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.