chart takes as long to transmit as it would take to transmit every bit (pixel) on the sheet of paper being sent. As with Global’s AWN charts, this results in considerably savings in transmission time.
The problem EEG were seeing was that when a bit was lost due to a hit on the line (static), the receiving equipment lost its count and the rest of the line was distorted. This was happening too often and the charts EEG received under realistic conditions had too many ugly streaks across them.
That evening back at the O’Club at Hanscom Field I was educated in a different way. I listened as Colonel Rogers thought out loud, debating with himself over his decision on their request. Listening to him do this was reminiscent to how Colonel Galligar would arrive at his decisions. Weighing the financial interests of the Air Force against the fact that EEG was close to a solution and, as it turned out, would eventually provide us with reliable equipment, Colonel Rogers decided to recommend that we pay them the additional money they needed to fix their problem. He saw no advantage to our nation as a whole from driving this group of bright young engineers into bankruptcy.
The RAF kept one of their Strategic bombers stationed at Offutt at all times: a Vulcan. This monster was loud; especially during take-offs. In this case the ground literally shook. One wife, whom I shall not mention by name quipped one day that “A Vulcan take-off is equivalent to fifteen minutes of foreplay.”
Another example of their humor resulted from the teasing we used to get from our non-weather administrative officer. Poking fun at the weather forecasting terminology we sometimes use he commented that “ If you laid all of the forecasters at Global end-to-end, they wouldn’t reach a conclusion.” One among us repeated this at home that evening and his wife’s response was that “If I laid all the forecasters at Global end-to-end, I’d be exhausted!”
Exit Dave, reenter Ray
In the spring of 1971 Colonel Saxton left Global for another assignment. Ray Galligar was returning from High Wycombe and would be my new boss. For many reasons I was delighted with this news. Ray was a totally honest man and therefore a pleasure to work for. This had also been true of Dave Saxton. Ray already knew Global inside and out and was a natural choice for the job. He also worked well with our commander, Danny Mitchell, and Ray’s wife Artys would once again become our neighbor and friend.
I also realized that Ray admired my work and anticipated that I would benefit from him writing my last OER before I became eligible for my next promotion.
Ray and I were once again an efficient team and I quickly brought him up to date on the many projects we were currently involved in.
Update on AWS’s solar forecasting program
In the fall of 1971 Colonel Galligar and I arranged a data link between AFGWC and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Space Environmental Laboratory (SEL) at Boulder, Colorado.
By coincidence, my brother-in-law’s brother, Bud Hornback, was our contact at the SEL. I first met Bud in 1962 when his brother Quentin married my sister. Bud and I met again the summer of 1965 while Almira and I visited Denver and Boulder on our way to Oklahoma. During this visit Bud and I learned that we were both involved in real-time data acquisition systems. I had just finished putting the AWN on line and Bud was becoming more and more involved in a similar new system that fed fourteen solar data circuits into the SEL. His system was developed under a contract and after the contract was completed the programmers left town.
Bud and his colleagues soon wanted their system to perform additional data filtering tasks and since Bud was more curious about computer programming than his coworkers he taught himself programming. By the time we met in 1965 he was intimately familiar with his entire system and would spend the rest of his career as SEL’s principle programmer. He was originally a physicist involved in instrumentation design.
By 1971 AWS’s own space monitoring program had been operational for some time. It was located to the south of Boulder in Cheyenne Mountain, co-located with the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) which tracked all of the world’s satellites. AWS’s Space Environmental Support System (SESS) was a part of 12th Weather Squadron at Ent AFB in Colorado Springs and they had one of their Air Force solar physicists stationed in Bud’s office as liaison between NOAA and AWS.
Global was the only AWS facility with sufficient computer storage capability to house a total solar environmental data base now needed by SESS so Ray and I invited Bud to Omaha to discuss a data link. All of the details were agreed upon and the link was established. A small group of solar physicists were transferred to Global from Colorado to manage the data base.
Their officer in charge was a major from the Pennsylvania Dutch area in Lancaster County, west of Philadelphia. For some unknown reason, early German settlers, gave sexually suggestive names to a few of their small communities: Intercourse, Bird in Hand, and Paradise. The major was born and raised in Intercourse. I enjoyed introducing him to others. After my introduction I would always add “Jim says he’s from Intercourse, but, then again, aren’t we all.”
“In December 1973 the forecasting responsibility for the AWS Space Environmental Support Program (SESS) was transferred to AFGWC from the 12th Weather Squadron/Aerospace Environmental Support Unit at Colorado Springs, Colorado. AFGWC became the DoD’s only real-time operational source of analyses, predictions, significant event notifications, and consultant services dealing with space environmental impacts on military communication, surveillance, detention, and satellite systems.”
I talked my way out of that one
During late fall of 1971 Global’s Chief of Automation also left for another assignment. I was asked to assume his job, but I didn’t want it. I had already done that. My five years in the AWN was enough time for me to spend managing computer systems. To me, computers were an important and powerful tool that Global used well, but I still enjoyed my present job very much and wanted to remain in Global’s nerve center, in touch with all of our production centers and their customers alike.
My good friend (at least until then) Lieutenant Colonel Tom Madigan was a navigator as well as a Ph.D. meteorologist. Tom was off flying that day and in his absence (and without his permission) I somehow convinced Colonel Mitchell that Tom was a better choice for this position. It was a Friday as I remember, and I didn’t see Tom until Monday morning after he had already heard the news. Someone must have told him of my part in all of this, for he smiled wryly as he thanked me for my “help.”
As it turned out, Tom quickly came to enjoy his new job. Computer operations was all new to him and he managed his new charge well. I’m still convinced that I actually did Tom a favor, but to be sure you’d have to ask Tom’s opinion.
An offer I couldn’t refuse
By early 1972 it was obvious that our involvement in Vietnam would end soon and that there would be a resultant reduction in the size of the Air Force, including the Air Weather Service. From a peak of a little over 12,000 in 1958, the total complement of AWS had gone through a number of adjustments that by 1972 saw a reduction down to close to 10,000. AWS looked closely at its manpower requirements with an eye to preparing for the severe draw-downs that began in 1972 and continued through 1978 when total strength hovered down around 5,000. At the time of this writing, AWS strength stands at 3,700.
In order to support its customers in the manner to which they had become accustomed, the obvious solution was to centralize – centralize – centralize, and soon all roads within AWS lead to AFGWC. Beginning in the 1970s, the AWS leadership repeatedly emphasized that a tour at Global was a “must” for advancement in the AWS “family.”
AWS had actually already begun centralizing at Global in January 1970 when it moved its Severe Weather Forecast Center from its co-location with National Weather Service’s equivalent from Kansas City to Omaha. As I already described, the production of computer flight plans was also moved to Global seven months later, and in 1971 the Latin American Forecast Center was moved from Charleston AFB, South Carolina, to Global.
Sometime in the last half of 1971 it was decided to disband the European Forecast Center, now located at Croughton, England, plus the Asian Forecast Center at Fuchu AS, Japan. Similar work centers would be organized at AFGWC and Global that would drive fax circuits to all Air Force weather stations in Europe and the Far East. This would, of course, mean the end for transmitting AFGWC’s print-contour maps through the Automated Weather Network to Europe and Asia.
All of these work centers became parts of Global’s Analysis and Forecasting Division (“out on the floor” as we referred to this, our largest division housed in a huge open-spaced room).
Colonel Mitchell and I made a trip to AWS Headquarters in early January 1972 to coordinate what forecast products would be transmitted to each theater. Soon after we returned to Omaha, my commander once again called me into his office, closed the door, and asked me to change jobs. This time he insisted that I assume the job of Chief of Analysis and Forecasting. Jim Stevenson our current chief was due to retire in February and Colonel Mitchell wanted me to manage what would be a tremendous growth in his unit’s mission.
Unlike the good colonel’s earlier offer, this job immediately appealed to me. It would be a new and exciting challenge. AWS’s target date to begin sending these fax charts was less than a year away and Colonel Mitchell estimated that before that date the division would grow from its present 170 to almost 280 persons assigned. This was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
I hadn’t been personally involved in AWS’s “bread-and-butter” weather forecasting operations since I left Pinecastle fifteen years earlier, and I was now about to manage the preparation of literally hundreds, if not thousands, of forecasts daily. I was energized by the challenge, while I heard that some others shook their heads, speculating that Colonel Mitchell had lost his mind. Surely Jack Sharp and Tom Madigan should have each other’s jobs! I never agreed with that opinion. Certainly, both Tom and I had more experience in each other’s areas, but my opinion is still that we both did excellent jobs.
I had always enjoyed watching the weather during those years when I wasn’t actually forecasting, and had also closely followed the enormous improvements in forecast accuracy that followed the introduction of computers and their numerical weather prediction models. Anyway, I wouldn’t be doing any forecasting, but was being asked to arrange for an orderly growth while assuring that high quality products would result.
I was confident I could do both and could hardy wait to dive into the middle of the almost constant chaos that marked life “out on the floor.” The fun I anticipated was not a false dream. I would have a ball.
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