Sgt Dennis Schoen US Air Force (1966-1970)
Sgt Dennis Schoen
US Air Force
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
Graduating from high school in 1966 and shortly married to my high school sweetheart, Uncle Sam came calling and said “I need you young man”. Remember the draft and being classified 1-A? Well I do very well.
I had two cousins in the Air Force and one was home on leave. He recommended the Air Force and suggested I go see the recruiter. As a matter of fact he took me. The very nice Master Sergeant said he had his quota for that month. I said OK and headed for the door but my cousin being a bit more forceful ask very nicely if he would go ahead and give me the test just in case. He agreed to that request. I took the test, one like I had never taken before. I didn’t even know what an aptitude test was.
Well I waited for the grade in the hall way with my new wife and cousin. The big door swings open and this very nice Sergeant comes out and says he has worked out a deal and I have to leave in 24 hours. Imagine the scene, my cousin jumping up and down saying yes, yes, yes and my new bride clamped around my neck crying saying no, no, no. It was tough. It was also one of the moments in my life that brought on changes. This one in my opinion was a positive one.
My marriage, well it survived and it has now been 45 years to a great lady.
So to answer what influenced my decision to join is not a patriotic one. But my service was one of the best things to happen to me. I loved it and found out what it meant to be a patriot and today at 64 years old I would do it all over again and die for God and country.
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
I was put in Aircraft Electronics and sent to school in Boloxi, MS. Anybody sent to that base for school will remember Ally Hall. Basic Electronics was all new to me. I graduated from a very small high school with approximately 35 in my graduating class. To say it was just the basics is a mild way to put it. I was home sick and not doing very well in school. I will never forget the Dean, or what ever he was called, calling me in his office. Now I can’t repeat the words he used but he made his point to this country boy. It was either get with the program or he promised me a snow suit and an M16 to use while I marched around whatever was in Alaska. I made a deal with him, if he would help me get my wife down to Keesler, I would make the grade. He did his part and I did mine. I even was selected for an extension class and graduated with Honors. I went on to work with wonderful people at Shaw AFB in Sumter, SC. I helped to maintain the inertia navigation systems and the forward looking radar on the RF4 Phantom. I had a wonderful mentor by the name of Donald Culver. He taught me plenty and looked out for every aspect of my OJT. I later crossed trained in to a new career field. It was not my choice, I was given orders to do so. It was a new system that used laser for recon and we (7 of us) were to work with company techs to test and help develop the reliability of this new idea. The testing took place in South East Asia. Not my choice either but I took a lot away with me when it was over. Not material things but things of the mind and heart.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
I did not participate directly in combat but those Pilots that would come back from missions and if you had to debrief them on system operations and the quality was not at its best, I felt sick. These guys risk it all to test this thing and it was our job to give them the best possible. I along with my partner did most of the alignments on the system because we worked nights and that is when all the flying was done and also the set ups. It was rewarding to see those Pilots look at results and feel good about what they had brought back that could give quality intel to commanders in the field. After a year we and the systems were rotated back Stateside.
WHICH, OF THE DUTY STATIONS OR LOCATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED OR DEPLOYED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?
Shaw AFB – because that is where I learned more about myself than any other time in my life. As I mentioned before, I had a great mentor there who would teach and then let me do as he walked away. He later told me that it was hard to walk away but there would come a day when he would not be around to walk away and it would be just me. Well shortly after getting my 5 level he takes off on leave and here I am all alone on night shift and just praying nothing breaks. No such luck.
About 2am I get a call from the boys on the hill that a bird was due to take off but the pilot could not get the INS to line up. Without it he would get up in the air and not know where he was at. Here I was without my main man and the big guy on the hill was calling. I felt like I was one big nerve that was shaking to a Jerry Lee Lewis rock song. So I grab my little tool bag and headed out to the aircraft. The crew chief was already there and had the power supply running, what a noise that thing made. It’s probably one of the reasons I can’t hear good today. I climbed the ladder, sat down in the seat and said a little prayer. I believe it was pretty short, something like “God help me”! I ran diagnostics and double checked. It was the computer and to fix it, I had to have the ejection seat pulled.
I go up to the man on the hill and give him my diagnosis and the first thing he said to me was “are you sure”? Don always said never let them make you doubt. I said with a very positive “Yes I am”. To make a long story short, the crew chief pulled the seat, I pulled the computer and took it to the shop and sure enough it was faulty. Not having enough time to repair it, I grabbed one off the shelf checked it out, it was good and put it in the bird and sign off the red X with my new 5 level.
Guess what, that Phantom took off a little late but worked like a champ. That night I realized that the Air Force had provided me with what I needed to do my job. My trainer was not there to walk away, he was gone and it was just me. I had never been one with much confidence and that was another stepping stone on my way of building some.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
I said before, I did not join the Air Force because I was looking for any adventure or experience to make memories. But it was something in my life that I will never forget or regret. It made me grow as a man and taught me to appreciate what WE all have as Americans. We live in the greatest nation to ever be on the face of this planet. The memory that I think of a lot is not one that makes me smile or want to brag about something that I accomplished.
It was one when I was coming home from SEA. I was preparing to board a transport aircraft to fly to Japan. It was a row of caskets being loaded on the same craft that was starting my journey home on. I can’t tell you one thought that I was having at that moment but I can tell you I felt like crying. I don’t know who they were or what they did. I only know I was coming home to see my wife and little 18 month old son. That picture is seared in my brain.
What they and thousand of others gave up for the rest of us. That is the particular memory that stands out and we need to never forget those then and these young folks that are joining with the ones I saw that day. God Bless our troops. All of them. They are the best.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
The Air Force Commendation Medal. I was raised to work hard like a lot of people are. As I was doing my job on this laser system we were testing, I found myself really busting my rear end off because I was enjoying it. I worked at night in a pitch black hanger and never dreamed that anyone noticed. Really it didn’t cross my mind because I was looking for results to satisfy myself.
At my next duty station, Lowry AFB, one day I was told to wear my Blues the next day because I was getting an award. I never did find out who recommended me for it but I thank them. Why it meant so much is I worked hard and someone noticed.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
SSGT Donald E Culver. He was my OJT trainer for my 5 level. He and his wife Eva became good friends of my wife, BJ, and myself. Don was always drilling me at work. always making me do the work while he sat on the engine intake and talked and taught. He was relentless and knew his job very well. Sometimes he would walk off and I’d yell, “where ya going?” he’d say, “to get a cup of joe.” I’d yell back, “what am I to do?” he would say, “figure it out.” He knew I was timid and was determined to break me. I guess it was due to the fact that he was from Kentucky and a horseman who had broke his share of horses. I’m not sure I liked being treated like a horse but it worked.
Don was my friend. Someone sent my wife a very good story and part of it said: It takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, a day to love them and an entire lifetime to forget them. That’s true. Don made an impact and I have never forgot him.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
It appeared to me that everybody in the service drank coffee, except me. While in the Air Force I never got it. The addiction that is. At Shaw there was this huge coffee urn in the flight line maintenance shop. It was always at work. Well one day one of the honchos said, “Schoen, clean the coffee maker and make fresh coffee.”
WELL I wasn’t really sure what to do and I didn’t belong to the coffee club. I took the urn to the utility room where there was this large sink and cleaning supplies. I dump the old coffee grounds in the trash can and looked inside the urn and man how nasty it was. It was between a dark brown and black. He said clean it. I looked around and found some SOS pads and went to work.
Before long I had the inside of that urn shining like a new dime. I rinsed it really well or at least I thought so. I thought to myself that no one would ever know how hard I had worked on accomplishing the task. All the work was hid. I had to ask how much coffee and how much water. Soon it was perking. I was watching the glass tube that ran up the side to tell how much was in the urn slowly turn from clear to dark. Oh boy I couldn’t wait. Not for a cup but for them to drink the best brew on base.
Well, it stopped going ka-plush and that meant it was fully cooked. SMSGT Cummings must have been so ready for his fix that morning because as soon as if stop here he came for his java. He drew up a full cup.
He also took his black. That meant no sugar or cream to alter the taste.
As he went around the corner back to his office he took a big swig and what happened next was not pretty. Spitting and spewing he went into a whole new language. Now I don’t remember that he cursed. But he did say, “What the hell? Who made this?”
Every eye turned sorta slowly in my direction. “In my office,” he said. He suggested that I pulled a prank and a bunch of other stuff that by then I couldn’t understand, my mind was just hearing words. My brain was thinking Article 15, bust in rank or something. I said NNOOOOO. “You put soap in the coffee?” I said NNOOOOO. He was so mad.
Then someone else must have took a drink and I heard this person spitting in a trash can. I told him that I was told to clean the urn and make coffee. I went through my process of cleaning. He went sorta speechless for a few moments.
I heard low giggles and muffled laughter outside. Thank God he had a sense of humor.
In the end there had to be a new urn gotten by requisition. They never let me live that down and never let me touch the new urn.
To Capt. Cenac, SMSGT Cummings, SSGT Whte, SSGT Gibson, Charlie, Cheeseborough and the rest, I am very sorry! I still feel embarrassed when I think of that day.
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
I was discharged in Nov 1970. I worked for my father-in-law for two years at a propane gas co. I then went to work for Southern Bell Telephone Co. Worked there for 13 years and had and accident that broke my back. After recovery, I went back to college and graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina with a degree in Pharmacy and that is what I do now. I’m just looking for a good time to retire.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
I personally think all able bodied and able minds should serve their country. As for me it made me grow as a man. I was a married kid. Married to a kid. Both 19 years old. We loved each other and that love has endured 45 years. You have to work at it if you want it to work just like any thing in life. Well in the AF I soon learned that if I wanted to make it, I was going to have to work for it. It built character and gave me a sense of who I was. I was a work in progress. Each person I met, supervisors, and friends I made seem to leave me with a little something that molded me. I was good at keeping my mouth shut and my ears open.
I am proud of my service, proud of those with whom I served. Made a lot of friends. Some are gone now but not in my memories. And believe me there is a lot to smile about and a lot to laugh at in those memories. With my career that I do now, the discipline that I gained in the service is a wonderful advantage.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
Your military service is much different than that of old coots like me had. Look at all the digital toys you have. We had computers but not like the one I am using right now. Home computer, lap tops and that Black Berry I carry. Wow. My job is all computers. But with or without those toys the service and dedication to serve your nation is the same. Don’t take one minute of it for granted. It will make you a better person. I pray for you all and all of you make us proud. God bless each of you.
Sgt. Dennis R Schoen,
United States Air Force
Electronic Sensors Repairman
1966 to 1970
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
I think this is a great site. I am looking for and still hope to find old friends but I have started making new ones. I am sure with time as the membership continues to grow and a little work, things will work out.