Now and then
Chief master sergeant seen numerous Air Force changes
Retired Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Bob Herrington of Minot recalls when representatives of procurement agencies came to Minot Air Force Base to meet about winter clothing for the B-52 maintenance people.
The representatives would meet with Fred Gantzer, a superintendent for the 5th Organizational Maintenance Squadron.
“Fred would put them in a ‘bunny suit’ – big parka and big pants and the big thick work gloves that we had, and he would give them a bolt with a nut on it. He would tell them: ‘Take that nut off.’ Well, they would start doing it and then they would start taking their gloves off and he would say, ‘No, it’s 40 below zero. You can’t do that.’ These guys would think, ‘Wow, that’s what these guys (airmen) have to work in,’ “ said Herrington. He said the big ‘bunny pants’ could not be worn to crawl around in the B-52s.
“We started getting clothes in like from Cabela’s (the outdoor outfitter) that had gloves you could work with and insulated coveralls,” Herrington said. “That kind of equipment made it a lot easier.”
Herrington and Gantzer worked alongside each other for a time at the Minot base. A B-52 maintenance hangar at the base was named in honor of the late Gantzer in April.
On Monday, Sept. 18, the Air Force celebrates its 70th anniversary. On this day the Air Force became a separate military service with the implementation of the National Security Act of 1947.
Herrington spent 30 years in the Air Force, including at Minot AFB. He has seen a number of changes in the Air Force and at Minot Air Force Base over the years.
Maintenance facilities for aircraft have improved at the Minot base.
“Most of our maintenance was done outside. Now we have these big hangars that we can bring a whole airplane into and do some work on it. It’s pretty chilly out there on the flightline,” Herrington said.
He said they had portable heaters but the work clothing they had at that time was far inferior to what they got as the years went by.
A native of Columbus, Ga., Herrington joined the Air Force in July 1965. After basic training and technical school, his first assignment was a one-year tour to Mactan, a small island in the Philippines, then to Minot Air Force Base in March 1967.
“With my career field (aircraft air conditioning) I can work on any airplane in the inventory,” said Herrington. During his Air Force career he worked on everything from C-47s to the flight test for the B-1 bomber at Edwards AFB, Calif.
Of the many changes over the years, Herrington said even the road between Minot and the base has changed.
“I got here in a blizzard,” said Herrington, recalling his arrival in the winter in March 1967. When his ride picked him up, he said, “It took four hours for us to get from the airport to the base.
U.S. Highway 83 was a two-lane road at the time. “And it was drifted over. If it would be nowadays the road would be closed,” he said.
“It was drifted over and the guy who was giving me a ride had a ’57 Ford that didn’t have a heater and it didn’t have a defroster. We would scrape the windshield inside and out and then we’d stop at a snowdrift and push three or four cars that were sitting there through the snowdrift and then they would help push us through.”
Herrington wasn’t dressed for the blizzard. He was wearing summer weight blues and low quarter shoes. “Of course, no gloves, no jacket or anything. By the time we got to the base I was froze,” he said.
Changes have come for the Air Force members.
Pay has changed considerably for military members, Herrington said. When he first came into the military he remembers getting $97.50 a month when he was an airman basic.
Healthcare for military members and their families and military retirees has changed over the years.
In earlier years, healthcare for military members and their families was provided at military medical facilities. If a specialty physician or service was not available, military members and their families were referred to a military medical facility in another area that provided the needed service.
Today, military members and their families have healthcare under a program called Tricare. The program is similar to private insurance and its recipients pay a premium. When miliary retirees reach 65, they can go on Medicare along with Tricare.
“When I got here, we had John Moses (Air Force Regional Hospital) here in town,” Herrington said, reminiscing.
A new hospital was built on base in the 1980s. In later years, the hospital portion was discontinued and now the facility is a clinic and offices of the 5th Medical Group. Those requiring hospital care are referred to area hospitals.
While in the military at Minot Air Force Base, Herrington primarily worked on B-52 bombers and KC-135 aerial refueling aircraft.
On the base, Herrington said housing has changed dramatically – both dormitories for unaccompanied airmen and family housing.
The dorm that Herrington lived in, 211, remains at the base. “We did have two or three-men rooms but we shared a bathroom with everybody,” he said.
Family housing at the base was replaced during a long-term project. New dormitories have been built on base along with other dormitories being upgraded.
The base no longer manages family housing but Beatty Balfour Communities, a private company, manages it as the result of the privatization of military housing.
People programs have improved, Herrington said. “The sponsor program was in effect at that time but it wasn’t a real pushed program. Now they have a sponsor program when any person that is coming on base must have somebody designated to be their sponsor and to help them get moved in and acclimated,” Herrington said.
He said there was no First-Term Airman program when he came into the military. That program, he said, is very helpful to airman.
The First-Term Airman Center at Minot AFB is a seminar to help airmen transition from basic military training and technical school to their first assignment or first duty station.
Quality of life programs or facilities at the base from the library, education center, base fitness center to other facilities have evolved or been added over the years.
“The quality of life is much better than it was when I got here as an airman,” Herrington said.
He said the education of the military members is so much higher now and emphasized much more.
Herrington was at Minot AFB from 1967-70 and then 1984-88. His wife, Pam, who is from Minot, and their children returned to Minot in 1982 when he was serving overseas. Pam was manager of Headquarters Academy of Hair Design in the 1980s.
Herrington retired from the Air Force in 1995 with the rank of chief master sergeant. He was at Ellsworth AFB in South Dakota when he retired.
He is a former board member of Northern Tier Federal Credit Union.
Now he drives the Disabled American Veterans van for people going to the base for appointments and to the Veterans Administration for appointments in Fargo. He is state treasurer of the Air Force Association and director of the Retiree Activities Office with an office at the 5th Medical Group. Currently, Herrington is making plans for the Retiree Appreciation Day to be held at the base on Sept. 22
He volunteers at the pharmacy on base. He’s also a member of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce’s Military Affairs Committee and is the honorary commander of the 91st Missile Wing’s command chief.
Herrington said he enjoys living in Minot and the people here. The Herringtons’ daughter and son and their families live in the local area.
Overall, Herrington said the Air Force has changed in attitudes.
“When I came in the threat of the first sergeant ‘taking you out behind the barn’ was there and just that threat kept a lot of people out of trouble,” he said.
The relationship between Minot AFB and the local community has grown over the years, according to Herrington. “It was always there but as a two-striper I didn’t realize it as much as I did as a senior NCO just because you are more involved in the community.
He said many businesses and organizations in Minot and area have been “super supporters” of the base. “The base gives to the town and the town gives to the base,” he said.
Was the Air Force a good career? “It was. Absolutely. The only reason that I retired is because I had 30 years and that’s all that you could do. I’m still very involved and I enjoy it. I really do,” he said.