MSgt Jackson (Jack) Otis US Air Force (1957-1980)
MSgt Jackson (Jack) Otis
US Air Force
WHAT PERSUADED YOU TO JOIN THE AIR FORCE?
I first enlisted in the Army National Guard while in high school and attended summer camp at Fort Hood. I graduated from New Diana High School, Diana, Texas in May 1957. About the end of June my cousin talked me into joining the Air Force with him because we did not want to be drafted into the Army. We enlisted and went through two phases of basic training at Lackland together. We were both given the same career field as Postal Clerks but he was assigned to Sidi Slimane, Morocco and I was assigned to the Aerial Mail Terminal in Paris, France. He got out of the Air Force after four years but after getting married, extending my assignment, and having our first son in Paris I could see no good reason to return to civilian life.
BRIEFLY, WHAT WAS YOUR CAREER PATH IN THE SERVICE?
Following that Paris tour we went to Chennault AFB, LA until 1962 and returned to the same job in Paris until France dropped out of NATO and asked us to leave in 1965. I then applied for and became a BMT Instructor at Lackland until going to Vietnam as a postal clerk in 1969. I returned to the AF Armament Lab at Eglin in 1970 as an Administrator. I was then offered an assignment back to Southeast Asia but had no idea of what or where I would be assigned until arriving there. I was an Airborne Interpreter (French of course) flying with the Forward Air Controllers from Vietnam in what was then a Top Secret air war over Cambodia. After that I returned to Langley AFB as a photo type-setter. We again returned to Paris in 1972, I was an Administrator with the MAAG. They closed the Paris office in 1975 and we went to the same job at Rabat, Morocco. I was eventually re-trained into the Security Police field and retired at Myrtle Beach AFB, SC in 1980. We lived in French speaking countries for 14 years with only 9 of my service years being spent in the US. I served in a total of 5 different career fields and I can honestly say that I never had a bad assignment.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS?
My first tour in Vietnam was with the Postal and Courier Service and although we were in harms way I did not actually participate in combat. When I was asked to volunteer for the second tour I was told that I would be on flying status, but that was all they would tell me, everything else was classified – they didn’t even tell me what type of aircraft, where, how or why! I was one of very few enlisted personnel qualified for this duty since I was fluent in French, I had a TS clearance, I was able to pass a flight physical and I “volunteered” for the assignment. They of course had me hooked when they said the words “flying status.” Following physiological training, Basic, Special and Jungle Survival Schools and abbreviated parachute training, I arrived at a processing unit in Nam and after a few days was sent to join the Rustic FACs at Bien Hoa, flying in the OV-10 Bronco back seat. Shortly after earning my wings and first Air Medal, I was sent to join the Sundog FACs at TSN in the O-2A Skymaster. All 116 of my combat missions were flown over Cambodia. Not only were the other back/right-seaters my true friends but every maintenance, Intel, pilot, commander, etc, were our true friends and on a first name basis – they made us feel as an equal member of the team. Three of my pilots went on to become General officers.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
On a late night mission with the Sundog FAC’s we were about to return to Tan Son Nhut and were over the Chup Rubber Plantation in central Cambodia. We had put in several air strikes for the Cambodain Army and had one log flare remaining. When you drop a log flare, it ignites upon hitting the surface and burns for about 30 minutes and we use it to direct fighters to targets. The Chup was a notorious Khmer Rouge/Viet Cong hangout. We decided to give them a half hour of anxiety so we dropped it and watched as it ignited. Suddenly it was as if the world exploded and we immediately realized we were in the middle of an Arc Light. B-52s were dropping full loads of bombs from far above us and had no idea we were directly in the path. The pilot and I both started reciting the Lord’s Prayer and never deviated course. We could both see bombs passing by until it was over. Back at TSN, we both went to Blue Chip/7thAF and received “apologies” that it had been left out of the pre-flight briefing. It taught me the true meaning of Winston Churchill’s quote “There is nothing more exhilarating than being shot at without result.”
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU…AND WHY?
Colonel Walter M. Pickard who was my OIC at the Embassy (MAAG) in Paris, we were the only USAF personnel assigned there. On duty we were very military but after work, along with our wives, we would often dine and have some drinks together. We wore civilian clothing on duty and I must admit that sometimes I would forget to abide by AFR 35-10. One time he asked me to call his barber and make us an appointment, I got the hint. He stopped here at Myrtle Beach a few years ago and so we were able to get together again before he passed away. He was truly a compassionate professional and a true friend.
DO YOU HAVE A PARTICULARLY FUNNY STORY FROM YOUR SERVICE YEARS THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE?
In the winter of 1975, while stationed at the MAAG in Paris, we took a vacation to a resort in Germany. There were four of us, my wife Chris, our two sons, Alan and Patrick and myself. On the first morning of the trip, many of the guests were going to Winklemoose mountain to ski. We decided to join them, although none of us had any skiing experience. We rented skis, boots, gloves, etc and got on the bus. Upon arrival at the slopes, we followed the others up the steps about 50 yards and when we looked down we found that we were on the advanced slopes and the first stop was hundreds of yards below. Rather than lose face by going down the steps, Chris sat down on her skis and slid down to a great fall. My sons and I then did the same. We then proceeded to the novice slope and finally had a great time. While we were on the advance slopes, however, Chris fell off the T-Bar lift, Alan skied over a house, Patrick was fortunate and never fell again but I left most of my gear on the mountainside. The last day there I didn’t even bother, I just rubbed snow on my face and then stood at the bar looking fast – it was a super vacation but a very funny experience.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW?
After retiring as Security Police Superintendent at Myrtle Beach AFB I went with the MB Police Department for a while but decided that was not the career I wanted to pursue. I bounced around a bit and then landed a position as Provider Technician with PGBA, a Tricare claims processing contractor. I certified providers in a few states and worked with a lot of great people doing a job I thoroughly enjoyed, not many people can say the same. Following my second retirement in 2004 we traveled quite a bit throughout Europe and I finally got my dream job working at a golf course as bag drop/starter and ranger one day a week. One of the perks of this job is that I get free golf and play as a member of the Men’s Association. Right now I’m also working as an Enumerator for the 2010 Census.
ARE YOU A MEMBER OF ANY MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS? IF SO, WHICH DO YOU BELONG TO AND WHICH ONE ARE YOU MOST ACTIVE WITH? WHY DO YOU PREFER THE ONE?
I’m currently a member of the Rustic Forward Air Controllers Association and the American Legion. I like to stay connected to old buddies as much as possible.
HOW HAS SERVING THE ARMED FORCES INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
I have learned that I could not simply sit back and hope that ‘opportunity’ would drop in for a visit. I believe we have to create our own luck and fortune but never at the expense of another person. I had a great Air Force career that allowed my family and I to travel more than most. I also believe that had it not been for my faith in God I would have died over the Chup Plantation in Southeast Asia.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE WHO ARE CURRENTLY STILL SERVING IN THE MILITARY?
I would remind those who are still serving that they belong to the best nation on earth. As a GI, you are Government Issue and an Ambassador for the US no matter where you are. Be Proud of who and what you are and take the opportunity to learn something every day.
HOW HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU TO MAINTAIN A BOND WITH THE SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
I had kept in touch with several friends in all the service branches over the years as best I could but I could not believe how many of my former comrades were members of TogetherWeServed.Com I actually found four airmen that I went through Basic Training with in 1957 and one of them recently visited and we played golf together. One of my pilots in Nam, I found lives 4 miles from me and we also played golf recently. I have also met many new friends as well and I’m proud to administer the TWS Memorial pages for all three pilots lost in Nam with the Sundog FACs, that is very special to me.