Captain Chris Miller's experiences on rotation with Bravo Squadron
The Mission : RAF Mildenhall : Tour the AOR : Write Me
The mission was a fairly simple one. The US had a million service members overseas, with about a third of that in Europe. The Fulda Gap scenario was the threat... the Soviet Union driving their tanks across Czechoslovakia and East Germany, across Grafenwoehr, and into the heart of western Europe. To counter that threat, we had Airland Battle Doctrine. Multiple squadrons of F-4s, F-15s, F-16s, and A-10s across four countries, two Army Corps, Special Operations units, AWACS, and an airlift wing in the middle of everything - the 435th Tactical Airlift Wing at Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt. The 435th was pretty sizable, consisting of a C-130 squadron, a C-9 squadron, an ALCE, a Combat Control squadron, and owning or playing host to a number of support units. But the fact of the matter was that the 37th (the Tac Airlift Squadron) couldn't handle it all.
From 1958 until 1977, there hadn't been a permanent airlift presence in Europe. Two rotational squadrons, Bravo and Delta, from CONUS-based wings supported the airlift needs of the theater commander while giving their crewmembers and support personnel practical experience in the European theater. That experience would prove invaluable should the Fulda Gap scenario come to pass.
In 1977, the 37th TAS was permanently transferred to Rhein-Main AB in Germany. Bravo Squadron continued as the rotational squadron at RAF Mildenhall. Since the 37th had the duel role of operational flying while still doing continuation training for their wartime mission, the bulk of the operational airlift missions fell to the rotational unit. Each of (then) eight active duty C-130 squadrons in CONUS pulled a 60-day rotation at Mildenhall, meaining each squadron would rotate once every 16 months. As the active duty drew down, the rotations came more often (about every 14 months) and lasted 70 days vs. 60 days. But I digress...
Since the rotational squadron was not required to do continuation training while on rote, they were free to pick up any operational mission that came along. Many of these were milk runs or standard tours of duty, such as:
Bravo typically had 12 aircraft with 16 crews. Typically we'd have 9 aircraft launching or already on the road daily, with one spare back at Mildenhall. Ground duties at Mildenhall would have one crew pulling "duty crew", one in the barrel (waiting to be put into crew rest), one in Bravo Alert (crew rested with a 48-hour alert window), and one crew off-duty. Since we had six crews and four aicraft in Turkey at any one time, they would have one duty crew and one alert crew there as well. The duty crew and the barrel crew were also responsible for preflighting the aircraft, driving the crew bus, alerts, and a myriad of other duties to make things go easier for the flyers.
One of the benefits of rote was the ability to buy souvenirs in just about every country you visited, and then getting them back to home station in the back of a herk essentially for free. England had bosun heads and David Winter cottages, bone china, and ale. Spain had Lladros, pearls, and swords. Germany had beer, wine, and cuckoo clocks. Italy had onyx, rattan furniture, and wood inlays. Greece had flokati rugs and vases/urns. Turkey had towels, cedar chests, meerschaum pipes, shepherds lamps, and papyrus paintings. Oh... and leather bomber jackets. You could always tell which countries each of the guys had been to by what was in his check-baggage on the way back home. I remember one navigator that bought a custom bar in Turkey; then convinced his loadmaster to check it through to Pope. That bar stayed strapped to 245 for the remainder of that tail's time in theater, much to the chagrin of the load planners.
By the end of my tour at Pope, I had been on one full rote and three half-rotes. I dutifully purchased the required souvenirs from each and every country visited, checked all the "been there, done that" boxes, and generally had a good time. Because I had been stationed in Germany for two years before moving to Pope, I was considered an asset by the crews I was assigned to, since I knew a lot of the "off the beaten track" places to go. I also collected literally dozens of anecdotes ranging from mildly embarassing to moderately funny to downright criminal. Maybe I should write a book...
Last updated on 24 May 2006 by Chris Miller
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