Reminiscing… An F-15 ride, then pizza and beer

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Bern Zovistoski
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By Bern Zovistoski

The public affairs officer at Ramstein Air Base in Kaiserslautern, Germany, was a U.S. Air Force colonel named Jim McGuire and we developed a close relationship which in turn resulted in a mutually respectful relationship between the U.S. Air Force and European Stars and Stripes.

On several occasions during my time as editor, I was invited by McGuire to address the U.S. Air Force leadership in Europe. This included several generals, many colonels and others, so it was a perfect forum for me to explain Stripes’ role in the theater and why we did some of the things we did in pursuit of the military communities’ news.

There was one instance when I was addressing the Air Force that the subject of facial ornaments came up. I don’t remember why, but I had to tell the officers that we at Stripes had learned that some pilots had gotten gold pins inserted in their tongues.

A general asked, “Is that true?”

I took the opportunity to respond: “It has to be true, sir. It was in Stars and Stripes.”

Over time, the various branches invited me to take a tank ride, board an aircraft carrier and take a ride in an F-15 jet fighter.

I wasn’t interested in the tank ride, being claustrophobic, and the aircraft carrier failed to materialize when my boss at the time couldn’t get away for the trip, on which he insisted on joining me.

But the F-15 ride occurred.

I was invited to Bitburg Air Base for that ride. My wife, my son Andrew and I traveled to Bitburg the day before the flight and I underwent training on how to employ a parachute if necessary.

We stayed the night in the VIP quarters at the base, in the Alexander Haig room.

The next day I suited up (we were not going to exceed 10,000 feet so a mask wasn’t necessary) and climbed into the rear seat of an F-15 trainer (called a “tub”). Three other F-15s, all single-seaters, and four F4G “Wild Weasels” taxied into position for takeoff.

This was a regular training exercise for the pilots and lasted for an hour as the eight jets took part in mock dogfights.

Exciting? Yup. I had three plastic bags, just in case, and didn’t need any.

My pilot, Major Montgomery, treated me to a supersonic ride and told me we shot down two of the Wild Weasels. I guess he could’ve made me sick but he didn’t.

I had gone aboard with a camera, which I dropped as we were taxiing for takeoff, and I didn’t dare unbuckle to retrieve it at my feet. I was frustrated by being unable to take a great photo at the end of our session, looking down at a close shot of another F-15 flying just beneath us to “check for damage,” the other pilot’s face clearly visible.

When we landed, I took Paulette and Andy to lunch, an excellent pizza and a beer.

Bern Zovistoski is a journalist who practiced his trade in various capacities around the world for several decades. As a Granville native, he returned to his hometown to cap his career with extensive contributions to the betterment of The Granville Sentinel and The Whitehall Times. To respond to this column, go to pj.zovistoski@ gmail.com.