RICHARD E

 

RICHARD E. O’HARA 

It all started in a small town in central New York, twenty miles from Syracuse, on the Cherry Valley Turnpike. In a small nursing home, on October 12th, 1933, I was born.  Undersized, the smallest of the babies there, I was given the nickname “Peewee”.  Although the appellation did not stick, I remained smaller than most throughout my life. 

I was nothing special in school.  I seemed to have a fairly high degree of intelligence but was not motivated enough to get significantly high grades.  I loved sports and expended most of my efforts in this area.  I played on the varsity football team at the age of sixteen, standing five feet six inches tall and weighing only 135 pounds.  We had what was probably the worst football team in central New York but nobody seemed to mind.  In my senior year I was kicked in the face and severely broke my nose (this was irrelevant at this time but it would prove significant later).  I graduated in June of 1951. 

In the fall of 1951 I entered Syracuse University, where I began my association with the Air Force by entering ROTC.  I had to drive twenty miles each way to attend classes, some of which started at 7:30 A.M., and this was not always easy in central New York winters.  I enjoyed the ROTC experience and, being young and still fascinated by the WWII aircraft, decided I would like to be a pilot.  However, at the end of my second year, it was decided all ROTC students had to take a flying physical and, because of the previously mentioned broken nose, I did not pass. 

In the fall of 1953, a series of circumstances combined to once again change my path in life.  After starting the fall semester, the combination of no longer being in ROTC and no hope of flying, major financial difficulties due to car repair expenses, and being on academic probation, motivated me to leave college and enlist in the Air Force.  I leave it to the reader to decide which was the most significant factor. 

On November 27th, 1953, I entered basic training at Samson AFB in upstate New York.  For those who can’t remember that far back, that was the day after Thanksgiving.  It was a good thing it was after Thanksgiving as I had little to be thankful for during the next three months.  It was a long, cold winter that year and being on the edge of Lake Geneva the winds were fierce and the snow was deep, and bivouac was hell.  However, there was one small ray of sunshine.  I was allowed to apply for aviation cadets and somehow managed to pass the flight physical and get accepted for the program. 

I reported to Lackland AFB on February 27th, 1954 to begin my training.  To this day I do not know which provided the most challenges, aviation cadets or OCS.  Unfortunately, the Air Force decided to randomly re-test ten percent of the class on their flight physicals and I was one of the chosen few.  You guessed it, once again I failed, seems I had (still have) a fifty-five percent blockage of my nasal passages which could be a serious problem at high altitudes.  Another career change.  

On to Lowry AFB in Denver, where I reported in on May 15th, 1954, assigned to the Intelligence Operations Specialist school.  I completed the course in September, finishing at the top of my class and thereby earning my choice of duty assignments.  I selected England and departed Brooklyn Naval Yard on October 11th, the day before my 21st birthday aboard the MSTS troop carrier Geiger.  I could spend pages describing that voyage, people getting seasick the minute the lines were cast off from the pier, 700 seasick airmen and sailors due to an extremely severe crossing, rumors of other ships breaking up, locked below decks for five days due to the storm, etc..  I was one of the lucky ones, apparently immune to seasickness. 

I spent the next three years in England working in a target intelligence office, planning fighter-bomber missions for all those guys I left behind in Aviation Cadets.  It was here that it developed I did have a little management ability.  I was made NCOIC of the shop after three months, rose to Technical Sergeant in three years (which they turned around and took away because I did not have time in grade for the promotion) and got recommended, and accepted, for OCS.  It was here that I met and married my first wife, Audrey.   I left England in October 1957 and reported to Lackland for OCS Class 58B. 

Looking back now, I think I was less bothered by the under class OCS days than I was by Aviation Cadets, probably as I was older and more conditioned to Air Force life.  Almost as soon as we had reported the upper class had identified me (correctly) as a bubbler.  I continued to bubble and blunder my way through the program, spent many hours on the “ramp”, but never could take myself as seriously as the program desired.  However, in spite of myself, I managed to get through.  This was probably largely due to help from classmates, tolerance on the part of the staff, and just plain luck.  However, I did make many friends here and look back with some “fondness” to the months we spent together. 

From OCS I proceeded to Ground Communications Officer School at Keesler AFB, along with 7 others from 58B.    In  May 1959 I was assigned to the 6961st Communications Squadron, Kelly AFB, as the assistant communications officer and Command Net Control Officer.  Our mission was operation of the communications center and communications relay center, and overall network management, for the communications security networks of USAF Security Service.  In August 1960 my duties were changed to Command Net Control Officer with responsibilities for establishing a command level network control activity, monitoring all communications circuits within the COMINT/ELINT community and taking action to correct/reroute malfunctioning circuits. 

This is the place where we throw in our first order of sour grapes.  This assignment, although I was not yet smart enough to know it, probably was the first step in insuring I never made Major while on active duty.  My OIC at this time was a very old Captain, a former enlisted flying officer from WWII, who got recalled for Korea and decided to remain until retirement, which he did successfully, still as a Captain.  He really knew little about communications and an awful lot about flight line activities.  His philosophy was that a junior officer should be started out somewhere near the middle of the performance report so he could show gradual improvement during his assignment, which was what he did.  Needless to say, ten years later this did not look as good as he said it would.  I also exhibited my first tendencies toward self-destruction while working for him.  I had reached an impasse with a headquarters staff officer over the transfer of a file cabinet full of classified documents.  He wanted me to turn them over to him without receipts, I refused, and stated the only way I would do this was under a direct order from my OIC.  Unfortunately, I did not realize they were close personnel friends.  I received the order and I also received a downgrade on my OER under the area of job knowledge.  Oh well. 

My next assignment came up in January 1962 and was probably the most interesting, both in professional and personnel aspects, of any of my assignments.  I was assigned to the 6937th Communications Group at Peshawar Air Station, Pakistan as the Communications - Electronics Maintenance Officer.  This was a small communications station with only 100 housing units, 30 for officers and 70 for enlisted personnel, with an overall base strength of over 1000 personnel.  The housing was assigned on a priority basis.  The priority being determined according to the importance of the position held to the overall unit mission, rather than by grade.   I was fortunate that my position was assigned the number 3 position for officers, which enabled me to take my family with me. 

This area of Pakistan was only seven miles from the Kyber Pass, and was one of rigid adherence to the requirements of the Muslin religion.  Although an extremely interesting part of the world, with many interesting and exciting things happening all around us, it was very tough on the enlisted personnel.  It was a 15 month remote tour with no women, no alcohol, and no off-base eating establishments.  The accompanied tour was only two years.  I liked it so well that I stayed nearly 4 years.  This is another area I could write a book about.  That is, if I could write. 

I do have to slip in one anecdote.  We had permission to install an Armed Forces Radio station on the site with the stipulation that it could not broadcast more than 100 feet off site.  We created an inverted antenna that bounced everything back to the ground and found, through extensive testing, that we really could not pick up the signal 100 feet off site.   We thought we were pretty good until we had a visitor who was pretty upset because he kept hearing a song called “Ahab the Arab” at his home some fifty miles away.  Seems we neglected to consider the “bounce” of HF signals. 

Time for more sour grapes.  I worked for a Captain during this tour who had already been passed over four times and suffered the fifth while I was working for him.  Needless to say, he was not a high rater.  However, I managed to make things worse.  It seems our command headquarters decided to re-grade the positions and make the maintenance officer slot a major while leaving the base communications position as a captain, and to place the maintenance position under the Director of Operations.  My boss immediately wanted to switch positions, thinking it would enhance his promotion potential.  I, of course, objected and it was elevated to the base commander, who decided in favor of the senior captain.  I failed to consider who would be writing my final OER as the maintenance officer while I was fighting this position change.  As it turned out, I should have been more circumspect as I was downgraded from my previous report, in the block for Judgment. 

I left Pakistan in May 1965.  I returned to the states and the “Bootstrap” program at the University of Omaha, where I finally completed my degree requirements and received my BS in January 1966.  From here I reported to the Communications Staff Officer school, once more visiting Kessler AFB.  Successfully completing the course I was assigned to the Office of the Inspector General, 14th Air Force, at Gunter AFS, Montgomery, AL in October 1966. 

I was assigned duties as the Chief, Comm-Electronics Inspection Branch and, for the first time in my career, worked for someone higher than a Captain.  For the next eighteen months I toured all over the south-eastern United States inspecting radar sites and ADC bases, averaging 6 days TDY out of every 14 days.  In early 1968 the Air Force decided to once again de-activate 14th Air Force and I was on the move again, this time to Richards-Gebaur AFB in Kansas City.  I was assigned as a staff communications officer and was responsible for operations of all telephone and telecommunications networks in the Central NORAD region. 

In the fall of 1968 I was passed over for promotion to Major.  I did what could be done to improve my situation but it was too little too late and in the fall of 1969 I was once again passed over.  This was the first year in some time that the Air Force decided there would be no continuations granted and I was directed to separate no later than 30 November 1969.  I took some consolation in the fact that every OER I received from a field grade officer was well on the right side, unfortunately these only went back to 1966. 

In their generosity, the Air Force offered me $15,000 as separation pay.  However, being only 4 years away from full retirement, I declined and requested authority to return to enlisted status.  I was given permission to come on board as a staff sergeant and to enlist at any base in the country.  For many reasons this turned out to be one of my good decisions, one of the best reasons being I receive twice this much every year now. 

I elected to enlist at Tyndall AFB, Panama City, FL., and, making another good decision, asked for my new career field to be computers.  I took the Air Force Electronic Data Processing Test in December 1969 and scored extremely well, enabling me to select computer programming as my field.  In June 1970 I was selected for duty in Viet Nam but this was withdrawn when it was pointed out I was only a “3 level” in my AFSC.  Then in August 1970, I was selected for assignment to Korea. 

I reported to Osan AB in September 1970.  Unlike many, I enjoyed my Korean assignment.  The country and people were interesting and the work was fairly easy. That is, until we burned down the entire headquarters building and had to rebuild the entire data processing activity from the ground up, including all files and records.  I returned to the U.S. in October 1971 and was assigned to Warner-Robins AFB, GA. 

The combination of change in status from officer to enlisted, followed almost immediately by my remote tour, now took its toll on my marriage and in 1972 we decided on divorce.  I applied for overseas duty and, following my divorce in April 1973, I was immediately reassigned to Korea, this time to Kunsan, AB.  I then married a Korean woman in what many might call a “rebound” but as it has lasted 30 years, I think it was far more than that. 

I once again returned to the states in June 1974 and was assigned to the Air Force Data Systems Design Center, Gunter AFB, AL as a programming technician.  I was forced to leave my family behind.  I was informed that the Design Center was a stabilized four-year tour and, even though I applied for a humanitarian reassignment, I had no possibility of getting out of it.  I then elected to process my retirement papers and left the Air Force on 28 February 1975. 

Thanks to my computer training I immediately went to work for Systems Development Corporation, leaving the Air Force on Friday and starting my new job on Monday.  My wife and family joined me on March 15th.   I was working as a system programmer on the Naval Tactical Data System, working in Virginia Beach, VA.  I stayed with this group until June 1976.  At which time, being dissatisfied with the annual raise given to me, I applied for a job with Mead Corporation in Lynchburg,VA. 

I began working for Mead as a system programmer and later became the director of computer operations for their plant in Lynchburg.  Here again I proved adept at shooting myself in the foot.  In late 1981 I was interviewed for the position of Director of Data Processing for the company.  I turned it down because I had had enough management experience during my Air Force career and did not want any more at that time.  Naturally, the person they selected to take the position ended up firing me, without any advance notice, in March 1982.   Fortunately, I had seen the possibility of this happening and had submitted an application to Civil Service in October 1981. 

Now, for those of you who may still wonder about a Supreme Being, guardian angel, or whatever; try this out.  I was forty-nine years old and had a wife and four children to support, walked into my office on a Wednesday morning and was told “As soon as you can clean out your desk you can go home. You have been terminated”.  I went home in a totally demoralized state and told my wife what had happened.  Almost before she could ask,  “What will we do now?”, the phone rang.  When I picked it up, it was a man in Columbus, OH who was working for the government and had gotten a copy of my application for civil service.  He asked if I was still interested and I replied yes.  He then asked how soon I could go to work and I said immediately.   I was working as a computer programmer in the Civil Service by April 1st. 

I started out as a GS-9 programmer and gradually worked myself up to become Chief, Automated Payroll, Cost and Personnel Systems as a GS-12, working for Defense Logistics Agency (DLA).  When Defense Information Systems was established and consolidated most of the DLA processing to the data center in Columbus, I advanced to GS-13.  I was later promoted to GS-14 and appointed Director of Computer Operations, supervising one of the largest computer operations in the government. 

After nearly 18 years with Civil Service, on January 2nd, 1999, I once again retired.  This time, for the final time.  Looking back now, over these nearly 40 years, and particularly the last 18, I see a man who told himself he did not want management responsibility, who continuously worked himself back into positions where he had it.  Have I been lying to myself all these years? 

Anyway, it has been a great life, two great careers, and I have come out of it all with my sanity, my health, and a host of good friends.  What more could one ask.