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An up close and personal interview with U.S. Air Force Veteran and Togetherweserved.com Member:

CMSgt Thomas E. Cleland U.S. Air Force (Ret) (1948-1968)

PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE AIR FORCE?

As a teenager in the early 1940s I witnessed a threat to our country when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Japan became an immediate enemy, and after we joined together with Great Britain and France to fight the battles of war against Nazism, I saw the patriotism of American people
Just starting out in Military Life.
rise to glorious heights. I saw young men, only a few years older than myself, saying good-bye to parents and girlfriends as they departed for military service; some never returned. My dad and two of his brothers were among those that went into the Armed Forces during WWII; it was the patriotic thing to do.

Sacrifices were made on the American people with many things being rationed, or not available: food products, sugar, meats, fats as well as gas, oil, automobiles, and rubber tires; all to accommodate the needs of the American Armed forced. The sacrifices of World War II taught me to "love my country" and the urge to defend it against all foes. It identified the necessity for young men to serve in the military forces, if needed. After graduating from high school, I joined the Air Force in April 1948, to fill the vacancies left void by returning World War II veterans. I felt needed, and knew it was the patriotic thing to do.

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?
 
Surround yourself with Postive People.
As a recruiting practice after WWII, the Air Force offered young men occupational training in a multitude of career fields, many of which did not appeal to me. I selected the Administrative School at Denver, Colorado, which was identified as the threshold for other challenging career paths. Upon completion of Tech-School, I was transferred to Elmendorf AFB, Anchorage, Alaska and assigned to the Joint Communications Center (J.C.C.) In the Alaskan Command Headquarters. After a thorough background investigation, being approved or handling Top Secret information and achieving knowledge of worldwide communications, I was accepted for further training in "Cryptography," a coding-process designed to protect classified material being transmitted over teletype circuitry.

IF YOU PARTICIPATED IN ANY MILITARY OPERATIONS, INCLUDING COMBAT, HUMANITARIAN AND PEACEKEEPING OPERATIONS, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT TO YOU AND, IF LIFE-CHANGING, IN WHAT WAY.

When North Korea invaded the South in June 1950, the U.S. War Department in Washington D.C., needed a secure method of communicating with General Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Pacific. Such a cryptographic capability existed between Washington and the Alaskan Command (J.C.C.), capable of handling
Headquarters Command.
Top Secret information. The Alaskan Command (J.C.C.) had a direct-secure link to MacArthur's headquarters in Tokyo, Japan. Upon activation of those facilities, Cryptographers in Alaska became a key-link in support of the Korean Conflict, working twelve hour shifts, seven days/week raying Top Secret war plans. Korean battle strategies, and strike reports between Washington D.C and General MacArthur's headquarters. Although not stationed in Korea, my promotion to Staff Sergeant in May 1951 was in support of that activity.

Simultaneous with my tour in Alaska (Dec.1948-May 1951), the U.S. Air Force Strategic Air Command (SAC) was developing a need for its own Secure Communications Network. This was six years after the atomic bombs had been dropped on Japan, a time when the Cold War with the Soviet Union had escalated to war-time conditions. Sufficient Nuclear Weapons had been assembled by the U.S. under the control of SAC, and agreements had been made with key NATO ALLIES to position U.S. bomber aircraft in their countries, appropriately armed with nuclear weapons. My cryptographic training in joint service cryptographic protocol (Army-Navy-Air Force) in Alaska was needed by SAC to help protect that Top Secret information by building a secure capability to protect aircraft movement and nuclear bomb storage locations.

Upon returning to the states from Alaska in June, 1951, I was assigned to SACs Eighth Air Force, in support of the 810th Air Division (95th/97th Bombardment Group/Wing), at Biggs AFB, Texas. Colonel John D. Ryan (Two-Finger-Jack) was the Commander of the 97th Bomb Wing at the time of my arrival. His promotion to Brigadier General occurred shortly afterwards when the 95th Bomb Wing was activated, and the 810th Air Division was established. Later in my career at Headquarters, SAC, General John D. Ryan became the Commander in Chief (4-Stars) of the Strategic Air Command (Dec 1964.)

During my three year assignment at Biggs Air Force Base, I was actively involved in providing cryptographic support in the deployment of nuclear armed aircraft to overseas locations. That vast experience, coupled with my earlier cryptographic involvements in Alaska, I was selected for an overseas assignment to High Wycombe in the United Kingdom. Unknown to me, at High Wycombe, I was slated for three months of intense training in NATO cryptographic protocol, and subsequent reassignment to SAC's Command (Zebra) Element located at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers, Europe (SHAPE), located at Paris, France.

The staff at SAC's Command Element (Zebra) was composed of senior level Operations officers who worked with NATO and U.S. Armed Forces in Europe (U.S.A.F.E.) in creating battle strategies and coordinating bomb strikes to be executed in event of war with the Soviet Union. My job, as a cryptographer was to facilitate the exchange of this highly classified information and transmit it to nuclear equipped organizations in the United Kingdom, Spain, French Morocco, and other Allied locations where our bombers were located.

OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?

My assignment to the Command Element of Strategic Air Command at Paris had the greatest transformation in my military career. It was at Paris, where I was introduced to international military affairs of the United Kingdom, Europe and NATO. In Paris, I had the distinct privilege to working again for
Arc de Triomphe de l toile/Arch of Triumph
the ex-Operations Officer from Biggs AFB (Colonel Harold E. Humpfeld), who was most involved with the overseas deployment of nuclear equipped aircraft from Biggs AFB in the early 1950s. My job with Colonel Humpfeld at Biggs AFB also included numerous security exercises, involving deceptive deployment routes designed to counter-act Soviet Union's surveillance of our nuclear weapon aircraft deployment.

Later in my final years at Headquarters, Strategic Air Command, Colonel Humpfeld had advanced to Major General, and was the Director of Operations for the Strategic Air Command. The Communication-Electronics Division was under his command.

Although being issued the Air Force's New-Blue Uniform in 1950, while in Alaska, my least favorite assignment was Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, where I worked 12 hours daily, seven days weekly in support of the Korean Conflict. In addition, there was very little social life for a 18-20 year old young recruit in the years 1948-1951.

FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE, INCLUDING COMBAT, DESCRIBE THE PERSONAL MEMORIES WHICH HAVE IMPACTED YOU MOST?

After the first year of my assignment at the Command Element (Zebra) of Strategic Air Command (SAC) in Paris, I returned to the US on-leave and married the "Love of my Life". We spent the first three years of our marriage (honeymoon) life in Paris where our first son
Highly Successful Young Sergeant
was born in the Paris-American Hospital. Commensurate with his birth in June, 1956, I received my promotion to Master Sergeant (E-7) with only eight years of service; the highest enlisted grade (E-7) in the U.S. Air Force, at that time. Having achieve the maximum enlisted grade (E-7) in eight years of service, and no opportunity for further advancement, I was encouraged by Captain Alvin E. Cochel to seek further education and completed my first year of college education while in Paris, France through Extension Studies with The University of Maryland.

Approximately 40 years later, while on a visit to Washington DC my wife and I visited the gravesite of Major Cochel and his wife in the Arlington National Cemetery.

Upon returning to the United States from Paris, I was assigned to the 321st Bombardment Wing at McCoy Air Force Base, Orlando, Florida, where I had the privilege of working with M/Sgt Fred West, whom I had known at Biggs AFB, four-five years earlier. Sergeant West was promoted to E-8 on the first promotion cycle, and became a "Charter Chief" on the very first Chief Promotion. We shared many job functions, and after attending the Communication-Electronics Officer (3011) Program Training Course at Keesler AFB, my career field of Cryptography was changed to Comm-Electronics Program Management.

I was promoted to Senior Master Sergeant (E-8) six months later, on June 1, 1960, with 12 years of service (29 years old).

Another name included on my orders from Hq SAC for promotion to E-8 was Wyatt Duzzenberry, the Flight Engineer on the ENOLA GAY that dropped the first ATOMIC BOMB on Japan in 1945. Both of us were assigned to Ernest Harmon AFB, Newfoundland, shortly afterward in support of he 376th Aerial Refueling Wing. I was later reassigned to Ernest Harmon Air Force Base in Newfoundland.

In Newfoundland, I worked with the Director of Base Communications in providing Communications-Electronics facilities, including Navigational Aids to the base as well as ground support for the 376th Aerial Refueling Squadron. In February 1961, I was awarded my first Air Force Commendation Medal for work involving installation of the Instrument Landing System (ILS) Outer Marker at McCoy Air Force Base.

My promotion to Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) occurred one month later in March 1961, with only nine months in grade, and 13 years of service. Again, I had reached the highest enlisted rank at 30 years old, with no further opportunity for advancement during in my remaining seven years of military service. Warrant Officer ranks of W-1 and W-2 had been eliminated in the Air Force at this time, and I had surpassed the 27 ½ year cut-off date for Officer Candidate School.

After 3 ½ years in Newfoundland, I received a personal telephone-call from the Executive Officer of the Communications-Electronics Division, Headquarters, SAC, inviting me to join their Program-Management Branch. As SAC's numerous International Missile Complexes became operational in the mid-1960s, the number of nuclear equipped bomber aircraft and bases were being reduced considerable, and I served as the only NCO (E-9) on the SAC Base Reduction and Closure (BRAC) team, comprised of senior level officers. Our job was to reduce the number of bomber-bases and disposing of communications-navigation equipment. This included closure of three bases where I had been previously assigned; Biggs AFB, McCoy AFB, and Ernest Harmon AFB, Newfoundland.

In this same period, we also had the responsibility of providing Communication-Electronics-Navigational Aids to the Far-East in support of the Vietnam situation, Anderson AFB, Guam, Kadena AB, Okinawa; Tan Son Nhut AB, U-Tapao (1964-1968). My second Air Force Commendation was awarded for that effort at the time of my retirement on May 31, 1968.

OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, FORMAL PRESENTATIONS AND QUALIFICATION BADGES YOU RECEIVED, OR ANY OTHER MEMORABILIA, PLEASE DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH ARE THE MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
 
USAF Commendation Medal Presentation.
While my most significant medal-awards were the two US Air Force Commendation Medals, the achievement of the highest enlisted rank of Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) in 13 years was also considered a significant honor. I was quite proud to be identified among the ten youngest Chief Master Sergeants in SAC in March 1961. However, SAC also recognized me with a Distinguished Education Achievement award, which I earned in pursuit of a Bachelor of Arts Degree through studies with the University of Maryland, University of Nebraska at Omaha, and the University of Bellevue, Nebraska.

WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
 
It wasn't always hard work.
While serving at SAC's Command Element-Zebra in Paris, France, I was under the command of Captain Alvin E. Cochel, Detachment 2,485th Communications Squadron, whose home squadron was at High Wycombe, England. While my assigned job was Cryptography, I was also the NCO In Charge of the Detachment's 14 enlisted personnel. Under Captain Cochel's leadership I was taught the details of personnel management. Captain Cochel was also an avid encourager in my need for a college education and night studies with the University of Maryland extension program in Paris France.

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?

While I was at SACs Command Element (Zebra) in Paris, an SAC Inspector General staff was in Paris conducting a review, and was due to return to Offutt AFB simultaneous with the time that a "farewell dinner" was being given to General Curtis E. Lemay, who was being promoted to
There was also time for Family and Parenthood.
Chief of Staff, USAF. The "Inspector General" wanted to pay respect to General Lemay, and ask (then) Colonel Harold E. Humpfeld to provide 100 loaves of "real French Bread" for the occasion. As NCOIC of a support group to Colonel Humpfeld, I was asked to arrange the deal. Working through the local French Cafeteria, we bought 100 loaves of "unbaked French Bread," wrapped them in "wet sheets" and loaded them onto a KC-97 destined for Offutt AFB, and eventual delivery to the festive going away party for General LeMay. The end result of our efforts were never known.

About ten years later, both Harold E. Humpfeld (then a Major General, and myself, a Chief Master Sergeant were at Headquarters SAC). Both of us were on the same elevator along with others. Neither of us had spoken, when I noticed General Humpfeld's "curious glances in my direction." I introduced myself to him, "General, I'm Tom Cleland; we served together at SAC Zebra in Paris, and at Biggs Air Force Base. HIS REPLY WAS, "Yes, Tom, I remember you. Do you "still" operate the "Tour Guide Service in Paris?" All this time, other occupants of the elevator were glancing back and forth from the General to myself. Noticing the humor in the General's question, My Reply was, "No, General, I don't operate the Tour Guide Service, but I can get you a bargain on some "good French Bread" in event you ever have a big party." This resulted in a big smile on the General's face, in remembrance of General Curtis E. Lemay's going away party. And about that time, doors of the elevator opened and both the General and I left the elevator. He went in one direction and me, in the other. This was our last contact before my retirement in 1968.

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?

After retiring from the U.S. Air Force, and with a Bachelor of Arts degree in business management , I accepted the "worse job of my adult life," primarily to get-my-foot-in-the-door of a civilian corporation. That job was the management of 110 women involved in key-to-tape entry of Medicare information
Taking a time out to rethink my strategies.
into the computer system of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida. While my official goal was to process Medicare Claims in a timely manner, my personal goal was to work hard and get promoted to a more compatible job. When the backlog of Medicare Claims began to grow under my management, my superiors began to question whether or not they had hired the "right man." In response, I conducted a quick study and wrote a proposal outlining the necessity for additional equipment and personnel. Its approval was slow in reaching the top level of management, but received praised for its thoroughness. Afterwards and unknown to me, a department outside of Data Systems recruited me for a higher paying position. My immediate Vice President denied that request without consulting me, and asked, "Where can we get more men like you?" After clearing up the backlog of Medicare Claims, I was promoted to the position of, Manager of Quality Control in Data Systems.

As Manager of Quality Control, I was responsible for creation and output of the corporate data processing system, as well as the installation/operation of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida very first Optical Scanning Recognition System. Within six months of entering that job, I received my second promotion to a Senior Level Staff position in the Data System's Planning Department, a position which placed me in a key role of financial planning. This position provided me job satisfaction for the next 25 years of employment, and a second retirement.

WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?

Historically, I have been dedicated to "MY Christian Faith and Studies" and at one time I was warded membership in the "Sons of American Revolution." After retirement I organized the Brantley County (Georgia) Historical and Preservation Society and spearhead publication of it's very first "history book," The Story of Brantley County. As a result of the above interest, military organizations have carried very little interest, other than the SERGEANTS ASSOCIATION, which keeps me updated on military affairs.

IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?

My initial three years of Air Force duty was a maturing process. At the age of 17, I learned that decisions have consequences, and time management had a direct affect on achieving success. I learned that job performance was the key element of promotions and rewards. Further, it became apparent that I needed a college degree in order to compete with constituents who had degrees. My pursuits of a Bachelor of Arts degree was rewarded by Headquarters, SAC, by a Distinguished Education Achievement AWARD.
It is time to get serious about your Future.
The above learning experience paved the way for completion of lifelong goals. The first of those goals was successful completion of an Air Force career (20 years), as well as a 25 year post-service career with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida. After that came the personal goal of organizing my home county Historical and Preservation Society in Georgia, and spearheading publication of its very first history book, The Story of Brantley County, Georgia. Third, was the publication of my personal autobiography, for the benefit of my children.

BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE AIR FORCE?

Education is a key factor in serving our nation in either of the military branches. Facilities used the US military forces are sufficiently technologically advanced that it takes men/women with developed minds to maximize their usage. All military branches provide the facilities/opportunities to obtain college degrees. My college degree was obtained through night studies with the University of Maryland, University of Nebraska at Omaha, and Bellevue University. Many of these colleges, including Bellevue University offers online computer courses. In order to compete in either military branch, you need all the education that can be acquired.

IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.
 
TWS and The USAF
Having retired from the USAF with 20 years of service in 1968, almost 46 years ago, my military experiences have paved the way for my civilian success. Some of my fondest memories were the friendships I gained in my first three years of service in Alaska. In leaving Alaska, most of all of us went in different direction, and had very little contact afterwards. Because of that friendship, and our SERVICE TOGETHER, I sought out those old friends, eight altogether, in 1990 and organized REUNIONS for about ten years when all but me has passed-away. I'm still in contact with a couple of the wives (neither of us were married while in Alaska.)

 


CMSgt Thomas E. Cleland
 
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