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56M Reunion Website

Don A. Zaike

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Roger A. Wert
Howard F. Wray
Don A. Zaike

Don A. Zaike

 

The Parade ground at Lackland AFB is rimmed with aircraft of another time, memories, many thoughts of friends-and of 56M-Lackland AFB-a different place from where we started in pre-flight. Gads, is that yellow plane on the west end of the parade ground a T-6? - T-6 stories are better left untold! But that was the beginning and today we kinda look on what and where after we " pinned them on" in April 1956!

I selected the C-123 slot at Stewart AFB, Tennessee - that was a lot closer to my Ohio home, family, friends and my job when our commitment was over.

It was the days of the Troop Carrier – (the classy term "airlift" wasn’t part of the AF lexicon yet!) Loads of troop drops, Landings on unimproved strips, formation flying galore and of course TDYs from Froshiber Bay to Panama. Decided to "stay in".

With a background in Arctic flying, 1960 brought us an assignment to Elemendorf AFB, Alaska flying C-123s - the strips at the radar sites were on top and on the sides of mountains, and along coastal beaches - usually one way in and the opposite way out. Weather, maximum cargo and minimum fuel! This was our best assignment. Young pilots with young families -camaraderie. Three years and 3000 hours just in Alaska.

We arrived at Dyess AFB(SAC) Texas in 1963 assigned to a new C-130E (TAC) wing. The usual airlift stuff, and exercises galore with all sorts of jive names. Now, however, the missions were global and the TDYs are all over Europe, Africa , the mid East and the far East. The latter took us staging out of Naha AB, Okinawa to Vietnam. Our C-130 wing participated in extensive operations in Vietnam/Thailand, ‘65-’66 - the early years!

Returning from my C-130 stint in Vietnam, I learned that I was being PCSd to Vietnam to C-123s - go now?

A recheck in the C-123 and some other training and I was now an "Air Commando" - oh my! Arrived in Saigon in September 1966 and I was told that an Air Commando not only must display certain flying skills, fly in special tailored fatigues, have an Aussie "go to hell" hat, wear a Seiko watch, carry a Minolta camera, drive a Honda motorcycle and ---! In several months we moved up to Phan Rang and I served the rest of my tour as an ops officer in a joint center that controlled the PHAN Rang F-100s, Aussie Canberra bombers as well as the C-123s.

Between C-130s and C-123s I picked up a bit of combat time and a bunch of combat sorties.

"You can’t go home" – Tom Wolfe didn’t know Air Force assignments (note above). – In September 1967, I reported to the Officer Training School at Lackland AFB along with eight other Vietnam combat experienced pilots to serve on the faculty of the school and to create an orientation and motivation program for those trainees that were going on to pilot training. I picked up my flying time in the T-29s out of Kelly AFB.

My next assignment was to be the C-130 school at Little Rock AFB. But alas, the Air Force came up with the post war idea of introducing pilots into career fields that had a shortage of rated experience – it was called the "rated supplement". No assignment to C-130 school! Instead, in 1971, I was assigned to Headquarters, Audiovisual Service (AAVS).

I became a television staff officer in the emerging use of television for training and documentation. My background in this ground - breaking endeavor – I owned a television set! Thankfully, some great folks at AAVS made me "smart" and that led to a 1973 assignment as detachment commander of the AAVS television studio at Carswell AFB in support of the Strategic Air Command’s combat-aircrew training programs.

In 1976, I became the commander of a new AAVS squadron with eight detachments, headquartered at Kelly AFB. We provided the television and still photography requirements for a whole host of "customers" including the start of the Red Flag exercises at Nellis AFB; the introduction of the F-16 at Hill AFB; C-141 and C-5 needs at Altus AFB; and, combat aircrew training support in so many other aircraft in the AF inventory.

In 1979, lo and behold, there was a growing pilot shortage and I was being assigned back to the cockpit – C-130s weather recon in Guam. (Ironically, I was so involved in aircrew training and the point man to all commands’ requirements and now a flying assignment??) With four children in high school and another at a local college – I retired.

1980 found me employed at the Air Force Military Personnel Center, Randolph AFB as a civilian television producer/director for the Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Directorate (MWR). "Tops In Blue" the Air Force touring entertainment company became my major MWR client – a highlight of my television experiences – show biz! In 1985, the Air Force performed the half-time show in Super Bowl XIX – I was one of the AF coordinators with ABC television – the Dolphin’s Marino and the 49er’s Montana and me over on the sidelines directing our crews. The guys in the pool hall didn’t believe it – Roll the tape!

I retired from MWR in 1988 to take "care of business". Volunteering and family have kept me enjoyably busy.

During my career I was fortunate to have the strong support of my wife, Joanne, (married 50+ years) and our five daughters. The family is very well and successful.

The yellow T-6 on the parade ground looks so inviting – looking forward to the gathering!.

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