David E. Steiner
Retired USAF, Teacher, Dad, Grandfather, Curmudgeon
26 years in the Air Force
"6,200 flying hours. 706.1 hours of combat flight time, all of it in unarmed planes at altitudes below 10,000 feet; 11 Air Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross"
1957 was a time when navigators were still needed (the only satellites in the sky were Russian), and I was assigned to Harlingen Air Force Base, Texas (closed in the early 60s). When I finished that school, I stayed on as an instructor. I was asked by someone who knew about my theatre work to help the hospital with a show, and he used a cute nurse as bait. I didn't do the show, but we were married for 52 years before she died in 2013.
I went briefly to Florida, to reactivate an old field, Hurlburt, for a top-secret outfit that subsequently was involved in the first Air Force deployment to Vietnam, in 1961, and is now the 1st Air Commandos. I didn't like the way it looked, and since it was voluntary, (Project "Jungle Jim", believe it or not) I declined with thanks. I've never regretted that decision. For an interesting (if incomplete) story about this project, see the April/May '97 edition of Smithsonian Air and Space, pp. 44-49.
I was then assigned to Amarillo AFB, (closed in 1968, now a community college) as an assistant personnel officer, and my task was to administer reenlistment oaths and to sign discharges. I developed a hell of a signature. The base general did quite a bit of flying, and since I was the only qualified navigator on the base, I wound up navigating his T-29 when he visited his detachments, where he liked to arrive on time.
We enjoyed Amarillo, tornadoes and all, and our first son was born there. I also had some flying fun. For example,we ferried an ancient C-54G to Hickam, Hawaii, for the Johnson Island atom bomb tests. I had never actually flown such a mission, although I had been teaching navigation at Harlingen, and nothing on the plane worked, including the High Frequency radios or LORAN, but, with favorable winds, we made the flight in 12 hours even. And, on the way back, on the 28th of June, 1962, it took us 16 hours to fly from Hickam to Nellis AFB, Nevada. When we penetrated the ADIZ we were told Search and Rescue had been alerted and they were glad to hear from us, but in fact we still had no HF and we had never had to revise the ETA; we hit the original estimate right on the nose.
In 1962 our first son was born and we decided, for a number of what we thought were excellent reasons, to go to graduate school. Actually I did, while Mary supported me. We went to Michigan and then Oregon, where I taught part-time and flew C-119s with the Reserves.
For a number of what we thought were equally excellent reasons, I went back to active duty in the Air Force in 1967 and we had our second son soon after. I finished my Ph.D., flew at McChord AFB, at Tacoma, Washington, in C-141s and two years later we were assigned to Guam, where, in the next three years, I made 99 penetrations into the centers of typhoons in WC-130Es.
ONE OF 11 AIR MEDALS FOR SERVICE IN THE AF
I also worked the classified Air Weather Service mission in Laos in C-130E models out of Korat, Udorn, and Ubon. I also went to survival schools, at Fairchild, Homestead, and the Philippines. Then there was a year at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai AFB in EC-47s, flying a mission I still can't talk about. I taught part time for the University of Maryland there. Totals? 6,200 flying hours. 706.1 hours of combat flight time, all of it in unarmed planes at altitudes below 10,000 feet; 11 Air Medals and the Distinguished Flying Cross. I also lost the best parts of three fingers of my left hand, just as we turned out the lights in March of '74. Nothing heroic; just a stupid accident that was largely my fault.
A ROTC Detachment job at San Jose State until 1978, and then a couple of good administrative jobs at Travis AFB, California, took care of the next five years. I taught at San Jose State part time, and for Solano Community College in Fairfield and in the prison at Vacaville. I also spent quite a bit of time counseling in the correctional custody facility at Travis, talking to young airmen in trouble.
I was beginning to feel like a fossil. The kids were using inertial navigation, and some of the kids were women. My politically incorrect view is that the costs of women in combat positions are too high. The flap about Lt. Col. McSally sueing the Air Force because they had to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia is a case in point. Right or wrong, she cost you and me money we needed to spend on other things. And she was wrong. When in Rome, you do as the Romans do. Men have had to conform to host nation customs for hundreds of years. We certainly had to in Southeast Asia. Women have complicated those problems and made accomodating to them very expensive. When it comes to doing the job of managing violence, which is what the job is, they just cost more than they're worth. At the moment we have decided to include women, at great cost, but we will have to see if we can continue to afford it. McSally won her case; the DOD backed down. But at what cost? Those in the Middle East now have one more reason to hate us.
Anyway, now anyone can navigate with a GPS. The navigators, world explorers for more than 5000 years, now have the same status as the Great Auk and the Passenger Pigeon. Being one of the last of that breed was great fun. I retired as a lieutenant colonel on the 1st of July, 1983.