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Interview with Gregory Mooneyham [8/11/2004]

Steve Estes:

My name is Steve Estes. It is August 11,2004, and I'm in San Francisco, CA. I'm interviewing...

Gregory Mooneyham:

Gregory Scott Mooneyham, and I'm in Atlanta, Georgia.

Steve Estes:

OK, Greg, when and where were you born?

Gregory Mooneyham:

I was born in Jacksonville, Florida on June 26,1965.

Steve Estes:

What'd your parents do when you were bom or when you were growing up?

Gregory Mooneyham:

My father, he did several things, but he was an insurance agent for Allstate Insurance Company. He retired with them and for as long as I can remember, that's what he did. My mother was a nurse, but she quit nursing in order to raise me and my brothers, and basically she was a housewife.

Steve Estes:

Did you grow up in Jacksonville?

Gregory Mooneyham:

No I did not actually. I grew up in Spartanburg, SC.

Steve Estes:

Oh yeah, I grew up in Charleston. What was life like growing up in Spartanburg in the '70s?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Yeah, late '60s and into the '70s. It was very rural. We lived out in the country most of the time. We were, I guess, lower middle class initially and then upper middle class later as my dad became more successful. But it was fine; it was great.

Steve Estes:

Did you play a lot of sports in high school?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Yeah, my whole family-me and my brothers-were all involved with football, some baseball. My dad played football in college, so we were all very involved with sports and stuff like that.

Steve Estes:

Why'd you decide to go to the Air Force Academy?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Interestingly, I had took my first flight on an airplane when I was in the eighth grade., and we'd flown up to Washington, DC. I got hooked on flying at that point. I wanted to fly, and I made the decision probably about the ninth grade that I wanted to fly the best airplanes in the world-that was the United States Air Force. So I decided that I wanted to go to the Air Force Academy, and basically focused on doing that through high school.

Steve Estes:

Now, I know that the Air Force Academy, or all of the Academies actually are pretty rigorous. Were your grades pretty good in high school?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Yeah, I was pretty much a straight-A student. I think I ended up with a 3.96 GPA out of high school. So yeah, I was pretty much a straight-A student. I was doing all of the things that the service academies tell you you need to do to get in. I took leadership positions, like I was president of the student body my senior year, played sports, had good grades, focused on the SATs and that kind of stuff.

Steve Estes:

You have to be nominated for one of the academies; is that correct?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Correct. Yeah, I had actually interviewed with Strom Thurmond's office and also Carroll Campbell, who was a congressman at the time and later became governor of South Carolina. Strom Thurmond's office actually wrote me an endorsement letter, which I still have a copy of, and Carroll Campbell was the nomination that they officially used to let me go to the Academy.

Steve Estes:

OK, that's too bad. It would have been nice if it was Strom. I mean the irony of that. How did your family and friends feel about your going to the Academy?

Gregory Mooneyham:

They were all very proud of me, very happy. A typical Mom, she wasn't very happy that I was going all the way to Colorado to go to school. But everybody was very excited and of course my parents were very excited about the fact that they weren't going to have to pay anything for me to go to school.

Steve Estes:

Of course. Had you had relatives that had served in the military?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Not really. My dad really didn't. My dad served in the National Guard briefly. I had a couple of uncles who served in World War II, but no real military tradition to speak of.

Steve Estes:

Do you think that being from the South might have had an effect on why you decided to go into the military as well as loving to fly?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Typically in the South, everybody is very patriotic, and of course, I was very patriotic. That maybe had a little bit to do with it, but I think that really my motivation was that I wanted to fly. I wanted to fly jets. The aspect of going to a great university and getting an outstanding education and not having to worry about the cost of it. That was all part of it, I guess.

Steve Estes:

Take me through-does the Air Force Academy have a plebe summer? (Oh yeah.) Can you take me through that?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Sure. I believe it's six or eight weeks. It was interesting because normally, they show up the last week in June to start out with-they just call it Basic Training. There were Olympic trials or something going on at the Academy that they had to delay. It was something that they were doing with the Olympic training center, but anyway, we had to 3 wait. Until after the July 4th holiday to show up, so we actually got to show up a little bit later than normal. It was July the 6th or 7th was the day. Of course, you get off the bus and it's just like the scenes you see at Parris Island when the Marines get off the bus. People are yelling at you and get you to stand at attention and march and do all of those particular things. And that's what it is. It's Basic Training. They teach you to march and hold a rifle and follow orders and do all those things. One of the interesting things that always sticks out in my mind was that there is a real serious dehydration problem when you go to Colorado, because it's a high altitude and it's very dry. I remember every hour them forcing you to drink eight ounces of water and me thinking that this was like torture. But they did it for your own good.

Steve Estes:

[He laughs.] But that's what you remember as the torture. Not the yelling.

Gregory Mooneyham:

Yeah, I could stand there at attention, no problem. God, they'd pour you this huge glass of water and give you three seconds to down it. I mean constantly, and with your legs crossed because you had to pee so bad. But that and then there's lots of things that you have to study and memorize. There are classes. Another thing that sticks out in my mind is the honor and ethics classes that they put you through. Because there's an honor code and they take that very seriously and make sure that you understand that and the reason for it. It is a little bit over two weeks, and the reason that I remember that is that there are two sections. You go through a little over three-week section. It's more about wearing the blue uniform, learning to march, academics and Air Force traditions. And then the last half, they actually switch out the cadre that's training you and it becomes much more like army training. Now, you're putting on the fatigues, running the obstacle course, all the different training courses. You're out in the woods, living in a tent. Those sorts of things. At the end of that, and of course, it's very physical. It's up every morning doing PT. But at the end of that, you are "accepted" into the cadet wing. And the academics really roll into the first year at that point.

Steve Estes:

Right. How did you do your first year at the Academy?

Gregory Mooneyham:

I think I did very well. Academically, I think I had a 3.6 or 3.6 GPA, which is pretty good. Militarily, I was always ranked pretty highly. I was one of those who was not a rebel. There were some who were, but I was going to do it by the book and work as hard as I could to do it the right way, which did well for me. Your days are so filled with everything that you just focus on what you have to do. And you're still being trained. You're still a plebe, a freshman. We call 'em dooleys. And you're still getting yelled at. You're still up against the wall, and performing all of those little menial duties that are not a lot of fun.

Steve Estes:

Before I forget this, because I sometimes do, were you part of the cadre that instructed the plebes? (Oh, yeah.) Can you talk about how that felt when you were on the other side of the yelling and the instructing?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Yeah, well the interesting part about how that feels is that when you first start to do it, a little light comes on that's like, "Why was I so scared when I was a freshman?" [He 4 laughs.] Because when you first start doing it, you are worrying about "Are you doing it right?" "Am I doing this properly?" And you're nervous about what you're doing. And then you realize that if the freshmen knew how nervous you were, it wouldn't be nearly so bad. That's what I'm trying to say. But you roll into it. You get used to it after a while, and one of the things that I wanted to try to do was that I saw a lot of the hazing-hazing is not a good word-the training as useless, as wasted time. Because a lot of guys had chips on their shoulder and they just wanted to go yell at somebody. What I always tried to do was make sure that they were getting something out of whatever training they were getting. And I took that very seriously and wanted to make sure that it was done in a manner that meant something to the freshman.

Steve Estes:

Give me an example of something that you felt was relevant and maybe an example of something that you didn't feel was relevant.

Gregory Mooneyham:

Well, I'll give you an example. We had this guy, and I don't know what his problem was one day, but I was just walking down the hall, and he stopped me and started asking me questions. I messed something up, and I don't even remember what it was. He said, "Come with me." And there was a corridor with stairs where nobody could see us, and he took me out there and he just yelled at me and spit on me and had me doing push-ups and I could tell that he was really angry about something. I don't know what his problem was, and I wasn't really scared or worried. I just remember thinking, "Why is this guy taking up so much of my time when I've got things to do?" And we're not accomplishing anything; he's just getting out his frustrations about something. And not only that, he took me to an area where nobody could see what he was doing, because he knew he was wrong. So when I became an upperclassman, leaping ahead a little bit, when I was a squadron commander my senior year, I took all of my sophomores-sophomores primarily are doing most of the training-I took all of my sophomores aside and I made it very clear to them how I wanted things done. I said, "If you're asking a freshman a question, I want it to be a relevant question, something that means something. And I don't want you ever to take them out somewhere where it can't be monitored. And when it's done, I want them to feel like they've accomplished something and you haven't wasted their time." I guess it's a little bit hard to give a little better example than that without going into some detail about what the questions were and how they were done and all that.

Steve Estes:

No, that's OK. I think I get the gist of what you're saying. So I don't know how it works at the Air Force Academy because you're the first person [from there] that I've interviewed. During the summers, do you actually go and work for squadrons or what are you doing in the summers?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Yeah, in the summer, it's typically divided into three periods. One period will be vacation, and you typically get three weeks of vacation. The other two periods, you are doing something related to the Air Force. Depending on which year you're in there are different problems that are involved. I'll give you an example. Some people go through jump training, where they spend their three weeks, and it really only takes two and a half or so, where they do their five jumps and they get their jump wings. That's done there at 5 the Air Force Academy. There's a soaring program where you go out and fly gliders for that time period. There's programs where you travel out to Air Force bases around the world actually. Where you will go spend three weeks, for instance, I spent three weeks at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, Texas. Don't ask me how I deserved that. [He laughs.] But I must have made somebody mad. Guys would go to Germany and Japan all over the world, and they would have a program set up where they would just really go out and see the real Air Force just to get an idea what it was really all about. You do that actually twice after your freshman and after your sophomore years I believe you get to do that. But then there's a whole number of programs, and then juniors and seniors have to train the new class coming in, and I actually did that twice. I enjoyed that program, bringing the freshman and working with them. It's probably one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. You take kids right off the bus and three weeks later, they are walking, talking military machines, by the time you are done with them. So that, I enjoyed.

Steve Estes:

That's kind-of your first-you can correct me if I'm wrong-but that's your first shot at command? (Yeah) So you enjoyed the command aspect of it.

Gregory Mooneyham:

Oh yeah, absolutely.

Steve Estes:

So let me see. When you are at the Air Force Academy, do you start specializing and figuring out what you want to do or is it more like the Air Force is going to tell you what it wants you to do?

Gregory Mooneyham:

You have some direction as to what you want to do. What it's going to boil down to is how well you do. Back then, and I think it's changed some, but if you were medically qualified, you were guaranteed a slot in pilot training. Of course, not everybody wants to do that. They encourage you to do that, but it's certainly not required. People go into engineering or intelligence. I actually had a slot at intel school, applied for it and got it, had I wanted to do that. Had pilot training, for whatever reason (not worked out) like I found out I was not medically qualified, I could have gone to intelligence school. People apply for slots and for the most part you can get what you wanted.

Steve Estes:

So you applied for fighter pilot slot?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Well, pilot training. You're not going to determine exactly what you're going to get to fly until a good ways through pilot training.

Steve Estes:

And that follows pilot training? (Yes) Can you tell me about what it was like on graduation day?

Gregory Mooneyham:

[He laughs.] Greatest day of my life! If you've gone through that mess for four years-as we used to say, the best thing in the world is the Air Force Academy ... in your rearview mirror. Graduation week out there, the whole thing is a lot of fun. You actually spend about a week's worth of activities with family and friends and whoever comes out for your graduation between different dinners and activities. And of course, it culminates in the last day of the actual graduation. You march in and they have a speaker. It's 6 usually someone pretty significant. When I was there Reagan spoke one year and George Bush spoke one year, and of course, my year we got the Secretary of the Air Force, Vern Orr. I hope he's not still alive. You have graduation and you're done, and you've got this tremendous sense that it's over and you've done it, and you've got this leave time coming up.

Steve Estes:

What'd you do on that leave time?

Gregory Mooneyham:

I went home, sat around, and ate. I really didn't accomplish anything.

Steve Estes:

Well that's what leave is supposed to be about, I think.

Gregory Mooneyham:

My start time for pilot training was really about sixty days after graduation. I think that they pretty much just let me go for that sixty days. Next thing you do is show up in Mississippi on a certain day.

Steve Estes:

What was pilot training like?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Pilot training was tough. I thought the Air Force Academy was tough. Pilot training turned out to be a little tougher for me. It was a couple of things. One, I had a really difficult time with air sickness. Everybody does. When you start out flying in jets everybody gets sick once or twice. And most people acclimate, but it took me a little bit longer than that. And it worried me, because I had been pointing at this since the ninth grade, and now, all of a sudden, I'm in a situation that I might not make it through a situation that I can't control. No matter how hard I work, I might not make it. That was very, very difficult for me to deal with. It was the first time that I had ever had to think in those terms. But as it turned out. I got to within one time-if I got sick one more time, I'd be thrown out of pilot training, essentially. I told my commander, "Well, you'll drag me out of here and I'll be leaving scratch marks on the wall." But just about when I was getting right down near the end, I got better and I didn't really have any problems after that. So that was difficult. But once I got through that, it got a lot easier. When it gets to the point where you can throw up in a bag, put it away, and continue to fly, then all of a sudden you don't have to worry about the throwing up part. It becomes amazingly easier. And I did pretty well in pilot training. Had I not gone through that situation where I was getting sick, I might have done even better. But to follow that through, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, exactly what I wanted to fly in, and the A-l 0 really was my first choice. Me and this other guy in my class had decided that we both wanted A-10s and what are the chances of us getting two A-10s in our draw [drop?], in the airplanes that we're going to be assigned from our class. We both put it down as our first choice, and as it turns out we got two, and since we both put it down as our first choice, we both ended up getting an A-10, which was good.

Steve Estes:

What about the A-10 made you excited and made that your first choice?

Gregory Mooneyham:

A big part of it was the A-10 was the last real stick and rudder airplane, where you're down low and you're really flying the airplane, and the primary focus is to really 7 fly the airplane and to do work rather than manage computer systems I guess, which kind-of turned me off with the F-15 and F-16. To me, the fun part was the flying and the managing of weapons systems, and the A-lOs got more weapons systems than just about anybody. Analyzing it in those terms, that's why it appealed to me. And also doing close support for the army appealed to me, because I knew that's where the action was going to be. That's where the action was, because as a country, we have forced air supremacy on the rest of the world. In Desert Storm, after day two, the F-15 didn't have anything to do. And the F-16s got into a kind-of ground attack role, and that's not what they were designed for, but they didn't really have anything else to do either.

Steve Estes:

Right, because the only air force that really rivaled ours was the Soviets, I guess.

Gregory Mooneyham:

Exactly, and you think that maybe if we had fought the Soviets, they'd have had some stuff to do, but other than that.... Really it's not even called air superiority; it's really air supremacy. That is the military term. Once you establish air supremacy, that means essentially that you are the only guys out there. That's what has happened time and time again.

Steve Estes:

So what was your first assignment after you finished pilot training.

Gregory Mooneyham:

Well, to be specific, once you leave pilot training, everybody who's going to fly an attack aircraft: A-10, F-15, F-16, etc., goes to LIFT (Lead In Fighter Training) which is the same program. You go out to Alamogordo, New Mexico, and you fly what's called the AT-38. Essentially, it's to teach you basic fighter maneuvering and then after that two-month program, you go on to the airplane which you are specifically going to fly. So I went from there to Tucson, Arizona to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base for training in the A-10. That was about a three-and-a-half month program to learn how to fly the A-10. From there, my next real assignment was to go from there to [Barksdale?] Air Force Base in Louisiana, where I was assigned to the 23rd-at that time it was called the 23rd Tac Fighter Wing. They changed the nomenclature a little bit and it became the 23rd Fighter Wing. They took tactical out of the name. I'm not sure why. I was assigned there for three years.

Steve Estes:

OK, and when did you get to [Barksdale?] Air Force Base? What year are we talking about here?

Gregory Mooneyham:

That would have been '89.

Steve Estes:

So it's a couple of years before Desert Storm starts. But you went over to the Middle East for the first time in 1990, right?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Correct, December of '90?

Steve Estes:

What were your first impressions of the Middle East. 8

Gregory Mooneyham:

It was hot, dry, sandy. We landed in Dhahran Airport [Saudi Arabia]. Got picked up by a couple of guys that were already there. I remember getting off of the plane, and I remember it being very windy and very hot, almost like a convection oven, I guess. Immediately being very parched and dry. It was funny, I was just looking at my diary, and we got into a car and we started driving out to King Faud, which was an airport that was under construction northwest of Dhahran by 20 or 30 miles probably. But on the way out, I was just looking at this, we passed a Kentucky Fried Chicken, a Hardees, and a Baskin Robbins, which really surprised me. I didn't expect to see that. But at that time, we didn't really have any interaction with the locals or anybody: Everybody I was seeing was essentially US military. I think we actually stopped at the Baskin Robbins to get some ice cream, and other than that we went straight to the base.

Steve Estes:

That was your baptism of fire, the Baskin Robbins ice cream experience.

Gregory Mooneyham:

Exactly.

Steve Estes:

OK, so what was life like on the base?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Pretty normal. To give you an idea of what we were doing-because the base was under construction, they had lots of double-wide trailers where all of the third world nationals doing the labor were staying. They all got kicked out, so we moved into their double-wide trailers. There were four of us in a room that was about the size of a good-sized bathroom. We had two bunk beds on either side of a room with a space in the middle with some shelves that the guys had already built by the time I got there to put your stuff on. And that was really it. But we got there and moved into those. I got there in December, whereas some of the guys had been there for three or four months by then. And they had already built some amenities. Like we had a wood deck and a couple of grills that they had made. They had set up like a media room to watch movies and tapes from home and that kind of stuff. But we were there. There was a special ops unit, the AC-130s, they were right next to us. The 101st Airborne Army division was on the outskirts of our base, so we would see those guys quite a bit, and of course, they started moving west well before the ground war started. What else was going on? Oh, here's another interesting thing. We had a gate, and when I first got there, you could go outside the gate and wander around. We'd walk out into the desert and there's be wild camels out there, and by wild, I mean they'd just be wandering around. They were friendly. You could walk up to 'em. We'd go out and feed them Twinkies and stuff.

Steve Estes:

Did they like the Twinkies? [He laughs.]

Gregory Mooneyham:

Oh, they loved 'em. They were like big cows. They'd come up and just rub up against you, and want you to pet 'em and stuff. The other interesting thing that I recall was that there was a guy, a really smart, Saudi entrepreneur, who set up this grill right outside the gate, and you would smell him cooking hamburgers or camelburgers or whatever he was cooking all the time. It smelled so good. Guys-especially 101st Airborne guys-you would just see them lined up all the time to buy stuff from this guy. It always scared me. I was like, there ain't no telling what he's cookin'. But he was 9 smart, because whatever he was doing the smell would just waft over the base, and guys would just line up. After a while, as it got closer to the ground war, we were restricted and you really couldn't go out anymore, because they were concerned about terrorist attacks and that kind-of stuff.

Steve Estes:

How much did you know about the ground war coming? How aware of it were you on the base?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Very little, until about three days prior. It was kept very, very secret, I mean, you would get an idea. We were going out on training missions every day, and you would fly over ground troops. It was very obvious that there was this humongous build up on the ground close to the border. And then it became very obvious that you were starting to see troops move west just a few days before the ground war started, so you were kind-of getting an idea that things were starting to happen, but nothing at all official until about three days prior, when they pretty much divulged the plan to us, I guess. What they said was, "This will be happening any day, and here's what the Army is going to do so expect to be ready."

Steve Estes:

Now, Iraq had already invaded Kuwait, right?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Oh yeah, Desert Shield didn't even kick off until after they invaded Kuwait. It was interesting to back up on the time-line a bit. My squadron was actually deployed to Germany when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. We had people in Germany and part of the squadron back in Louisiana. I remember calling my mom in Germany just to say hello, and she was in tears, because she figure that we were half way there and we were on our way to Kuwait or Saudi Arabia. Actually, what happened was, we couldn't, because our squadron was spread out all over the world. We were recalled back to Louisiana, and they sent the other two squadrons was what happened. And I sat around for two or three months waiting for a chance to go, before I finally got to go to fill out the 76th.

Steve Estes:

So you were excited about going.

Gregory Mooneyham:

Yeah, which was actually another interesting story. They asked for volunteers in December, well probably the end of November was when they actually asked for the volunteers.

Steve Estes:

This was 1990?

Gregory Mooneyham:

1990. My best friend and I immediately signed up, because we were excited to go, and after the sign-up period was over, we only had eleven names of volunteers. They were looking for three people, and only eleven out of my squadron of forty-something people volunteered, which I found to be very disappointing. You know, Christmas was coming, lots of people had families and they didn't want to leave. But still, I mean that's what we're there for. So as it turned out, when the list came out, my name was number one on the list to go, and my best friend was number two. 10

Steve Estes:

Is this the same guy that had tried to get the A-10?

Gregory Mooneyham:

No, this was a different guy. It turns out that we remained very good friends and it turns out that we were in the same squadron. So we were all there together. He came over as a later deployment, as I recall. What happened was that there were three of us picked, and then they later ended up adding another guy, and then probably three weeks into the war, we had another group from my squadron come out because we needed a few more guys, and I believe that he came out in that group. I know that he did, now that I think about it. That's how we got there.

Steve Estes:

Let me see. Just for the record, how many missions did you fly during the war?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Forty-four combat missions. To be exactly correct about that, I was reading my diary, and I only counted up myself, because I kept a log of what I did, I come up with like forty. But the official record that DoD has is 44, so maybe I left out a couple here and there. I'm not sure.

Steve Estes:

Can you take me through the "average" mission-and I'm sure there is no real average-but just from start to finish, before you even get into the plane, what happens exactly?

Gregory Mooneyham:

OK. Well, let me set that up a little bit. Typically, if you were going to fly a combat mission that day, you would fly at least two and maybe three, and typically then, you would have the next day off, because after each combat mission-you do not get out of the airplane either. The idea is that you fly up and do your combat mission, come back and land at the forward operating location, which was King Khalid Military City, which was what we used and it was just across the border. Refuel, rearm. You don't even get out. A crew chief would throw you up something to eat or drink, and take off and do it again. You'd come back to KKMC and do that all again, go back up, do a combat mission, come back to land at King Fahd to end your day. That's a 10-12 hour day. Then you'd have the next day off typically, because you'd just be wiped. So that's kind-of how it went. But to start you at the beginning, if you knew you were going to fly, you'd typically show up-I flew in a day squadron, which meant that you flew day missions. There were six A-10 squadrons there, and four flew day missions and two flew night missions. So I was in a day squadron. You'd typically show up before the sun came up, and the first thing that you'd do was go in and get an intelligence briefing from your intel officer, who would basically update you on the situation that day. This would be where the Iraqis are, where we are, where the air war's going, what's going on, everything you missed while you were asleep essentially. And the real part that you were interested in were the threats-who's shooting what and where are they, what you have to look out for. Then you would go in and update your maps to make sure you had all of the information in hand. Then you'd go find out specifically what you'd be doing that day, where your target area would be or what your assignment was going to be. Then you'd go into a briefing where you'd brief your wingman. I was a two-ship flight leader at the 11 time, which means if it was a two-ship, I would lead. If it was a four-ship, I might be number three. So whoever was leading the mission would then brief the mission of how we were going to go out and go at it. Then you'd get all of your stuff and you'd get what's called life support, where you'd suit up, put on your G-suit, your survival gear. You had a gun that would be issued to you, and you'd put it in your survival vest. You would get all the-at that time, there would be secret things that you'd carry with you. There were some signaling devices that you would take in case you were shot down that you would be able to signal friendly forces with. There were what we called blood chit. It was basically a piece of paper with a number on it and it had an American flag on it. It had writing on it in four languages, like Farsi, Arabic, English, and something else, I forget, probably French or something. And what it would say is: "I'm an American fighter pilot. I've been shot down. If you help me, you will be rewarded by the American government" monetarily, essentially. And you would keep that with you, and if you got shot down and somebody helped you, you'd clip off a corner, which had a number on it, and you'd give it to 'em. You tell them, "After the war, you present this to the American government, and you will be rewarded." So you kept that with you. You'd usually keep some cash with you, as much as you felt like you could carry, because in that part of the world, cash is king. Then you'd take off your patches, except for your name. Essentially, you'd get yourself ready to go. You head out the door, meet with your crew chief and go over your airplane to make sure that it's configured properly. That's a little more difficult now, because now, you're loaded with all live weapons, so you've got to check those out and make sure they're all configured properly. Then you'd get in the airplane, crank up, meet up with the rest of your flight, go out to the end of the runway, where then you have an arming crew that basically goes over your airplane and arms it up. It was also called "Last Chance," which means it was the last chance for somebody to look over everything on the airplane and make sure that it's ready to go. After they get you armed up and ready to go, you take the runway and take off. It was about a thirty-minute flight to get into Kuwait or Iraq, depending on where your particular target was that day. We would typically be over target area for a good forty-five minutes, maybe an hour sometimes, depending on how much fuel you had. If you were going to go right back to KKMC, which was just across the border, you didn't have to go far, so you could stay over the target area for an extended period of time. I don't know how much you want to get into how the combat worked, but you'd basically work the target area for forty-five minutes to an hour, and then you'd head over to the forward operating location and land. Immediately, you'd have a guy come up to your airplane and debrief you, an intelligence person, who'd ask you a certain amount of questions like: "What threats did you see? What targets did you hit? What was your BDA-Battle Damage Assessment? What did you kill? What did you not kill?" Those sorts of questions. And he would take that report while they were de-arming your airplane, essentially, assuming you still had any live ordinance left. Then you would taxi out of there, go over and refuel, while you were still in the airplane, and go from there to what was called a flow-through. You'd pull in between two revetments and they would re-arm your airplane for whatever your next mission was-more bombs, more bullets, more chaff and flare, an air-to-air missile if you had expended one, which we really didn't do, because we never had any air-to-air threats. But whatever you needed to 12 completely re-arm the airplane. And then as soon as your flight was done, you'd taxi out, take off, and do it all over again.

Steve Estes:

Now, that was very good and succinct, but I do want to hear a little bit about what the strategy and tactics were, and this probably varied from mission to mission, but....

Gregory Mooneyham:

It did a little bit, but there is a good general way to talk about that, and that is again to preface that a little bit, in the A-10, we had always trained to fight the Soviets. There were two types of scenarios that we determined were going to be there. It was a high threat and a low threat. High threat was the Soviets. In other words, they would have radar guided missiles. They'd have other airplanes out there. They'd basically have an integrated air defense system. It's called an IAD, and that's what we trained to fly against, which meant we were going to go in, low altitude (100 feet, 300 feet), sneaking in under the radar, attack targets, sneak in sneak out. And initially, because the Iraqi air defense system was a Soviet designed IAD, we thought that would be kind of the same situation. Unfortunately, in that part of the world, it's just flat desert and there's nothing to sneak in around. (He laughs.) You could be at 100 feet and they could still see you coming in 100 miles away. And on top of that, we knew that with our jamming systems and by establishing air supremacy within a couple of days and attacking their anti-aircraft systems, we'd probably take the radar threat down immediately. We knew there wouldn't be any air-to-air threats. Well by definition when you take away the air-to-air threats and you take away the radar threat, it becomes a low threat situation or scenario. After about a week of training, they said, this is stupid. We need to be considering this a low threat, so we need to go in high altitude. So that's the way we conducted the war. We would actually go in at 15-18,000 feet, which was very unusual for most A-10 guys. And luckily, we actually had some spin-up time prior to that to actually practice those tactics, because they're very different. So we'd fly in at 15-18,000 feet, fly in over the top of whatever our target area was, and then you start searching for targets, and you could see from that altitude, and a lot of us would carry binoculars to help you. But luckily, Saddam laid his military out in these nice normal military formations right out of the textbook. So if you saw a smiley face with a dot in the middle, you knew that was an artillery site, because all of the dots on the smiley face are artillery pieces and the dot in the middle is the radar. And you knew that a triangle was anti-aircraft weapons. That's the way they're set up. A long straight line is probably tanks or armored personnel carriers, and they were just dug into these revetments out in the desert. And of course, we had good intel. We had satellite pictures that showed us all of this beforehand. So you knew going in that if today, my target's going to be artillery pieces in this particular division, you look for the smiley faces, and that's kind-of how you would start your attack. And typically, the first thing that we would do-in the A-10, to get specific, we'd typically carry either four or six free-fall weapons, like just a dumb 500 lb. bomb or an anti-tank type cluster munition or just typical cluster bombs from the 1950s. We had weapons on the airplanes that had 1955 stamped on the side of them.

Steve Estes:

[Laughs.] That's reassuring. 13

Gregory Mooneyham:

They were typically cluster weapons that were that old. Those were very, very heavy and it's difficult to maneuver with those so typically, on the first pass, you'd identify an artillery site. In the first few days of the war, that's what they wanted us to focus on, was artillery, because that's what the army was scared of, Iraqi artillery. You'd find a site, and you'd just drop your six bombs right across that site in one pass. And then now, all of a sudden, the airplane is much lighter, much more maneuverable. And now you've got two Maverick missiles, which is precision guided air-to-ground missiles on the airplane. And of course, you had the gun; the gun was our primary weapon. The gun on the A-10 is a 30-millimeter cannon that will rip the top off a tank. We'd carry 1100 rounds and that's twenty bursts out of that cannon, so you could do some serious damage.

Steve Estes:

Aha. And in that, you must be relatively close to the ground. You're not at 15,000 feet any more, are you?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Correct. What we'd typically do is that we had parameters for dropping our bombs where the release point would be 7-8000 feet, which is still pretty high up. But when you're dropping six of'em, it's hard to miss-when you drop 'em right in a row. So what you do is these hiyakas straight down-we used to call 'em SFDs-straight freakin' down deliveries. [He laughs.]

Steve Estes:

Oh it's "freakin"' down is it?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Yeah, exactly. I thought this might be a family recording. And interestingly, if you get into bombing theory, you find out that the steeper you are, the more accurate you are. Think about it. If you're going straight down, the bombs are going to land directly beneath you, where if you're at a 45 degree angle, you're lofting them out there a ways, which makes them more inaccurate. So we'd just get real steep and drive straight down and ripple the bombs right across the target. At 7 or 8000 feet, we were pretty accurate. The bad thing is that at 7-8000 feet your in prime threat from their triple-A, their antiaircraft artillery, their hand-held, the flack that's coming up. The flack, you'd typically see upwards to 10-12,000 feet. If you were above 12, you were pretty safe. At least, that's the way we felt about it. So for that 30-40 seconds, you're right in their prime threat area. So you had to get in and get out quickly.

Steve Estes:

Were there close calls for you from that?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Yeah, there certainly were. I mean they shot at you on every mission. You would always expect to be shot at. Luckily, they weren't very good shots and as long as you continued to maneuver your airplane. Remember, once a bullet comes out of a gun, it's going to go in a straight trajectory, and if you're doing 3 or 400 miles an hour and they're not leading you properly, they're never going to hit you. And if you don't fly in a straight line where they can lead you properly, they're never going to hit you, unless they just get lucky. So you just had to continue to maneuver the airplane. Every 2-3 seconds you needed to be changing something-altitude, heading, something-to make it very difficult for them to hit you. But yeah, they shot at you all the time. They would shoot a lot of missiles in the air, but after about day-2, they were scared to turn their radar on. So 14 you'd see these missiles just go ballistic. If we were up at 15-18,000 feet, they would come up to that altitude and explode because they were just setting an altitude with a timer on the missile. There was no guidance; they'd just shoot it in your general area and have it explode around your altitude, but typically, they were so far away that it wasn't a huge issue.

Steve Estes:

Now you were talking before we turned the tape on about a search and rescue mission that you did. Would you talk a little bit about that?

Gregory Mooneyham:

I was trained as a SANDY-2. SAND EES were, even going back to Vietnam, the search and rescue guys. They used to be in the A-l during Vietnam and then the A-10 took over the mission. I was still relatively young, so I had training as SANDY-2, but not yet as SANDY-1. SANDY-1 would lead the mission; SANDY-2 would be the wingman. We were sitting on what's called SAR alert (Search and Rescue Alert), and you would sit their at KKMC, which was that forward operating location, because that put you close to the border, where you could get across the border very quickly. My SANDY-1 was a guy named Joe Rikowski. You would have that assignment for a week, Monday through Friday, and then somebody would come and relieve you. We had sat their all the way through Friday. It was Friday afternoon, and what we were going to do was go out to our airplanes, crank up, take off, and just patrol the border for about twenty minutes until our time came, until the new SANDEES had landed, and then we were going to head home back to King Fahd. Well, it turned out that week, we had just started attacking the Hamurabi Republican Guard Unit, and we had already pretty much defeated the Talikarna [Sp?] Republican Guard, and the Hamurabi were serious. This was the first Republican Guard Unit that really fought back hard, and we had guys coming back through KKMC talking about how it was pretty hairy. But nothing had happened, so we're feeling pretty good about it. Well we got to the airplanes, had just cranked our APUs, when we got a call saying, "Go ahead and crank, but don't go anywhere." So we looked at each other like, "OK, wonder what's going on." Well, we got cranked and they basically told us that two A-lOs had been shot down. We were launched to go find them, essentially. You know what, I probably have their call signs somewhere. Is it Rueger or something? I'd have to look it up. Well, the first thing they told us was that one A-l 0 had been shot down and the other was missing. And then, as we got there, we found out that both were missing. So we assumed both had been shot down. They were just north of Kuwait. Basically, we had to fly up through Kuwait, and once we got on the north side of Kuwait is where we started our search and rescue. The way that works is that SANDY-1 sticks his nose deep in there, attempting to contact anyone who might be on the ground. And SANDY-2, which was my job, is above him, watching him, trying to protect him, and also coordinating all of the search and rescue forces. I was essentially coordinating with AWACs who would set up helicopters to come in and do pick-ups and other A-10s that would come in and be strikers if we needed to protect the helicopter. Of course, the first thing you have to do is find the guys on the ground. Well, this was getting late in the day, and we showed up over the target area and you could tell they were shooting. They had shot down a couple of airplanes and they wanted a couple more. So we were working hard just to keep ourselves safe. And Joes 15 was out there calling out their call sign, calling out, calling out, calling out, just to see if he could get anybody on the radio. Well we did that until it got dark, which was about an hour, and never got anybody on the radio. Funny thing was, after it got dark, you really started to see how much was getting shot at you. Because during the day, you miss a lot. [He laughs.] There is stuff, but you don't see it. At night, you see it all! And then it really got scary. But the point was, once it gets dark, you can't really do search and rescue anyway-at least, not the way we did it at the time. Plus, your lights are off on your airplane so you can't even see your wingman anymore. You don't even know where he is. Once it got dark, we were getting low on fuel anyway-very low, actually, much lower than we should have been. I was talking to Joe and we decided that we needed to get out and get gas, and there wasn't much else we could do. So we started heading out and we realized that we were really low on fuel. I had called the AWACs and said, "We need a tanker, or else we're not even going to get home." They coordinated with a KC-135 that actually called us up and said, "Meet us at a certain point on the map." I said, "OK." And I started looking at my map to see where this point was, and it turned out it was well-inside Iraq. I was like, "This KC-135 is going to meet us in Iraq," and I thought, "These guys are ballsy." They did, they met us inside Iraq.

Steve Estes:

Hold up one second. End of Side A

Steve Estes:

OK, they were meeting you inside Iraq.

Gregory Mooneyham:

Yeah, they said that they'd meet us inside Iraq, and when we formed up with them, I hadn't seen Joe, because I couldn't see him and we had lost contact with one another. But he got there just before I did and we formed up on the tanker and got enough fuel to make it back to King Fahd, where we landed and they took our tapes. We interviewed for the next couple of hours, giving them all of the information we could give them trying to help rescue these guys. Well, to make a long story short, what had happened was that this guy named Rob Sweet-who is still alive and still in the Air Force as far as I know-had been shot down. He was the wingman. And they think it was by an SA-13 that probably shot him down. But when he got shot down, his wingman, who was a guy named Steve Philis, who was a weapon's school graduate, a real fighter pilot's fighter pilot, a guy who really was very, very, very, very good, went down to try to help him to try to protect him. Because he saw him get out, and he knew that he was under parachute and alive-at least, that's what we think. When he went down to protect him, he got hit very shortly thereafter. He never got out of his airplane, and of course, we'll never know why. He was killed in the crash. It turns out Rob was picked up immediately within a few seconds of hitting the ground, and was in a truck on his way to Baghdad. He was probably halfway there by the time we got over the area. So essentially, we were out there for no good reason. I mean we were out there for all the right reasons, but there was nothing we could do. He was gone and Steve was dead. 16

Steve Estes:

Did you talk to Rob after...?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Yeah, actually, that's another funny story. I didn't talk to him there, even in Saudi Arabia. Once they were released, he came back to the States, I believe, relatively quickly. But I had gone to Pope [Air Force Base]. I was now in Baltimore and we had flown down to Pope Air Force Base for some reason, and I was at the officers' club that evening and I saw him. I walked up and I said, "Rob Sweet, how are you doing?" He goes, "Hey, I know you." And I go, "No you don't." He goes, "Yeah, haven't we met?" And I go, "no." He goes, "Well how do you know me?" And I said, '"Cause I was SANDY-2 on your search and rescue in Iraq." And he was like, "Oh my God!" So he was buying me drinks the rest of the night.

Steve Estes:

That's cool.

Gregory Mooneyham:

There's been a couple of A-10 shows and other shows even recently on the History Channel. I've seen Rob where they've interviewed him. He's a major or a Lieutenant Colonel now.

Steve Estes:

Was that the most memorable...?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Yeah, that was probably the most memorable thing that I did. There were a lot of great stories and things that happened, but that was probably the most significant. It was definitely the scariest. When we landed, when we got back on the ground at King Fahd, Joe walked up to me and he says, "I probably feel worse than you look right now." We were wiped. I mean they had been shooting at us and we were exhausted and kind of scared. And I looked at him and I said, "You know, as bad as I feel, there's a couple of guys on the ground that feel a whole lot worse right now." So it kind of kept everything in perspective.

Steve Estes:

This is kind of a weird question and if you can't answer it or don't want to, that's fine. But what was the funniest or strangest mission that you flew there?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Funniest or strangest? I've got to think about that for a minute. But now that I think about it, there was probably a more important mission that I flew.

Steve Estes:

Go ahead and talk about that one.

Gregory Mooneyham:

It was probably day-2 or day-3 of the war. We flew out west, and it was funny, because they were saying, "This is super, super secret. [He laughs.] We can't even tell you what you are going to do. Just get out there." And we landed at a base, way, way, out west, almost to Jordan. I'm like, "What in the world?" And when we got there, they said, "OK, here's what you're doing." It turns out that Saddam had built all of these Troposcatter radar stations along the border, and they were for looking into Saudi Arabia, looking into space, and these were multi-billion dollar, high-tech sites. As the army was going to move west, they would have been detected immediately by these guys, so these sites had to be destroyed. They loaded us up with G-Model Mavericks, and I hadn't even 17 heard of a G-Model Maverick. Up until that time, there was A, B, and D Models. Basically, the G-Model was just like the D, except that it had a humongous, 300 lb. warhead on it verses what was normally a 100 lb. warhead. So they loaded us up with these G-Model Mavericks, and said, "They work just like the other ones, except you get a bigger bang." We said, "Ok, cool." For this mission, we actually went in low altitude and there was four of us. We went in, loaded up, crossed the border at 300 feet, because we didn't want these radar sites to see us coming, and we figured they would be heavily protected. Well, it turns out that we show up at this place, and as far as we could tell, there was no protection at all. But it looked like a typical, NASA, domed radar site kind of place with multiple buildings. Like I said, probably billions of dollars had been spent on this stuff. We each had two specific buildings or radar sites that we were responsible for. And all four of us, we came in from two different directions and pumped in eight G-Model Mavericks and just left the place in flames. It was fun to do that at that kind of altitude, but it was also vitally important to the ground war to make sure that that place was destroyed. Now, I'm just trying to go back and think of funny or strange. We had one mission where there was a guy, and I don't know if it was funny or strange or what. But we were working a target, and he said, "Hey, I lost my right engine." I'm like, "Oh, Ok. Is it on fire? Did you get hit?" He said, "No, I don't think so. It just quit." So I said, "Ok, well, let's head back. We flew back across the border. He flew back single-engine. He landed single-engine at KKMC. We went back and looked at the engine and it had a little hole in the bottom of it about a couple inches around and a big hole coming out the top. [He laughs.] As it turned out, he had been hit and didn't even know it. It just killed the engine, but it didn't do anything other than that. That was kind of weird.

Steve Estes:

So when you came back from missions did that ever happen to you where you were like: "Ooh, that was a close call, and I didn't even realize it."

Gregory Mooneyham:

Not so much I didn't realize it. I knew I had some close calls. That search and rescue mission where it got to be night time and all of a sudden, you start to see everything shot at you. That was kind of an eye-opener and made you a little more wary of what kind of threat you were going into.

Steve Estes:

Well, when you finished your 40th or 44th-depending on who's counting-mission, how did you feel? Were you sent to Germany or back to the States? What was going on there?

Gregory Mooneyham:

The morning that they called the ceasefire, I was actually taxiing out for another mission. I remember they called us up and said, "Taxi back. War's over." That was the radio call we got. I remember a great feeling of relief at that point, going, "Wow, we did it. It's over." Taxied back, and obviously everybody was very excited and we thought that this could flare up at any minute. You never know what's going to happen. We were relatively cautious, but again, very excited. And then, basically, we sat around for a couple of weeks. We still had to fly protection missions, because we were the close air support guys. 18 You know, I just thought of a very funny story. And I'm going to tell you it in a second. But we were still doing close air support for the army, so we would fly over the top of the army and let them know that we were there if anything happened. We were ready to support them.

Steve Estes:

But there's not really a lot of enemy fire.

Gregory Mooneyham:

No, after that there was no enemy fire. We never got shot at again. But the army doesn't know. They could be attacked at any time, so we had to be there. I stayed until April some time and then came directly back to the States. We went through Spain actually and got a flight out to Dover, then from Dover back to Louisiana, as I recall. But the funniest-you'll like this story. It's a good story. It was I believe the third day of the ground war. We'd done some close air support on day-1 and 2, but it was kind of spotty, because the ground war was going so swimmingly, they just didn't need us very much. Well the third day was when the seventh corps, which was the huge armored push was really going on. Where you had the British Challengers and the Americans out of Germany were pushing up, and their job was going to be to destroy the Republican guard. I flew up and there were two A-10s supporting the British unit that was there, and they were on station, just kind of talking to the British forward air controller. And I said, "Hey, I'm here ready to relieve you guys." And he said, "Ok, thanks, here's your forward air controller. You can call him and work with him." We're kind of relatively low altitude at this point, probably about 6 or 7,000 feet, because it was an overcast day and we needed to be where we could see. I called this British forward air controller, and he goes, [British accent] "Well, really nothing is going on." I go, "OK." He goes, "Frankly, we still have our tanks on the lories." And I go, "Your tanks are on the lories? Does that mean that they're still on trucks?" He goes, "Yeah, yeah. They're still on the trucks." I go, "There's not like some huge armored battle going on today?" And he says, "No, no, they don't seem to want to fight today." [We laugh.] I go, "Ok, why don't you take them off the trucks?" He goes, "Well, it's quicker to leave them on the trucks." I went, "Alright, jolly good." So I chatted with this British guy literally for an hour and had nothing to do. I'm watching this huge push, all of these vehicles rolling across the desert just as hard as they can drive, and no resistance. We did that for probably more than an hour, because we were conserving fuel since there was nothing to do. Then we got relieved and went back to KKMC really to get refueled, because all we needed was gas. Then came back for the second time, same guy, still nothing to do for an hour. At that time, we still had rules that if you went north of a certain line, you could attack whatever was down there. Because once close air support starts and the army gets involved, the rules become very restrictive about what you can do. Because you've got to make sure that you're killing the enemy and not the good guys. At the end of that hour, I said, "Well, I want to go kill something today." So when the guys came to relieve me, I took my wingman and we flew north of whatever the line was and we hit some targets. Other than that, I would have accomplished nothing that day. But I just thought it was funny when that British guy said, "Oh, the tanks are still on the lorries." I'm like, "You've got to be kidding me." 19

Steve Estes:

I'm going to ask you a question and you might think it's disrespectful, so I hope you don't get mad. Did you feel any remorse for hitting targets?

Gregory Mooneyham:

I can't say that I did.

Steve Estes:

Yeah, can you talk about why? Because I think that's important.

Gregory Mooneyham:

Yeah, for one thing it's a lot easier for fighter pilots than for ground attack guys, because you really don't see guys getting blown up. You don't see the enemy, and you don't have that image in your mind. As a quick aside, I only actually saw guys on the ground one time and that was another kind of interesting story. I was out west scud hunting with a colonel. It was the wing commander.

Steve Estes:

Scud hunting? Is that what you said?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Yeah, scud hunting. They were launching scuds [missiles] from out in the desert and we were basically there to keep them from launching 'em. Because if they knew we were out there they weren't going to launch. They'd try to keep them hidden. So we were out there flying around with nothing to do, and they sent the colonel out there because they don't want him to get shot down, and they know it's pretty low risk. And they send somebody with him to keep him out of trouble. So we're out there looking around, with nothing to do. All of a sudden I see this truck and it's on the Amman-Baghdad Highway. It's just this long straight road that runs from Amman to Baghdad, and the rules of engagement were nobody goes on that road, and if they do, they're going to get killed. I called the colonel, and said, "Hey." We weren't really in a hurry, because there's a hundred miles of desert in front of him, so he's not going anywhere. I said, "You've got a mover on the highway." The colonel looks down and he says, "Yeah." So he arms up his gun and he says, "One's in." He takes a shot at the truck, and to his credit, he actually led the truck. You know, he didn't shoot directly at it; he led it. He led it just a little too much and shot right out in front of it. But when his bullets impacted the road, the truck just comes to a screeching halt. And he pulls off the target. When he pulls off and gets into a position where he can cover me, I rolled in. I said, "Two's in." And the truck was now sitting still and as I'm rolling in on it, I can see soldiers piling out of the back of it with weapons in their hands-AK-47s, that kind of stuff. And I basically destroyed the target with the gun. I killed the guys and the truck and everything around there. And that's the only time I actually saw guys on the ground. But the way I looked at it was-this was a country that invaded another country, one of our allies. Anybody that's left on the ground alive is somebody that's going to attempt to kill our army guys, American troops on the ground. So it was our job to soften up the enemy as much as we could. I never really felt any remorse about it at all.

Steve Estes:

Actually, let's switch horses and talk about sexuality and the military before we finish talking about your military service. Is that ok? (Yes.) How did, if at all, your sexuality affect your experience in the military? 20

Gregory Mooneyham:

Very little. I knew I was gay from the time I was twelve years old, by the time the first hormones start raging in your body. But I was so focused on what I wanted to do, it really wasn't an issue. There was only one incident that kind-of scared me when I was in the military and that was when I was in Louisiana there was another officer there who was caught and court-martialed and sent to jail. He was sentenced to two years in jail, but I don't know how long he actually spent in jail. But interestingly, just about three months prior to that-and it's kind of a long story-he had found out that I was gay. Then I was scared. Here's this guy caught and going to jail. What's he going to do to save his tail? The really scary part was that word got out that he knew other gay people there on the base. But he never gave up any names. That affected me a whole lot.

Steve Estes:

I'm sure it did.

Gregory Mooneyham:

It made me paranoid. But that was really it as far as my sexuality never really had any affect at all.

Steve Estes:

Was homosexuality talked about when you were at the Air Force Academy at all?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Very, very little. Almost never. Most people didn't care or even think about it as far as I knew.

Steve Estes:

So there wasn't a whole lot of homophobic slurs or anything like that?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Not really, no. There was one incident where I remember there was a guy taken away in the middle of the night by OSI. He disappeared, but what had happened is apparently he had made a pass at somebody or done something. I don't know what he did. But it came to light that he was probably gay. And the OSI came. One of his friends told me that he went to bed that night, and the next day he was gone. They woke him up, talked to him, and took him away. He never showed up again. Other than that, I don't remember hardly ever discussing it. Even though, and this may be something that you want to talk about later, I had never really been in gay culture at all until much later. As I got involved in that and for lack of a better word, developed a little bit of gay-dar, I look back on it and think, "Yeah, I knew a few guys who were probably gay." I just never knew it at the time.

Steve Estes:

A couple of the questions that I was going to ask about this like, "Were there other gay soldiers serving with you?" and "Did they face discrimination?" you kind of answered already.

Gregory Mooneyham:

Other than those incidences.. .1 do know that there was one other fighter pilot there in Louisiana, and I thought, "He's gay." I never asked him, but I knew he was gay. And it's funny, because I think everybody else kind of knew he was gay too, but nobody really cared. As long as he just didn't say anything, and this was before "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," I don't think anybody really cared. 21

Steve Estes:

Do you think that the military ban evolved or changed while you were in the Air Force?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Well, the obvious evolution was "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and even before "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" they were starting to get to the point where instead of throwing people in jail, which is what they did for a long time, they were just kicking people out. And it went from dishonorably discharging people to it got to the point where they were starting to honorably discharge people based on their service. In that sense, I think it's gotten a little better. Under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" it's pretty much always an honorable discharge, assuming you have good service. But in terms of how many people they're catching and kicking out, it didn't change anything at all. In fact, it's gone up recently, which I want to make this statement at some point, and I don't know if now's the time or not.

Steve Estes:

Go ahead.

Gregory Mooneyham:

The hypocritical situation of if you look at the military regulations, essentially, the regulations says that homosexuality is ... what's the words they use?

Steve Estes:

"Incompatible with military service."

Gregory Mooneyham:

"Incompatible with military service, detrimental to the good order of morale in military service." So when is the good order of morale most important? During a war, one would think. When is the one time they do stop-loss and force gay people to serve? During a war. So they're saying that it's detrimental to good order and morale and incompatible, but during a war, they say, no you're completely compatible and you're fine. It's just so unbelievably hypocritical and so week of an argument on the DoD's part; it just astounds me that they get away with it.

Steve Estes:

Were there debates or discussions of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" when it was being debated?

Gregory Mooneyham:

There was. At that point, I was in Baltimore attached to the Air National Guard unit. Typically, I found that among the pilots, nobody cared. Interestingly, in an Air National Guard unit, most of the pilots are airline pilots by trade. Airline pilots deal with flight attendants and most male flight attendants are gay. They deal with gay people all the time, and most of them could care less. In fact, there was one guy at the unit, an officer now that I think about it, who everybody assumed was gay. He was a pilot and nobody cared. Nobody really thought twice about it. He was also an airline pilot. But it was interesting. Among enlisted people, there was a very different attitude. They tended to be very much against gay people in the military for whatever reason. I used to argue with them. I was a straight guy defending gay rights as far as they were concerned. It's funny; nobody ever suspected that I was gay, as far as I knew. So yeah, there were discussions that were pretty heavy, and typically, it broke down along those lines. I found that typically, most officers could care less. Most enlisted people were against gays in the military. 22

Steve Estes:

If you could speculate, why you think that is.

Gregory Mooneyham:

I think there's two reasons. One is that most enlisted people have been in situations where they're more-they may be in a dorm, in communal showers, in much closer living quarters. In their own kind of paranoia and lack of education, they see that as a problem, whereas most officers live in a house with their wife and a family, and they're not exposed to that so much. So to them, it's not as big a deal. The second thing, I think is that a good part of homophobia is just plain old lack of education. If you look at the officer corps, they're all college graduates. They have to be. And if you look at the enlisted corps, they are typically high school graduates at best. Even though, in the Air Force that has changed a lot. You're getting a lot more college graduates in the enlisted corps, but typically, they've graduated from college after they've enlisted. So I think it's to a large extent lack of education. The number one way to overcome homophobia is to get to know someone who's gay and become educated on the thing. So I think that's a big part of it.

Steve Estes:

The opposition to "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" was a lot from the Joint Chiefs, and here are educated officers, perhaps some of the most educated officers in the Armed Forces. Do you have any idea why that, why they were so opposed to lifting the ban?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Well, that's a great question, and I have thought about that a bit. Again, I think it's a couple of things. One is they're from a different generation, much older. Typically, the people I was dealing with were much older, 40 and younger. Most of them were a lot younger, in their 20s and 30s, which is a whole different generation of people. When you get into the Joint Chiefs, they're in their 50s maybe 60s, so they're coming from a much different time period, number one. And number two, I think a part of it was they were looking at a lot of their core people who were against it and, I hate to say this, but the Joint Chiefs are really political and they want to come across having the right situation. I don't know if you know this or not, but there was a general on the Joint Chiefs who is now out, a four star general.

Steve Estes:

I didn't know that actually.

Gregory Mooneyham:

I don't remember his name. He was either in the Army or a Marine. Army, I believe, who was gay. If he was Army, he would have been the Chief of Staff of the Army at the time.

Steve Estes:

I'll look into it.

Gregory Mooneyham:

Those guys existed. It's also part of the whole Roy Cohn, kind of thing. Roy Cohn was vehemently anti-gay, and he was gay. Do you know who he was? (No.) He was a, oh god, I have to dig this up. What was his position in politics and government?

Steve Estes:

Oh, I think I do know who you are talking about. He was an assistant to Senator McCarthy? Or are we thinking of different people. 23

Gregory Mooneyham:

Maybe. He was a witch-hunt kind of guy. I think he died of AIDS actually.

Steve Estes:

Yeah, he did.

Gregory Mooneyham:

So you get some of that. You get guys who can't deal with their own-they're self-haters, I guess. I don't think that was the Joint Chiefs necessarily. They're just political in nature, conservative in nature and from a different generation.

Steve Estes:

Well, let's get you out of the military. In the questions, it says, "Getting out and coming out." But before we get you out totally. Did you have any problems assimilating back to the US after being in a war zone?

Gregory Mooneyham:

No, not at all. We landed back at Dover, had a great welcome, went back to Louisiana, had a great welcome. Actually, it was pretty cool. Everybody treated us like heroes for the longest time. I don't think I bought a drink at a bar for six months after the war. It was no issue at all for me.

Steve Estes:

That actually gets to my next question is how do people react when you tell them that you're a Gulf War veteran?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Most are impressed. You don't get the anti-war Vietnam kind of thing for sure. In fact, I've got a license plate that says: "Proudly served veteran of Desert Storm" from the state of Georgia and I put an HRC [Human Rights Campaign] sticker right next to it.

Steve Estes:

So there's no difference in the way people in the gay community respond and every day Georgians respond?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Not really.

Steve Estes:

That's good, because I asked another person from Desert Shield this question and he was surprised that I even asked. I guess I had interviewed a whole lot of Vietnam veterans and they had a very different reaction in the 1970s. When and how did you leave the service?

Gregory Mooneyham:

I was finishing up my tour in Baltimore. They were closing down wings, and there weren't flying spots for anybody. They told me I was going to Korea to be an ALO (Air Liaison Officer), basically a forward air controller assigned to an Army Unit a battalion, sitting on the ground there for an extended period of time, and no guarantee about afterwards. Used to be, when you took that assignment, you were guaranteed afterwards. But because of all of the changes going on, they said, "Don't expect a flying assignment." Which, before, you had your choice. Ok, you want F-16 to Hill? Guaranteed. Because this was such a crappy assignment essentially. I kept telling them, "You know, guys, I ain't got to stay in. My time is up. If you don't give me something better than that, I'm leaving." Plus, I had just decided that I really wanted to be a gay person, and I knew that I wasn't going to be able to do that when Clinton failed to lift the ban. So I was seriously 24 weighing that, and wanting to get out. My last six-eight months of my time in I was starting to go out and explore the gay culture, for lack of a better word. I was frankly shocked that gay culture was as extensive as it was in this country, because I just didn't know. They [the military] kept saying, "Sorry, you're going to Korea. You're going to Korea." And I said, "No, I'm getting out." So I got out in October of '94.1 moved right away to Florida, to Tampa and then down to Fort Lauderdale, working for a big corporation, Johnson Controls.

Steve Estes:

Do you work for yourself now?

Gregory Mooneyham:

I do.

Steve Estes:

What do you do now?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Well, I have done nothing for the last year and I'm proud of it. [He laughs.] I think everybody should do this every once and a while. In my last job, I had really gotten tired of it and wanted to work for myself. So I left that job a little over a year ago, and decided to start looking into some other opportunities. I came very close to opening up some franchise restaurants and decided that wasn't the right thing to do. I started working with an entrepreneurial consultant who is going to help me find the right franchise for me, because I want to do some kind of franchise. I'm on the verge of making a decision, and will probably go into consulting, doing the same kind of thing that this guy is helping me do. I have one other opportunity that I will probably eliminate within the next couple of days. If I don't eliminate, then I've got to make a decision. So yeah, I'll probably be working as a consultant.

Steve Estes:

Well, good luck.

Gregory Mooneyham:

Thanks.

Steve Estes:

I guess, two last questions before I turn off the tape recorder. And the one is kind of big, so take your time to think about it. How did military service affect your life if you look back over your entire time from the Academy to the Gulf War?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Very, very positively. It was wonderful. I loved the Air Force and I would have stayed in if I had not been gay or if they had lifted the ban, I would have stayed in. But I wasn't willing to live in the closet any more and continue to serve. But I absolutely loved it. I absolutely think everything that I did was good. Just graduating from the Air Force Academy alone opens up more doors than you can imagine. When I interviewed with Johnson Controls that was the number one thing. They said, "You're a service academy graduate, and we knew that we had somebody special at that point." People look upon that very favorably. And then, being a fighter pilot, the discipline you leam, the skills you learn, everything you learn, is valuable in the outside world. The honor and integrity that they teach you will keep you in good stead for the rest of your life. Life lessons abound when you serve in the military like that and I'm very thankful that I did. I'm very grateful that I had the opportunity. And a little ticked that I had to leave. 25

Steve Estes:

Is there anything that I didn't ask you about that thinking back over your time in the service you think, "I think we really ought to talk about that"?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Not really, I think we hit most of the good highlights. As an administrative kind of thing, one thing I didn't think about was that I did go a semester to West Point. I was an exchange cadet. In the junior year (or actually in the fall of every year), the four service academies including the Coast Guard, switch cadets. Six go to West Point. Six go to Annapolis. Three go to the Coast Guard. And they all switch around. I applied to be exchange cadet at West Point.

Steve Estes:

What was that like?

Gregory Mooneyham:

It was wonderful. I'm very much a history buff, so I wanted to go there because of the history there. The dean at the Air Force Academy, when you're away, he counts your grades as pass/fail. So I knew that whatever I took there wasn't going to affect my GPA as long as I passed. So I loaded up on all of the stuff I hated: Physics, a double-E class [Electrical Engineering], horrible stuff. The one thing that I did take that I enjoyed was Arab-Israeli Wars. It was part of my major, and the Air Force Academy did not offer a course like that.

Steve Estes:

What was your major?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Everybody gets a Bachelor of Science, but I also History. I took Arabic, believe it or not, as a foreign language when I was there. It helped me out a little bit later on. But yeah, West Point was great. I had the best time. You get treated pretty much like a guest pretty much the whole time that you're their until Air Force week, when West Point plays Air Force in football...

Steve Estes:

Yeah, then you're a goat.

Gregory Mooneyham:

Exactly. That was a rough week. I pretty much bet my life away. Everything I owned was wagered on that game. But if you go back and look, Air Force was ranked. We made it as high as fifth in the country that year. And we were undefeated until the last game of the season and we were set up to play Penn State for the national title. We lost the last game to Brigham Young, so we ended up playing in the Blue Bonnet Bowl instead. But we ended up beating West Point 55-0. So that was my revenge and that was good. We had actually flown back out to Colorado for the game. Then when we came back, sitting in front of my door to my room was just bags of stuff...

Steve Estes:

That you'd won?

Gregory Mooneyham:

Coats and stripes and hats and everything.

Steve Estes:

Great! I'm glad you talked about that. Well, cool, I'm going to turn off the tape, but Greg, I want to say a formal thank you.

Gregory Mooneyham:

Well, thank you for the project. I'm glad that somebody's doing this.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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