Chapter 13: Chief of Aerospace Sciences
A prestigious title, an inner office, but little job satisfaction
Leaving Global, I felt adrift: almost like a man without a country. The best job I had ever had was taken from me and I was pretty sure that I was miscast in my new assignment. The position certainly had a prestigious enough title to it: Chief of Aerospace Sciences, Headquarters, Strategic Air Command, and my new offices were on the ground floor of the SAC Headquarters Building. I also had an inner office, this time with a conference table in front of my desk. All of this, but in my heart I knew that my temperament was best suited to current operations and not planning. In fact, I had always shied away from such tasks, they bored me. But here I was.
The SAC Underground
My security clearance was changed to allow me access to the catacombs of Offutt, the SAC Underground, and a tour of the caverns was part of my indoctrination. I must say it’s impressive down there. As we passed every check-point, the guard pulled a card out of his file with my picture attached that he held up to compare to my face. Only when a guard sees a person frequently enough to make a positive identification by sight are they allowed to skip this step.
SAC’s Command and Control Room, deep down under, was impressive: just the way Hollywood would have staged it: TV screens all along the top of the wall facing the controllers. To stay in contact with all of their forces, this room had all kinds of communication lines tied into it and this communication complex network had attracted many private industries to locate their centralized reservation services and other telephone-dependent operations in Omaha. Probably the most complete and sophisticated communication lines outside of our nation’s capital were fed into this one room. You can be sure that each circuit had numerous back-ups. Their main vulnerability was, and will always be, interruptions caused by solar flares and other sources of radiation. AWS’s solar physicists (SESS) warned SAC when such an interruption was imminent.
During this tour I recalled a cartoon that appeared in Playboy decades earlier. Pictured were two characters one of whom was being given a tour similar to mine. They had stopped beside a wall switch with two buttons on it. The caption read, “And be real careful here, that top switch launches 1,500 ICBMs, each with multiple nuclear warheads that will reduce much of Eastern Europe and Asia to radioactive rubble. The bottom one turns the Christmas tree lights on at the White House.”
My staff consisted of seven very competent meteorologists plus an administrative assistant. All of the current projects were briefed to me in great detail along with the problems involved in solving them. I remember a few of them.
Castle AFB, California, had an ongoing problem with warm-fog: fog at above freezing temperatures. Its runways were often closed to flight operation due to fog. As I described earlier, AWS had already partially solved the cold-fog problem with weather modification techniques, but warm-fog still remained a major problem. There are two ways that warm fog can be dissipated. One is to somehow harvest the moisture from the air, similar to making cold-fog drop its water by snowing it out. The second way would be to warm the until the fog evaporates as it does naturally whenever the sun itself warms it up. We see this every day.
My project officer for this problem had developed a tentative solution that we all knew was unacceptable. Castle’s fog could be evaporated by burying a jet engine about every one hundred feet along each side of its runway. The engines could be turned on and the air warmed by their exhaust. This solution would cost millions, and for the many months it would have taken to complete the project, lots of heavy equipment would be lying alongside the runway, posing a major flying safety hazard. The whole concept was, of course, ridiculous, even though it would have worked. Mother Nature is a formidable foe and sometimes requires extraordinary measures to even slightly diminish its inconveniences. That solution, as we suspected, died on the vine.
A hot topic in SAC at this time was finding a home for their new MX missile. This weapon had been justified when our National Security Advisors perceived a window of vulnerability: ICBM silos could not be fully hardened. Various solutions had been considered for some time. The railroad shell game was one of them. Put our entire MX fleet plus a bunch of dummy missiles on railroad cars and constantly move them around the countryside; sort of like a moving target for any hostile first-strike missile.
Another solution proposed was to hide them underground, under the state of Utah. Again, put the MXs on rails but have them play subway-train – back and forth across the state. A modern-day version of the Underground Railroad.
One project I became personally involved in was with one of our country’s increasing number of “Dooms Day” planes: heavily instrumented aircraft that would stay aloft like Looking Glass in case Armageddon really came. To intelligently exercise command and control over our strategic forces from an aircraft this way would certainly require a meteorologist to be aboard. However, without adequate, continuously updated data the poor soul could do little more than stick his finger out a window to see which way the wind was blowing. In other words, the presence of a meteorologist aboard would require yet another antenna to be installed aboard the plane. I was chosen as the messenger to break this news to a General officer in SAC Plans. My briefing in his office was a pleasant experience. I don’t remember the gentleman’s name, but he was very cordial and fully understood what I was telling him. I would not remain on active duty long enough to hear the end results of any of these projects.
A new commander
Colonel Gene St Clair, one of the last veterans of WW II still on active duty was the commander of 3rd WW when I arrived, but he soon retired and was replaced by Colonel James Gillard. Jim and I had been climatologist trainees at the Climatic Center back in 1962. Jim was a pilot and since 1962 had spent a number of years flying C-141 Transports for MAC.
Ray Galligar retired from 3rd Weather Wing later that spring. Ray outranked Gillard by some years and felt demeaned opening doors for his much younger commander who obviously had little personal experience in the bread and butter forecasting responsibilities of his far-flung weather wing. Ray and his wife Artys stayed on in Omaha and I saw Ray often until his untimely death a year later.
Sometime later, the day came for the Air Force to decide whether Pat Pickett would be allowed to stay for eight more years or be forced to retire immediately. The permanent lieutenant colonel promotion list was released. That morning I called over to 3rd WW Headquarters and asked a friend if he would see if Pat’s name was on the list. It was! I was delighted and anxiously awaited a call from Pat that never came. Around ten o’clock I called Global’s command section and talked to another friend there. I told him that Pat had been promoted and asked him to find out why Dick Johnston had not yet notified Pat. I received a call after lunch that Dick would wait until he was notified by his own wing headquarters: 6th WW, at Andrews AFB, Maryland. I was furious, but I couldn’t stick my nose into the affair any deeper than I already had.
Four o’clock came and I had this image of Pat leaving work feeling awful, convinced that the absence of good news meant that he had again been passed over. In my anger at Dick’s lack of sensitivity I decided screw’im. In my mind, Dick no longer deserved the privilege of being the one to notify Pat. I called a few of my old staff at Global and told them to meet me at Pat’s front door after supper at about 7 o’clock armed with a bottle of hooch, ready for a party and then drove to the Base Exchange and bought new insignia for Pat, just as my dear friend and mentor Ray Galligar had done for me earlier in the year.
When Pat answered the knock on his door we buried him with congratulations and had a party. Pat admitted how discouraged he felt as he left work. He still enjoyed his Air Force career and had a lot more to offer.
The next morning Pat called to tell me that Dick Johnston had just come by to congratulate him, and commented that he heard that somebody had already informed him. Pat said nothing. Unlike his Civil War namesake, Pat Pickett made it to the top of the hill and won his battle.
So this is how its going to be
On August first I assumed the rank of full colonel. After six long months, my line number had finally risen to the top. Before leaving for work I replaced the silver oak leaves on my uniform with colonel’s eagles. It was a proud moment.
It was raining that morning and when I got to my parking spot just outside my office I was already glad to have my new rank that came with such convenient parking. Between the parking area and the building was a driveway and a car was approaching so I stopped to wait. To my surprise, the car stopped and one of SAC’s more attractive secretaries stuck her head out the window and smiled; giving me permission to cross the street in front of her. This was my introduction to Colonelhood! I thought to myself, “So this is how it’s going to be.” I had seen this particular young woman a number of times at the O’Club and had surmised that she was looking for a husband – or something – and I just smiled to myself.
“Would you be my best man?”
Later that day I took a box of cigars to distribute to my old buddies at Global, as was the custom then. Aside from these occasions I never smoked. I asked someone to go behind the green door and bring Jack Wylie out for me. After the congratulations, Jack looked at me kind of sheepishly and asked, “Jack, I’d like to ask you a favor. Would you be my best man?” I looked hard at Jack and asked him “Who?” He kind of smiled and answered “Janet.” I was both surprised and pleased to hear this and immediately told him I’d be honored. We talked for a while and I asked him when he started to date Janet. It was around Easter time, right after he went behind the green door and was no longer her supervisor. It had never occurred to me that dating Janet would be awkward (and possibly even against military regulations) if he had begun wooing her while still a superior officer in the same section.
Almira and I drove to Detroit to attend the wedding where I was considered a hero for bringing the two together. Both sets of parents loved their own child’s choice.
Almira and I have seen the pair once since we left the service and Janet again thanked me for my meddling. They have two lovely daughters and are living in the Pacific Northwest.
Reporting to my jail cell
In late fall of 1973 as I became more and more bored with my job it began to feel that each morning I would put on my uniform and report to my jail cell. I was not happy and began to ponder my future. As a brand new colonel I had incurred a two year service commitment before I could retire in my new rank, so I had to think of some job I would like. Where could I go to once again enjoy a career that until now had brought me so much satisfaction? Looking around, the only other job that interested me was an ROTC professorship at some university. I thought that would be fun, for I related well to young people, so I put together a resume. As it turned out, Vietnam was seriously winding down by now and these positions were being given mainly to pilots and others who had seen service in Southeast Asia.
An opportunity to calm the waters
One of the tasks Colonel Gillard assigned me was to write his monthly Commander’s Comments that were distributed throughout the wing. the subject matter, CTFP, a subject dear to my heart, was the subject, and I relished this opportunity to say my piece. This is what I wrote:
C O M M A N D E R ‘ S C O M M E N T S
For some 3d Weather Wing stations, 1 November 1973 marked the second anniversary of their involvement in the Centralized Terminal Forecast Program (CTFP). The few remaining stations not yet involved will participate beginning this January. Thus, this winter begins our total involvement in this 3WWg/AFGWC team effort.
After two years we can say that the CTFP is working at a level acceptable to AWS and to our customers. [I didn’t really believe this, but in this instance I could not be honest.] It can still fail, however, and will fail at your station or any other station where attitude does not give it a chance to succeed. [More wishful thinking!]
Under CTFP, your station is solely responsible for the first four hours of the TAF. For the remaining 20 hours, AFGWC has control. They have been given the responsibility to produce that specific Mission Tailored Product we call the Scheduling TAF (STAF), and for good reasons in the long run. They have at their disposal the most sophisticated array of forecasting tools ever assembled. Their managers and many of their forecasters are among the best talent in AWS. I am more than willing to agree that they are doing as good a job as I would if I were there. We must all believe this! Over time any of us might find ourselves on their team and one of their people in our position. If any of my detachment commanders are not personally convinced now that Global does, in fact, have an advantage in objective scientific forecasting aids for the STAF, I would like to arrange for you to visit AFGWC to see their production system and hear our briefings. We are continuously running a program of AFGWC orientation for Offutt Base Weather Division and WSU personnel so that they can develop a warm feeling for the place and its people.
Acknowledging AFGWC’s principle role after four hours is not to say that we can play Pontius Pilate and shirk our special responsibilities to our local operators. We must continue to provide our professional assistance as staff mets. Our assumption must be that AFGWC will dedicate every available resource to providing the best scheduling forecast possible while we must conscientiously and objectively review each of their products upon receipt and in a spirit of cooperation work out any honest differences of opinion in and when they exist. Honest differences of opinions with AFGWC products should be passed to them quickly without emotion, be documented, and verified. Yes, for the mental health of this relationship we must objectively keep score on how often we talk AFGWC into busting as well as how often we talk them into saving a bust. Both cases will occur. You must work at remembering both.
A detachment commander has a special responsibility, He must remember that the “Not Invented Here” (NIH) syndrome will be encouraged if his people know they can complain about AFGWC products to him without providing specific verification statistics. A healthy relationship exists only when station forecasters begin to admit openly that AFGWC “saved one” by remaining unconvinced that they should amend. Better yet, call Global and let them know you realize they were right. You will make a friend who will remember your station and be motivated to prove as often as is humanly possible that he deserved the praise.
Detachment commanders should also establish a rapport with the mangers within the Analysis and Forecasting Branch at AFGWC. You share a major responsibility with these people, and teamwork among managers is as important as teamwork at the working level. I will rely on each 3d Weather Wing station forecaster and manager to work closely with is counterpart at AFGWC, facilitating their personal motivation so that we can rest assured that, to a man, they are doing their best.
James H. Gillard, Colonel, USAF
“Find out what their problem is!”
Jim Gillard obviously had high hopes of becoming the next AWS commander and seemed to me to be distracted by his ambition. He was very vulnerable to criticism from above, and when he did perceive criticism about any part of 3rd Wing’s vast operations he became anxious. Within a few months I saw this vulnerability at work.
August 1973 was a stormy month in eastern Nebraska and during such periods the weather changes back and forth rapidly. This plays havoc with terminal forecast verification statistics. Sometime during that month, Admiral Moorer, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, paid a visit to SAC Headquarters. As is usual, the weekend was reserved for golf but the game was rained out. At Monday morning’s briefing, poor Jim got it from the CINCSAC. I wasn’t present to hear his words, so I can’t testify as to how much of the ribbing was in jest and how much was for real. All I know is that Jim felt very threatened and wanted to crack heads. At our next weekly staff meeting Jim, almost scowling, said to me “Jack, I want you to go down to base weather and find out what their problem is!” I “yes sired” Jim and that afternoon began my investigation. It was a good excuse to get out of the office.
I met with the detachment commander, a competent individual, who maintained that in his view, his forecasting procedures were in good shape and he was proud of his recent record. True, the current weather pattern was a challenge, but according to his verification statistics his people were holding their own.
I took this as a clue as to how I would be able to identify “a problem” if one existed and asked him to gather forecast verification statistics from the past five years for me and I took this data back to my office to study.
The no-think forecast was our adversary
Persistence, the no-think forecast, is the standard on which AWS’s Forecast Verification Program is based. Persistence means no change. In other words, if Offutt field conditions at 6 a.m. one morning are below minimums, Category 1, then persistency’s forecast would be that there will be no change from that category for the next twenty-four hours. Terminal forecasts are published every six hours and verified at six, twelve, and twenty-four hours after origination. Amendments are, of course, published as necessary..
In a dry climate like Arizona, persistence is difficult to beat, for few weather changes occur in desert areas: persistence is high. Studying the previous five years of Offutt’s scores I found that base weather’s Terminal Airdrome Forecasts (TAFORs) verified, at best, 10-12% better than persistence. When persistence scored low, our TAFORs also scored proportionately low. Also, in only one of the sixty months did persistence win. They definitely had a management problem that month.
What happened was that due to the stormy (that reads changeable) regime over the Great Plains that August, persistence verified only 49% of the time and base weather’s scored 60%. Offutt’s forecasts verified 11% higher than persistence, so in conclusion, there was no problem to uncover. The question was, what is reasonable to expect. If persistence scores poorly we are bound to look bad, but let’s always focus on the difference between the two. This is only fair, since it conforms to AWS’s policy.
The real problem was that they were having lousy weather and complaints about the quality of our forecasts are quite common during such periods. Most of AWS’s customer’s dissatisfaction is really about the weather itself and not the forecasting. But would Jim Gillard understand this? I was afraid not, for it seemed to me that he had already assumed there was a problem.
Suspecting this, I protected myself by arranging to have witnesses when I briefed him on my findings. I put my briefing on the agenda for the next staff meeting and was the last person to speak. I did my best to explain persistence and the whole concept to Jim, for I suspected that he had little or no hands-on experience as a station forecaster. When I finished with the good news that our guys had actually been doing a good job during a trying period, Jim slammed his pencil down, stood up and said “I was afraid that you’d assume they didn’t have a problem!” He assumed that I assumed when he had already assumed!
I smiled as ten pairs of eyes turned from Jim to me as our commander stomped out of the room. I bit my lip, because I was sorely tempted to say something that could have easily been interpreted as insubordinate. Instead I simply smiled wider, shrugged my shoulders and shook my head in wonder. The rest of the staff were my witnesses and they understood my message full well.
This incident really irritated me and I took the trouble to send a copy of my briefing complete with charts and figures to an old friend at AWS, Colonel Tom Potter who was then Vice Commander. This is what I said in the cover letter:
11 January 1974
Colonel Thomas D. Potter
Headquarters Air Weather Service
Scott Air Force Base, Illinois 62225
When we spoke briefly the other week I mentioned the enclosed briefing to you. Before I presented it verbally, Jim Gillard asked me to finalize it for forwarding to General Aldrich to show that we addressed “our problem” of the weekend forecast that was concerning everyone during August-September. For reasons of his own, Jim decided against sending it. He and I never could agree on where “the problem: was.
I feel strongly Tom, that too often in AWS, our hard working people get pummeled around the head and shoulders over an apparent poor performance when the culprit is the weather itself. Ours was a classic example.
I’m sending this to you personally because I believe it might help Hqs AWS if they considered what I have to say on this matter. We too often and too quickly get involved in blood-letting during periods of unusually poor weather and each time a deeper wedge is driven between management and labor. I got enough sincere feedback from the rest of the staff here to convince me that there is some candid truths in what I am saying. Use this letter as you wish and if you wish. Not all of us see the same things as problems, this is one which has bugged me since I began working at AFGWC in 1970. So much of the “fan mail” they receive is emotional distortions and frustrated searching for a scape-goat.
Tom had just been side-stepped for promotion to general and appointment as AWS’s next commander and had already announced his retirement. I knew he was busy planning the rest of his life and I never heard whether my letter circulated at headquarters and I haven’t seen Tom since.
The importance of knowing Global’s capabilities
An incident at McGuire AFB, New Jersey, during the Yom Kippur War is worthy of mention, for, in my mind, it highlights how essential it had become by this time that every AWS meteorologist know how to utilize AFGWC’s capabilities.
On October 6, 1973 Egyptian forces crossed the Suez Canal and attacked Israel’s forces on the Sinai Desert. Our response was immediate. Air Force F-4 fighters were ferried to Israel and MAC began a giant airlift.
Middle East weather suddenly became the focus of AWS, MAC, and the entire DoD, and all forecasts would come from Global. “AFGWC’s forecast products were not severely affected by the shutoff of observations from Israel’s Arab neighbors, thanks to the availability of DMSP weather satellite data.”
Bob Woodnal recently described to me what happened at McGuire AFB, New Jersey, the major point of departure for MAC’s giant C-141 and C-5A transports heading east. The commander of Detachment 10, 7th Weather Wing at McGuire had briefed the 21st Air Force Commander, Major General Carney, before the first wave of his transports departed, and, obviously knowing nothing about AFGWC and how they could have helped him, instead of providing terminal forecasts for Tel Aviv and other destinations, he instead wrote on his briefing charts, [Forecasts] “Denied.” Certainly, forecasts were not available from their Middle East sources, but if he had called Global for assistance, they would have given him a good forecast. “I don’t know” is never an acceptable answer. We weren’t paid to know, we were paid to forecast!
This, of course, was insane, even suicidal, and, not surprisingly, the furious general called AWS and told them to replace this person immediately. Bob Woodnal, still at Global, received an urgent call from headquarters advising him that he was to go to McGuire as soon as possible and take over command of the weather detachment. They could not have made a better choice. As soon as he arrived, he started up a flow of support from Global. Nobody knew Global’s capabilities better than Bob. For the rest of the three weeks of the Yom Kippur War, Bob kept his customer satisfied with his weather support.
Bob’s reward came quickly. This same general sat on the colonels’ promotion board when Bob became eligible, and after returning to McGuire told Lieutenant Colonel Woodnal that he would soon be a colonel: the general had seen to that. Ironically, after a later tour as Commander, 12th Weather Squadron at Colorado Springs, Colorado, the, Bob, now a colonel was reassigned as Chief of Aerospace Sciences, (3WW), Headquarters, Strategic Air Command. He retired from that position after a year of, as he described it, “excitement.”
Time to retire
Early in 1974 the DoD resolved a problem. With the end of Vietnam, they suddenly had too many senior officers (both commissioned and non-commissioned) on active duty. During hostilities, Congress will authorize additional slots for higher ranks and take them away after the war ends.
A communiqué arrived from Air Force in January, 1974, announcing that any colonel who had recently been promoted was relieved of his or her two-year service commitment and could retire in their present rank and still receive a colonel’s retirement salary. Having been turned down for ROTC duty, convinced I would not enjoy any other colonel’s job in AWS, and also afraid that I would be transferred quickly like Bob Woodnal had been, I decided to retire, and on April 1, 1974, rejoined the civilian community to go forth and seek the rest of my fortune. I was only forty-four year of age; still a young man.
Fond and Proud Memories
I will forever cherish the many fond memories of my Air Force Cold War career. Not just my tour in weather reconnaissance, but my entire career was exciting, and it was fun.
We were engaged in a dreadful conflict that fortunately never ignited. Threatened as I believed we were by a nuclear holocaust, I was proud and willing to risk my life chasing nuclear waste in Arctic skies, and at other times add to the advancement of knowledge about this planet earth that was similarly being threatened. The AWN was my largest contribution to the entire nation and I still feel some sort of ownership.
Thor’s Legions have made many other significant contributions to the security of our nation as well as to the welfare of our planet Earth. For almost sixty years we have proudly served Thor, Odin, and Mars - Gods of thunder, lightning, and War, while also serving Gaia, Erda, and Pax - Goddesses of Earth and Peace.
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