A1C Charles A. Gustafson, USAF
7227 Combat Support Group, USAFE
Aviano Air Base
Sentry Dog Section
Aviano, Italy, 1963-1967
Three weeks after graduating from UGA and glad all my studying and academic pressures were over at least for a while… little did I know what was next. I was ordered to report to the Army induction center on Ponce de Leon Avenue for my military physical. Ummm this could be big !  Having had enough camping with the scouts at Lake Winfield Scott and Blood Mountain I made some calls and was allowed to join the USAF. The myriad adventures of extensive traveling during the next four years were always just as intriguing and memorable as arriving at the destination.

September 19, 1963 some fifty guys and I landed at Lackland AFB near San Antonio,Texas at about 0200 for Basic Training. We were greeted by lots of yelling, name calling, and some really bad words that were new to me but thank the Lord I wasn’t from California. Those guys never had a minute’s peace.We crammed down some breakfast and were driven to our barracks, grabbed a bunk laid down and then the fire drills started. It was “a”holes over elbows to clear the “Dorm” in thirty seconds. Next morning we got our fatigues, brogans and foot lockers and got to bed about 2200 and then the fire drills started again. Clad in only in briefs and brogans we drilled into the early morning hours until we got it right. Mental and physical stress and mayhem for several weeks, then graduation and on to our next duty station assignment.

I was then assigned to Air Police/Security Tech School about two miles from where I was standing. Hmmm more Texas! If one would pay attention and take instructions just like Ms. Hosch told us at Campbell, you could make it. Some guys washed out anyway, better there than on duty. About one hundred men and I had a couple of months of classes, weapons and firing range marksmanship, security procedures, and obstacle courses at Fort Sam Houston. It’s amazing how the military can squeeze sixteen hours of training into six hours. My squadron had just fifteen minutes to eat and clear the chow hall. I ate standing up for at least two weeks. Just after lunch on November 22, 1963, MSGT Rhodes, our T.I., told us about the assassination of President Kennedy in Dallas. It took the wind out of our sails for a couple of hours until we started another training session.

At graduation, after our final exam, I was privileged to have my choice of any AFB worldwide that had an opening for my AFSC. Aviano Air Base in northern Italy had four openings and I had a couple of buddies in tech school of Italian heritage so I thought “why not.” My T.I. had orders cut for all three of us. It was possibly the best decision of my life. A thirty day leave at home then on flights from Atlanta to New York to Paris to Milan and a train to Venice.

Aviano is a small town at the foot of the Venetian pre-alps where I spent the next three and one-half years. The Italians were very friendly and I felt right at home. The food was good on base and great off base with world class beer, wine and spirits. Bella Italia

With six days on and three days off, The Sentry Dog section, a volunteer unit, gave me more time to travel throughout Europe rather than working nine and three shifts in regular security. So I volunteered and got a one hundred twenty pound canine buddy named Nerick, and on a snowy November in 1964, we attended the Air Force Sentry Dog School in Wiesbaden, Germany. One of our teachers was a former NCO in the SS captured by the U.S. Forces at Monte Casino in W.W. II. One tended to pay attention when he spoke. I got a little time off and I toured Wiesbaden and Mainz and took a boat trip on the mighty Rhine then graduation and a flight back to Aviano.

Back on base, Nerick and I worked at night on patrol around the VAP and some other areas and continued working together through all kinds of weather until my tour was up and Nerick had to be put down. That was a real tough couple of days. All in all my tour was very non-eventful except for an ORI every month or so, but security was always very tight and we were aware that the cold war could turn hot at any time. The protection and launching of the F-100 Super Sabre Fighter/Bomber Squadron was the base mission.

We were always mindful of the men and women who gave “the last full measure of devotion” in the God forsaken jungles of Viet Nam. Our canine flight could have been sent to Nam at any time because our guys over there were taking heavy hits, but we lucked out and stayed at Aviano.

Throughout my military tour I flew into Berlin and went through Checkpoint Charlie, to “tour”East Berlin, took trips to London, Rome, Vienna, Trieste, Munich and Dachau, Florence and Venice plus many points in between. I took my discharge in Europe and boarded a train from Venice through Switzerland to Paris where I spent another week. Then I got on the S.S. United States at Le Havre, France and sailed on to New York.

My first look at Lady Liberty and she really looked great !
What a trip !!!