I swear this is a true
and factual account of
"How I became a ROMAD".
MSgt, Mike "Harpo" Humphrey, USAF Ret.
Original Pack Rat/ ROMAD, GP #3
ROK Tiger Div, CAV REG, Vietnam 1967-68
Coin Holder #313
This short story is in memory of: Shorty Suarez, Jake Jacoby, and Michael Brooks. I knew them well.
To all of the ROMADS who have given their lives in defense of Freedom,
I humbly salute you. You are not forgotten.
This seems like the appropriate time to post this. This very month marks my 40th year of my entry into the world of ROMADom.
I joined the USAF in March 1965 because I only had two weeks to accept the draft or go with the fly boys. The rest is history.
I can say, like the marines, once a ROMAD always a ROMAD.
My story is like this:
In November 1967, I was, like all the rest of the pioneers in this career field, a 304x4 A1C - E4, trained in the science of ground radio maintenance, with additional civilian and military training on computers, tv and other electronic systems. I spent my first three years in the air force at such places as Lackland AFB basic training, Mar 65-apr 65, then on to Kessler AFB, MS. Apr 65 - Mar 66 for additional electronics training, and then to the 764 Radar Sq., St. Albans, VT. Mar 66-Nov 67.
I got sick and tired of all the snow in Vermont, and doing the same old shit day after day. So, I decided to volunteer for an assignment anywhere in the world. I hoped I would go to Australia or New Zealand. Vietnam never crossed my mind, you know at the bright age of 21 years, you are not too bright.
30 days after applying for said assignment, bingo, here comes the assignment : 14 SOW, 14 SOS, 21 TASS, Nha Trang AB, Republic of South Vietnam. Report to CC (did you ever report directly to a CC?) on or about 17 Dec, 1967, with a short TDY to Lackland AFB, Airborne COMSEC school (2 weeks) and field survival training, night time.
Tried with state side personnel to clarify this assignment. They, personnel, said, "never heard of it GI". All we know, is AFMPC wants all the 304X4 E-4s and E-5s it can get its hands on to Vietnam ASAP. Wow, I am going be in the crypto maintenance shop and work on radios, I know how to do that, sounds like a nice assignment.
Airborne crypto school completed, didn't get busted at Lackland for fucking up the basic trainees minds.
AF ranking status changed for E-4s from A1C to Sgt. during this time frame. Another wow, this meant we could officially drink beer in our dorm rooms and those in attendance at this school who were newly made sergeants tested the new system pronto.
We were immediately placed under house arrest by a "num nuts 2nd Luwey OD and his goons". This is off topic but, hell, might as well finish the rest of this. Next day graduation ceremonies completed with much fan fare basic trainees were made to watch this particular ceremony, look at these men airman basic, they are going off to war.
After that about 5 of us new E4 SSgt, had to answer charges of unauthorized drinking in the barracks by E4s, fuck, I am going to the brig. Military discipline in those days was very strict. This is were I really discovered AF regulations and the power of the written word. Read Reqs to training Sq CC, his reply, yes lieutenant, sergeants are allowed to drink beer in there own quarters you stupid son of bitch. I want you to salute these men who are going off to war, and shake their hands, and wish them well. Lt., you are dismissed, and you gentleman, gods speed and good luck.
I didn't know what the hell I was getting into, but after that shit at Lackland AFB, I assumed it was very special. I think I matured 20 years on the spot.
Departed San Antonio, TX, about 15th of December 1967, in route to Republic of South Vietnam, with stops at McCord AFB, WA, Anchorage AK, Yakota, Japan and then Vietnam, Civilian airliner, World Airways, nice plane, not one of the passengers on this flight said shit to anyone. Weird. Scared shitless.
Arrived in South Vietnam, (hereafter, referred to as the Nam), right to call it that is earned not given, Cam Ran Bay, AB, biggest base I have ever seen. Soldiers everywhere, planes everywhere, gun fire everywhere, choppers everywhere, it's a war dumb ass.
The temperature was about 100 degrees, 100 percent humidity, I was in winter blues. Anyone remember those? I bet Ray does. First order of business get out of blues, obvious first impression of FNG's, not to good - (FNGs=Fucking New Guys). You could get your ass kicked pretty fast dressed like that in the Nam. Changed into fatigues, made inquiries as to where the hell is Nha Trang AB, and how do I get there? Answer: It's on the other side of the Bay and you fly there GI. You have to get on a stand - by list as you have no special orders or priority, in other words, you ain't shit. Total chaos.
Finally caught a hop to Nha Trang, C-123, jato assist, loudest damn plane I have ever flown on. Troop transport plane, no seats on this one, sit on the floor, cargo master pulls big strap over everyone and says hold on during take off and landings, and if you see the bail out light come on........ Was comfortable on this thing, didn't puke, I just liked flying. We were allowed to stand up after leveling off at about 5000 feet. I could see the ground out of the door port hole. Looked like a tropical paradise, everyone on this plane except the crew were FNGs. No one spoke anything, I was the only air force guy, I don't remember how many were on this plane, probably 20-30, it was packed.
Landed at Nha Trang, load master to passengers, "when the ramp is down and the green light comes on, I want all of you to get the hell off my airplane, (aka the movie PLATOON). This plane did not shut down, we all got off, total confusion, NO SPONSOR TO MEET YOU???, I don't know to this day, what the hell a sponsor is needed for, you are supposed to take care of yourself yourself, at least that is the way it was for me back then. A bus finally came to pick up all the army, navy, and marine guys on this flight, I was left standing on the side of the main runway at Nha Trang, with out a clue as what to do next.
Get the hell off runway apron, flag down maintenance vehicle, can you take me to the CBPO, they had one of those on base. Report to in processing tomorrow SSgt. I immediately headed to Airmen's Club, got smashed out of my mind. "Fuck I'm here".
Next morning went to in processing, orders were for radio maintenance, what the hell do you mean I am assigned to the 21st TASS as a radio maintainer operator and driver. You got this all wrong Sgt. You get the hell out of my office Sgt. and get your ass on down that flight line, your late reporting for duty. It's the last building at the end of the runway over by the 5th Special Forces Compound. Can't miss it, has all those little airplanes, they call them Bird Dogs.
Sign in at 21st TASS, everyone there is a short timer with major attitude. Didn't know it, but when you were with in about 2 weeks or so of DEROS, you might have been allowed to go to Nha Trang to keep you from getting killed, or to keep you from killing someone you might not like to well (and it probably was not the VC or NVA either).
"Greetings Sgt", Not exactly, like what the fuck do you want GI. We have no slot for you here. You ain't ever going to maintain a radio again, Sgt, you are going to do a lot of talking on them though. Ever work with a pilot?
Remember, I VOLUNTEERED for this!
I was given 3 choices, You can go to support the US Army, The Australians or the ROK Tiger Division. That night I got shit faced at the Airman's Club. There I met some ROMADS, who were big time short, told me about ROKS, they were not stationed with them but said they were the baddest thing around besides SF. I didn't need to be jump qualified to go with them either.
Arrived at ROK TIGER Div HQ around the 26th of December, 1967. This place is nice, looks like a good place to be assigned.
You are going to replace Sgt Harrington out at Thunderbolt, with the first CAV REG, ROK Tiger Div.
(This Regiment had already distinguished itself in battle and had a reputation established with the NVA, Don't fuck with us).
Thunderbolt was a Korean firebase camp, about 7 miles SW of Phu Cat AB on hwy QL 19, the main road from Qui Nhon to An Khe via An Khe Pass (a very nasty point at the top of the mountain range where the NAV and VC liked to kill the truck drivers) and points west. Camp Thunderbolt had a 1200 foot long runway and was pretty modern for a combat zone. I was the third group of ROMADs to be assigned here, the first group was in 1965-66 (found out that A2/c Michael was here at the start up of ROK's Camp Thunderbolt, whom maintains all of these pages), then 1967etc.
And so the story goes!
I never ever regret the decision to have volunteered for this assignment. It was a stepping stone to a career in the USAF that would never have happened had I stayed a 304X4. I held many different jobs in the air force and was part of the initial cadre forced crossed trained into the new 275X0 career field in 1977. This was later changed once again to 3C4X0. I remained a ROMAD for the rest of my career.
Like myself and many others before and after me, you must be a leader not a follower, you will piss people off, and they will not like you. But don't sweat the small shit.
I retired in 1988, at HQ TAC, Langley AFB, Virginia.