USAFA '74
USAFA '74

Home is Where the Air Force Sends You                                         Frank Forsyth

 

USAF Academy, CO; Webb AFB, TX; Keesler, AFB, MS; Castle AFB, CA; McGuire AFB, NJ; Point Mugu NAS/Vandenberg AFB, CA (AF Reserves); Dover AFB, DE; Ramstein AB, GE; Seymour Johnson AFB, NC; Keesler, AFB, MS; Scott AFB, IL; Shaw AFB, SC (not quite); Retirement; Racine, WI.

 

It’s been a great ride and God has more than blessed our path since I walked up that “Bring Me Men” ramp 44 years ago! The psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” He has directed my wife and me through many wonderful times and carried us through many dark times over the years – we wouldn’t trade them for anything.

 

Fun One squadron-mates Jimmy Matlock, Jerry Flynn and I along with our spouses met up at Webb AFB for pilot training after 60 glorious days of graduation leave – enjoyed seeing the “You are leaving the United States Air Force Academy” sign for that last time. Jimmy and I had a contest to see who could get airsick the most times while flying the T-37 – I won! We both soloed the Screaming Mimi (kersplash in the solo tank!) and then Jimmy quit gettin’ sick…but I didn’t. I went 17 for 17 in the airsickness department on anything that resembled aerobatics so the flight surgeon finally said, “Lieutenant, we need to find you a new job.”  My dream of flying since 4th grade came crashing down but God is always there providing His peace and comfort – He had other plans: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). According to my mom-in-law, God was making me so sick of flying that I wouldn’t miss it – He did...and I didn’t.

 

However, since I couldn’t fly ‘em, I decided to control ‘em – I loved being around airplanes. Next stop was Keesler AFB for air traffic control (ATC) school. That 3 month school was followed by 1½ years at Castle AFB for ATC officer upgrade training. Here I got a taste of the unofficial definition of ATC – hours of boredom separated by moments of sheer panic. I had control of the traffic pattern from the control tower one morning and was working a few KC-135s and B-52s along with two flights of F-106s. One flight of F-106s was on final approach for a full-stop landing and I had just given them clearance to land. Seconds later, I received a radio transmission from the lead F-106, “Castle Tower, this is Alpha Hotel One Two. We’re taking it around for the Cessna you have on final.” Immediately, five sets of eyes in the tower flashed to final approach and peered directly into the rising Sun – we couldn’t see anything – not even the F-106s. The F-106s roared by on their low approach and then…out of the Sun came a pokey, red and white Cessna 172 tooling down towards our runway. The assistant controller grabbed the crash phone and reported the emergency as the aircraft was landing. We could see the lights flashing as the security folks raced to meet the wandering pilot as he taxied off the runway. They stopped him right there and hauled the startled pilot out of his Cessna. Now, how does one mistake Stockton airport (60 miles north) for Castle AFB? Stockton has a 10,500 ft runway but its only 150 ft wide while Castle had an 11,800 ft runway that was 300 ft wide. Castle also had B-52s and KC-135s all over the place – go figure.

 

Anyway, it was finally time for a real Air Force job and we were off across the country for McGuire AFB to serve in the radar approach control (RAPCON). Remember that earlier story about the FOXes – that was here. Both our kiddoes were born here, Jenny shortly after we arrived and Timmy shortly before we left – what special gifts from God. I related a story from our break in service at Point Mugu in “Go to a Land I Will Show You” but we also briefly reconnected with Scott and Joanne Huddleson when I was serving my MA duties at Vandenberg AFB where Scott was playing around with missiles – Scott is greatly missed.

 

Back across the states to Dover AFB where I served as the head honcho for ATC operations. One winter day at the wing standup, the weather officer briefed that, according to all the weather gurus, a storm that was brewing would stay well off the coast over the Atlantic – no problems for operations at Dover for the next day weather-wise. Well, he consulted the wrong authorities and experts because an ever so slight change in the wind patterns brought that storm roaring ashore, dumping 17 inches of snow on our unsuspecting base. All operations were cancelled not for just one, but for two days while we dug the base out. The Wing Commander was not a happy camper – thought the poor weather officer was going to lose his job. To make matters worse, in the housing area we could park our cars on only one side of the street. Guess which way the snowplows piled the snow? Yep – we were outside digging our cars out from under the highest snow piles I have ever seen. I used to teach a weather block to my AFJROTC cadets and I concluded it with a cartoon where the weatherman says, “But when you come right down to it, only God knows for sure.” All the computer models in the world don’t hold a candle to God. “And the men marveled, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?’” Matthew 8:27.

 

Ramstein followed Dover and once again God went before us. Deuteronomy 31:8 tells us, “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” Our initial assignment was to Frankfurt as a liaison officer to the German Air Force ATC division. Because we had a relative in the area, we were approved for concurrent travel. As departure day approached, my orders were changed and I was diverted to HQ USAFE at Ramstein AB. Since we were so close to departure, our concurrent travel was not rescinded even though concurrent travel was not being granted to Ramstein AB. After spending our first night above a German bar that played American Country Western songs until the very wee hours of the morning (no sleep), we transitioned to the TLF in Vogelweh and went house hunting. Although many places seemed promising, nothing panned out and the base housing folks kept telling me there were several people ahead of us on “THE LIST.” Housing remained at the top of our prayer list and after 2½ weeks, I made another of my almost daily trips to housing referral…this time 15 minutes before they closed. The clerk said she would recheck “THE LIST” and disappeared into the bowels of the office building. I waited…and waited. Just before closing time, the door just barely cracked open and I said, “Yes, I’m still here and will be until I see “THE LIST””. Shortly thereafter, she came out and, lo and behold, although there were several names ahead of ours, none were in country, so guess who was REALLY on top of “THE LIST”. They offered us housing on the spot and we were able to accept and move in the next day. We found out later that the house would have been available to us the day we walked in – but that’s okay – we enjoyed our R&R in the TLF.

 

My job at HQ USAFE had me on the road quite often so it was a blessing that we were in military housing; we had the answer to why God closed the door on all those promising places downtown – He’s so good to us. My job brought me back to the states 16 times, into Berlin another 16 times and to many other locations around Europe. I had the privilege of spending $62 mil of the German govt’s money on installing a new ATC system (as well as some other stuff we don’t talk about) in West Berlin while Die Mauer (the Wall) was up. I can vouch for Tom Heffernan’s comments on the contrast between the East and West because it was still prevalent in the mid-80s. The Troop Train, which travels from West Germany to West Berlin through East Germany, received no priority on the East German tracks and had to make frequent stops along the way – just a little harassment for the Americans. The longest stop, however, was just before crossing the border from East Germany into West Berlin heading east or the border from East Germany into West Germany heading west – had to make sure no one tried to hitch a ride to freedom. These border crossings were heavily guarded by armed Soviet and East German border guards. On our 2nd trip on the Troop Train, our son Tim, who was 5 at the time, watched the guards with wide-eyed interest as they swept the outside of the train.

             

Then, in a hushed but very intense voice he asked his mom and me, “Are those the bad guys?”

             

“Open this gate.”; “Tear down this wall.” – Mr. President, we are anxious to go back and walk through the Brandenburg Gate now that your words have come to pass.

 

With new orders, we hopped the pond and came to rest at the Shady J in North Carolina – culture shock extraordinaire! The fast-paced American life style had us wanting to board the first airplane back to Germany – what a contrast. There, most everything was closed after noon on Saturday and didn’t reopen until Monday. Here, everything was open – all the time! Nobody slowed done for anything. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” It didn’t seem like anyone was doing that. But God led us to the base chapel at the Shady J and some wonderful people there. He also moved me into command of the 2012th Comm Sq after serving as the head of ATC operations for 8 months. Shortly after taking command the base decided to test the comm out procedures for then Tactical Air Command – they didn’t work. 45 miles away from the base, a road crew working on a by-pass around Raleigh, NC cut some telephone cables. Back at the Shady J, we could talk to anyone on base or in the city but nowhere else. We called Shaw AFB via HF radio – part of that good ol’ contingency backup plan – silence. We tried several other methods to communicate that were listed in our tried and true plans…again, silence on the far end. In desperation, we sent a KC-10 aloft and had them relay our communications via an HF radio signal to Barksdale AFB, LA. They in turn relayed the message to HQ TAC. Not an ideal way to get your message through but it worked. TAC wasn’t happy though: 1. Our contingency plan didn’t work and 2. They had to rely on SAC for info. My boss wasn’t a happy camper either because the first he heard about it was when his boss at HQ AFCC called him and asked, “What the #*%# is going on at Seymour Johnson?” TAC forgot to talk to TAC Comm. Guess who got to drive from SJAFB to Langley AFB the next day? What a way to start your day. Yes, we did get it resolved and, yes, ATT started providing us dual-line capability out of the area (which we had been paying for – but that’s a different lawsuit – er, story). This was just one in a myriad of Murphyesque items that invariably happen throughout the course of the life of a commander; I’m sure that many of you had similar if not better experiences. After a series of seemingly negative events, a master sergeant in my front office asked how I could possibly deal with all the stress. I told her that I couldn’t do it alone. First, we had a great team in the squadron that worked its tail off to accomplish great things and I had great faith in them. I continued and let her know that, secondly, I left all my problems in God’s hands. The problems may or may not go away but worrying about them wouldn’t help. 1 Peter 5:6-7 says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” I know who holds the future and He’s also got me in His hands and He’s not surprised by anything. Then just as the wing was transitioning from the F-4 to the F-15E, it was time to move on.

 

Onward to Keesler AFB and the Advanced Communications/Computer Staff Officer Course – thank you Lord for the respite. After commanding a squadron, moving to a school where I was responsible for one person — me — was quite a change of pace. Here we were introduced to the Mississippi Air Force – flying roaches which were the size of a small tom turkey. We were in base housing and CE was no match for the critters. One day, when I was in the back of the house, I heard a tremendous comic-strip, “EEEEeeeeek,” coming from the vicinity of the kitchen. Doffing my white hero’s hat, I raced through the house to find my wife in mortal combat with the largest roach I had ever seen; it had crawled out of the oven moments before and dared Joanie to confront it. After dispatching said vermin (which we decided was large enough for a meal with leftovers), we decided it was time to get the civilian exterminators involved. They were much more effective but had to return every four weeks on the dot or the critters were back in force.

 

We also reconnected with roomo Jack Smith as he was stationed down I-10 in New Orleans with the Navy at the time. We’ll let him off the hook since he was a chaplain and we certainly don’t want to mess with God’s plan for Jack’s life. On one of his visits to Keesler, the first of my major vertigo episodes hit so I get to blame him for starting me off on this journey – isn’t that what roommates are for? The seven month school wrapped up all too soon and, leaving the roaches behind in a haze of several fumigating insect bombs, we headed north to Illinois. Note: If I never see another roach, it will be too soon.

 

Scott AFB sits a little over 20 miles east of St Louis and we thoroughly enjoyed our time there – good thing because we were there for 6½ years even though I couldn’t hold a job. Initially I was assigned to HQ AFCC and was in charge of small computer acquisitions for the USAF. During this timeframe we attempted to streamline the process to acquire computers because by the time we went through the normal acquisition process the computers we got were woefully out of date. This is where we were introduced to that wonderful guy named W. Edward Deming and his 14 points on Total Quality Management which later became known and loved by us all as Quality Air Force. You know you’ve flown too much when the flight attendants recognize you and call you by name. Back ‘n forth to the Pentagon at least once per month while we flailed away at the process. We made good progress until…change of command. The new-kid-on-the-block wasn’t as interested as the old-kid-on-the-block so 14 months of tax-payer funded work – POOF! Oh well – that’s why he was a general and I was a major.

 

Anyway, 14 months is enough time in one job so how about moving to a new cubicle and putting the AFCC POM together. After playing with money for awhile, it was time for TQM again and I moved in as the Director of the HQ AFCC Quality Management office. Then we invented a new game of “Name that MAJCOM”; AFCC was no longer going to be a MAJCOM so it went through a number of name changes and probably still is – think we changed names 3 times while I was there. But names weren’t the only changes; ATC got yanked out from under comm and now the ATC folks wanted all their ATCers back. My first move was to the Tanker Airlift Control Center as their airspace manager. The shop was eventually moved to HQ AMC and the responsibilities expanded while the workforce shrank. Contingency planning was interesting though because all we had to do was watch CNN – had it tuned in on several TVs around current ops BECAUSE the White House inevitably responded to the news media. Whatever the talking heads on the TV said the powers-that-be in govt should be doing, we got a tasker for within days – so we usually had a head start. What a way to run an Air Force.

 

While there I ran across Denny Fay and Jimmy Matlock. Both of them retired at the 20 year point in ’94; not sure where Denny went but Jimmy packed up his family lock, stock and barrel and headed for Wasilla, Alaska – they’re still there. As for me, well, I stalled and personnel came knocking. It was time to move to Shaw AFB, SC. Jenny was going to graduate from high school soon and Tim (as he preferred now) was halfway through high school and wasn’t too keen on the idea. Personnel may think they are in control of assignments but God is the one who holds personnel in His hands. Psalm 37 tells us that, “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way.”

 

Three days before the moving vans were due at our house (which hadn’t sold in a very good sellers’ market), I had my third major episode of vertigo – this one provided a ride to the hospital in an ambulance. At my follow-up appointment the next day, the flight surgeon told me that since this was a third bout (over a 5 year period), I was now considered chronic and they needed to find out what was really going on. When I mentioned my move in what was now 2 days, he said, “We’ll put it on a 30 day hold.” That 30 day hold, turned into 60, which turned into 90 and finally turned into 120 days. Tim was back in school and everyone who signed his yearbook saying they were going to miss him (and hadn’t kept up with him over the summer) were obviously quite surprised to see him. About 15 days before the 120 day hold expired, a fellow ATCer from Shaw called inquiring about my status. He was up for the O-6 board and, if he made it, great – they could move him anywhere. However, he wanted to retire in the Shaw AFB area if he didn’t make it. He asked if I would mind checking with personnel to see if he could take the job I was supposed to fill. Since my status was still up in the air, I said, “Let’s go for it.” Long story short, logic prevailed and they cancelled my assignment and gave it to him. Good thing, my 30 day hold turned into 1½ years – we didn’t know it but God did.

 

Close to the end of that time, the doc finally diagnosed me with Meniere’s Disease – a disease of the inner ear that can cause spontaneous episodes of mild to severe vertigo – sometimes with very little warning. It also causes hearing loss, ringing in the ear, and fullness (pressure) in the ear. Obviously, once I was diagnosed with this disorder, the ability to pass a flight physical (required for ATC) went out the window. There was a possibility of cross training but as a senior lieutenant colonel, that didn’t make a lot of sense. Not to mention, the intermittent episodes of vertigo were not really conducive to continuing on active duty. My wife and I prayed about it for several days and also chatted with our pastor and my boss about our next step. We felt that God was telling us, “Now’s the time to get out.”

 

I had been doing some research on AFJROTC and there were openings to become a Senior Aerospace Science Instructor at several high schools (openings were usually very limited at that time). After I retired, I applied and was hired by the Greenfield School District to run the WI-951st AFJROTC unit – it was an absolutely great experience. Wish there was space to relate all the great things that went on for the 12 years I taught these future leaders but that would double an already long writing. I still keep in touch with many of them and get together with some from time-to-time. Many are serving in the armed forces. One is flying F-18s off the deck of the USS Eisenhower. Another is a Navy nurse while her brother is an Annapolis grad. I was able to commission a member of the USAFA Class of 2010 from my old AFJROTC unit; he’s in Civil Engineering. There are currently two cadets from the unit at USAFA. Two others (brother and sister) are missile officers (neither of them was caught up in the scandal). The list could go on but you get the gist of this great group of kids who took it upon themselves to live the AFJROTC mission: Develop citizens of character dedicated to serving their nation and community.

 

It was during the next to last year of teaching (SY 2006-07) that tragedy struck. We lost our Tim to brain cancer on November 22, 2006. The following year, my sister was killed by a drunk driver while she was driving home from work on February 15th and then my wife’s dad died from cancer 6 weeks later on March 29th. Without the grace of God, I don’t think we could have gone through that 4 month period without completely losing it. None of it made sense from a worldly point of view but, fortunately, we have a great and good God who holds us in His arms and provides peace and comfort. We talked to Him a lot and, as I mentioned before, Philippians 4:6-7 tells us “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” What a great promise from God! My coworker for 11 years, also a devout Christian, retired at the end of that school year and left a void. Unfortunately, there was no one to fill the void and I had the next school year by myself and what a year it was. Toward the end of that last year, God used my Meniere’s again to gently tap me on the shoulder and tell me it was time to change venues.

 

When I could no longer teach fulltime, a friend suggested I try teaching online. She taught chemistry with The Potter’s School, a Christian online school that caters to missionary and homeschooled families. I applied and was soon teaching aviation science to 30 plus students every year. Unfortunately, I discovered that the close proximity to a computer screen required for teaching online was playing havoc with my vestibular system. It built up over time but the day before my third year of teaching, I received another ambulance ride to the ER due to a major Meniere’s episode – had to cancel the first day of class. God was gracious and allowed me to get through the school year but it was apparent that year three was going to be my last. God’s gentle touch came tapping again.

 

Now I’m fully retired and awaiting further orders. Currently God has me leading three Bible studies and visiting older-than-me gentlemen from our church and that may be my final orders – I doubt it but it’s certainly keeping me busy for now. He’s used my Meniere’s to alter my course four times already and now I’m waiting to see what might be next – I’m certainly not going to let any moss grow in the meantime. There is always something to do for the Master until He returns or I join those who have gone before me. The Psalmist asked God to “Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12).  The great prophet Isaiah then passed on these words, “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.’” (Isaiah 6:8). You ready to roll?

Contact

Bill Van Horn

9491 South Johnson Court 

Littleton, CO 80127

 

303-948-8435   work

303-596-3615   cell

Bill@BillVanHorn.com

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USAFA Class of '74 - published a book of our experiences for our 40th reunion!

 

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USAFA '74 Class Reunion Book