Chapter 12: Out on the Floor
So much to learn and so little time. Fortunately, Lieutenant Colonel Art Bidner, assistant to the previous chief, was there to help me grasp the scope and details of my new job. Art was a more experienced synoptician than I was, but, in the military, the ranking officer is always placed in charge, and I outranked Art by a few months. He came to AFGWC from Kansas City when AWS’s Severe Weather Forecasting Center was moved to Omaha.
It’s always awkward when a senior officer works for another of the same rank. There’s a chance this might hurt at promotion time. Art was a highly regarded weather officer, so to protect his career AWS transferred him to Headquarters before I wrote an efficiency report on him, but during the two months we spent together, Art taught me a great deal about my new job and we’ve been good friends ever since. Art would one day (a couple of years after my retirement) assume command of AFGWC.
After Art left, Major Bob Woodnal became my new assistant. Bob come up through the enlisted ranks and was particularly savvy. He had also worked at Global for many years and knew the system better than most people.
One morning I noticed that Bob walked by my desk a few times, glancing at my in-box as he passed. Paper work had never been my strong suit and I knew that I ignored the piles of paper delivered to me each morning. They had piled up. In the back of my mind I suspected that the size of the stack was making Bob nervous. I was right. After about his fifth trip, he stopped and politely confronted me.
“Colonel Sharp, would it be OK if I asked the clerk to deliver your mail in my in-box instead of yours? I could go through it and sort out what was necessary for you to see and take care of the rest myself.”
“Gee Bob, that’s a great idea. I would certainly appreciate that. To be honest, I don’t really like paper work anyway and I sometimes let it sit too long.” (As if I had to tell him this by now.)
Sometimes, but not always, if we play “helpless” a guardian angel will come along and rescue us. As a rule I don’t do this, but this time it was OK.
Bob was promoted to lieutenant colonel soon after he began working for me and a few of us in my section began grooming Bob for bigger and better things. In Bob’s own mind he was just another “Polack” from Milwaukee, but he was really much more. Bob heeded our counsel and decided to assume a more distinguished image. He bought a new uniform and also had his hair styled. This, unfortunately, led to an incident that temporarily left Bob deflated. During lunch at the Officer’s Club one day during the week the AWS Inspector General (IG) visited us and “picked our nit,” the IG, Colonel Barry Rowe, happened to be sitting at a table behind Bob and after lunch called Bob aside and told him that his haircut did not comply with regulations: it had too boxy a look in the back rather than the usual tapered look. To me this dressing down was uncalled for, but unfortunately is typical of IG visits when we were often treated like Boy Scouts.
As I said many times about life out on the floor, “Never plan more than twenty minutes ahead, because there’s an emergency every fifteen minutes.” I reveled in this atmosphere. If I sat reading at my desk for more than ten minutes I could usually count on somebody coming into my office all excited and asking me to come out to make some decision.
Like rust, weather never sleeps, and the result is almost constant pressure on weather forecasters while they are on duty. The weather goes on and on endlessly and my people were charged with staying ahead of it: night and day, seven days a week. Within a year there would be a total of sixty people on duty at all times in my division. The lights were never turned off out on the floor
It’s been said many times that NCO’s are the backbone of every military unit. This was certainly true of Global’s Analysis and Forecasting Division. Most of the people who did the actual day-to-day forecasting were NCOs. All of our weather observers were enlisted; “enlisted swine” as they often jokingly referred to themselves.
Vietnam had an unfortunate, and sometimes crazy, impact on morale within the enlisted ranks. Angry about Vietnam, many of our new enlistees waged war against their senior NCOs, or “lifers” as they referred to them, making their lives as miserable as possible. An oft-heard response to an order by a senior NCO was “This is your world Sarge, I’m just camping out here.” A lot of time and effort was spent, mainly on the part of our supervisory NCOs, disciplining these kids. My unit was not spared this agony. On a few occasions I had to intervene and even referee, often taking advantage of the trust that some of these young angry Airmen held for me.
Airman Jim Zauch, who had joined the service with a chip on his shoulder, was typical, and I almost had to sit on him one day when my Chief Observer, Chief Master Sergeant Don Robarge, dragged Zauch into my office for yet another infraction. When the kid used the word “lifer,” I stopped him in mid-sentence and delivered a brief but intense lecture. I told him that I respected Sergeant Robarge deeply and appreciated all he was doing for me and the Air Force, and that his language was offensive to me, so never use that word again. I can’t say that my lecture resulted in a metamorphosis for Zauch.
About two weeks after this incident I was out on the floor when young Zauch, who was standing behind the printer, called my name and asked to speak to me privately in my office. As I had already guessed, Zauch had just shot himself in the foot again. On the way to work that morning he had to stop by the dispensary to pick up some medicine. He passed by a captain just before entering the building, but instead of saluting him, Zauch flipped him the Peace Sign. Not suprisingly, the captain ordered Zauch to halt and demanded his name and organization. This incident occurred less than an hour before our talk.
Zauch knew full well he had done a stupid thing, but wanting him to see it from another prospective I said to him “You know what you did? – you challenged his manhood. Your Peace Sign was saying “Do you have the balls to call me on this one?”” Zauch nodded, and bowed his head contritely. This confused young kid had only a few months left before his discharge and had stupidly risked receiving a less-than-honorable discharge over nothing.
At my urging Zauch called the captain and apologized over the phone and the two of them talked for a while. This seemed to satisfy the captain and I called him later and thanked him for giving Zauch another chance. Many of my fellow officers will probably not agree with me, but one of the things I am most proud of was seeing Airman Zauch honorably discharged from the Air Force six months later. These were difficult times for those of us in the military who now had to serve with these young people who were angry, some even bitter, about Vietnam. Many, like Zauch, took their anger out on us.
Another problem I faced was assigning jobs to a few senior captains and majors who came to my section after being fired from their jobs as weather detachment commanders. Personnel people apparently thought that AFGWC was large enough to absorb these men, which it was, but unfortunately for me, most of them wound up in my section. Those whom I deemed to be poor managers I had to tuck under one of my competent managers who outranked them. For those whom I couldn’t fit in this way I had to create a staff job that I felt they could handle. Fortunately, most of them were competent meteorologists.
This was the early ‘70s and during this period the Air Force was forced to face the realities of our rapidly changing society. The goal was to increase the number of women in the Air Force and reach a total of 20% within the decade. What to do when a WAF became pregnant? What to do when an unmarried WAF became pregnant? What to do when a WAF, single or married, became pregnant and wished to stay on active duty?
As I mentioned, this was the early ‘70s and out of wedlock pregnancies were on the increase. Sure enough, a single WAF in my section became pregnant and requested to stay in the service, so I was now suddenly involved in dealing with this issue
Air Force rules at the time were that if a pregnant WAF wished to continue on active duty her unit commander or his appointed assistant must decide whether or not the young woman could handle her new responsibility while continuing to perform her military duties. Our WAF’s duties were to plot weather observations on blank weather maps, not too demanding. CMS Robarge conferred with her supervisor who trusted that she could do both and I concurred with their assessment.
Since this permission to continue serving was a recent decision, the Air Force had not as yet designed uniforms to fit a pregnant woman, our mother-to-be began coming to work in civilian clothes when she outgrew her regular uniform. I remember seeing her whenever I walked down past our upper air winds monitoring section. Toward the end she had to sit side-saddle while she worked because her tummy would not allow her to reach across the light table when it was in front of her.
Cries of “Baby Killers” are hurled
During my forays out on the floor I would often engage in conversations with some of our newly-enlisted troops. I often heard them speak of their understandable confusion over the shouts of “Baby Killers!” hurled at them by self-righteous anti-Vietnam War pickets as they drove through the SAC Gate on their way to work. These were innocent youngsters, fresh off of their parent’s farms in Iowa, New Hampshire, and Georgia; inner city kids who, like the farm kids, were away from home for the first time, and, like myself when I first entered the University of Illinois many years earlier, had no real political convictions or even opinions.
Until now, these young adults never met what I call our “Wooly-Haired” Liberal friends who were so judgmental about even these naive youngsters’ decisions to dutifully obey their family and country’s wishes that they serve in the military. My young charges often arrived at work confused by the venom spewed at them by those who also spilled lamb’s blood on the SAC emblem just outside of the gate which read “Peace is Our Profession.”
During the worst days of Vietnam that expression bothered me a little too, but I believed that these well-meaning but overly judgmental protesters were knocking at the wrong door. They would have served their purpose better if they protested in front of their Congressional Representatives’ offices. Our military marches on orders from their civilian leaders. Ours is not a military dictatorship!
I guess the self-righteous will always bother me. I can understand their feelings about Vietnam. I could understand them at the time. In some aspects I shared their views, but I didn’t lay the whole package on the backs of eighteen-year-old recent high school graduates who, like myself nineteen years earlier in all innocence, decided to serve their country. Most of these fine young people would not even have been in uniform at the time except for the draft. For God’s sake, give them a break.
In the reaction of my Airmen and Airwomen I saw a back-lash of anger towards their tormentors; a self-defense to keep from feeling the guilt that the demonstrators expected them to feel.
I interviewed every one of these youngsters when they first arrived, a task I enjoyed, and always asked the same question, “Why are you here?” Most said that it was an alternative to being drafted into the infantry. I remember one fellow answering simply, “My Draft Lottery number was five.” Enough said. There were also a fair number who enlisted because they couldn’t find a job after high school and thought that the technical military training offered them would help in later life. Only a few had already decided to become a “lifer.”
There was some turmoil in my religious denomination, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA). Like most UUs I am a social liberal, but there were many among us who, like the demonstrators outside Offutt’s gates, were Wooly-Haired and nauseatingly self-righteous.
The Beacon Press is an arm of he UUA and toward the end of the Vietnam conflict published the full text of “The Pentagon Papers.” This might give you an idea of the average UU’s position on the war by that time. I knew only a few Unitarian Universalists in AWS and just one was scorned within his own church by some of its members. Like those Quakers who chose to wage war against the Axis, I felt no guilt or contradiction about being a Unitarian Universalist and also being on active military duty, even during a less than popular conflict.
As a footnote: in the late 1980s a fellow UU, General John T. Chain, Jr., became CINCSAC and for a time commanded all of our nations nuclear forces that if unleashed would spell the end of life on Earth. General Chain was even interviewed by the UU World, our denomination’s magazine. General Chain’s ascendancy occurred more than a decade after the end of Vietnam. I never asked the gentleman, but during Vietnam he may have had some of the same reservations that I and many of the men and women I served with had over our involvement. If he did, it certainly didn’t hurt his promotion potential.
“What will Henry think?”
Colonel Galligar was reassigned from Global to the 3rd Weather Wing as Director of Operations. His new job required that he attend all weather briefing given to the CINCSAC. During the Christmas week 1972 Hanoi bombings Ray and I spoke often about what was going on. Forecasts for that operation originated at AFGWC.
My section was deeply involved in this operation. Each evening, my forecasters prepared cloud-cover forecasts for Hanoi for the following day. Our B-52s could not drop bombs when their targets were obscured by clouds (when there was an undercast). One night I was called at home at two o’clock in the morning and told that an inexperienced forecaster misread the infra-red satellite imagery and saw clouds that weren’t there and had sent a bad forecast to 3rd Weather Wing forecasters in the SAC command post. This incident showed us that we had a problem in our training procedures which we immediately addressed.
I got dressed and rushed out to work to talk with 3rd Wing forecasters in SAC’s Weather Support Unit (WSU). Fortunately they had already caught our error and corrected it. We knew full well that general officers get angry if you tell them they can’t bomb and it turns out that they can. In the end, we were embarrassed in the eyes of our brethren in 3rd Wing, but had been spared a larger embarrassment in the eyes of SAC’s commanders. Given a choice, we would prefer it that way.
Fortunately this didn’t occur during the Christmas bombing. On December 18, 1972, U.S. B-52s began raining bombs on Hanoi and Haiphong and continued for twelve days. Fifteen B-52s were downed and forty-four pilots were captured. Over 36,000 tons of bombs were dropped – more that the total for the period 1969-71.
Colonel Galligar described to me a few incidents that occurred late one night during the last few days of this operation. General John C. Meyer, a tough-minded individual to say the least, was CINCSAC at this time. He and his staff had been up for almost forty-eight hours straight and the atmosphere in the war room was tense: General Meyers was particularly testy.
According to Ray, Meyer began pacing back and forth after receiving a report about more losses and he began asking the rhetorical question “I wonder what Henry is thinking?” (Henry being Henry Kissinger.) I have no idea what their relationship was like, but it was apparent from Meyer’s concern that he was worried.
A three star general on Meyer’s staff, I don't know his name, was evidently feeling rotten. He had a bad cough, and according to Ray looked peaked and like all the others, hadn’t been to bed in days. When he asked General Meyer’s permission to go home to get some sleep, explaining how lousy he was feeling, his kind hearted boss looked around the room and sarcastically asked “Has anybody in this room been to bed in the last two days? Is anyone in this room not feeling tired and lousy?” He made no other comment – end of conversation!
One month later, on January 31, 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were signed and the Vietnam conflict ground down to its conclusion. Soon after President Nixon resigned his office in August 1974, Duong Van Minh became president of Vietnam and he surrendered unconditionally to the North on April 30, 1975. U.S. forces immediately withdrew from Saigon.
Preparing Global’s new Forecast Centers for business
Upon assuming my new position, I appointed the men and women who would head the Asian and European Forecast Centers and immediately began to assign new arrivals to these new work centers. It was sometimes difficult to maintain a balance between experienced forecasters and those just out of school. Few of our new arrivals had much experience.
Lieutenant Colonel Margaret Perry wanted to head the European center and I gladly approved her request. She had served an earlier tour at High Wycombe and was an excellent officer. We were also fortunate that Captain Jack Wylie soon arrived, fresh from his three your tour at Wycombe. I hadn’t worked side-by-side with Jack at Wycombe, but had a very favorable impression of his work from my friend and neighbor Bob Erickson. Jack was a senior captain and would make an excellent shift chief for Margaret.
While Bob Woodnal and I met with our staff once a week to review our progress in these and other projects, Jack Wylie and the other experienced forecasters in both of our newly organized centers began training their people even though it would be some time before they would actually begin transmitting forecast products overseas. A lot of intense training would have to be completed before that date.
This was the best opportunity I would have in my career to practice my participatory management style. I believe it paid off. My staff was energized and, from what I observed myself and was told by them, they came to work each morning full of enthusiasm. Our plans progressed on schedule and as soon as we had welcomed in a sufficient number of people to do the work, both centers began production of test charts. Before the end of the year both Croughton and Fuchu Weather Centers were deactivated and Global’s two new work centers became operational. We stayed in constant contact with the 2nd Weather Wing in Europe and the 1st Weather Wing in Asia to assure ourselves and them that we were up to the task of fulfilling their needs.
Janet Wilbur, a bright young woman full of confidence, with a good sense of humor and very attractive, was assigned to the Analysis and Forecasting Section. We initially assigned her to plotting maps in our North American Forecast Center. Each time Janet came to work it was fun to watch her co-workers, mostly male, perk up like roosters with a new hen in the coop.
After Jack Wylie, a bachelor, arrived from Wycombe, I got it in my head that he and Janet might hit it off in spite of their difference in rank (officers fraternizing with enlisted personnel is not usually encouraged). Having the authority I had, I told Chief Robarge to reassign Janet to the European Forecast Center and “Don't ask me any questions, just do it.” Naturally, I waited to see whether Jack would take the bait, but I couldn’t detect any reaction on his part. He was a quiet guy.
We planned a division picnic for early summer and I had a brilliant idea. One day while they were both on shift I announced that it was only fair that bachelors be responsible to organize children’s games for the picnic. “You, Jack, will head the committee, and Janet, you’re single, so you’re on the committee too.” To camouflage my hidden agenda I appointed some others.
The picnic was held as scheduled – on the day the news broke that some burglars were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex In Washington, DC – but I still could not detect anything going on between Jack and Janet so I gave up. Jack must be dumb and blind - and could now die while still a bachelor for all I cared!
A guided tour of a bizarre Bazaar
Analysis and Forecasting Division (out on the floor) was composed of seven work centers. As I said earlier, each one operated twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Every unit was surrounded by partitions upon which were hung a multitude of weather maps and observations.
A visitor from AWS Headquarters once commented that “the floor” at Global had a bizarre appearance: it looked more like a Middle Eastern Bazaar than a weather central. I never did understand how he would have wanted to change its look. The additional wall space was certainly essential.
Let me take you on a tour, clockwise, around the room:
1. In the southeast corner of the room was Margaret Perry’s European Forecast Center. Light tables took up most of the space upon which Global computer products were laid and copied onto fax charts verbatim and transmitted. Other charts, such as those depicting sensible weather (clouds, visibility, and precipitation), were composed by more objective methods.
2. Next was the Asian Forecast Center that similarly created products for their area of responsibility. I remember a problem we had with a new forecaster who was too indecisive for the work he was assigned: preparing severe turbulence forecast charts for the Northern Pacific Ocean with outlined areas of moderate or intense turbulence. As soon as he finished his training and began working on his own we received some frantic phone calls from Hickam AFB, Hawaii, and other Pacific weather stations. The boxes he drew were much too large to be useful. Afraid to commit a sin of omission and miss an area of turbulence, his boxes covered most of the Northern Pacific Ocean. He certainly could claim that he covered all of the danger zones, but of course, his work was less than useless and left us looking incompetent. Again, this was a management problem – my problem. I forget what we ultimately did with that particular person, but after this incident we placed even more emphasis on our training and quality control procedures.
I was particularly fortunate in having Major Pat Pickett on my staff. Pat was an expert tropical weather forecaster. Pat had been an instructor of tropical meteorology at the Air Force’s weather training school at Chanute AFB, Illinois, for some time and wrote a definitive pamphlet on streamline analysis, an important technique in his specialty: Technical Study #9, published by Scientific Services, 1st Weather Wing in 1969, entitled “A Practical Approach to Streamline Analysis.”
Pat says that his brother, a Naval aviator, once told him that Pat was better known throughout the Navy than he himself was because everywhere the brother went, Naval weather personnel would ask him whether he was related to the Air Force weather officer who wrote their “bible.” I’ll have more to write about Pat later.
3. Next was our Intermediate Range Forecast Center, organized at the request of Headquarters after receiving a series of requests for more detailed seven to ten day forecasts. A certain captain enthusiastically volunteered to head this unit and immediately began to issue very elaborate, well-worded outlooks. Bob Woodnal, I, and some others were dubious about their credibility. We felt they included too much detail to be believable, that the science of meteorology was not to the point where such details were possible to forecast dependably that far in advance, so we toned down his enthusiasm and curbed his silver-tongued oratorios.
4. Next along the west wall was our largest group: the North American Forecast Center. This extremely important unit was the elite unit on the floor. Because of the seriousness of their responsibility – forecasting severe weather for hundreds of DoD facilities across the country – it was considered a compliment to be assigned to it.
The national Weather Service’s philosophy in regard to severe weather forecasting is to avoid panicking the public. Their system of warnings reflects this. They wish to avoid forecasting devastating weather phenomenon that doesn’t happen. For example, tornado warnings are issued only when a tornado is either on the ground or its signature hook-echo is detected on a radar screen.
Our responsibilities were different. Many of our customers required two or more hours of warning. For example, lightning strokes are a major threat during ground refueling operations and it takes time to close down this kind of operation, and/or tie down aircraft, or roll lighter ones into hangers. Because of this requirement to provide adequate lead time, we would give ourselves credit for a “hit” only if our point warning was issued two hours before the phenomenon occurred.
We committed a great deal of manpower to accountability: forecast verification. In the North American Forecast Center, for instance, we had Airmen on duty around the clock who monitored weather circuits, searching for reports of severe weather events: tornadoes, wind gusts greater than 35 mph, moderate size hail, or thunder and lightning within a given radius of a warning point.
Beside these point warnings, which were issued for specific military installations, we also issued severe weather warnings for areas defined within boxes. Smaller boxes were more useful as long as they included all of the severe weather occurrences in the area. A sin of commission was to publish a box in which no event occurred. A sin of omission was for a tornado to occur outside of any box. As in the case of turbulence over the Northern Pacific, we could have scored 100% by simply publishing one box daily that covered the entire U.S.. Of course, this would have been a farce – but our verification statistics would have been hard to beat.
A “Hero’s Box” was an unusually small box. We had a young Staff Sergeant, just recently certified to work a shift alone as a severe weather forecaster who, during the spring of 1972, put out a “Hero’s Box” over Massachusetts in which a single tornado occurred that, unfortunately, killed a child in a swimming pool. This young man’s professional reputation was assured that afternoon for his box was not only small but was located in an area where tornadoes were rare occurrences.
Forecasting severe weather is addictive. It has the attraction of random payoffs, not unlike gambling. On mornings when major outbreaks were anticipated from the day before, this crew came to work all excited, and as the day wore on we would hear cheers whenever somebody’s point warning or box verified. This may sound cruel and unfeeling, but it was understandable: they had given the people a fair warning to look skyward and be ready to dive into their tornado cellars and probably saved many lives. Dorothy might not have wound up in Oz that fateful day in 1939 if AFGWC had been around.
Mr. Bob Miller, already a legend, was the star of the show in our severe weather forecasting unit. Captain Robert C. Miller and his colleague Major Ernie Fawbush issued the first ever tornado forecast on March 25, 1948 at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma and it verified. After poring over balloon soundings and pressure analysis, they applied techniques that, happily for the entire weather industry, produced an accurate forecast of an area of potential tornadoes hours in advance. Their work was revolutionary.
These two men had worked together during WW II and at that time collaborated on developing rudimental severe weather forecasting techniques which were later expanded upon by U.S. Weather Bureau forecasters. These very same techniques were the ones used by this team on this fateful day a few years later. Both men left the service, but not before further developing their techniques. Bob returned to the Air Force as a civilian employee and was assigned to the joint Weather Bureau-Air Force severe weather center in Kansas City. Bob came to Offutt with the rest of the Air Force personnel from KC in early 1970.
By 1970, Bob’s forecasting techniques had been formalized as Miller’s SWEAT (severe weather threat) Index that was expressed mathematically and incorporated into AFGWC’s production runs. It considered temperature lapse rates in the vertical, wind shear between 5,000 and 18,000 feet plus other contributing weather parameter factors that I have long since forgotten.
One of the advantages of being stationed at global during this period was the opportunity to sit in on one of Bob’s famous one o’clock weather briefings. Each afternoon Bob critiqued the previous day’s forecast and describe his section’s forecast for the next twenty-four hours. Bob had a great sense of humor and I can recall one afternoon when this humor served as an apology for a missed forecast. The day before, the SWEAT over the Western Carolinas was well over 300 indicating a strong chance of tornadic activity that afternoon. Bob, however, decided that his index was unreliable in such mountainous areas as Asheville, NC, and he decided not to issue an alert. Tornadic winds struck in spite of the Master’s denial and Bob started off his briefing by acknowledging that he had , in effect, denied his own child.
On another occasion, a day when the weather situation was ambiguous, the systems were complex and our computer models didn’t seem to be sure of what they were doing, Bob sighed deeply and opened his soliloquy with “It’s on days like this that I wish I had become a plumber.”
Before I was placed in charge, the Analysis and Forecasting Division was charged with a new responsibility: issuing Centralized Terminal Forecasts (CTFs), a program that was to be phased in over a year’s time, beginning with an area in the Southwestern U.S. including mainly Texas. When I appeared on the scene, we had begun forecasting for Texas bases and complaints were already being heard. This program created a great deal of mischief that I will describe later.
5. On the other side of the room lay our long-range forecast center which published outlooks beyond ten days. It was the least hectic work center on the floor and I spent little time there, for they rarely had any immediate problems that I could help with.
6. Next to them was our Tropical and Southern Hemisphere Section. This was the unit that was transferred to Global from Charleston AFB, South Carolina, earlier. At Charleston the focus was mainly on flights to South America, but at Global it had the added responsibility of monitoring the quality of our Southern Hemispheric numerical prediction model. Another part of our man-machine mix.
7. Last but not least, down at the southeast corner of the room was located our Upper Air Section that provided the most significant human ingredient in our man-machine mix. Their work space was just outside of the door into a room that housed a tenant unit from the Military Airlift Command, Detachment 14, MAC, who monitored our Computer Flight Plans (CFPs) that MAC depended so heavily on. When Mac crews landed at their destinations they were required to send a message to AFGWC with our forecasted tail-wind component and their actual tail-wind component so we could compare the two.
This was a group of highly experience forecasters, including a number of civilian employees with experience dating back to WW II, who were given the tools I quoted Dave Saxton as describing in his earlier briefing. Where there was a consistent disparity between the two numbers we received from MAC aircraft, forecasters in this section would study the route in question and make revisions to our forecast wind fields. Revisions in certain parameters were punched on IBM cards and taken to the computer room where they over-rode winds from our last 6-hour forecast cycle or were put into the next forecast cycle if it was close to that time. In this way we allowed humans to correct errors in our computer output. Revised CFPs that flew through these suspect areas were produced and transmitted to the appropriate departure bases for any future flights. When Bob Woodnal was assigned to Current Operations, he coordinated the necessary software design with Global programmers that allowed this human intervention.
Upper Air Section forecasters often talked with the crew of President Nixon’s Air Force One. As you might guess the President’s flights got extra attention. We had the capability to transmit revised flight plans directly to their cockpit. On one particular flight the President’s plans changed halfway across the Atlantic and a complete new CFP was transmitted to him post-haste. We provided flight plans for his famous flight to Red China. So as you can now better imagine, this was a busy place much of the time.
There was another group of forecasters in our section located behind locked doors in an entirely different work space. They were rather autonomous, and I rarely went into their area. This group, Current Operations, supported SAC flying operations, including reconnaissance mission to all points around the globe.
One of this unit’s more glamorous on-going tasks was to forecast for Looking Glass flights, SAC’s Airborne Post-Attack Command and Control System; a KC-135 equipped to take control of our nation’s nuclear forces should the primary SAC command center at Offutt AFB be destroyed.
On 3 February 1971, Looking Glass celebrated its tenth anniversary of flying around-the-clock top-cover for SAC. This tradition would last until the Berlin Wall fell and neither side’s ICBMs were aimed at the other. On 24 July 1990, President George Bush ordered SAC to switch to random patrols, and in June 0f 1994 this mission was transferred to the Navy’s “Take Charge and Move Over” airborne command post.
Looking Glass aircraft, one of SAC’s three EC-135s, departed Offutt for an eight-hour mission, always with a general officer aboard. They would cruise at 26,000-40,000 feet, and could fly for eleven hours without refueling, or 36-72 hours with multiple refuelings. Major storms caused many such prolonged flights, especially during winter months.
During the early 1970s, other “Doom’s Day” aircraft took to the skies in the comfort of gigantic Boeing 747s.
As Art Bidner recently reminded me, the concept of centralizing AWS’s airdrome terminal forecasting efforts had already been tested and proven wanting. While Art was assigned to the Severe Weather Center at Kansas City the unit was charged with this responsibility, but due to complaints from weather squadrons the responsibility was shifted back to individual base weather stations. Never the less, out of the desperation felt at Headquarters over the massive reductions in AWS manpower, the plan was reborn. They must have thought that Global was so wonderful that surely they could handle the job.
Our North American Forecast Center began to assume the responsibility for the rest of our air bases outside of Texas shortly after I was placed in charge. Base forecasters would stay responsible for forecasting terminal weather conditions for the first four hours and Global would provide the rest of the twenty-four hour forecast.
Approximately one hundred Air Force bases were divided into eight zones: four zones west to east and two zones south to north. One forecaster was assigned to each of the eight zones and had either twelve or thirteen air bases to cover. I never had more than four men available for each position, so they worked more than a forty hour week. My staff and I did our best to help keep their morale from sinking. Not only were they working overtime, but they had too large a responsibility to do a good job. They were spread too thin.
This was a dirty trick to pull on what I viewed as a conscientious group of professionals, mainly enlisted. It’s discouraging to come to work realizing you will probably provide some poor products. There was no way that anyone, no matter how experienced, could sit on a stool in Omaha, Nebraska and outperform eight other professionals located at their own bases in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho in this kind of work. We, of course, had copies all of the forecast studies from each location, but sensible weather (cloud cover, runway visibility [fog, haze, smog], wind, and precipitation is affected by local terrain, proximity to large cities, and many other factors unique to each area and being there helps a lot.
I spent a lot of time on the phone talking to detachment commanders, trying to find a middle ground. I encouraged my forecasters to work with their customers, but during periods of wide-spread foul weather this was impractical. There were too many of them and not enough of us. But an order is an order, so you salute and carry on. When I left this job in early May 1973 we were still in the middle of what, in some cases, could be described as near war with the more belligerent detachments.
It took until 1978, four years after my retirement, when A. J. Kaehn was promoted to Brigadier General and named commander of AWS that this program was finally canceled. All who knew A. J., retired or active duty, saw his appointment as a breath of fresh air. He was down to earth and immediately saw the futility of the CTFP program that had been foisted upon my people by “managers,” not weather forecasters.
According to John Fuller, General Kaehn, to appease the few remaining advocates of CTFP, “emphasized that AWS policy was to use a mixture of centrally and locally derived products.” He said that “we are atrophying meteorology in the weather stations.” Fuller also noted that A. J.’s decision “was a great shot in the arm for morale.” I guess I’ll never understand how this disaster was allowed to continue as long as it did. As you might be able to tell, this has bothered me since 1973 and it’s a relief to finally be able to get this off my chest.
The 1970s were a period of steep inflation. A wage-price spiral was getting out of hand and carrying our economy into orbit. Even we in the military saw our salaries rise rapidly through this period, also because of the Nixon administration’s decision to convert to all-volunteer forces.
Inflation permeated many other aspects of our society. With the help of the Vietnam War, the number of senior officers in our armed forces also became inflated. This usually happens during hostilities. There also developed a seemingly uncontrollable tendency to inflate performance ratings. For an officer, the highest possible performance rating was a nine, but by the early 1970s, if you received less than a nine your next promotion was in jeopardy.
Even though the Officer’s Effectiveness Form (OER) had a written caveat that “Special justification [is] required for these sections,” eights and nines were awarded too often. Those officers whose bosses rated them more honestly suffered when they should not have.
The description of the eight block was “OUTSTANDING ALMOST NEVER EQUALED.” The nine block read “ABSOLUTELY SUPERIOR.” Both blocks carried a description of the officer’s promotion potential as “OUTSTANDING GROWTH POTENTIAL BASED ON DEMONSTRATED PERFORMANCE, PROMOTE WELL AHEAD OF CONTEMPORARIES.” Rather impressive.
I joked at the time that it had gotten to the point that a promotion board had to ask “Would the real Jesus Christ please stand up and be recognized.” If your boss wrote that “you were in class by yourself, in all honesty he would be saying that you were “average” because you would be almost alone in that category. I’m still amazed that so many of our best people were recognized and rewarded for truly superior performances.
A collection of humorous quotes of ambiguous descriptions of performance circulated among us that either were worded ambiguously or “killed with faint praise.”. The funniest I recall was, “You will indeed be fortunate if you can get this man to work for you.”
“Colonel Galligar dropped by”
I knew my own chances of promotion were pretty good. True, I hadn’t taken the Command and Staff School Course by correspondence which supposedly put me at risk, but since my AWN tour beginning in 1965 I had been on a roll. Being Chief of Analysis and Forecasting also was an advantage, for my desk was promoted to full colonel before I was. The Air Force designated certain positions that warrant the rank of colonel and I sat in a colonel’s seat. An Air Force program, “Cold Eagle,” asked commanders to identify those they thought should definitely be promoted. Colonel Mitchell named me and some others.
One afternoon in February, 1973, I stopped by the gym for a round of squash before going home. When I did get home and sat down in the living room, the whole family sat on the couch across from me and continued to sit attentively while I described my games. I thought this odd, because I would normally have had to sit on any one of them to get them to listen. When I finished, Almira handed me a small brown paper sack and said “Colonel Galligar dropped by and left you this.” I was stunned to find a set of colonel’s eagle insignia inside. Ray had a peek before leaving work of the newly published promotion list to be released in the morning and saw my name. He dropped by the Base Exchange and bought me this wonderful present. As you can imagine, the Sharp family celebrated that evening, but I couldn’t call anybody and tell them.
Ray had done me the same favor that his own mentor, Colonel Sorry had done for him while we were both at Wycombe. As I said then, this is often done even though it usurps a commander’s prerogative of having the pleasure. In this case it wasn’t bad, for Colonel Mitchell had retired the month before and we had an interim commander at the time. The next morning I went to work and acted appropriately surprised when I was duly notified of the good news. I would have to wait my turn to replace a vacancy left by someone leaving the Air Force before I could don the eagles. This took six months. Tom Madigan was also on the list and we gave a big party along with Joe O’Neal from 3rd Wing who was promoted ahead of his class.
Global’s new commander
Global’s new commander, Colonel Richard Johnston, arrived sometime shortly after my promotion was announced and advised me that he wanted Joe O’Neal to take my job and I would be transferred across the field to head Scientific Services at 3rd Weather Wing. I was being sacked, or SACed as it were.
I loved my job, especially the constant interactions with my people. Although I was disappointed a the time, this switch was probably for the best: Dick Johnston and I could have never seen eye to eye.
In my opinion, Dick’s management style was adversarial, similar to Colonel Steele’s, and mine was definitely not. We used to say there were two basic management styles: theory X and theory Y. Theory X proposed that workers had to be driven while theory Y postulated that workers perform best when inspired. I felt that my positive attitude concerning the pride of the average forecaster and observer in their work helped keep their morale elevated above what it might have been, especially among the CTFP forecasters who were so callously placed into their no-win situation.
Before leaving, I had one opportunity to describe to Dick what had been going on in my shop. He asked me to bring him up to date on all of our projects. While talking to him I emphasized how desperately we needed some more bodies to give the workers in a few work centers more time off. The answer I remember was that this was the way things had always been and they would never change. I just shook my head, for I believed that its only when a commander doesn’t rattle his cage for more support that things do not change.
“In this man’s case, the promotion system failed!”
Before I could leave I had to write effectiveness reports on all of those I supervised, including Major Pat Pickett. Pat had been passed over repeatedly for promotion to temporary lieutenant colonel. In fact, he was now about to be evaluated by a promotion board for promotion to permanent lieutenant colonel. If an officer does not attain this permanent rank by his or her twentieth year they must retire from the service.
I had heard the story behind Pat’s situation, He received a low OER a few years back because of some family problems over which he had no control, but Pat, to me, was a superior officer. He managed the quality control of all of our tropical forecasting efforts in both South America and Vietnam. I wrote his OER with great passion in a last ditch effort to save what I saw was a distinguished career. Unlike many others, Pat truly wished to continue on active duty for a few more years, and of course he also wished to be vindicated and his contributions recognized in a meaningful way.
I rated him honestly as a “nine” and in the comments section made an emotional appeal for what I saw as justice. I said, in effect, that “the Air Force cannot afford to lose this man. In his case the promotion system has failed. Promote him now!”
Colonel Johnston had a problem with what I wrote and called me into his office to tell me he would have difficulty concurring with my rating. I was adamant, shrugged my shoulders and said “I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do and I expect you will do what you have to do.” It was only during a recent phone conversation with Pat that I asked him what Dick finally decided and he told me that Dick concurred with my rating.
Bob Woodnal tells me that Colonel Johnston later asked Bob, “off the record,” what he thought about Pat. Bob added, “You know my answer.” Bob’s endorsement probably persuaded Dick to go along with my rating and I accept that Dick trusted Bob’s opinion more than mine. They had served together at Global earlier and were much more comfortable with each other than Dick and I were.
After I left Global, both Bob and Pat were transferred to the Automation Division where Bob wrote another OER on Pat to which he attached suggested endorsements all the way through the chain of command. General Collins, AWS Commander at the time, also bought Bob’s recommendation. I’m sure all of this helped Pat’s chances considerable. I will add a final chapter to this episode in my next chapter.
At the time I was convinced that the fact that I had embarrassed Dick Johnston in the eyes of his boss almost eight years earlier had a part in his canning me, but I no longer feel this was the case. He and Joe O’Neal were good friends and would work together much more smoothly than Dick and I would have. Anyway, it was a “fait accompli.”
Tying off another loose end
Shortly before I left Global, Jack Wylie was promoted to major and I decided to do him a favor he deserved, even if he had (in my opinion) acted so stupidly with Janet.
I called Don Krider back in Special Projects and put a bug in his ear, telling him that I had a very talented senior captain working for me who was just promoted to major and asked him if he might have an opening for Jack. I repeated the obvious, that Jack would not get the recognition from higher up he deserved if he continued to work out on the floor. He would remain anonymous, just another shift worker routinely performing AWS’s bread and butter functions. I obviously did a good selling job, for Don asked me to tell him more about Jack which I was happy to do. By coincidence, Don had a group with two senior captains in it, but was uncomfortable with either of them being in charge. Having a newly promoted major would get Don off the hook. He agreed, and shortly after I left, Jack was moved to a much more visible position. He parlayed this career break just the way I had imagined. Definitely a “fast burner,” Jack eventually make full colonel and commanded some of AWS’s most important weather squadrons. I did Don, Jack, and the Air Force a favor that day and I still view this action as one of my better decisions.
An unheralded departure
I think Dick Johnston expressed his true regard of me best by arranging no recognition for my three years at AFGWC. True, it had gotten routine by this point that senior officer be awarded some kind of official recognition when he or she left an organization: either a Commendation or Meritorious Service Medal, but Dick did not see fit to arrange this. It felt like I left Global by the back door.
Bob Woodnal arranged for a luncheon at the O’Club for me and my staff which I truly appreciated, after which I silently departed for what was to be my last Air Force assignment. Bob also gave me a dummy Computer Flight Plan for my 1/2 mile hike to Building 500, Headquarters of the Strategic Air Command.
When I had arrived three years earlier, two full colonels were assigned to Global: Colonel Danny Mitchell the commander and Colonel Dave Saxton the Operations Officer. As I departed, six colonels were authorized, with a few of the positions still held by lieutenant colonels. This number would rise even further during the next year. As I said earlier, inflation was the hallmark of the ‘70s.
to Cold Fronts Table of Contents
to Chapter 13