SSgt Ruben L. Encinas
U.S. Air Force
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE AIR FORCE?
I was mostly influenced by watching war movies as a kid in the 50s. I had a cousin that had come back from Korea in 1953 and he brought me a miniature Marine Corps uniform. I was so proud of it, I wore it to school pictures day. I
even worn miniature combat boots. Still, at this time I liked all the Services and I started building model airplanes and Army models while my brother built model Navy ships. In the 60s we had a competition of Air Force Verse Navy in our bedroom with Naval Academy and soon the Air Force Academy pennants on the walls and various pictures of ships and planes. My interest in the military increased and leaning mostly to the Air Force. I had a cousin that served in the Air Force as well as neighbors that were stationed at Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas. I remember the 50s TV show of “You asked For It” where you would write in and request they show a special location. I sent mine in asking to show a SAC Air Force Base, but they never got to it. I remember watching the B-36s takeoff and land at Biggs AFB back in the 50s and I always wondered what it would be like to fly in one of those. One of my neighbors was a MSgt at Biggs and I kept bugging him about what it was like to serve.
I also remember when a B36 crashed into the side of the Franklin Mountains while on approach to Biggs AFB. The crash site was close to housing and was not far from where we lived. I remember seeing my first B58 land and take off at Biggs AFB. All these sights of planes just whetted my appetite for more. In high school I would beg my brother to get me a ticket to see Texas Western College (before they became The University of Texas at El Paso and win the NCAA Basketball Championship in 1966) play Air Force Academy in football and basketball. I was hooked. It was during Christmas break of 1965 in my senior year in high school that I began to get serious about my future. Since I couldn’t afford to go to college, I went to visit the local recruiting offices and explored what they had to offer. The Air Force (there really wasn’t any other service I really wanted to join, but I had to check anyway) offered the best future skills that I liked and it was then I decided the Air Force was for me. I scored well on the tests and could select most anything I wanted. Although Ft Bliss was right next to Biggs AFB in El Paso, I was not interested in the Army. They just didn’t have the airplanes.
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?
I scored high in what was called the General Field and put down my three choices as Photo Mapping, Weather Observer and Mandarin Interpreter. I didn’t score high enough in the language testing, but was glad of that because of the limited assignments associated with this career field.
So at completion of Basic Training, I received orders to go to Chanute AFB, IL for Weather School. With just over one hundred of us, we left Lackland AFB by train going to Chanute for various schools. When we left San Antonio, it was a nice warm day and arrived at Rantoul, IL in snow. Coming from the desert, this was new to me. I think I had seen snow maybe three or four times in my life. I really liked the Weather career field and I still do it as a hobby. To this day, first thing I do when I walk out the door is look at the sky. I guess the reason I got out was that I needed to do something else and raise my family without being separated from them while they were still young.
I had seen a lot of separations and the problems associated with them. I got out of the Air Force after my second enlistment, went back home to El Paso, TX, attended college at night while working as a Forklift Operator at Ft Bliss and as a SSgt in the Air Force Reserve as a Weather Observer as an Augmentee at Holloman AFB, NM Weather Station. After Junior College, I got a job with the National Weather Service in San Angelo, TX as a Meteorological Technician. After about 10 months, I was transferred to Stephenville, TX as a Weather Radar/Upper Air Specialist. Worked their until I graduated from Tarleton State University with a Bachelor’s Degree and moved on to worked with the Department of the Army as a Quality Assurance Specialist Ammunition Surveillance (QASAS) civilian. Some interesting assignments as a QASAS included Saudi Arabia and Korea. So in the end, I worked my two hobbies for nearly 39 years thanks to the Air Force and Army.
IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN COMBAT, PEACEKEEPING OR HUMANITARIAN OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.
My job at Nahkon Phanom Royal Thai AFB, Thailand in 1969 was to support missions over Laos heading for the Ho Chi Minh Trail or other sites in Laos. I spent the first six months working the base weather station and alternating working in the Control Tower. The last months there I was working the CPS-9 Weather Radar located at Task Force Alpha. The CO at TFA was the Base Commander at Webb AFB while I was stationed there in 67-68. I followed him to NKP in ’69. I talked to some Pilots over Laos that required weather updates. At one point I had to vector an aircraft from a point deep in Laos heavy with thunderstorms and monsoon rain using my weather radar. Since I could attenuate my radar signal, I could decrease the precipitation sign and let the pilot know which was the best possible route around the thunderstorms.
An incident that happened to me while working at TFA occurred one night while I was working the Radar. We had two rooms, one with the CPS-9 Radar and the other across the hall with the satellite receiver where we would get the latest satellite photos on weather. I had just finished checking the Radar when I went across the hall to check on the latest photos coming in. When I returned to the Radar room, I found the the door had shut and locked. I went back across the hall and called the security NCO for a spare key. Realizing that I needed to get back into the Radar room soon in order to run my scan, I started looking for a way into the Radar room from the Satellite Room. I looked at the floor tiles and realized that I could lift them up and underneath were cables and assorted pipes. I also noted that it was a crawl space and I decided that I should see if I could get into the Radar room this way. I tried a couple of tiles before I found one that opened just inside the door of the room and I removed it and crawled inside. I replaced the tiles in both rooms and resumed my duties with the Radar. The Security NCO finally showed up and asked how I got in. When I told him my story, he said that I found a security flaw because I could have access to most of the offices in the building using the crawl space. Don’t know what finally happened, but I’m sure it was addressed at higher levels.
OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
My first assignment after tech school was Webb AFB in Big Spring, Texas. As a brand new 19 year old, and being on my own it was a great place. The AF personnel in our Weather Detachment were great and taught me well. Shortly after arriving, my CO (I think it was Capt Lydon) took my friend and I up on his private airplane over Big Spring, TX. This was a great introduction to my first assignment. I worked in the Base Operation building and alternated with the Remote Observation Site on top of the Transient Maintenance building. In the Base weather Station, I worked two different weather Radars, the FPS-77, just coming in on line and the old APQ-13, a relic from a B-29 and still a useful tool for short range. My favorite work site was the ROS. It was a wooded tower structure on top of the Transient Maintenance building and used to be the old Control Tower. We had a speaker where we could listen to the Control Tower Personnel instructing pilots landing and takeoffs. It was from this site that came my most memorable sights and sounds. The night a B58 Hustler had request takeoff at night from Midland Center was a sight to see to appreciate what this aircraft could do. They had requested a certain flight altitude but were denied by Midland Center. After repeated request and denials The pilot said “Roger” and took off and when it reached the end of the runway headed straight up with afterburners going until it reach the level Midland Center had given them after which the pilot radios Midland Center “have a nice evening Midland”.
Another time I saw an aerial maneuver by an F104 and a T33 over the field. The F104 shot almost straight up and the T-33 tried to follow. After a few moments, I heard the T33 declare an inflight emergency and landed. From what I heard afterwards, the T-33 had suffered some type of structural damage while trying to catch the F104. The F4s however made a big impression when they stopped at Webb. After they left, we found stenciled on several buildings a picture of a figure that resembled the radio and movie character the Shadow with the word underneath “The Phantom”. There are many more stories like this, but best of all, this is where I met my future wife. From Webb AFB, TX I went to Nahkon Phanom RTAFB (NKP), then to Holloman AFB, NM and finally Davison AAF, VA on Ft Belvoir. I didn’t have a least favorite assignment. Each assignment was different and required different skills, so I wasn’t really into not liking where I went as long as I learned and had my family with me. Davison Army Airfield at Fort Belvoir also a great assignment. I had a chance to meet General Westmoreland while working at Base Weather during one evening and the Airfield also supported the Presidential Support Army Helicopters. It was at Ft Belvoir that I really learned to hunt and fish. I had a great Army SFC friend that lived above me in base housing that took me to his favorite spots on Post. One day while out squirrel hunting, he took me to a place that had a fence around a medium size tree with a sign that said “American Chestnut Tree, Keep out”. Forests of American Chestnuts were devastated when a blight killed most of them off.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE, INCLUDING COMBAT, DESCRIBE THE PERSONAL MEMORIES WHICH HAVE IMPACTED YOU MOST?
What I had learned during all of my weather training was to pay attention to all details and report accurate information no matter how insignificant they seem. This attention to detail served me in two later incidents involving weather. The first incident was when I watched an A1 takeoff from NKP, Thailand one night in fog and rain while I was on duty as a Weather Observer in the Control Tower and saw the plane go up in a fireball at the end of the runway as the ordnance exploded and afterwards giving my testimony before the inquiry board. Not sure what the finally outcome was, but weather was not a factor. Another incident involving a plane crash at Dallas/Ft Worth Airport (DFW) occurred on my watch as a Weather Radar/Upper Air Specialist working for the National Weather Service at Stephenville, Texas, in 1985. This time it was a weather related incident. A book was written and a movie made based on the book including what I consider slanderous content aimed at me contrary to actual details. The press was brutal in its reporting, but my testimony at the NTSB inquiry was solid with very specific details that were not report by the press previously. The NTSB Board determined two years later that it was pilot error. Once again, attention to details played an important part for me.and is always at the forefront of whatever I do. It also served me well in my later career as an Ammunition Inspector, a field that really requires detail analysis. I’m sure that I could have learned this attribute elsewhere, but I learned it at as a young Airman at Weather School at Chanute AFB, IL.