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Remembering U-Tapao …
History of the 635th Security Police K-9 Section
U-Tapao RTNA, Sattahip, Thailand 1968-1976
By Vernon Anderson, Dave Broeker, Jack Caldwell, Fred Cobb,
Benjamin Cox, Bill Cummings, Chuck Gehringer, Larry Haynie, Carl Newcombe,
Greig Parker, Tom Swartz, Jim Watson, and Larry Zacker
On March 21, 1968, Sergeants Fred Cobb and Joe Balboa departed
The flight to
Upon arrival in
As of March 24th, 1968, the original members of the 635th Security Police K-9 Section (called the First Wave), included the following: Sergeants Fred Cobb (King 0A07) and, Joe Balboa (King 66X0) and A1C’s Dave Broeker (Ara 9M72), Peter Christiano (Kriss 72X5), Jim Hannon (Bullet 1M95), Larry Hickman (Diablo M543), Harold Horn (Smokey X430), George Julian (Tarzan X810), Jay Lantz (Mac 7X34), Bill Lark (Puppy II X821), Ron Lewis (Buster 3X71), Carl Newcombe (Ted M201), Garry Parkhurst (Rex 675X), Tom Stewart (Ringo 5X46), Bob Stillabower (Zorro X193) and Fred Woodard (Nav M828). The Kennel Master was TSgt Tom Swartz and the Assistance Kennel Master was TSgt Ben Cox. A month or so later, on May 5th, 1968, Jim Dorris and Bob Recenes joined the first wave to help out at the kennels and it wasn’t long until they were assigned dogs.
Life for the unit had now begun and there was plenty of work that needed to be done to get the unit operational. A1C Carl Newcombe remembers “The kennels were nothing more than wooden covers with our dogs on stake out chains.” The kennels were "the shape of a tent with a sand box in front." He also remembers “riding on the first bulldozer with the Red Horse Engineers to clear the jungle for our post to be assigned.”
On April 25th at 1100 hours, Lita (9M71) gave birth to five (5) puppies at U-Tapao. She delivered three (3) males and two (2) females. One of the puppies died on May 14th. The birth and the death of one of the pups had become part of our history. Our Air Force "pups" were now home! Their history had begun and the 635th Security Police K-9 Section was now operational and “in country.”
The four (4) puppies were to be presented to the Prime Minister of Thailand (Thanom Kittikachorn) as official gifts from the U. S. Air Force to the Thai Government. This gesture by our government was to ensure that the Thai government would begin their breed with the “elite of the military working dogs” provided by the United States Air Force.
In July of 1968 the United States Air Force presented the Prime
Minister of Thailand, Thanom Kittikachorn, five female canines and four German
shepherd puppies, as a gift of appreciation from the
The female canines were to be used for breeding at the soon to
be established Royal Thai Palace Guard kennels at Karot RTAB,
TSgt. Tom Swartz (Kennel Master), Lt. Colonel John Cady (USAF Chief of Veterinary Medicine – Thailand), A1C Peter Christiano, A1C Robert Stillabower, A1C Carl Newcombe, A1C Harold Horn and Joe Balboa represented the U. S. A. F. at the “official” turn over of the six adult dogs (Tina 9M69, Storie 9M70, Lita 9M71, Ara 9M72, Kelly 9M73, and Skipper (Unk #) and four puppies. Seven military officials represented the Thai Government.
In July, the second wave of personnel arrived. A third wave
arrived on September 22nd aboard three C-141’s from
Greig Parker remembers "The first main gate of U-Tapao that I recall seeing was what can best be described as three outhouse style guard shacks with rope strung between them, and just down the road to the East was the "Happy Home", a local bistro.
In mid-summer SSgt Richard Matlock relieved TSgt Cox as Assistant Kennel Master/Training NCO and in December TSgt Rosendo Perez relieved TSgt Swartz as the second Kennel Master of U-Tapao.
In late 1968 the teams moved into their permanent kennels on the
southwest portion of the base. The 635th SPS K-9 Section now had a
real home for our dogs and training facility. Once all was settled on the home
front, it was time to relax. The “puppy pushers” of U-Tapao knew how to
relax! A1C Bob Lange remembers fondly, “
Throughout this time at U-Tapao, life went
on day-to-day like it did everywhere else in the world. Day-to-day life though
is not without incident, especially in a place like
“Thai Navy ‘Seals’ from Sattahip attempted to make an unannounced and unauthorized penetration of U-Tapao through the perimeter covered by the K-9 troops. Needless to say, all of the Seals were captured, some were bit by the dogs and manhandled, and all were visibly impressed. The Seals (15-20) were delivered to a Thai Navy NCO at the West Gate where they were asked for 100 push-ups, stripped of their weapons, gear, boots, and clothing (except for shorts), forced back into the boondocks and ordered to be at their base for reveille at 0500; it was then about 0100. I did not hear of the outcome but understand such practice penetrations were thereafter prohibited."
It has been reported that the Thai Base
Commander "really stuck it to them."
They were escorted off the perimeter in one of our security deuce and a
halves. It should be noted that the "first alert" of the intruders
was sounded by Sergeants Cobb,
TSgt. Caldwell also remembered:
"Part of my
nightly chore was to check the K-9 post along the South/West perimeter situated
behind the bomb storage area, running between the highway near the Moonlight
Inn and the
A1C Greig Parker related an increase in military activity. "During Tet `69 I was the K-9 post at the end of the runway and I remember how ominous the planes seemed and how small I felt, standing alone with Ed, looking up as flight after flight of B-52s took off. The planes gulping for air and wobbling their massive wings in the extraordinary turbulence created by each proceeding flight; and wondering where the hell could you possibly run to if one of the planes lost its lift and crashed ... no where!"
In 1969-1970, “K-SATs” (K-9 Security Alert Teams manned by K-9 personnel) were established to respond to alert by the K-9 Post. We were our own first response teams, backed up by Tiger Flight to maintain the integrity of the security of the seventeen (17) miles of the base perimeter.
During the fall of 1970, our handlers also took on a new responsibility as our personnel started the training of the first Thai Nationals as canine handlers. Sergeants’ Randy Mellon, Bill Cummings, Chuck Meaders, Jerry Snyder, Bernie Turnbloom, and Bill Spott were instrumental in this training program. To say the least, this was a task that is remembered by all involved. The first step in this extremely difficult undertaking was to learn the Thai language. They were then challenged to translate the language into a “working format” that the Thai Guards could understand.
The Thais had just as much difficulty with this task. First, because of language barriers, sometimes “sit” just didn’t come out "sit" when the Thais commanded it. Our handlers, along with the Thais, laughed, cursed, cried and applied a whole bunch of first aid for “minor dog bites.” Second, was the ability of the Thai handlers to control the animals? As you might imagine, the canines sometimes out weighed the Thai handlers! The Thais really started to wonder what they had gotten into but we were sure that they were receiving the best training in the world.
On January 10, 1972, U-Tapao was the recipient of one of a total
of six Sapper Attacks on
1972–73 saw the influx of more Patrol Dog and Detector Dog
handlers from stateside bases and handlers rotating out of
In 1973 SSgt Vernon Anderson remembers, “Watching the “18 Day Bombing War. All day long, B-52’s took off and B-52’s landed” as our military might was thrust upon the Vietnamese targets.
1974 found the Air Force beginning the transition of property to
the Thai Air Force at U-Tapao. 2nd
Lieutenants Uthai Munyanon and Sommai Theampracha arrived at U-Tapao from
Takhli Air Force Base to take possession of twelve (12) dogs to be transferred
for service and patrol. The canines were
assigned to Thai Air Force personnel for "retaining." According to Group Captain Suchin Wannaroj,
all commands were taught in English. The
training continued for three months before the teams were put into service.
Dogs that have been identified are:
Duck, Frank, Fred, Duke, Fritz, Mike, Ford and
According to the Group Captain, all of the canines were of "very good discipline and were very active. They were really excellent on guard on base.” The RTAF Security Battalion had many chances to demonstrate the performance of the K-9 to RTAF personnel and others. All of the K-9 served in the RTAF for about 1-2 years. Some of the dogs developed problems with their legs, and others with their hearing and sight. They were all retired at about the age of 13-15 years of age.
In 1974–75 there were only about 6 U.S.A.F. Sentry/Patrol Dog handlers assigned to
U-Tapao. The Thai Guards now controlled the perimeter and the majority of the
kennels. Sgt. Gary Adams remembers in
1975, “All the Thai Guards on base went on strike, including the K-9
handlers. So the Americans divided up
the dogs (around 60 dogs I think) and maintained them until the strike was over
(about 2 months).” During this time, when other bases in
1975-76 found the base down sizing, soon to be slated for
closure. Sgt. Larry “Joe” Haynie was one of the last remaining U.S.A.F.
handlers assigned to the section. He departed the station “mid month of June
1976” and the base closed on June 20, 1976. According to the
Major F. T. Satalowich, DVM, MSPH was assigned to the 11th
This was a gruesome task for all U-Tapao
personnel in the MWD unit and the veterinary section. Some seventy (70) MWD were euthanized and
necropsies preformed. Only 3-4 dog necropsies
a day could be humanely and satisfactorily preformed, with numerous tissue
samples from each animal collected and submitted to the Armed Forces of
F. T Satalowich, Lt. Colonel (Retired) summed up the events this way, “All of the men of the 635th Security Police K-9 Section, along with the MWD, provided a top security mission for the B-52 Squadron and the support groups. Each man formed a team with his dog; they bonded in a special way as only men in battle can do. Their lives and those they protected depended on it. They came away from that mission with 50 % mortality, when they left their dogs behind. Our task was hard, but theirs was heart breaking.”
Sgt Larry Haynie recalled that two of our canine “heroes” were
fortunate enough to make it out of
As we reflect on our tours at U-Tapao, we all ate, slept, checked our mail, cried and consoled each other and occasionally had a drink, now and then, to “take the edge off” of our individual situations. Between 1968-1976 we witnessed the crash of a KC-135 into a local village at the end of the runway, the bomb dump blowing up, and the crashes of B-52's during taking off and returning from bombing missions, along with other day-to-day military occurrences. We witnessed fatal plane crashes and helped each other through personal tragedies. We had the horrible task of holding canines in our arms as they were put down. No one “really” complained about the hot days of training, the rains and cold of the monsoons, the smells and occasional “unidentified solids and liquids” that we found on our uniforms and finally the charms of our dog teams – Oh, that special aroma! Lastly, we were always glad to see our friends “rotate” – we knew that we were next and soon we would be home with our loved ones once again.
Who would have thought some thirty plus years later, that we would be rejoining our flight mates? It is great that we so lovingly recall the bonding that we had with Brutus, Thor, Pistol, King, Little Joe, Bullet, Navigator, and Shep, along with the rest of the true heroes of our service to our country. I still subscribe to the theory that the “brains run up the leash.”
Some people think that our K9 partners were “just dogs” and that
we were “just dog handlers”, but we all know the true reality of our time at
U-Tapao. The companionship that we shared with this “military property” will
never be replaced. When we left our dogs, we also left a little piece of each
of us in
We will always be remembering U-Tapao…