MSgt Tony Youngblood, US Air Force (Ret) (1985-2011)
MSgt Tony Youngblood,
US Air Force (Ret),
Served 1985 to 2011
(Veterans – read more stories like the following when you join http://www.togetherweserved.com)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
A few things influenced my decision to join. At first, I was trying to go into the Army to fly helicopters. I took the battery of tests the Army recruiter gave me, and with a few days, I had a class date for Warrant Officer School and a follow on to Helicopter training. That is until they found out I wore glasses. So they offered me to still attend WOC, but had to pick a different MOS. I don’t think so. I left, contemplating what to do. My Mother was going to be tossing me out since I already quit my job at the grocery store and the Datsun dealership. So I went and spoke with the Air Force recruiter. It was funny, he was the only one that wasn’t bugging me to join. When I asked him why, he said “I knew you would eventually show up.” So off to Basic training with an open Mechanical contract in hand.
BRIEFLY, WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
I joined to become a Jet Engine Mechanic, do my four years and get out with an A&P to make the big bucks. When I went to Lackland with an Open Mechanical and had to pick a job, I put down the four Jet Engine Mechanic jobs but had to still put down a fifth choice, so I just put down Loadmaster on the bottom block. The guy from training said hardly anybody ever got their fifth choice, so not to worry. Well, I was one of the hardly ever guys. Since Loadmaster was a flying job, and you had to volunteer to fly, it was determined that my fifth choice was my volunteer to go fly. I fought it, and lost.
Off to Sheppard AFB, Texas to Basic Loadmaster school. At first I went kicking and screaming, then was sat down by a Load that was now our Student Training Advisor in the dorms and he let me in on the secrets of being aircrew in the AF. Went back to class gung ho to carry on.
A few weeks out from graduating, we received our aircraft assignments which mine was C-141s. Next, we had to put down on our dream sheets where we wanted to go. So since I had received 141s, my choices were limited. They were, Norton, Travis, McChord, Charleston and McGuire. Being from Southern California, I knew I didn’t want to go to Norton, so I left it off my dream sheet and started with the base furtherest away from SoCal then worked my way back. A week later we received our orders, Norton AFB, California! I immediately went to my STA who then called the personnel center and spoke with our assignment person. He told my STA that he thought I might have forgotten to put it down, so since I was from right there, he would be nice and send me back. I begged and pleaded with him, but no avail, I was off to Norton. It actually wound up being a great assignment. After a hellish time at Altus AFB, Oklahoma, I was at Norton.
I came down with a weird medical condition that the new flight surgeon had never seen before. Thinking I contracted some weird disease out in the Pacific, he processed the paperwork for a grounding rather than as a long-term DNIF. So I had to cross train. This was when I became a 702, Admin person. This was a turning point in my life and military career. I had the fortunate opportunity to see the Air Force from the support side as well as work for some truly outstanding people. I worked for the Squadron Commander as well as the Wing Commander, who went on and became the first AFSOC Commander, General Thomas E. Eggers.
After a bunch of people tried to talk me into going to college and an ROTC program, or try to get into the Academy, I decided to go back to flying. As I told my wife, I didn’t join the Air Force to fly a desk. So I applied to retrain. Since Loadmaster was not open to re-trainees back then, although it was my Secondary AFSC, I had to choose something else. So off to the 116X0 career field, Airborne Communications Systems Technician School at Keesler AFB, Mississippi. There I had the distinct honor to go through the course with Marines from HMX-1, the Presidential Airlift squadron. They were coming through the program to see if it would benefit the Marine Corps to put people through our airborne school. Outstanding individuals, the lot of them. After graduating, I was assigned to the 7th Airborne Command and Control Squadron at Keesler.
The 7th ACCS was a unique, one of a kind squadron that flew the Airborne Battlefield Command, Control and Communications (ABCCC) platform in the back of a heavily modified EC-130E aircraft. Here is where my first taste of combat would come from. I was involved with Operation Just Cause. Afterwards, I was selected to join a special part of our unit supporting Joint Chief’s of Staff operations. I was then selected to be one of the Initial Cadre to perform Operational Test and Evaluation on the new ABCCC III capsule. Very hard work, but that experience would follow me throughout my career. During the OT&E, Iraq invaded Kuwait and we had to accelerate the test in order to deliver the new system into theater, which we did. Bringing the system in country and being on the first combat mission of the ABCCC III was quite the honor. Several months and hundreds of hours of combat and combat support hours, we finally came home and back to a somewhat normal life of upgrading to Instructor plus being a hatchet man conducting pre-check checkrides to ensure people were ready for their annual flight evaluation.
After another year or so with ABCCC, AFSOC hired me to go fly the Combat Shadow at Eglin AFB, Florida with the 9th Special Operations Squadron. I learned what it was like to be gone all the time. We were either deployed to Operation Provide Comfort flying out of Turkey, or providing support for other contingencies or exercises. I was also involved in Operation Uphold Democracy where we went down to Haiti to persuade the government to change. We also were involved with Somalia and other African incidents during my time there. Then one day between being TDY and deploying, I was called into the Operations Superintendent’s office and asked if I was trying to get orders out of there, shocked, I told him no. He then informed me that I was by name requested by a Four Star to go to Belgium and fly him around. Boy was I stumped, I didn’t know any four stars. When I asked if I could think about it, he said yes, times up. Take the assignment or get out. So I took the assignment for which I had to report in 90 days. I asked him if that meant I was off the deployment I was leaving on in two days, he said no. So, for 45 days, I was in Turkey while my wife had to do most of the work. We made it through it sort of unscathed.
Off on our European vacation to Sunny Belgium we went not knowing what to expect. We showed up and a really great guy, Terry Crouser, met us at the airport. He threw us in an old Volkswagen van with a really bad steering box, and off went careering down the Autoroute towards SHAPE and Chievres Airbase. Now Terry was the kind of guy that liked to look at you when he talked to you. So here’s Terry, with a bad steering box, the kind where you are constantly steering from left to right to keep it going straight, and he’s looking at me in the front seat or my wife in the back. Mr. Toad’s wild ride was that trip.
We get to Chievres, get checked in, then the most incredible journey of my career began. I was one of three Airborne Communicators for the Commander in Chief, European Command / Supreme Allied Commander Europe. The other two, Kevin Grant and Jane Lujan, two more outstanding individuals, made up the Radio section. We had the privilege to go everywhere in Europe and then some. During my time there, six years only because my wife wanted to go home, I worked for three SACEURs, Army Generals George Joulwan and Wesley Clark, and Air Force General Joseph Ralston. What an experience it was providing communications for all of the Balkan campaigns, even flying them in country. During this time, I also had the privilege to fly other notable military and civilian DVs. Secretary of State Albright, former Secretary Henry Kissinger, General Hugh Shelton and his lovely wife, Minister Manfred Rommel, numerous heads of state and NATO leaders. I was even banned from Scottish soil during my time there, great story saved for beer drinking. After my wife decided it was time to head back to the US, it was off to Southern Arizona and Davis-Monthan AFB.
We came back to the US and made it to Tucson on 9 September 2001. While looking for a place to live, we were in the hotel the morning of 9/11 and saw the day that changed the world forever. I was back on ABCCC, this time with the 42nd Airborne Command and Control Squadron. They had moved from Keesler AFB while deployed to operations in support of Allied Force, the Balkaans. I upgraded and took over as the Flight Superintendent, of the squadron’s largest flight of 63 people. I was a Technical Sergeant at this point and had never supervised any more than one or two people before. This became, at the time, the best job I had ever had. Being responsible for that many people gave me a deep rooted satisfaction I would use throughout the rest of my career. Flying missions in support of Noble Eagle, we were also ordered to shut down the unit. So preparations were being made to deactivate the squadron. After getting everybody the jobs they wanted, I forgot about myself. A friend of mine was the AFPC Chief that came down to do the assignments, and when he told me that I forgot about myself, I was surprised. He didn’t forget about me though. He knew I was a prior Rescue/SOF so he decided to keep me in place to stand up the new Rescue Squadron.
We stood up the 79th Rescue Squadron. We had no airplanes, except the old EC-130Es left over from ABCCC. No people, except a few that came off of staff jobs or stayed on from ABCCC. That was about it. We also had a handful of helicopter guys to start the 55th RQS and one Pararesueman to start the 48th RQS. This became a monumental challenge to start with nothing and create an entire Rescue Group. We also had an impending deployment to train up and meet. This was January 2003, we had to be ready to deploy by April 2004. Scrounging airplanes and training areas, the few of us worked hard to meet the time-line. We were also transferred over to AFSOC with all of CSAR joining our SOF brethren in the Global War on Terror. February 2004 rolled around and I was selected to be one of the ADVON to stand-up combat operations for the 79th RQS at Karshi-Khanabad, Uzbekistan (K2) to conduct Combat Search and Rescue in Afghanistan. Another rewarding experience. I also was promoted to Master Sergeant while I was deployed. Upon return from K2 after five months, I went to the 563rd Operational Support Squadron to help develop the Group’s Weapons and Tactics office. Along with two more outstanding individuals, Majors Michael Hinsch and Mick Harper.
After accomplishing yet another daunting task, I was pulled up to the Group to take over as the Group Airborne Mission Systems Specialist Evaluator. This came with a whole set of other challenges that only made me a better person. While here, we took part in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. Tremendous lessons learned from those two. Being in OGV for a little over a year, we were told that in thirty days we would be transferred back to Air Combat Command so the Air Force could protect our helicopters from going to the Army. This put everything in a tailspin. Along with the transfer, there would be a contingent of Rescue personnel up at Headquarters ACC. I was one chosen to go and become the first Command AMSS Evaluator. Yet another organization I had the “honor” to stand up. This was starting to become a habit with me.
Off to Langley AFB, Virginia, only this time without my wife. She stayed in Tucson to take care of her mother and our house. I got an apartment with another one of my Rescue buddies whose family also stayed behind. So from 2006 on, I was part of several AFI and Technical Order rewrites, as well as playing a small part in bringing on board the Air Force’s newest combat aircraft, the HC-130J Combat King II to replace our very old and broken HC-130P/Ns. That was a unique perspective on the inner workings of the DoD acquisition process. After being told that I would have to go to Tinker or Offutt after I made Senior Master Sergeant, I took it upon myself to make sure that didn’t happen and tanked my chances by not taking my final course 12 test, Oops.
After a couple years of a staff job I thought about retiring, but they sent me back to Davis-Monthan, of course I didn’t argue with them. Upon returning, I didn’t know where I was going, so I popped into the Group Commander’s office to find out where he wanted me since I had three squadrons having a food fight over me. Well, the 563rd OSS won out and I went to work back in Weapons and Tactics until the Operations Superintendent retired a couple of months later, then I took the reigns. There I was, an old crusty 23 year Master Sergeant who now didn’t care about ever making E-8, and now had 108 people to take care of. This now became the best job I’ve had in my career. Arriving in May 2008, I was immediately thrown into building a capability that I was part of four years earlier, creating the Rescue Operations Center (ROC) to deploy as a Group package like we did in Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Outfitting the ROC was the easy part, determining what the ROC was supposed to do was an entirely different animal. On top of all that, the OSS was also heavily involved in Exercise Angel Thunder, the Air Force’s largest Personnel Recovery exercise, but that wasn’t until October 2008. We had a couple other little things to do before that could happen. August 2008, Hurricane Gustav came storming into the Gulf of Mexico. What better way to try out the ROC for the first time. After deploying two HC-130Ps and six HH-60s from DM, plus all the pieces and parts to sustain operations, to Ellington Field, Houston, Texas, we set up the ROC and started operations. We were conducting rescue operations with our brothers from the California Air Guard throughout Louisiana. After returning home and cleaning up, Hurricane Ike headed towards Houston and we had to bed down in San Antonio and conduct rescue operations throughout Houston and Galveston Island. Upon returning after Ike, we now had to concentrate on Angel Thunder.
This exercise for 2008 drew nearly 900 Rescue personnel and aircraft from 14 countries to participate. I was the exercise Superintendent responsible for the behind the scenes operations to ensure the exercise went off without a hitch, it did. We had a successful and eventful year, for which we all enjoyed a quiet holiday season afterward. For the actions of the 563rd OSS in 2008, as well as our sister squadrons deployed, the Group received an Air Force Association’s Citation of Honor for the most outstanding contribution by an individual or organization to the development of aerospace power for the betterment of mankind. I was really proud of my people that short six months that year. I stayed in that job until October 2009 when I was offered a position as one of the initial cadre to once again stand up yet another Air Force squadron. This time, it was the new Combat Search and Rescue Combined Test Force’s HC-130 Test Flight.
We were tasked with standing up the Operating Location that would transition to become a Detachment in 2011. I had to establish programs that would get the OL-A functioning and to get the people in place We had the HC-130 Legacy side and the HC-130J side to bring into the Air Force inventory the new Combat Rescue aircraft. I would have 63 people and one aircraft to conduct OT&E on the new J-Model. There’s that OT&E that would come back to haunt me. Part of the deal for letting me come do this job, I had to also be the Exercise Super one more time for Angel Thunder 2010. This time, it was nearly 1600 people, 81 aircraft from 19 countries and other three letter US Governmental organizations. At least I knew what I was doing this time around. I only had to throw out of the exercise one Lt Col, a Safety person, and one OSI agent. The perils of not listening to the guy in charge.
So, after nearly completing the stand-up of the 88th Test and Evaluation Squadron, Operating Location Alpha, the Air Force changed the High Year of Tenure rules and told me I had until 1 April 2011 then had to retire. So with heavy heart, I had to hang up the flight suit, pass all my gouge from all those years on to the youngsters, and have a retirement ceremony. I would sign up for another 26 if they would let me. But not all was lost, I’m back doing the same job at the 88th TES, just get to make the hardest decisions of my AF career, what to wear to work everyday.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
Yes I did. I participated in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, the Bosnian and Kosov campaigns, and also Enduring Freedom. Desert Storm affected me the most. This was a large scale deployment, as opposed to Just Cause, and we flew along the border of Iraq or into it. Every mission had us on edge knowing we could take a SAM or in the early days, get shot down by an Iraqi fighter. I saw many people change after their first combat missions, people I thought were more together than they actually were. Along with the missions also came the nightly SCUD alerts/attacks. At first, those would get us wondering if tonight was our turn to catch one. After a while, we would go up on the roofs of the houses we were living in to see if they were coming our way. Most of the time, we wouldn’t even put on our gas masks until the Patriots lit off the rails, then we knew they were coming towards us.
One night, we were in the chow tent and the alarms went off, we all started putting on our masks when I noticed one of my Airmen wasn’t putting on her mask. When I asked her what she was doing, she told me she left it at the Ops desk. I grabbed her by her collar and ran dragging her the two hundred yards back to our area. We were almost there when the Patriot battery lit off. I threw her into the hooch to get her mask when I saw the SCUDs coming down through the clouds right for our base. She was putting it on when she ran out, just in time for me to grab her and throw her down into the makeshift bomb dugout consisting of a concrete tube and some sand bags. I flew in on top of somebody just as the ground rocked from where the SCUD hit the middle of the airfield. A couple of days later, she told me she didn’t think her feet ever touched the ground while we were running, Amazing what a flood of adrenaline can do to a person.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
One thing that stands out for me was going into Sarajevo in 1995 and seeing firsthand the destruction of people and property. Driving down Sniper Alley in an armored HUMVEE and seeing the people trying to run across the street without getting shot. Every square foot of ground turned into a makeshift graveyard with white crosses. The looks on peoples faces as they try to survive another winter in a besieged city. The Olympic stadium with the torch still standing overlooking the silent soccer field because people are too scared of a mortar landing on top of them from the hills. This stands out at the moment thinking back on my career.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
The most meaningful award I received in my 26 year career has to be the first Air Force Achievement Medal. Out of all 33 pieces of cloth on my chest, that one I was most proud of. Oh, at the time maybe not so much, but as my career progressed and I saw what that one silver and blue piece of cloth actually meant, made me realize how the Air Force was changing. I received that first medal for something I actually achieved. I took it upon myself to try and bring a little Esprit de Corps and unit pride to my squadron. I started with redesigning the squadron patch to bring it out of the Vietnam era but still retain the heritage. I painted murals on bland yellowish walls in the stairwells of missions my unit had accomplished. We had this crew bus stop out front that I painted a knock off of the Military Airlift Command symbol at the time with the 15th MAS in its place. I wasn’t after anything, just wanted to share my artistic talents with the rest of the people I worked with. I was surprised when I was called up to receive it from my squadron commander. That was my driving force my whole career when I would put people in for awards. Some E-8s and E-9s, because they weren’t Seniors or Chiefs, tried to stop me saying they would get something when they PCS’d. BULL!!! I took then up to the commanders at that point and pointed out that Achievement medals were for individual acts of achievement not meant to be a PCS medal for Airmen.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
The one person that probably had the biggest impact on my career was the one I fought the most. MSgt Jesse Salcedo. He was my boss when I was a Senior Airman working in an orderly room. He had been a life long administrative specialist and he came into “My” unit after I had been there two years already, and tore apart my programs. I would go home so frustrated with that man. He would pull out this obscure Air Force Regulation, of which I do not recall the number of it, and show me how to set up a certain program and the way I had it running was wrong. What did he know? I was the year’s Outstanding Junior Administrator for the base. I had garnered an Outstanding Achiever accolade from HQ MAC for my outstanding program management and my commander had even asked to see if I would consider going to HQ MAC to be on the inspection team. So who was this guy to tell me what I already knew?
I learned more from that man not only about admin duties, but being an Air Force NCO and Senior NCO. Even though I fought him tooth and nail, he still wrote awards packages on me and even got me a Commendation Medal when I retrained and PCS’d. I never got the chance to really thank that man for what he did for me.
Sergeant Salcedo, if you ever read this, Thank You. Thank you for everything you taught me and I wanted to let you know, I emulated you throughout my 26 years in the Air Force of taking care of your people. Again, Thank You.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
There were numerous incidents, most are still and will be forever classified Top Secret. A couple of things still make me chuckle when I think about them, but this we would do all the time and it still makes us cry when we talk about it. We had this pilot over in Belgium, Captain Aldo Croatti. Being an AF pilot was like a hobby to him, but we still liked him. So what we would do, is every time he was on the crew, before we would head up to our hotel rooms for the night, we would have a nightcap in the hotel bar and charge it to his room. Nothing crazy, maybe a beer or cappuccino or something. The look on his face the morning we check out was priceless. He would never say anything, just pay the “Aircrew” tax and be glad it wasn’t more than it was.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
I am doing the same thing I was doing in the 88th TES/OL-A, soon to become Detachment 1, 88 TES. Making sure the HC-130 section of the 88th is a well oiled machine and my Test people have everything they need to conduct flight test safely. I also am the Subject Matter Expert for all things communications dealing with the mission and the aircraft. Hopefully soon, I’ll have a “Blue Suiter” to help me with this can of worms.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I belong to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the American Legion because of what these two do for all vets. I also belong to the Air Commando Association, the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, That Others May Live Foundation for what they do for operators and their families in times of need. I also belong to the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association and the Association of Public Safety Communications Officials. All these organizations help out the furthering of the profession or helping vets with whatever they need. The benefits I derive from my membership is knowing there are people out there that care about each other that I can count on.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
My military service has made me a better person from start to finish I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, and still don’t, but at least I had a vector and thrust to get me where I am today. I learned to take care of people. My whole career was based on “Take care of your people, and your people will take care of the mission. Take care of the mission, and not your people and the mission will fail.” I still believe that.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
Take care of your people, and your people will take care of the mission. Take care of the mission, and not your people and the mission will fail. Don’t be a “Me” person. If you only think about yourself, you will only have yourself taking care of you. You get promoted by how well you lead people and manage resources. If you only care about yourself, you’ve already failed. There are enough E-8s and E-9s in the Air Force, strive to be the 1% of the E-9s that are actually Chiefs. I can count on one hand the number of actual Chiefs I have worked for and with over the years. Most of them today are E-9s looking to make E-10. Don’t be one of those.
Practice for your next stripe. The day you put on that next stripe, you are that stripe. People don’t look at you and think, “Oh well, he was just a Senior Airman on Friday”. No, they look at you and you are now a Staff sergeant, Technical Sergeant, etc. You don’t have time to practice being your stripe, you have to act like you’ve been wearing it all along.
GO TO SCHOOL!!!!! Even if you only take one class a semester, take a class. Deployments are no longer an excuse for why you can’t go to school. There is an abundance of credible online schools to attend. If they don’t offer what you are really interested in, you can always transfer when your life calms down a bit. For some reason, the E-9s and E-10s have gotten it in their skulls that you have to have a Masters degree if you ever want to make chief, BULL!!! You can learn more just by keeping your eyes and mind open to learning new things. The piece of paper you get helps you in the after life, except your CCAF, get that done quick.
Step up and volunteer to take on new challenges in your job. You don’t want to be that guy that does the bare minimum to just skate through a career. If you worked for me as a skate, I’d skate you right out the gate. I don’t have time or resources to carry your lazy butt for twenty years. Contribute to the mission. If you see something we are doing and can think of a better way to do it, let me know so we can try and improve what we do.
Reach out and find a mentor. It doesn’t have to be a Chief, it could be that really smart TSgt that has moved around and done other things to improve their jobs and careers. Don’t pin yourself to a yes man or one of the commander’s lap dogs, find someone that actually knows what they are doing and can impart that knowledge to other people. Remember, we are all expendable and if you are the only person in the world that knows how to re-torque a widget, then you’ve failed the system. Spread the knowledge. Knowledge is not power in the Air Force, it is the driving factor of what we do.
These are but a few things I tried to tell those around me all these years. It is very satisfying when I hear one of the “kids” telling the younger troops something I told them years before. That’s what it’s all about.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
Being able to stay connected with people spanning my long career has been a joy. This is like hanging out in the squadron bar once again telling war stories or catching up on old times.