United States Air Force

Service Reflections of SSGT Jorge Hernandez, U.S. Air Force (1968-1972)


The following Reflections represents SSGT Jorge Hernandez’s legacy of his military service from 1968 to 1972. If you are a Veteran, consider preserving a record of your own military service, including your memories and photographs, on Togetherweserved.com (TWS), the leading archive of living military history. The following Service Reflections is an easy-to-complete self-interview, located on your TWS Military Service Page, which enables you to remember key people and events from your military service and the impact they made on your life. Start recording your own Military Memories HERE.

Please describe who or what influenced your decision to join the Air Force.

Old Times Square Recruiting Station

With a year left in high school, the local Draft Board strongly suggested that I join the Army. I went down to Times Square in New York City recruiting stations and talked to all recruiters. The Air Force recruiter was the most informative, and I joined the Air Force upon graduation. Unfortunately for me, because I was born in a Communist country, Cuba, I had to go through a background check before joining, and in January 1968, the investigation began. I informed the local Draft Board that I was joining the Air Force, but I didn’t have an enlistment contract yet, so they informed me they would keep an eye on me.

The local Draft Board ordered me to undergo an Armed Forces Physical Examination in April 1968, and I was declared fit for duty. As my end of May graduation month approached, I still had not heard anything from the Air Force. The Air Force recruiter advised me to apply for college, starting that September, to delay the Draft Board from forcing me to join the Army. In August 1968, I finally received notice of a successful background check and decided to enter the Air Force in October 1968. When I presented my assignment orders to the local draft board, they were not too pleased since the boards during the Vietnam War had enlistment quotas to maintain. Sure, it was an ordeal to join the Air Force, but I was glad it was my decision, not theirs!

Whether you were in the service for several years or as a career, please describe the direction or path you took. What was your reason for leaving?

First Day of BMT Training

My first day in the Air Force was spent in Albuquerque, New Mexico, because we couldn’t land in Amarillo AFB, Texas, due to a snowstorm. When we finally got there the next day, the base was a ghost town, with only a few BMT squadrons going through training. I was assigned to Flight 403, BMT Squadron 3332, one of the last squadrons to graduate before the December 1968 base closure. Even if the base was empty, it didn’t deter our TI, Sgt. Johnson, from putting us through the wringer. I lost almost 60 pounds by the training’s end. Out of 40 airmen in our squadron, only two of us got what we wanted: to be a Jet Engine Mechanic. The other 38 all went to Cryogenics for rockets. After BMT, I was assigned to Chanute AFB, Illinois, in 1969 for technical schooling with the 3355 Student Squadron. When school was over, I was assigned to the 436th Field Maintenance Squadron, 436th Military Airlift Wing (MAC), at Dover AFB, Delaware, which became my only permanent base assignment in the Air Force. I really wanted to remain in the service, however, because I was not allowed to test for Tech Sgt E-6 (I had a year and a half time in grade as an E-5 but had to re-enlist in order to test. According to the base re-enlistment office, it was to stop us fast burners from getting all the rank), I left the Air Force.

If you participated in any military operations, including combat, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, please describe those which made a lasting impact on you and, if life-changing, in what way?

RAF Greenham Common AB

From September 30 to October 10, 1970, I participated in a NATO Training Exercise named Flintlock III, flying to Greenham Common AB, England, in support of our C-133 aircraft, which were part of that exercise. Because of our family’s English ancestry (Foster & Potts), traveling around and seeing our ancestors’ land was great. On April 10, 1972, through April 16, 1972, our fleet of C-5A’s Galaxy flew down from Dover AFB, Delaware, to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, to move SAC’s 2nd Bomb Wing, B-52 base equipment to U Tapao RTAFB, Thailand, for the start of Operation Linebacker I, Vietnam’s last bombing. It was sad to see the entire base go to war, knowing that some of them might not return. Dover AFB was the mortuary of the East Coast, and the daily arrivals of our dead soldiers had a heavy presence on all of us who worked the flight line. These two operations had a lasting impact on me during my service.

Did you encounter a situation during your military service when you believed there was a possibility you might not survive? Please describe what happened and what was the outcome.

C-133 at Dover AFB

Dover AFB loved to do unexpected military war exercises, and one night in 1969, I was woken up and directed to pick up my toolbox at the shop and drive to a nearby hangar for check-in & processing. After many hours of waiting, I was ordered to one of our C-133 aircraft, fully loaded, for departure. What I didn’t know at the time was that these exercises were an opportunity for the desk jockeys who needed to maintain their flying hours to captain our aircraft for touch and go’s. We took off normally, and during the first approach, as the aircraft touched down, flaps deployed to slow down the aircraft, and then throttles fully engaged for take-off; the pilot forgot to sync all the props! We thought we were done for a water landing in Delaware Bay! The aircraft violently shook all the way up to altitude, straining the cargo straps and stuff moving around in the cargo bay until the throttles were pulled back for level flight. Needless to say, after going around once more, we landed, and that was it for our flight. The aircraft was towed to its hangar for inspection.

Of all your duty stations or assignments, which one do you have fondest memories of and why? Which was your least favorite?

Inside a TF-39 Engine

It was great being permanently assigned to Dover AFB for the duration of my time. With the new C-5A fleet assigned to the base, I truly enjoyed working on the TF-39 engines.

From your entire military service, describe any memories you still reflect back on to this day.

Testing Our Engine Work – C-133 Aircraft

Amazingly, I spent four years in the Air Force, and with the passage of time, it’s all a blur now. Yet, the above operations and assignments are uppermost in my mind.

What professional achievements are you most proud of from your military career?

TF39 Engine Training – Chanute AFB 1972

Becoming a Staff Sergeant in two and a half years has to be the top achievement of my service. I was a go-getter, and being single, I volunteered for a lot of work to allow those members who had families to be with them whenever they could. I tried to be the best mechanic that I could be, and I was recognized by my peers as a hard-working individual. My performance reports reflected that attitude, and officials acknowledged my hard work with frequent promotions.

Of all the medals, awards, formal presentations and qualification badges you received, or other memorabilia, which one is the most meaningful to you and why?

Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon

Of course, the Outstanding Unit Award with Oak Leaf Cluster (436th Military Airlift Wing) has to be the most meaningful. However, my Small Arms Expert Marksmanship medal has to be tops. We had to qualify every year, and it took me almost four years to earn that ribbon. Keep in mind that for a kid from the Bronx who never handled a weapon, to fire an M-16 rifle earning a medal was mind-blowing!

Which individual(s) from your time in the military stand out as having the most positive impact on you and why?

Pratt & Whitney T34 Turboprops

Evan Morgan, a Civil Service employee working in our T-34 turboprop engine shop, was my biggest mentor. Mr. Morgan had been the crew chief to Francis Gary Powers’ U-2 aircraft when it was shut down, and although he never talked about the incident, he sure was a hell of a worker. In our T-34 shop, we had to have a certain number of spare engines to get the weekend off. We needed one more engine, and the test cell had failed that engine due to an out-of-balance condition. Evan Morgan told our Master Sergeant to order the test cell to remain on duty because we were going to work on that engine and return it to the test cell. Test Cell thought we were joking since the engine would be red hot and wouldn’t cool down for hours. As soon as the engine arrived, we opened the combustion chamber case and inserted air hoses to cool it down (Mr. Morgan’s idea) as we worked on it. Within the hour, the engine was back at Test Cell, and this time it passed. Needless to say, the weekend was ours, thanks to Evan Morgan. He was a legend in our shop, and I always loved working with him.

List the names of old friends you served with, at which locations, and recount what you remember most about them. Indicate those you are already in touch with and those you would like to make contact with.

TSGT Coroniti Joking Around

I fondly remember TSGT Dante F. Coroniti, our T-34 shop foreman. He helped me achieve tons of success during my tenure at Dover AFB, and I had a lot of laughs serving under him. He was also my witness when I became a US citizen in 1970. In regards to other friends, according to available statistics, Vietnam-era veterans are leaving us at a rate of about 390 deaths each day, and just like our WWII brothers, there are fewer of us each year. Unfortunately, more than 52+ years have gone by since my military service, and many of my old friends have passed away. May they all rest in peace.

Can you recount a particular incident from your service, which may or may not have been funny at the time, but still makes you laugh?

4 Guys From New York

During Basic Training, right after getting our haircuts and carrying our newly issued uniforms in our arms, we were made to walk in a line as nurses, using pneumatic syringe dispensers, injected the required vaccines, 13 in total, if I recall correctly. Guys were passing out in front of me, and the Sergeant yelled: walk over them! As soon as they recovered, they were injected again, some passing out once more. It wasn’t funny at the time, yet I chuckle every time I think about it. Note: the photo is from our NYC flight to Amarillo, Texas, October 14, 1968. From left to right: AB Robert Oddo, Me, AB Charles J Beniquez, and AB Gerald McClure.

What profession did you follow after your military service, and what are you doing now? If you are currently serving, what is your present occupational specialty?

About a year before I left the Air Force, Pan American World Airways came down to Dover AFB to recruit jet engine mechanics, and of course, one had to have an FAA Powerplant license, which I didn’t have at the time. They said to get one and come see us after leaving the service. I went ahead and got my FAA license. After leaving the Air Force in late 1972, I went to their office at John F. Kennedy International Airport and was told that they had just laid off 7500 employees. I applied to all the other airlines and heard the same story: layoffs everywhere. My uncle in Chicago suggested O’Hare International Airport, and I applied there, too. Flying Tigers Airlines gave me hope, but I had to move to Chicago before being considered. By the time I got to Chicago in 1973, they were also laying off personnel. Running out of money, I worked as a mechanic for a pool table manufacturer. While there, I was noticed working on electric forklifts by a sales representative of Clark Equipment, and that encounter led to a 17-year career in the forklift industry, starting as an Apprentice Mechanic, Mechanic, Lead Road Mechanic, Assistant Service Manager, General Service manager, and Southeast Field Representative, all the way to Production Manager of a Japanese forklift manufacturing company in California. After years of being told that I missed my calling as a Radio Broadcaster, starting in late 1990, I spent the next 20 years as a Voice-over Actor (2 film credits: Ocean’s 11 & View From The Top) while DJing on the weekends for 25 years. I’m happily retired now.

What military associations are you a member of, if any? What specific benefits do you derive from your memberships?

Dover AFB Support Team – Barksdale AFB 1972

I’m associated with the Department of Veterans Affairs via a service-connected disability, providing health care for me. I’m also a member of Veteran Tickets, a Vet Tix foundation that teams up with major sports teams, leagues, promoters, organizations, venues, and every day event ticket holders to provide free tickets to currently serving and veterans of all branches of the US military.

In what ways has serving in the military influenced the way you have approached your life and your career? What do you miss most about your time in the service?

Inside the F4 Hell Hole

Serving in the military gave my life a purpose that was lacking before. I was able to transfer that experience and professionalism to every industry I was involved in afterward. Too many years have passed for me to miss my time in service; however, I’m fond of all the memories I earned during those four years.

Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to those who have recently joined the Air Force?

T-34 Engine Repairs

While I served at a different time, with the draft and a major war going on, my advice to those who have joined the Air Force now is to make the best of all the opportunities that present themselves during your time. Learn as much as you can. Ask for extra duty in those areas that you love. Aim high, as the old Air Force slogan used to say. If you love what you are doing, make it a career. You are in a select, small group of individuals who volunteered their service to this great country. Always keep that in mind!

In what ways has togetherweserved.com helped you remember your military service and the friends you served with?

It was 56 years ago that I joined the Air Force. I sincerely thank Together We Served for helping me remember details from a long time ago. It was a blast to go down memory lane and recall events of my service, not to mention the memories of friends I lost along the way.

Boot Camp, Units, Combat Operations

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Tags: Air Force, Amarillo AFB, Barksdale AFB, C-5A, Chanute AFB, Department of Veterans Affairs, Dover AFB, Greenham Common AB, Military Airlift Wing (MAC), NATO, Oak Leaf Cluster, Small Arms Expert Marksmanship, Together We Served, Veteran Tickets, Vietnam War


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