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From the old, to the new, into the wild blue

  • Published
  • By Tech Sgt. Parker Gyokeres
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
When he joined the Air Force in 1952 to be a fighter pilot, retired Col. Terry Cawley had no idea his military travels would leave him perfectly suited to be a simulator instructor for thousands of grateful students. 

As Moody Air Force Base's last T-6A Texan Undergraduate Pilot Training course ends, Colonel Cawley, a T-6A simulator instructor working for Lear Siegler Services, Inc., will quietly end a 54-year career the way he came in-training in a Texan. 

His extensive career has taken him around the world more times than he can count, including 100 missions in Vietnam, the command of a fighter squadron, and years spent training and flying. 

His knowledge and wisdom made him a favorite of many of the UPT students here, said 2nd Lt. Krissi Gage, the pilot for the very last of more than 55,000 T-6A simulator sorties flown here. 

"My Class of UPT 07-15 always felt lucky when we were assigned to a simulator session with him," said Lieutenant Gage. "There wasn't a question he couldn't answer, or an emergency that hasn't actually happened to him. His patience with us and the depth of his experience is just amazing." 

This real-world knowledge was born in a T-6 Texan trainer in 1953, said Colonel Cawley. After getting his wings in 1954, Colonel Cawley went on to fly the most advanced aircraft the military had to offer. 

"After my combat crew training at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., I was assigned to Naha Air Base, Okinawa, to fly the F-86D Sabre," he said. "After my tour was complete, I was sent back to Bryan AFB, Texas, to be an instructor pilot, then to Nellis again to fly the F-100 Super Sabre." 

"The F-100 was the way to go if you were a fighter pilot," he continued. "The century-series birds were the first ones that could fly supersonic in level flight. It was a great airplane." 

After flying the Super Sabre for a few years at Williams AFB, Texas, and Luke AFB, Ariz., he went to South Korea to serve as a staff officer at Osan Air Base, Korea, before heading off to the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, Colo., to become a squadron air officer. 

"In 1965 there was an oversight board recommendation to cut the number of air officers per squadron from two to one," the colonel said. "I was given a choice, stay at the Academy, or accept a set of orders to any base of my choice," Colonel Cawley said.
The choice was an easy one, he said. He went to George AFB, Calif., to fly the F-104C Starfighter with the 479th Fighter Wing. 

"In my humble opinion, The F-104 was the greatest jet ever built," he said. "It was the hottest thing around. The wings were so sharp and thin, the ground crew had to put safety guards on them to keep people from being cut." 

His love and respect for the 'missile with a man in it' is well deserved. In 1966 the 435th FS deployed to Udorn, Thailand, in support of Operation Iron Hand missions over the Republic of Vietnam. Colonel Cawley's Starfighter carried him safely through 100 combat missions. 

"We deployed just as the surface-to-air missile threat was emerging," he said. "As fighter escorts, our aircraft didn't have [radar homing and warning] gear, so we were dependent on the F-105's for missile protection just as much as they were depending on us for fighter cover. So there we were in a big eight-ship formation trying to stay close to each other-playing crack-the-whip over North Vietnam." 

"Then, Aug. 1, 1966, we lost two aircraft on the same Sunday afternoon," he continued. "Boom-boom, my operations officer and another friend of mine were gone." 

Following that loss, the Air Force quickly sent a team in to install electronic warfare gear in the squadron's F-104s, and thanks to this equipment, he completed his tour safely.
Returning home, he and his family were sent to Washington for a stint as a duty officer in the Air Force Operation Center at the Pentagon. There, he learned a skill-set that would prepare him for his future at Moody. 

Colonel Cawley spent three years there under a specialty code in data automation. "This knowledge came in very useful later in my career as simulators grew more complex." 

By now, Cawley was a lieutenant colonel, and he and his family were sent to Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, to command an F-100 squadron. 

"We were the last squadron in Europe to fly F-100's, he said. "As F-4D Phantoms came out of Vietnam, we replaced F-100's in the squadron. For a while, we flew both aircraft types side-by-side in the same squadron, which created an interesting maintenance and training challenge." 

Following this experience, Colonel Cawley was sent to Utapao, Thailand, for a year as the deputy commander for the Joint Casualty Resolution Center. This agency was responsible for the repatriation of servicemembers remains and tracking the status of prisoners-of-war still held inside North Vietnam and Laos. 

Colonel Cawley bore witness to the fall of Phnom Penh, Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge, and the fall of Saigon to the North Vietnamese a month later.  "During these events, Utapao Air Base built and operated a refugee camp for both the Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees", he said. 

After his tour in Thailand was complete in 1976, Colonel Cawley was looking for a bit of stability in his family's life. He became the chief of data automation at the Air Force Logistics Command at Warner Robbins AFB, Ga. It was one of those right-place right-time assignments, he said. 

During this time, computer systems were gaining popularity and Colonel Cawley witnessed the transition from computers to desktops. "We learned a lot about the tricks it took to keep a computer system running in the heat of a Georgia summer", according to the colonel. 

This 'right place' remained home for Colonel Cawley and his family until he retired September 30, 1980, with 28 years of service. 

Nine years later, now-retired Colonel Cawley became the F-16 simulator facility manager at Moody. At that moment, his knowledge of complex computer systems and his extensive flying and training experience merged and he has been working here as a simulator instructor ever since. 

Colonel Cawley calls his time here "an impressive body of work" and said he's proud he has been able to train so many pilots here. 

But if you ask him what he is most proud of, he will tell you that back in 1954 he met a girl named JoAnne Lauber. The same year he pinned on his pilots wings, he also slipped a ring on her finger. 

After countless moves around the world, five children, eight grandchildren and 53 years later, they are still married. He feels very grateful his family put up with so much.
"We packed up and moved all over the world," he said. "Every time they settled in, I moved them again. I'm very proud of my family for all we have gone through together."
He's not done moving around the country though. 

"I'm going to be traveling to my children and grandchildren now so I can spend more time with them," he said. "I've been waiting for this moment for a while."