TSGT. Mark Hunt
When I was a very young child growing up in southwest Georgia, I heard a magical sound coming from the sky up in the clouds. I ran to my mother for an explanation. She told me that the sound was being made by an airplane and people were flying up in the sky higher than the birds. I was forever hooked and my lifelong dreams took root that spring day. I fell in love with airplanes. I wanted to be close to them. I wanted to touch and caress them. I wanted to learn everything there was to learn about them. I was going to be a pilot one-day.
While in high school I worked part time at a pawnshop in downtown Albany. On Saturdays I would eat lunch at the drug store on the corner. This is where I first met the Air Force recruiter. I would sit at lunch listening with awe at his impressive stories of travels in foreign countries and laying on the beach at tropical islands. But what impressed me the most was his stories of all the different airplanes he was associated with.
Not long out of high school I got on a Greyhound bus to Jacksonville, Florida. By the end of the next day on August 23, 1966, I was an Airman Basic proudly waiting on my first airplane ride to San Antonio Texas. Boy was I ever in for a rude awakening. The man waiting for me in Texas was nothing like the smiling friendly recruiter that put me on the bus in Albany!
After basic, I went to crew chief school at Shepard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas. My first PCS assignment was back to San Antonio at Kelly AFB. The first aircraft I worked on was the C-124, better know as "Shakey". Vietnam was in full swing by this time so some of us got orders to report to Sewart AFB near Nashville, Tennessee for 3 months of training on something called a C-7A Caribou. There were so many mechanics going through Caribou training that there was no room for us on base so the Air Force had to put us up in motels off base. 19 years old, single, working and flying on airplanes and living in a motel in Nashville. Life just donít get any better than this!
When I first saw a Caribou I though that it was the ugliest aerospace vehicle that I had ever seen in my life. But after learning about it and flying in it I learned to appreciate the special qualities that this airplane had and I was looking forward to having my own C-7A. By now I knew I was going to Vietnam but I did not have orders yet so the Air Force sent me back home to Albany Georgia to wait. After 3 weeks my orders for Cam Ranh Bay arrived.
There were 15 to 20 crew chiefs that arrived at the same time. All of us were waiting in a big room at the
passenger terminal on the West ramp when a captain came in. He pointed to me and 3 other airmen and told us to get our stuff and come with him.
My orders were for the 459th but we were reassigned to the 12th TAS
(Transient Alert Squadron), 7th Air Force. At first I was very disappointed, but this change in orders turned out to be a marriage made in heaven.
Had I stayed with the 459th the only airplane that I would have had the opportunity to work on would have been
Caribous, but with the 12th TAS not only did I work on Caribous but also
F-4s, F-100s, F-105s, A1Es, C-47s,C-119s ó I could go on and on. The point I am trying to make is that God knew my heart and he had a plan for me.
I arrived at Cam Ranh Bay in Jan 1968 and left in Jan 1969. I spent most of that time on Cam Ranh except for an 8-week stint at
Nha Trang. I and an Air Force captain (admin type) were assigned to an ARVN outfit.
The ARVN was trading in their H-34 (Korean conflict era) helicopters for
Hueys. My job was to daily perform engine runups and park the choppers.
During this time I was given the opportunity (by the Viet Namese pilots) to fly both the
H-34s and Hueys back and forth from Nha Trang to South Beach. At South Beach the H-34s were put on ships for transport back the States and
the Davis-Monthan Bone Yard.
With the 12th TAS we also worked with the air traffic controllers in the tower. We talked with them daily on the radio (parking aircraft, etc.) and after awhile they would invite us up to the tower to do some air traffic controlling and we would let them drive the follow-me trucks and park airplanes. This is one of the things most pilots did not know (and was probably best that they didnít). We not only helped each other break up the monotony but there was valuable cross training going on.
The 12th TAS not only parked and refueled all transient military airplanes but we also parked the Freedom birds. I t was nice to see the round-eyed flight attendants. We would take them up to the tower for private briefings and give them the grand tour in the follow-me trucks. I also had the opportunity to marshal and park Air Force One (Senator Barry Goldwater) on the East ramp. The day before it landed our squadron Commander procured white uniforms for the troops assigned to Air Force One. They did not last long. At night we felt like glowing targets. And when our mama san got through washing them in the clong and beating them with rocks they turned to a putrid gray/brown color.
The 12th TAS was also responsible for the upkeep of two C-47s that we called "Sand Blower Airlines". These were my pride and joy. I enjoyed these old ladies immensely. Sometimes I would just stand in front of them and admire them as one does when looking at a beautiful woman. It is a feeling that is hard to put into words. To this day the Gooney Birds are still one of my favorite airplanes.
On the West ramp (South end) was the Navy. They had some P-3 Orions and a couple of souped up C-47s. But what they had that really interested us was their chow hall. The Navy had the best chow in all of Vietnam. Most of the 12th TAS crew chiefs had run-up and taxi licenses and since we had such a close working relationship with the guys in the tower we occasionally used these C-47s as the chow vehicle. A bunch of us would pile in one of the Gooney Birds and fire up both engines. Then we would call ground control for taxi clearance from the East ramp across both runways. Left turn on the West ramp (sometimes we would stop in front of the tower and pick the air traffic controllers up) and taxi into the Navy ramp. The Navy TAS troops would meet us at the end of the ramp and lead us to a parking spot. After chow we would go back to the East side and our little area between the Bous and F-4s.
My first flying lesson was in one of these Gooney Birds. I had become friends with one of the pilots (Captain Love from Abilene, Texas). One day he told me he was going to Saigon to pick up some Aussies coming back from R&R. He told me if I could get the day off, I could go. After begging and threatening, the flight chief finally let me have the rest of the afternoon off. After we had taken off the copilot came back in the cabin and said he wanted to get some sleep and would I keep his seat warm for him. I cannot put into words the feeling I had when Captain Love told me to take the controls. Other than becoming a Born Again Christian, this was one of the happiest times of my life. Up until his death in 1992, Captain John Love has been my mentor and one of my closest friends. He helped me many times both as a fellow aviator and as a Christian missionary. After his Air Force service John became a DC-8 Captain for United.
After Viet Nam I was retrained as a heavy jet crew chief and assigned to the 19th Bomb wing at Westover AFB, Massachusetts. I was first assigned to an outfit called "Looking Glass". We had two EC-135s and one of them stayed on alert all the time. These airplanes were equipped to direct a war from the air and we were accustomed to flying training missions with lots of brass. After Looking Glass was phased out, I was reassigned to B-52 C and D models and served out the rest of my first 4 years going back and forth between Westover AFB and Thailand.
While stationed at Westover, I met and married my wife of 32 years (she is a Georgia peach I met while home on leave). My son was born at Westover and I made Staff Sergeant.
The old saying is ď ONCE IN SAC ALWAYS IN SACĒ is true. I even took my discharge from my first enlistment and took my new family back to South Georgia. When I was single all the travel was fun but now I have more important obligations. After two months I started missing the airplanes and the Air Force so my wife and I decided to drive up to Robins AFB and talk to them. I knew that Robins was an AFLC and MAC Base but I did not know about the little SAC detachment that stayed across the run ways in the woods.
I reenlisted anyway and spent 4 more years (99th Bomb wing) going back and forth between Robins and Thailand, Robins and Guam, Robins and Okinawa, Robins and little satellite alert facilities you have never heard of in B-52Gís.
While at Robins AFB in the early 70s I joined the base aero club and got my private pilots license. I already had an A & P license that I obtained in Massachusetts on my first enlistment. After 8 years in the Air Force with 5 1/2 years of traveling with SAC, I left the Air Force and use my G.I. bennies to get my commercial license and Aerial Applicator (crop duster pilot) endorsements. For 3 years I flew a Pawnee or a Thrush spraying peanut and cotton fields in South Georgia and North Florida. In the off seasons I drove an 18-wheeler or flew as a ferry pilot ferrying airplanes for Gray Air service. After 3 years of long hours, unstable paychecks and coming home smelling like bug spray I hit a fence post with the landing gear while spraying a cotton field. It was time to look for another way to feed my family. I went to work for Procter and Gamble paper products in 1979 as a boiler operator. I helped run the power plant for 21 years. During those years I attended different schools paid for by the company. I am now an environmental engineer with P&G and Hope to retire in one year. During my time working for P&G I never lost my love for airplanes. I have been a long time member of EAA. I completely restored a 1941 Taylor craft. I built a Bushbee Mustang II from plans (that nearly eat my lunch). I helped restore a Boeing Stearman PT-17 (that is a blast to fly). I just finished building a Kitfox III. I am the official pilot for The American legion post #30 and post #512. Two times a year they put on programs and let the public fly for free. This past year I took 93 people up in one day in a Cessna 172. I tow Banners over the local parades and I am an Active Young Eagles pilot for the EAA. This past year I introduced (first airplane ride) 61 kids to aviation.
What I am most proud of is my missionary work. Two times a year I am a volunteer missionary pilot in Central and Southern Mexico.
I spend 2 weeks each time flying Cessna 206ís and 210ís into small remote villages in the mountains.
We take doctors, nurses, school supplies, food and toys into places that can only be reached by air during the
rainy season. I fly for two worldwide organizations. One is the
"Samaritan Purse Foundation" and the other is "Angel Flight
World Missions". My bush pilot flying is another chapter in my
life; some colorful and some sad but all of it is rewarding.
|Cam Ranh East Side||Humble Abode|
|Army Huey||Sail Boats|
|Sailboat Captain||Huey Nha Trang|
|Kisses From ' Nam||250s On An F-4C|
|Party Truck||Christmas At Cam Ranh|
|No Swimming||12th TAS Dispatch|
|Bunker||Sand Blower Airlines|
|Nha Trang||Cam Ranh Beach|
|Harassing The Locals||Parking A Freedom Bird|
|Cam Ranh Beach||Bob Hope Show|
|750 Pound "Hanger"||Goofin' Off|
|Beach Bunker||Drag Chutes|
|Caribou On Final||Bou On The Ramp|
|View To The West||Parking A C-130A|
|F-4C In Revetment||AC-119K ó East Ramp|
|Bob Parson||Dress Whites|
|Another A-1E||Freedom Bird Departs|
|Larry Rigdon||The Friendly Skies|
|Mountain View||Beach Party|
|It Was A Tough Job||More Sand|
|West Ramp||The 559th|
|C-130 West Ramp||F-4C Nose View|
|Clowning On The Beach||Mama San|
|Stairway To Nowhere||RF-101|
|UH-1||Mark Hunt Today|
|Albany, Georgia||American Legion Post 30|
|GI Pocket Change||Geneva Conventions Card|
|USAF Driver's License|