My Time in the 6916th Security Squadron at Athenai Air Base

RC-135 and 6916th Sec.Sq. Crew--Circa 1975After graduating from Fort Hays State College (now University) back in 1971, I went into the Air Force. I spent almost 11 months, starting in September of 1973, in Washington, D.C. at the Defense Language Institute (Anacostia Annex) studying Arabic and Middle Eastern culture. I also had a lot of other special training before I went to Athens, Greece, where I was stationed at Athenai Air Base for a little more than two years. I still hold those days in my heart as being probably the most interesting and intriguing of my life. I saw the tanks parked down the street near Astir Beach, when the American-backed dictator Papadopolous was thrown out by the generals in the coup. I remember even then a terrorist attack at the main terminal of Athens (Hellinikon) Airport, which was just across the runways that were shared with coming to and leaving from our base. I remember how the Turks invaded Cypress, and the U.S. did nothing and the Greeks would spit when we walked down the street and our cars got fire-bombed in the neighborhood where a lot of us lived.

Athenai Air Base (1973)--taken from atop one of the barracks towards the flight line with the sun setting behind some of the Aegean Islands and a U.S. Navy ship (maybe one of the carriers) on the right

Athenai Air Base (1973)–taken from atop one of the barracks towards the flight line with the sun setting behind some of the Aegean Islands and a U.S. Navy ship (maybe one of the carriers) on the right

I also remember the scent of the orange and lemon trees that grew close to my apartment on Metaxa Street in Glyfada and the strange movie theater a couple of blocks away, where in the summer you watched the first half of a movie inside, and then after intermission, everyone went up on the rooftop, and you could watch the second half of the movie shown on a white-washed wall and sit and enjoy the refreshing Mediterranean air. Likewise, I remember a time during my last few months in Greece and the Air Force, when I took several days of leave, hitched my backpack and pup tent over my shoulders, took the ferry to Mykonos for the nude beaches of Paradise, Hell, and even the notorious Super Hell, which I finally trekked over the hills to one day, only to find a nearly deserted beach and a little taverna. I opened the door to that little non-descript place, which sat there on the almost desolate beach and entered a gay bar for the first time in my life. It was probably something that I had been hoping in the back of my mind to find, but when it happened, I was so scared, that all I could do was order a beer, take a swig, put the bottle back on the counter, and head out the door.

This picture shows one of the planes I flew on, an RC-135. Our missions over the Mediterranean Sea could sometimes last 8 or 9 hours, and that didn’t count the pre- and post-briefings on base. During the first year, I was at Athenai AFB, we flew on the RC-130B’s (tail numbers 524, 531, 532, and 535 were used, according to my flight records, which I still have). They were big, lumbering 4-prop planes, which are still used a lot for transport and other duties these days. On my 16th flight, we had to abort because 3 of the 4 engines had stopped, but those old planes are “go-ers”; we made it back to base with that one remaining engine still purring. In June of 1974, SAC (Strategic Air Command out of Offut AF Base at Omaha, NE) started flying us in the RC-135’s (tail numbers 131, 132, 139, and 842, during my time at Athenai AB) . My last flight on the 130 was on June 8th and my first on the 135 was the 16th. (There’s a great site dedicated to the RC-135’s here, with photos and a lot more.)

We had a 6-day-on/3-day-off work schedule. The six days of work could be grueling because the days flying were long, and sometimes I flew two or three days in a row, even though the idea was to fly one day and work on the ground the next during the cycle. The three days off were great–time to catch up on sleep, take advantage of the beach, or soak up the Greek life and sights. My first flight was on the 2nd of September, 1973, just for the ride (as I remember it now) with my trainer; however, working at my own position came soon enough–and often enough. I’m lacking a couple of months of flight records in my folder, as from what I see now they were processed in Germany–but based on the records I received when I got out and calculating for the missing months, I flew on approximately 150 flights between that September and the 31st of July, 1975, when I got out of the Air Force, right there in Athens. However, even with all that time spent flying, I never really overcame my fear of flying at high altitudes, especially over water. I had always told myself if the plane were to go down, I would be going down with it. Even with the special training we had had at Homestead AFB in Florida, practicing all the bail-out procedures , jumping out high over the Mediterranean Sea was not something I could have imagined myself doing.

(Updated and edited the above and added the photo below, July 13, 2015) Sometimes an inadvertent discovery can bring back some of the memories and perhaps a bit of history.  I took hundreds, maybe even into the thousands of photos developed into slides during my time in Greece, including many of trips outside of Greece.  I still have some of them, but due to a stupid choice “back in the day,” the majority are gone.  So it was a delight to find one lone box of slides among some of my nieces possessions.  Actually, at one time might have been just a box of discarded slides, not worth keeping with those more likely to be looked at.  But now some 40 years later, the mix of slides inside took me down a trip down memory lane.  Though some were out of focus, and others of poor color, they took me back to a trip to northern Greece, a month spent in Great Britain, including the Lake District and Edinburg, Scotland, Christmas displays in Piraeus, my Siamese cat of French lineage that made the flight back with me to the U.S. and that later was adopted in a friendly takeover by my mom and dad.  Among these odds and ends of images was this nice one of the base.  That blue bus takes me back to all those god-awful early, pre-flight briefings and the ride down to plane on flight line.

This shows the main road that went from the main gate down to the flight line.  The larger building on the right is the base movie theater.  I think this may have been taken from near the tennis courts, but I'm not sure of that or what the other buildings were.

This shows the main road that went from the main gate down to the flight line. The larger building on the right is the base movie theater. I think this may have been taken from near the tennis courts, but I’m not sure of that or what the other buildings were.

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40 Responses

  1. I was in the USAF and was at Athenai AB from 1/57 thru 6/59. We had no barracks or mess halls then. Everyone drew per deim and lived off base. My wife and I lived in the Carlton Hotel for 6 mos then we rented a house from a Greek Brig General in Glyfada right up the street from Astir beach for $60.00 per month. The Americans then could do know wrong. We were loved. I first work office was in the Greek Air Terminal. They moved across the field right before I left in 57 I think. We never moved I was in the 1240th AACS. I remember well the outdoor movies in the summer as they shut down all the indoor movies. We spendt many a day on the beautiful beaches. Always wanted to go back but never did.

    • I was also in the USAF and a member of 1240th AACS from May/56 thru Jan/60. I worked at the Greek Air Terminal message center (off base) and later worked at the message relay center (on base). The 1240th AACS was a small squadron and unfortunately I do not remember knowing Billy Shaw. I married in Athens and lived in the Kalamaki area. Before leaving Greece the air base did move and began housing airman on base. I made a career of the AF and have returned to Greece several times visiting relatives. Much has changed but Astir Beach has not. Still an great place to go for a swim. I have lost contact with all the guys I worked with at 1240th and hope Billy Shaw can make contact with me. Great memories of my tour in Greece.

      • I worked in the tape relay after it opened. Remember Frasik and james willis they worked in the orderly room. I worked under a black staff sgt we called shine. He was busted more than once. Also sgt Mike McGowan Sgt Woods mcgowan and woods married greek girls I am fairly sure. I bowled a lot and carried around a 210 average. How about going to face book search friends of Hellenikon air base . I have a lot of pictures posted and there are a lot of members but none as far back as you and I. I remember the name Ulrich but having a hard time putting face to the name email when you get a chance check face boof out. bshaw11@att.net

  2. Well, just found this site. A bit nostalgic. I served with the 6916th from ’68-’70 at Rhein-Main and Athenai (a lot at Athenai as I was single and not many married guys wanted the TDY). Oddly, I flew many times on 535. It was nicknamed “the pig” during my time because it almost always took off overweight due to some new tricks from TRW. When I was at Ahtenai, I stayed at the Palmyra Beach Hotel in Glyfada. Later on my honeymoon, I stayed there free of charge for two weeks! Nothing like a spaghetti bolonaise and a bottle of Demestica.

  3. I was assigned to the 6916th from Apr 72-Oct 1974. Coached Little League; and along with Gordon Gulbranson,we took the team all the way to Williamsport. Mike’s Cafe in Sourmena was a great place for Retsina and Greek Food. However, Glyfada was the place for the Beaches and Night-Life on the Strip. Played Softball against Brent Currier and the 2140th Comm Gp. Our greatest Pitcher to Hit Atheniai was the “Hummer’ Ray, fill in the blank ____! Cannot remember the Blind Umpire, just remember he had Red Hair, maybe Red something or other.

    • That would be Ray Martin——-the maintenance chief at the time.

    • I worked in the CBPO at the base and lived in Glyfada from July, 1973-Dec, 1974. Great experiences and made some good friends there.

  4. Thanks for the emails and messages,regards to the 6916th USAF Security Service and the information on the Glyfada and surrounding areas. Person I remember the most was Flocatti Joe and also the Band of Guypsies with their Bear, that frequented to Sourmena areas.

  5. I was stationed in Athens from 9/69 to 1/72 in the first group of Hebrew linguists (Feinstein, Heberling, Carswell, Fitz and Fitz). Our NCO was a Navy chief who always wore civvies. We worked in trailers when we were transcribing and flew non-stop as there had to be one Hebrew linguist on board every East Med flight post USS Liberty. We lived off-base on Othos Ymitou above Glyfada and drank alot of $3.25/case Heinekein. Sat in the rear compartment w/ Arab linguist. Heard alot of dog-fights over the Suez between Phantoms and Migs. The Israeli pilots were frosty but the Egyptians were spooked. “Fi tiara Phantom” was the last thing many of them were heard to say. I’m glad I scored the minimum “23” on that dopey liguistic test at Lackland. I never wanted to fly in 525. The wings sloped slightly downward left to right.

    • I was a Hebling TAD from Rota. I hung out at your house – you, Dave, and Tom (I think it was), and listened to music — The Who. The other Fitz liked classical. You were reading The Godfather. My real name is Schultz.

    • My father, Robert “Bob” Stinson was in the 6916th so I had the pleasure of going to high school in Athens. My father passed away in 2005 but I am searching for stories (memories) of him.
      Laurie Stinson McKay

  6. Wow, very interesting. I am a former USAF linguist for many years and your take on Athens is accurate. If you are indeed proud of whom you really are,why are you without a name? B. Schneider USAF 1971 to 1985.

  7. My father, Norm Cooke, was in the same squadron. He took my mom and I to Athens around 9/71 when I was only 2 months old. He was stationed there for about 5 years. We were also at the language institute in Monterrey just after Athens where I believe he taught.

    My dad passed away in 2004 at the age of 55. I would love to hear stories about him back in the day (I would imagine they are pretty wild knowing him).

    • My husband, Wally Knox, and I were stationed with your mom and dad at the 6916th. Over the years I have hoped to contact your mom. Please let her know that Francine Knox would love to talk to her.

  8. I was there with you Steve from 9/69-1/72. Back to Athens from 73-76 and then again 82-85. Retired fm AF in 88 and now living in FL.

  9. I was in the 6916th and spent a good deal of time in Greece while flying in and out of Athens from Rhein-Main in both 1967 and 1968. I also spent my last six months in the Air Force actually living in Greece after being transferred to Athens in January of 1969 to help with a detachment that was being set up at the air base. I had been staying at a hotel in Glyfada during layovers, or when spending time there TDY during the first couple of years, may have been the Palmyra Beach, can’t recall, but I was fortunate enough after the transfer to have separate quarters and rations, etc., so was able to rent a very nice apartment, also in Glyfada, almost on the beach. This was while I was also fortunate enough to own and drive a red Porsche I had bought in Germany before my transfer. Needless to say, the car was a rarity in Greece at the time and got a lot of attention. Looking back, those years in Europe were the time of my life. I only wish I had been wise enough at my then young age to fully appreciate how great my circumstances were. Another case of old too soon, wise too late.

  10. I dearly loved the C-130As (jokey). I thought that we had died & gone to heaven when they brought in the C-130Bs. I was in Athenai from 1969 until Feb. 1972. Does anyone remember the Romanians: Bonesteel, Healey, & Holland. I also had the misfortune to fly in the East Med as many of the Arab & Israeli guys did. I remember Feinstein, Fitz, Lego. Major Graham, Capt.Foran, Sedeko, Dumpy Doo & many, many others. A lot of great times and a whole bunch of hours flying C-130s. Somehow we survived, Dutch

    • I was a Romanian stationed in Rhein Main. I remember going to Healy’s and Bonesteel’s villa to chill and drink beer. One of them had a girl friend from England that stayed there. Pretty good looking. Dutch if I remember was an analyst and couldn’t sleep before missions. I had a collapsed lung on the morning before my last mission and ended up in Wiesbaden Hospital for 3 weeks. What a way to end my Air Force career. Steve Bussan

  11. My dad Leonard Leo Smith was a part of the 6916 security squadron. He was a linguistic ad Arabic. Did you know him?

  12. I was in the 6916th from 1968 to May 1971. Lots of good memories of my time in Athens and all that I was able to see in Greece, Turkey, and Europe. Anyone have any contact info for Skip (Dennis) Wambeke, Bob Manochia, Steve Howell, or Charley Fara? They were my classmates, along with Ron Agle, whom I’ve just found.

  13. Well, this is kind of strange after 40+ years to remember Det 1, 6916th. What sparked it was a friend who went to see the USAF museum in Dayton, OH, and commented that he couldn’t find an RC-130 there. I remember the Analyst Shop with Conrad Schott, Ralph Sagan and all of us analysts who fed the teletypes and did countless reports back to NSA.

    Glyfada was a different place then…we supported the town. I remember walking from the NCO club to the hotel during the original TDY period in ’68–passing all of the bars with the hookers. I was so drunk one time, I fell into the ditches that were dug to put in the sewer (luckily there was water in it). I remember Larry Martone removing the paper mache tiger from on top of the Esso station and then having to give it back when the police stopped him. I remember burn bag duty with CMS William Rogers who told me that I would look back fondly on my tour there (and I thought he was crazy at the time–not any longer).

    I still have my 1000-hour pin from Lockheed and my coffee cup with both the USAFSS and Det 1, 6916 logos on it.

    Fun times.

  14. I was stationed with the 6916th from Aug 74 thru Apr 77. I was crypto maintenance (30650 ) had wife and 2 daughters and lived off base 1st in Glyfada and then Kalamaki. Probably some of the best years of our lives were there. We do remember the car fire bombs but overall the Greeks were great to us. Mikes Taverna was great too. I remember the new bowling alley, the Crossroads Cafe, the bookstore, the daily Stars and Stripes, the english newspaper “Athens News”, our CO Lt Col Eddy, Tsgt John Wojtasik, Tsgt Bible, Sgt Richard “Andy” Anderson, Tsgt Norman Lindgren, Tsgt Jerry Rehnert, Ssgt Ed Becker, Sgt Cletus “Chief” Render, Tsgt George McClain, Tsgt George Davis, the Det 1(I think) of the US Navy, all of the translators (203X0s) and several more people. I was discharged from the USAF upon my DEROS. Am retired now but still remember the great times to be had there in Greece with the job, the comrades, the tavernas, the weekly neighborhood markets and trips to the Commisary and downtown Athens. Who can forget all the gray taxi cabs and buses? And what about the signal lights. It seemed you had to honk before you could go.

  15. I was stationed at Det-1 from Sept 71 to Jan 74. I lived in Glyfada, Sourmina, and Ano Voula. I would ride my bicycle straight down the hill and through the main gate before making that right turn to the compound. Was anyone else on the March 21, 1973 flight or remember it? It was the only flight I was ever greeted with a garbage can full of beer at the compound gate. Flights really changed after that. Sometimes my ex and I would drive over to Marathon Beach with our friends Bill, Karen, their two daughters and dog for a weekend of camping. Great times.

    • I wasn’t on the Mar 21st flight, but I certainly remember it. I flew on the follow-up flight to ensure we still would have access to the area. Troubling times, but great memories.

      • Bill, those were special times for daring young men! Bill Hawley.

      • Good to see a reply from the maint side of the street. As far as I know, Tom P and Jim T are doing just fine. How have you been, Bill?

  16. I was a Hebrew linguist in the 16th from 1983-1986. I can’t tell you how much I miss those times, the people, the food and the country. I keep promising myself that I will get back there one day. One day…

  17. I was stationed at Athenai Air Base from November 1973 till July 1976. It was a great place. I was fortunate to be selected to play tackle football on the Base Team as wel as a squadron team. Traveling to other bases to play. The Greeks for the most part were good to us. I do remember the car bombs and the invasion of cypress
    .
    Ernest Gallegos
    gallegos.e55@gmail.com

  18. I was stationed at Athenai airbase from 11/70 through 5/72. Arabic voice processing specialist. I don’t remember any bombings while I was there and only have great memories of that time. The Greeks treated us very well for the most part, and neither my wife nor I ever felt unsafe. Our favorite place to eat was a little pizza place in Glyfada called Pizza Torino (I think). Simple pizzas but with a wonderful flavor. Used to enjoy going to the beach after a mid shift. Great times, good friends, and wonderful memories. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

  19. My Father Tsgt Henry “Matt” Dillon was stationed at Athenai from 12/71 to 1/74 in the 6916th Det 1. He retired just after returning home in ’74, when he passed in 2003 he said that the 2 years we were overseas there in Athens was the best in the 20 years that he served.
    I remember having the run of the base as a 12 to 13 year old. All the Greek people we knew liked us no matter who we were. I would love to hear from you if that remember my dad not.

  20. I served at Athenai from Jan 73 to Oct 75 and then Aug 76 to Aug 79 or so. How can one get their flight records??? Brent W. Fain, a Heb Op.

    • I also played football on the 16th team for a couple of years as well. I flew 19 consecutive missions during ?Nickel Grass? and the Yom Kippor War. We were support for the US Air Force ferrying in aircraft and military supplies to Israel. I lived in Glyfada and Ano Voula and I miss the food and 16th friends. I was on the flight that came close to crashing for lack of fuel when we were diverted to Spain because of the Greek and Turk war. I was also their for the government overthrow and remember the tanks in the street. I hope everyone of you are proud of your service and share it with the young. I also hope that you are doing well!

      • Good to hear from you Brent. I well remember that two week vacation we spent at Torrejon during the Cyprus war. Fran and I always talk about the great times we had with the best folks we ever served with. We are both retired now and live in San Antonio. We have four grandkids (oldest is 24 and the youngest is 8). You should check out the 6916th Facebook page. Lots of folks you will remember and pictures of the “old days” at Hellenikon. The best to you and your family.

  21. Some of the best days of my life were spent in Greece. I was blessed to be assigned there. Met some quality Air Force people. Anyone know Mike Eaves….Gus Jaramillo…Richard Trippe.. Don Skeel?

  22. ’79-’81 and a trip to the Desert in ’91. Lots of memories and a lot of great people there!

  23. I was stationed at Hellenikon from 1977-1978. My memories are very much a mirror of all that has been stated about the “Hellinkon Experience”. I too have every intention of returning before the sun goes down on my days. We were young and ready for all the foreign fun, Athens had for us all. Godspeed!

  24. I was stationed at HAFB from Oct 76 – Mar 78 serving with the USAF Security Police. Great time, yes – to a few fire bombs but I always felt secure. Regret being too young (18) to fully appreciate the opportunities that were at my feet.

    My best to all.

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