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Candidate Alvin H. Watkins, Class 07-66

-  Update & Remberances, As Of May 2011  -

The following notes, thoughts and remberances were submitted by Candidate Watkins, a graduate of Army Signal OCS Class 07-1966.

As more comments are received, we will add them to the recollections below. Please check back frequently and enjoy Candidate Watkins' thoughts.

"Ash & Trash"

To me the most humorous/embarrassing story I have about Vietnam started as a routine single ship “ash and trash” mission. 

We were to land in a tiny LZ in the jungle north of Long Bien to pick up the “night defensive pack” (the supplies and equipment for spending one or more nights on patrol) for a LRRP (long range reconnaissance patrol, so they could finish their mission and return to base that day. We landed in the LZ and rolled back the throttle while the material was being loaded. The patrol was being led by a LTC! The colonel casually walked out of the woods with his helmet off and flack vest open and headed to our ship. All at once he froze, waved us out of the LZ and then dived back in the woods as machine gun fire erupted into the LZ. 

I immediately rolled in the throttle and told my crew chief and gunner to jump on board. I took off from the LZ and flew low-level across the jungle for several miles. Then, assuming that we were away from danger, I executed a cyclic climb and obviously became a target. 

We took several machine gun hits and my crew chief was wounded in the leg. He was bleeding badly and I was having trouble with my cyclic control. I thought I had lost my hydraulics. 

I called a “MayDay” to my company, saying I had lost my hydraulics and had a wounded crew chief, I was landing at “Thunder 6”, a nearby artillery site. 

We landed safely and almost immediately another ship from my company landed beside me and medevac’d my crew chief. A short while later “Witch Doctor” (our company maintenance ship) arrived to see if they could fix my ship or haul us back to base. 

After a careful inspection it was determined instead of having lost my hydraulics, one of the bullets had passed through the skid and entered the ship below my seat. It was too spent to come through the floor and instead fell back onto the sprocket for my cyclic control linkage. It must have been rolling around on the sprocket and interfering with the smooth movement of the linkage. I was thoroughly embarrassed as the maintenance guy picked up the bullet and sent me on my way.  

My History

My father was a “Share-Cropper” and my mother was one of the first licensed barbers in Southeast Missouri. Members of my family have served in every US war including the revolutionary war. My uncle was a US Army pilot and lost his life in WWII. My four brothers entered military service before me. By brothers served in the National Guard and/or active army. One brother is a Korean War veteran while another brother and I served in Vietnam, he was in the Air Force Security Service and I was a helicopter pilot.  

One of my sons is in the Active Guard and Reserves (AGR) program on active duty with the Texas Army National Guard, a veteran of the war in Iraq, and is now a full Colonel serving as the J-1 for the Texas Army and Air National Guard; two grandsons are in the Texas Army National Guard, and one is in the Tennessee National Guard, two are in the AGR program serving on active duty. One is on alert for assignment to Afghanistan.  

I joined the Missouri Army National Guard in November, 1960, one month after my 17th birthday. My basic and AIT training was deferred until I graduated from high school in the class of 1961. I completed my basic and AIT training at Fort Ord, CA. After basic training I was given two weeks leave and while on leave I turned 18 and registered for the Draft. Upon completion of AIT, I return to Missouri and joined the regular army. 

I was trained as a Morse Intercept Operator at Fort Devens, MA and was assigned to Camp Wolters, TX with the 303rd ASA Bn. Shortly after joining the battalion it  was deployed to Homestead AFB, FL for the Cuban Crisis. While at Camp Wolters, I first thought of applying for helicopter flight training but opted instead for training as a Fixed Cryptographic Equipment repairman at Fort Monmouth, NJ. 

My first son was born at Fort Monmouth. My initial assignment as a “Fixed Crypto” repairman was to HQ USARIS Communications Center on Okinawa, where my second son was born.

About a year into my tour on Okinawa I underwent major reconstructive surgery on my lower jaw and was hospitalized for six months. When I was released from the hospital in September, 1965, I found out from my friend James Lyons (8-66) that he was applying for OCS. I decided I would also apply. 

The waiting list for OCS at that time was about one year and I had about one year remaining on my tour in Okinawa so it seemed to be perfect timing. I applied on October 1, 1965, went before the OCS board on October 26, 1965, and I left Okinawa for OCS on November 14, 1965. I was in the second class (7-66) of Signal OCS. 

128 Assault Helicopter CompanyMy friend James Lyons had to wait for a waiver of a traffic ticket and so he was in the third class. During OCS I applied for Helicopter Flight Training and was accepted. Upon graduation from OCS I was assigned as one of three TAC’s for class 2-67 while awaiting flight school. By about the half-way point the class had become too small to warrant three TAC’s and I was transferred to the Student Officer Basic Company as the XO. There I helped to shepherd the ROTC Lieutenants through their OBC until I left for flight school.  

David O’Quinn of class 4-66 was in my flight school class and we developed a friendship that had begun in OCS. After receiving our wings we were assigned to the 128th AHC [Assault Helicopter Company] in Phu Loi, VN. David was the 2nd Platoon Commander and I was the Assistant Platoon Commander, until David became the company S-1 and I became the Platoon Commander. We were roommates until I was transferred to HQ 11th CAB as the Assistant S-3 and smoke ship pilot. 

Like Richard Green, I was one of the few that actually enjoyed VN. 

Both O’Quinn and I were assigned to Germany after VN. I was assigned the 32nd Signal Battalion at Hoechst while David was assigned further south, but we were close enough for a visit. My third son was born in Germany. At the end of our tours in Germany we were both assigned to Korea. We went to branch together to request a change of assignment to VN but were told that there were more helicopter pilots than were needed in VN. Clearly, the wind down was already underway (1971). 

In Korea we were assigned to different units, O’Quinn to the 55th Aviation Company and me to the aviation detachment of the 4th Signal Group, but our units were co-located at K-16 and we lived in the same BOQ. I was divorced at the end of my tour in Korea.  

Our next assignments were to the same class for the Signal Officer Advanced Course at Fort Monmouth, NJ. 

While at Fort Monmouth I remarried and David was my best man and his wife Teresa was Matron of Honor at my wedding.   

After graduation I was assigned to Camp Picket, VA, as the Post Signal Officer. It was a great assignment until I received my RIF notice. I left active duty in September 1972. 

128 Assault Helicopter CompanyI joined the Massachusetts Army National Guard as a Signal Officer because the aviation unit was a two hour drive from Waltham, MA, where I attended Bentley College, and two and a half hours from my home in Haverhill, MA. I received my BS degree in Accounting in May, 1975. That same year my fourth son was born in Melrose, MA. 

I worked for a CPA firm for three years in Reading and Haverhill, MA, and then became the part-time treasurer/accountant for the local school district and started my own firm.   

With the Massachusetts Army National Guard I served as a Company Commander, Assistant Division Communications and Electronics Officer and Executive Officer of the signal battalion. In 1982 I was selected to attend the Command and General Staff College on active duty in anticipation of becoming the next Signal Battalion Commander.   

While in C&GS I applied for return to Active Duty and was selected for active duty as an Assistant Professor of Military Science at St. John’s University in Jamaica, Queens, New York. 

I sold my accounting firm and my home in Massachusetts and moved to military housing at Mitchell Field on Long Island, NY.   

After my assignment to St John’s I was promoted to LTC and transferred to the Pentagon as a System Integration Officer in the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistic (ODCSLOG). 

I was the Department of Defense Point of Contact for LOGMARS (Logistics Applications of Automated Marking and Reading Systems) and TACCS (Tactical Automated Command and Control Systems) where my responsibilities included coordinating the acquisition and  introduction of radio tag and bar code tracking systems and introducing hardened computer systems for the battlefield.  

My next and last assignment was as the Fielding Team Leader (Reserve Components) for MSE (Mobile Subscriber Equipment, the Army digital telephone system for the battlefield) at Fort Hood, TX, where I retired June 30, 1990.  

I was hired by Travelers Insurance Company to manage their regional office for workers compensation insurance in Richardson, TX. We lived about one mile from the famous Southfork Ranch. When Travelers decided to close the regional office I was given the opportunity to be transferred to another regional office but I declined.   

After several months of searching I found a new job. I was hired to be the Vice-President for Policyholder Services and Underwriting for Missouri Employers Mutual (MEM) in Columbia, MO.  

I was hired away from MEM to be the Senior Vice-President for Underwriting for the Texas Workers Compensation Insurance Fund in Austin, TX. We lived in Round Rock, TX.  

I was then hired by AMGRIP, Inc. to be the Underwriting Consultant for the Nevada Workers Compensation Fund. I was responsible for writing and implementing the underwriting guidelines and procedures for the company. After two years of commuting from Round Rock, TX to Las Vegas, NV the assignment was concluded.  

We moved to Hendersonville, TN, and I started an Allstate Insurance Agency in Goodlettsville, TN. After seven years I sold the agency and retired.  

While in retirement I was asked by my son to help his friend straighten out this bookkeeping and tax return problems with his fledgling IT Company, located in Round Rock, TX by telecommute and on a fee basis. I agreed and for the next 8 months I commuted about once a month to Round Rock while managing the company finances by telecommuting. I was put on salary in May, 2005.  

On September 1, 2005, I had a ruptured “triple A” (abdominal Aortic aneurysm). I was in intensive care for two months and then in follow-up surgeries and rehab for another year. During this time I was paid my full salary by the friend’s company. 

When I was fully recovered he asked me to move to Round Rock where I could be readily available to him and spend half-days at the office. 

I moved to Round Rock in June 2007. 

I retired AGAIN in December, 2008. 

I am now on retainer for financial planning and tax consulting. I also do about 60 tax returns per year for friends, family and clients, some of whom have been with me since 1975.  

In August of 2010, I found out that “my” smoke ship, Smoky III, tail number 65-10-126 was in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Dulles Annex. 

The Aircraft Commander (myself), Pilot (Jim Leary), my crew chief (“Sully” Sullivan), and his predecessor (Jim Palmer) were invited by the curator to have an up close and personal visit and photo shoot with Smoky III, and an interview about our service on Smokey III. 

My wife and I traveled to Washington, DC for the visit and we were allowed to invite family and friends. My niece (Pamela Kelter) and her two sons (David and Michael Kelter), came from Staten Island, NY. Three of my students from St. John’s University (Colonels Michelle Sanchez, John Spain and Robert Timm), the daughter of a dear friend from my unit in Vietnam (MaryClaire Boucher) , her two daughters and  Jim Palmer’s wife and daughter also came. 

Watkins, Alvin, Signal OCS Class 07-66 

Jim Leary in Suit, Emily Watkins in Red, Al Watkins in Hat, Jim Palmer with beard, and “Sully” Sullivan with hands in pockets. Guests Pamela Kelter and sons, MaryClaire Boucher and daughters, Jim Palmer’s wife and daughter.


For more pictures, click on album: 

Army Signal OCS Photo Album - Alvin Watkins

This page originally posted 16 August, 2011, updated 1 January, 2015 

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Original Site Design and Construction By John Hart, Class 07-66. Ongoing site design and maintenance courtesy Class 09-67.
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