BroncoFest III Report from Mike "Merlin" Whaley
Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2001
I decided to complete my BroncoFest reports, even though it's now two days after the close of festivities. Why so late? Well, I was flying standby on a Buddy Pass and Sunday was a very busy day. There was no room so I was unable to get on any of the 6 possible flights back to Houston. So, I ended up spending eight frustrating hours trapped inside the DFW airport before I found I had to get a hotel for the night, and then I had to wake up at 4AM in order to return for the first flight out at 6AM Monday morning. By the time I got back to Orlando, well, I was exhausted and spent most of Monday trying to recover! So next time, I'll just be sure to plan on either staying until Monday and enjoy the extra day, or I'll just actually buy tickets. Another thing I found out about travelling to explain the fact that I always - and I do mean every time - get pulled out of the line for the "random" security check. Apparently, the airlines have a system that looks for certain "red flags" for people they feel are security risks. Being a male in your 20's or early 30's (I'm 28) and traveling alone is considered suspicious in and of itself. Personally I think that's about as logical as grounding all private aircraft in the nation for "security reasons" but if there ever was an agency lacking in common sense, it's the FAA. Oh well. Thank goodness I hadn't purchased a one-way ticket with cash 20 minutes before the flight too, they would have shot me on the spot!
Anyway, back to where we left off. Saturday, we had the big banquet. People began gathering about 7 PM, while the OBA staff ran around trying to get all the last-minute things done. Boomer worked on planning the order of things, while I was charged with starting a couple of videos and flipping overhead sheets for Bishop Knox's presentation. At about 7:40, we got everyone to sit down, and a local JROTC crew presented the colors. The National Anthem was played on the video, including some great synchronized footage that was provided by OBA's chief video guy, Charlie Yates. (He even showed air strikes synced to "The bombs bursting in air"!) After this, OBA Chaplain Howie Pierson and all the attendees participated in the opening prayer and a tribute to those who weren't there, symbolized by an empty table setting. Robert Hodgson then concluded the ceremony with a moving rendition of Taps.
Once we all finished getting our plates from the buffet, the evening's program continued, starting with a showing of that old favorite of ours - Charlie Yates' Tri-service video (the one with "Eye of the Tiger" and "Dear Mom Your Son is Dead" for hte soundtrack, which premiered at BroncoFest II.)
After the video, we began the presentations. First up was the director of the Frontiers of Flight museum, Col. Knox Bishop (USAF Ret.). Knox gave a fascinating presentation of the history of twin-boom aircraft from the dawn of heavier-than-air flight up to future designs, including many airplanes that were extremely interesting for their obscurity. Of course, he did point out that the OV-10 is the best twin-boom plane ever flown! :)
Next, Ron Fix gave us a message and presented several awards. Maney Aircraft was recognized for their longtime and continuing support of our group, this year they sponsored our hospitality suite (better known as "The Hootch".) Carolyn Petty of EEM Tours, who arranged and planned this whole shindig and removed a lot of that burden from us, also was recognized.
Ken Semmler, who served with the USAF in Vietnam as one of the Royal Australian Air Force's exchange FACs, then got up for what I thought was a real highlight of the whole event. He offered encouragement and sympathy for the events of September 11th and since, and talked about how much freedom costs. Ken then presented the OBA with an Australian flag, and asked for the honor of having it fly next to the American Flag at the OV-10 museum as a symbol of their support for what we stand for. In these turbulent times, people around the world are looking to America to uphold the freedoms which we represent, and Ken's message reminded us that we truly have the support of many folks worldwide. Ron also related a story from his time flying AV-8A Harriers on a detachment to Australia and commented on the remarkable hospitality shown him and his unit. Yes, Ken, we are extremely honored for your fitting gift on behalf of your countrymen, and we would indeed be honored to fly your country's colors proudly, right next to our own Old Glory. You guys supported us very courageously in combat and have continued to support us until this day, and we have always felt that it's important to stand by you as well. Thank you.
Next were some announcements that were so secret that even I wasn't told of them beforehand! First, we greeted the four Venezuelan Air Force personnel that came to participate. Now let me tell you something about the Venezuelans... these guys really know how to party! At the two parties during BroncoFest, whenever we were going around the room with "How many Air Force guys are here?" and so forth, we got the usual loud cheers from the crowd for each branch of service. But when we got to the Venezuelans, man, these guys had a cheer worthy of Super Bowl winners! No mistaking that they were there, and were quite proud of their country. Their boisterous entrance to the banquet even elicited a loud, friendly cheer from everyone else! They were happy to make new friends and even though only half of them spoke much English, we still managed to communicate decently enough. Joe Copalman and Bear Evans spent much time practicing their Spanish skills, while Angel and Luis did their best to practice their English on us. (After a few beers went around the crowd during the post-banquet party in the Hootch, conversations got quite amusing at times!)
So we were very happy, and not completely surprised, to hear Ron announce that their squadron is now, officially, The Venezuelan Wing of the OV-10 Bronco Association, or VWOBA for short! 1st Lt. Angel Condi accepted a plaque on behalf of the entire group, and as he has shown himself to be so good at, made a very clear observation that cut to the heart of the matter. "We are all of one heart. We come from all over, from Venezuela or America, or wherever, but we are all a family, the Bronco Family." There's nothing I could add to those wise words. The Venezuelans were at BroncoFest II and we're glad to expand our relationship with them.
Unfortunately, no representatives for the Colombian Air Force could attend, but we also announced another wing: The Colombian Wing of the OBA, or CWOBA, which will represent the Bronco folks in that country. As an aside, I found it interesting to note a conversation I had with the other Venezuelan pilot, Luis Mendoza, later in the evening, which went back to Angel's comments about the Bronco family. He told us a little about their situation, in which they fly 24-7 COIN missions along the Colombian border. They, like the Colombians, are threatened by rebel groups such as the FARC. In Colombia, these rebels are trying to destabilize and overthrow the government, and when they are evading Colombian authorities, they will often flee over the border into Venezuela. Historically, Venezuela and Colombia have not often seen eye-to-eye on many issues, however, the situation in battling a common threat has produced cooperation between the countries, and they exchange information so their Bronco crews can locate and strike the rebels wherever they may try to run to. As Angel said, the United State's Bronco past is South America's present situation.
Bill Sleigh then got up and said some kind words about our group from the FAC Association. I and many other OBA members attended their formative meeting at the FAC Homecoming last year, and have tried to help them along the way to shorten the big learning curve that goes along with starting an organization like this. We are truly appreciative for the support and advice they have given us along our journey and look forward to continuing to work closely with them in the future.
Ron announced some items concerning the OBA's structure itself. Ron has done a lot to further the group, but now he needs to devote more time to his family, so he has stepped down as OBA's president. Fortunately for us, he is remaining on the Board of Directors and will continue to be involved with the group. Ron has really done well in giving OBA thoughtful and effective advice and direction, and deserves kudos for his service (and his continuing service) to the group. Ron told the attendees that the group has in his view now completed "Phase One" of our evolution, which is a view shared by the Board as well. OBA has been started, we learned through trail and error much about how things work. Now, we are THE worldwide clearinghouse for OV-10 information, recognized by nearly all OV-10 operators and interested parties worldwide as the place to go when you need something Bronco-related. With the off-loading of the Mockup, the success of BroncoFest III, and the continuing involvement in Bronco operations around the world, OBA has concluded the phase of our growth where we learn to fly. Beginning right now, we are in the maturation stage. We know we're a viable group, we have learned a great deal about how to make this thing fly, and now we can continue ahead and work towards expanding and growing into a bigger, better, more diversified group.
Ron announced that he was passing the torch onto Tim Sikorski as our new acting President, while Tom Kemp took Tim's place as Vice President.
In addition, it was announced that after much deliberation over many weeks, the Board of Directors decided to expand the board from five to eight directors, in order to better manage the affairs of OBA. Prior to the expansion, Directors included Ron Fix, Tom Kemp, Jim Hodgson, Chuck Burin, and Tim Sikorski. The three new members are Ashby Shoop, Gordy "Bear" Evans, and yours truly, Mike "Merlin" Whaley. Ashby, who served in VMO-6, lives in Seattle and works for Boeing. He has done a great amount of work towards trying to obtain an OV-10 for OBA to call our own. Bear was in VMO-2 and lives in California. He has also done a lot of work for the group and is a real can-do guy. I am a civilian, and one of the original seven founding members of OBA as well as the Webmaster for this website. I'm also the youngest member of the board at 28 years old, but heck, the old guys have to have some young whippersnapper to pick on, right? hehehe Seriously though, I am honored that the board has placed their trust in me and I am fully committed to serving the best interests of the group. I can also speak for ALL of the board in stating that we want to know what YOU think. The board exists to carry out the objectives set forth in our mission statement, and to that end, we really appreciate getting input from the membership. Feel free to email, write, or call us with any ideas, concerns, or questions about YOUR OBA!
Ron then presented Tony De Bruyn of the German Wing of OBA (GWOBA) with a plaque commemorating the first flight of ex-German OV-10B (99+26) last month. We are of course extremely proud of GWOBA's accomplishment in getting two OV-10s back into the air!
Then came the long-awaited Bronco Buster announcement. It was slightly anti-climactic for me, since I was the one who ran the poll. All the nominees were worthy and all have made significant contributions to the cause of preserving OV-10s, but I think that the right man definitely won. Jim "Grump" Hodgson has put in an immense amount of work and it's fitting that he is the second recipient of the Bronco Buster award. From day one, Jim truly has been the biggest single driving force behind OBA (not that many others don't work very hard as well) and he spends inordinate amounts of time, energy, and money towards handling the myriad of things that have to happen to run an organization like ours. Many of these things would actually be better handled by others so that Jim can be freed up for devoting his full attention towards the things he's most talented at, for example, serious fund-raising. However, his dedication to the cause of preserving the history of the OV-10 and the people associated with it has lead him to also continue to handle far more responsibilities than anyone should expect, and it's been like that since the founding of the organization. In addition to all the day-to-day minutia of handling membership, Jim runs the PX, correspondence, works with our foreign Wings, and handles our monetary affairs. Somehow, he finds time to run the PX as well! Though he is modest and dedicated his award to all the other folks in OBA who make it happen, Grump truly is a Bronco Buster in every sense of the word. We probably wouldn't have an Association except through his personal work and dedication. Bravo Zulu, Grump!!
After the Bronco Buster, Ron officially turned over the reins to new President Tim Sikorski. Tim spoke for a bit about where the OBA was headed, and then the banquet drew to a close. The PX remained open until about midnight (it was in the back of the banquet room) and then of course lots of folks headed upstairs to The Hootch, where we talked and partied and caught up with friends well into the wee hours of the night.
Sunday morning, many folks showed up for the final get-together, a delicious breakfast buffet. Throughout the rest of the morning and afternoon, many goodbyes were said and the majority of folks began hopping buses and hitching rides with other attendees to get back to the airport to catch flights home. I left about 1:30PM, and as I said at the beginning of this report, I ended up having a problem getting back since I was flying standby. But in the end, that was one of the very few negative things about the whole trip.
I hope this series of reports has captured some semblance of the OBA BroncoFest experience. It's just a brief sketch of it all, but if you couldn't make it there, hopefully it will give you a rough idea of the fun. And in the future, these ramblings will serve to remind us of where we were way back in October 2001.
There is much work remaining. I know that many folks have things to catch up on, and personally, I need to post and work on umpteen-gajillion things related to both BroncoFest and other topics that we worked on while there. This report was one of them! Soon we should have some photos posted, as well as an after-action survey, OBA reports, etc. Not to mention that we're going to create whole new sections of the website devoted to our two new Wings, update the GWOBA area with lots of news, and who knows what else will be added! Yes, there's much to do. So, I'll leave you now and get started. As always, it's been my pleasure to serve the Bronco community, and I'm looking forward to our next get-together, wherever and whenever that may be!
Until next time, fly safe and keep the blue side up!