The Strange case of “Lt Col Seagull,” the C-5 Squadron Ops Officer who tried Everything to not Fly

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The Strange case of

“In reading my professional evaluation I saw the statement citing my flying in command for ASEV had been removed. He frowned and nodded his head to imply he had had to make a difficult decision and said: ‘I know, Jay, it was a tough call but I had to remove that sentence. It would have made all the other ARTS [especially him] look bad,’” Jay Lacklen, former C-5 pilot

Jay Lacklen is a former C-5 pilot with 12,500 flying hours and the author of two books, Flying the Line: An Air Force Pilot’s Journey and Flying the Line: An Air Force Pilot’s Journey Volume Two: Military Airlift Command. He’s working on the last book of the trilogy.

1987 ASEV, Dover AFB, DE Reserves

In the middle 1980s those of us who had become ARTS since 1983 found ourselves stuck in a frozen promotion sequence. All the top squadron technician positions were inhabited by “homesteaders,” or officers who planned on retiring out of their current position as Lt Colonels, perhaps ten or fifteen years down the road. They would not be promoted due to the reserve rule that you had to move to another base attain the 0-6 rank, you could not homestead into it at your current base. That was fine with them because they didn’t want to move and didn’t care if they were not promoted.

Those of us one rung below the homesteaders on the promotion ladder were out of luck because we arrived after the positions were already taken and were close to the homesteader’s ages ourselves. Our only recourse for promotion would be to transfer to another base.

In 1987 such an opportunity arose. Westover AFB, MA was converting from C-130s to C-5s in 1988 and they needed C-5 instructors to PCS to Westover train the crews and accept operations commander positions. An ART in the other squadron, Larry Mercker, previously stationed at Westover, had taken one of the positions and asked if I’d like to follow him to Westover and work with him as his assistant. Initially, I said no, I didn’t particularly want to move with a wife and three small kids in tow.

But then the 1987 ASEV (flying evaluation) arrived.

The inspection team checked on flight procedure standardization, both in flight, and on publications. They would test on emergency procedures, check pubs and regulations, and fly local training flights to ensure correct flight procedures were being followed.

SAC had the same type inspection, labelled CEVG, and I explained in book one how I viscerally hated them. The best you could do on such an inspection flight was break even if you passed. However, I also explained that they were absolutely necessary to ensure compliance with regulations that would help ensure the safety of the fleet. Knowing we would have to perform to the command’s standards, we taught to them specifically. Also, we could not count on getting a break from command inspectors as we might from our squadron buddies, so we had to toe the command line on all our training flights.

My squadron ops officer had a peculiar view of this inspection, however. As one of the Seagull (have to throw rocks at them to make them fly) brothers I mentioned earlier in the book, he flew very little and absolutely would not fly in command with ASEV evaluators. His mantra said this was a reservist inspection and they should carry the load, not the technicians.

The Strange case of "Lt Seagull," the C-5 Squadron Ops Officer who tried Everything to not Fly
This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. C-5M Super Galaxy 60th Air Mobility Wing, 349th Air Mobility Wing, 22nd Airlift Squadron, 07-0042 – Travis AFB, CA

I strongly disagreed with this position. ASEV wanted to ensure compliance of squadron instructor pilots, and those who flew the most local training sorties were technicians. We should not exclude ourselves from inspection, we should be the first ones in line!

So, appropriately, I volunteered to fly in command for the first local training flight to be evaluated. I gritted my teeth, but I did it, and it went well. I was the only squadron technician instructor pilot to fly in command during the inspection. Others flew on evaluation flights, but not in command, apparently hiding behind the Seagull’s example.

A few months later I had to write my OER (professional evaluation), as we all did. They were nearly worthless anyway, so we had to do the work and the evaluator, your boss, would make any corrections he felt necessary and then sign the form. But I was up for Lt Col and I used a little extra care on this one. I cited that I was the only squadron technician to fly in command with ASEV and handed it in to the ops officer (Lt Col Sea Gull) who would sign it.

A few weeks after that I dropped by Base Personnel to review the OER to see what kind, and level, of endorsements I had received. In reading the front of the form, however, I saw the statement citing my flying in command for ASEV had been removed.

The next time I was in the squadron I stepped into the ops officer’s office and brought this to his attention. “I can’t find the sentence about me flying in command with ASEV,” I said.

He frowned and nodded his head to imply he had had to make a difficult decision and said: “I know, Jay, it was a tough call but I had to remove that sentence. It would have made all the other ARTS [especially him] look bad.”

Stunned, I couldn’t even speak, and didn’t.

I turned, walked down the hall to another office, and called Larry Mercker at Westover.

“Larry,” I said, “I’m ready to move, is that position still open?”

It was, and off I would go to Westover for the next five years as ADO.”

The Strange case of "Lt Seagull," the C-5 Squadron Ops Officer who tried Everything to not Fly

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

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