|An up close and personal interview with U.S. Air Force Veteran and Togetherweserved.com Member:|
TSgt Brigham Gasu-Tiafau U.S. Air Force (Ret) (1979-2000)
WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
In the summer of 1979, I was convinced by my older brother to join the Air Force and travel the world and maybe become a pilot instead of being a Flight Attendant for Pan American airlines.
At that time, I just graduated from Santa Ana College and was going through a series of interviews for Pan Am for the position of flight attendant. They were advertising for bilingual males to work their Pacific Rim, which fitted my thinking and background. The interviews were scheduled by two of my college teachers at Santa Ana College where I used to attend flight attendant classes. The reason I took the classes in the first place was because it had a lot of pretty girls. Of the two classes I was taking, there were only 4 guys out of about 25 to 30 girls. So from there I was able to go to these very successful interviews. I was supposed to start training in a few weeks but then I decide to enlist in the Air Force instead!
WHAT WAS YOUR SERVICE CAREER PATH?
I entered as a jet engine mechanic with a 4 year enlistment. Three years into my first enlistment, I was promoted to Senior Airman through the "Below the Zone" program which enabled me to be promoted 6 months earlier than normal.
I was intially stationed at Norton Air Force Base after boot camp and technical school. After seeing enlisted members, who looked like Pilots wearing flight suits at Norton Air Force Base, I became interested in a flying job that did not require being an Officer and have a Bachelor's degree. I thought that this was the job for me so I put in my package and cross-trained into flight engineering, flying the C-141B aircraft.
Although I loved my new job and being able to see the world, I did not and could not get promoted for two reasons: first, the cutoff score for Flight Engineers were consistently high and second, I did not have the discipline to study to the degree I was supposed to.
When I finally got promoted to Staff Sergeant, I had accumulated so many points over the years that even with the low score I made on my tests this landed me in the number two slot to be promoted. My line number was 002. In 1991, with my new rank of Staff Sergeant, I transferred to the KC-10 aircraft just after Norton AFB was named on the base closure list.
I then PCS'd to March AFB, CA, about a stones throw over the next hill from where I was stationed until 1994. While there, we were tasked to deploy to the United Arab Emirates for 3 months to refuel all aircraft flying and covering the "No Fly Zone" over Iraq from April - June, 1993. I was flying KC-10s and assigned to the 9th Air Refueling Squadron when the base was listed to be turned into a reserve only base.
Then, making a decision to stay on the ground and go to college, I re-trained into Maintenance Plans and Scheduling in 1994 and was sent to Sheppard AFB, Texas for training in that field. After my training, I PCS'd with my family to Mountain Home AFB. ID. My family and I spent 3 and a half years there until I received orders to Kunsan AB Korea in 1997.
After one year in Korea, I PCS'd to Edwards AFB, CA for my final year where I retired in Jan of 2000.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
I was a student Flight Engineer when President Reagan ordered the military to rescue the US students from Grenada in 1983.
In Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990, I was constantly flying non-stop between the east coast and the middle east, sometimes to Europe during peak time of the buildup.
I was on one of the aircraft that flew over and airdropped the Airborne Rangers to extract General Noriega from Panama in 1989.
WHICH, OF THE DUTY STATIONS OR LOCATIONS YOU WERE ASSIGNED OR DEPLOYED TO, DO YOU HAVE THE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY?
I am still saddened that Norton Air Force Base was closed. This is the first place I was stationed and the place from where I saw the world. After being assigned there on my first assignment as a Jet Engine Mechanic within the 63rd Field Maintenance Squadron, I was re-assigned there after receiving cross-training orders as a Flight Engineer to 14th Military Airlift Squadron. From the base I simply parked my car and hopped onto my assigned jet and sat behind a couple of college graduates who flew me around the world.
Recently, I had a chance to drive through the base again and was surprised to see a different place altogether. There were new streets and different buildings all around. The runway and the hangers were still there but it was sad to see the change after all the great memories I have of the place.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
Seeing each new country for the first time. I was a student Flight Engineer and my first trip was called a "Down Under" trip. We flew from Norton AFB to Hickam AFB, HI. We spent the night a Waikiki Beach in the best hotel on the beach.
From there we went to American Samoa and stopped there for 4 hours to refuel and drop off cargo. It was there also that I got to see my parents and brothers that I had not seen in a long time.
Then we flew to Christchurch, New Zealand and spent the night.
Then on to Sydney, Australia where we spent the next 4 days flying in and out and towards the west coast of the country, sightseeing at the same time. We flew to Ayers Rock, one of the largest visible rocks on earth. We bought some opals from a place called Woomera, then we bought some giant shrimp from Learmouth on the Australia west coast.
From there it was back to Sydney for another night in King's Cross before heading back to Hawaii for another night at Waikiki beach and eventually home.
It was a start of a career that I loved and enjoyed for many years after. I didn't care if I got promoted or not at that time, as long as I was seeing the world.
WERE ANY OF THE MEDALS OR AWARDS YOU RECEIVED FOR VALOR? IF YES, COULD YOU DESCRIBE HOW THIS WAS EARNED?
This question is a tough one because most of my memories involved what I did as a Flight Engineer. If you had a good mission, in other words, if you were on a flight that involved something that was out of the ordinary than just plain flying from location to location while delivering regular cargo, then you were lucky to have been on one of those missions.
For example, when a mission or an assignment was received by our squadron command post, a crew was formed to fly that mission from a list of whichever crew members were going to be available at that time.
I did not receive and awards for valor but there were many times I flew missions that probably should have been recorded under such an award.
I remember every time we had to take off from Richmond Airfield in Australia, I always had to swallow hard and kept my fingers crossed until we cleared the end-of-runway lights below us as we ascend upward toward the sky. You see, depending on the temperature of the day and the gross weight of our aircraft, as well a the length of the runway, this determined if we were going to clear any obstacles in your flight path; buildings, trees, mountains including the lights at the end of the runway. Richmond airfield had a 7000 foot runway, which by any large aircraft standards such as a C-141B, was just too short or just long enough, whichever way you wanted to look at it.
If, on paper you could not clear the obstacle, you had 2 choices. One, you remove weight from your aircraft by reducing the cargo or fuel. Or, two, you wait until the air temperature is in your favor. For us, on many occasions, we always chose to push the limits of our knowledge and training to fulfill the mission. And as it turned out, I'm still here today talking about it.
An ideal runway length was typically 10,000 feet. On the other hand, I remember also flying out of Honolulu, Hawaii's runway 08 Right. This particular runway was 13,000 feet long and had plenty to spare if you need it. Well, we needed it on this day when both the Loadmaster and I made a slight miscalculation on the center of gravity location for the aircraft after the aircraft was loaded. The loadmaster figures this number out using a mathematical formula, then hands it to the flight engineer to check it out and figure the setting the pilot uses to set his rotate speed so that the aircraft can easily take off from the runway. However, when the co-pilot said "rotate" and the pilot pulled back on the yoke, the aircraft did not do anything except continued toward the end of the runway. A quick response by both pilots enabled us to barely clear the water as we flew off from the very end of the runway and upwards toward the sky.
Another was when we were climbing out of Clark Air Base in the Philippines, one of the thrust reversers at the rear of each engine opened in flight causing a problem verging on the catastrophic. We all worked our buns off to control the aircraft and return to Clark AB.
OF THE MEDALS, AWARDS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICES YOU RECEIVED, WHAT IS THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
I think the most meaningful was earning my wings after completing the initial flight engineer's course. Prior to my being accepted into the school, there were already 2 individuals from my base who were dropped from the course and sent home because the school was not only intense academically, but also strict in its requirements to pass. It was also well known that this course had a high failure rate. It was intimidating to say the least when I was accepted.
When I finally started school, I felt the pressure of not being able to make it due to the fact that almost everything that was taught was foreign to my ears and vocabulary. I literally had to study continuously day and night so that I wouldn't get sent back like the others before me. When I finally did pass that last examination, I was jumping up and down like a little kid who just landed in a room full of candy!
By graduating from this school also entitiled you to wear your Flying Wings. I brought my Wings back to my mother to pin on my uniform because it was she who encouraged me with a letter and a prayer every week when I was in this training school.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PERSON FROM YOUR SERVICE STANDS OUT AS THE ONE WHO HAD THE BIGGEST IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
It was MSgt Wigfall who later retired as CMSgt Wigfall. He was the superintendent of the Jet Propulsion Branch at Norton AFB and the one who inspected our uniforms every morning during roll call inside the Jet Shop where I worked.
His office was located right across from the area where my crew and I were located. Of course, he was always looking out from his window to see if we were working. This man's uniform was always crisp and his shoes were always shiny. I think if he were not inside his uniform, it would stand up all by itself because of the starch that he had on them.
His image of cleanliness, sharp professionalism as well as his ethics in his dealings with all of us, his sense of fairness and equality toward every person who worked under him remain with me to this day.
I will never forget the time I was 2 minutes late for roll call. You see, there was this horn that the shop supervisor sounded by pressing on a button adjacent to the pole the horn was mounted on. The horn was sounded every morning to start roll call, at the start and end of every break, as well as at the end of the day. While I was looking for a parking spot just outside the shop, I heard the horn go off. I parked my car and ran inside to find out that everyone was already in formation except me. I jumped in the formation from behind thinking that Wigfall did not see me.
After the formation, he called me aside and chewed me out for being late. It was a lesson I re-learned after boot camp but never forgot for the rest of my career. Even to this day, I'm always 15 minutes early to my appointments.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE THAT WAS FUNNY AT THE TIME AND STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
While we were doing night airdrop training over the Arizona desert one night, we came back to the base without our Loadmaster. You see, he was supposed to push out a small bundle of makeshift cargo, after the Navigator counts down to zero, and the co-pilot turns the switch that illuminates a green light in the rear of the aircraft. But the bundle was snagged and would not freely roll out as it should have done. The Loadmaster started to give more push to force the load out and it worked. The bundle went out and took our Loadmaster with it!
From our location at the front of the airplane we did not know that both the load and the loadmaster went out together. Over the radio we normally listen for the number of jumpers or pieces of cargo that were identified by the ground crew having exited the aircraft and we also listen for the "all clear" sound from the Loadmaster that everything went out as expected.
After the aircraft flies clear of the drop zone, the navigator calls for the red light and we all listen for the all clear sound from the loadmaster while the co-pilot closes the doors through a switch on his panel. Well, all we heard after that was a call from the ground saying "looks good, two out, two chutes". We all looked at each other as we called out to the loadmaster hoping that we hadn't lost him.
Luckily, anyone in the cargo area during airdrops was required to wear a parachute. The loadmaster was brought back to the base by the ground crew where he immediately went and bought a case of beer for the parachute rigger who packed his chute!
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER THE SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT JOB?
My intentions after the Air Force were to stay in aviation or the airline industry and use my background gained from the military. I came out just prior to the 9/11 bombing and worked as a maintenance manager for an aviation company at LAX.
I got laid off after the towers fell and I found myself looking for a job. With jobs not that plentiful I went back to school and finished my MBA from Webster University. I was picked up by the Orange County Transportation Authority in Southern California where I hoped to work until retirement. I'm now an inspector for the company.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
I started out being a member of the Air Force Sergeant's Association, the Veteran's of Foreign Wars and others but I have not kept up my active status.
HOW HAS MILITARY SERVICE INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND CAREER?
Oh that is so easy! The military was everything to me. Everything I do today, from the way I dress to the way I approach people. From the way I think to the way I perceive and anticipate things. I love this country so much that when I see things out in the civilian world that are not right. I get angry because I helped to preserve what we have and we should cherish all that we have in this country.
I raised my children to respect the flag and respect everything about this country in the hope that they too will honor and serve as I did.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE FOR THOSE THAT ARE STILL SERVING?
Be truthful and honest in all that you do. All your sacrifices are and will be appreciated more than you know.
Sometimes, it's hard to be away from your loved ones but hang in there and support each other. You are doing much better than most people that never leave the place where they were born and raised. When you finally come home, you will miss your buddies but you will be a better person.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU MAINTAIN A BOND WITH YOUR SERVICE AND THOSE YOU SERVED WITH?
When I read something someone else has written on this site, all the memories that I love come back to me. I can still remember things just like it was yesterday because of this site.
Even when I know I'm getting older, my mind remains still young as I read through what other members have done and gone through in their careers.
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