With Independence Day being celebrated this week in the United States, I thought that I would share the story of my service to our country.
I come from a long line of soldiers that extends back to at least the American Revolution. Myth or historically accurate, I’m not quite sure but I heard it from my mother who heard it from her mother. Apparently, I am somehow related to Ethan Allen, leader of the Green Mountain Boys of New Hampshire, who captured Fort Ticonderoga from the British in 1775.
Skip ahead one hundred ten years and my great grandfather Anton Scholze leaves with his family, including my four year old grandfather Benno, from Prachen, a German hamlet in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, for a better life in America. My great grandfather, Anton, is said to have left the great Empire because he did not want his boys to become, “cannon fodder for the Fuhrer,” nor did he want his boys to take up arms against their German brethren. Ironically, all but one of my grandfather’s sons, my father and uncles, served in the United States military defending freedom, liberty, and independence in World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War. One of my uncles was actually part of the first group of Americans to liberate his father’s birthplace and his grandfather’s hometown of Prachen, now part of the Czech Republic. Altogether, I had one uncle serve in the Army in the European Theater throughout World War II, one uncle in the Army in the Pacific Theater, and one uncle ready to ship out with the Marines to the European Theater just as the war ended. Two of my uncles received the purple heart for their service during the Korean Conflict with one of them giving the ultimate sacrifice of his life. My father served with the 32nd Engineers, Wisconsin Army National Guard during Vietnam and one of my uncles served with the Marine Reserves throughout the same war, surprisingly, neither one of them were shipped out to Vietnam during their service.
When I was in high school I had dreams of becoming a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. I had enough of school by my senior year that I decided to take a non-traditional route to becoming a pilot by enlisting in the Air Force hoping to eventually earn my bachelors degree, become a licensed pilot, and then head to officer training and a billet as a pilot. I thought that the best path was to become an air traffic controller, that way if the pilot idea fell through, I would have a career to fall back on. Well, when I went for my enlistment physical, I was told that I did not have the depth perception that was necessary for an air traffic controller. I had to choose between a weather specialist or a command and control specialist. At this point I chose the command and control specialist path because I would work with pilots and commanders to make decisions impacting all aspects of national defense.
I left for Basic Military Training on July 21st 1986. I was again put through an Air Force physical where they found that I in fact had no deficiency in my depth perception, but it was now to late to switch back to becoming an air traffic controller. I left that same day for Lackland, Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas for six weeks of grueling training. I was assigned to the 3706th BMT Squadron, Flight 8265 Drum and Bugle Corps which was the only mixed gender squadron at Lackland at the time. I played the baritone in the corps which excused me from other types of duties like Kitchen Patrol. Other than playing at two training graduations and one parade in San Antonio, members of the Drum and Bugle Corps had to accomplish the same physical requirements as everyone else. The only problems I had throughout basic training was that I could not accomplish every part of the obstacle course, but everyone could pass up to two obstacles, and I used up both my passes. All airmen were supposed to be able to do 30 push ups by the end of basic training and there is where I had trouble. I could only do about fifteen or maybe twenty and when we did our final physical training my Instructor looked the other way for my last ten to fifteen push ups allowing me to pass basic training.
BMT ended in September and I was then assigned to a squadron at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi for command and control specialist school. After six weeks of training at Keesler, I was assigned to the 375 Aeromedical Airlift Wing at Scott AFB near Belleville, Illinois. I was allowed some leave time before having to arrive at my newly assigned base, so I flew home and we drove to Scott AFB where my parents helped me move into my new digs.
The 375 AAW was part of Head Quarters 21st Air Force, located in Florida, which reported to Military Airlift Command (MAC) which was at Scott AFB. It was all a bit confusing as our Wing was located on the same base as the MAC HQ. So to go up the chain of command the 375 AAW at Scott AFB had to go through 21st Air Force in Florida to take care of matters that pertained to the MAC which was about seven blocks from our command post. The 375 AAW was responsible for aeromedical airlift worldwide and had configurations for every type of Air Force cargo aircraft. In the command post at Scott AFB, I was responsible for just Continental U.S. (CONUS) missions involving aeromedical airlift in the C-9A, C-21A, and C-12 aircraft. My wing was also tasked with moving VIP’s around the country mostly with our C-21A aircraft which was basically a Leer jet that could be configured for minimal aeromedical airlift.
In late 1987 or early 1988, I attended NCO Preparatory Course and graduated in the top five percent of my class earning a distinguished graduate award. I also participated in a Wing exercise for the Air Force Inspector General and his staff. They were so impressed with the way I did my job that I was recognized by the IG via an Outstanding Performance Award.
In the summer of 1989 I participated, as a search and rescue duty officer at the Combined Forces Command Post, in Exercise Ulchi Focus Lens (UFL) which is a Republic Of Korea (South Korea - ROK) – US Combined Forces Command (CFC), ROK governmant, simulation driven, OPLAN-oriented command post exercise (CPX) conducted annually. UFL is held in the late summer, August / September time frame. The timing is such that the bulk of the summer personnel rotations are complete. I spent between 30 and 60 days in South Korea. Lesson learned, never go out drinking with helicopter pilots!
Ulchi Focus Lens is CFC’s large scale war fighting command post exercise (CPX). It is an annual ROK-US combined forces government military exercise designed to exercise, evaluate, and improve crisis action measures and procedures for the combined war plans in the defense of the Republic of Korea in accordance with OPLAN and Supporting plans. It provides an opportunity for commanders and staffs to focus on strategic, and operational, issues associated with general military operations on the Korean peninsula. Ulchi Focus Lens is a CPX with the tactical situation portrayed through the use of computer simulation models and master scenario events list. It is the world’s largest computerized command and control exercise.
In December 1989, we embarked on Operation Just Cause, where Panamanian leader General Manuel Noriega was captured and brought to the U.S. I received orders for Elmendorf AFB in Alaska, but I would have to extend my enlistment by eighteen months. I turned the orders down as I was already enrolled to attend UW-La Crosse and pursue my degree in geography education. I did, however, decide to transfer to the Minnesota Air National Guard upon my discharge from the regular Air Force.
On July 21, 1990 I was honorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force and began weekend warrior duty with the 133rd Airlift Wing (MAC). This was primarily a C-130 wing and they worked some aeromedical airlift and carried paratroopers around the U.S. Outside of those two operations, I have no idea what else the wing was involved in. Two days a month of work and two weeks in the summer didn’t allow me the time necessary to process fully the mission of the wing. The nice thing about the ANG was that I not only was pulling in anywhere from $300 – $400 per month while attending college full-time, but the state of Minnesota reimbursed me fifty percent of my tuition upon successful completion of each semester. In May of 1992, I wanted to be involved in a fighter wing operations so I found a billet in the Wisconsin Air National Guard based at Truax Field in Madison.
I began my tour with the 115th Fighter Wing (TAC) in May of 1992. We started out with A-10 Warthog’s which are an air to ground assault aircraft with a machine gun that can turn the largest of vehicles into a heaping pile of scrap in less than 15 seconds. At some point the Wing transitioned to F-16′s. The summer of 1992, I spent two weeks at Volk Field/Camp Douglas working aircraft operations. I was promoted to an E-5 or Staff Sergeant. I spent my one weekend a month and received the same college benefits as I did from the Minnesota ANG. In the winter of 1992, it was decided that I would go on a mission to Mombassa, Kenya in the summer of 1993. With Operation Desert Storm still in operation, the Mombassa mission was cancelled and I was asked to volunteer for 90 days in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Being a geography major, it was too great an opportunity to pass up as people could only get into the country via invitation. So, at the end of the spring semester of 1993, I began my trek to Saudi Arabia.
The desert is hot, but it is a dry heat. The heat doesn’t seem to have quite the impact that humidity does. I could walk or run around Eskan village, twenty minute drive from the air base, where our Air Force troops where housed. The rumor was that the prince had the village built for a group of bedouins who eventually moved on and after it was cleaned up, three to five soldiers would share a house. Every house looked exactly the same! The only distinguishing feature was the address, in Arabic, outside the front entrance. Each house had the essentials and the back opened onto a shared courtyard. There was an entrance to the roof, and I spent a great deal of off duty time contemplating life on the roof of our house. The thing that surprised me the most about the village was seeing cats roaming around. I guess that when I thought desert, cats never entered my mind.
At the Riyadh Air Base, I worked in the wing command post for the 4404th Wing (Provisional) attached to the Air Combat Command ACC formerly TAC. I received some computer generated flight plans occasionally and alerted base agencies of Scud missile exercises and heat alerts. I traded with one of the airmen that I was there with so that I worked twelve hour night shifts. 6 pm until 6 am. Four nights on three days off. My main duties on the night shift entailed setting mouse traps, disposing of mice, turning down the lights, kicking up my feet, and watching television. I would leave about midnight to get some chow, putting the phones on hold and propping the back door to the command post open until I returned. No one ever noticed that I had deserted my post every night for a meal run.
Near the end of my tour in Saudi Arabia, the captain in charge of the enlisted personnel told me that I would need to extend my stay another one to two months. I told him that in no uncertain terms was that going to happen as I had college to get back to and if he had a problem with that, he could gladly take it up with the Adjutant General from Wisconsin. Things got kind of dicey and I was a little bit insubordinate, but I prevailed and was released from active duty after my 90 days were up. I was unceremoniously honorably discharged from the Wisconsin Air National Guard on July 21, 1994. This brought my total time in the active Air Force to 4 years, 3 months with two honorable discharges and 3 years 9 months divided between the Minnesota and Wisconsin Air National Guard again with two honorable discharges.
Thus ends my Air Force story. It includes only the high points, but it was truly an honor to serve my country for eight years. The dividends for those eight years are still paying off. Somehow, as long as I am a resident of Wisconsin and attend a Wisconsin school, the Veterans Administration picks up all but $100 for every class I take. And, I can still take around 115 credits at that rate.