Veteran Salute: ‘Grey Beards’ kept aircraft in flight

Veteran Salute

GREAT BEND, Kan. (KSNW) – A Barton County native spent more than 20 years ensuring once military aircraft landed, that the planes got back in the air.

Randy Treece got a letter from the Army while he was still in college.

He then remembered a conversation he’d had with a Coast Guard recruiter, about how it was the only branch that was humanitarian service.

Treece got his Coast Guard flight jacket in the 1970s, and his fellow veterans are shocked he can still wear it!

“Is that your original jacket, I say, ‘yep,’ and they just shake their heads,” Veteran Randy Treece said.

Treece’s father served in WWII, so when it came time for him to sign up, he chose the Coast Guard.

“From there, the adventure began,” Reece said.

He was on the Burton Island Icebreaker, and said thankfully, the ice was only four feet thick.

“The ice breaker slides up on to the ice, and it breaks the ice, with the weight of the ship,” Reece said.

Their efforts helped supply ships get through to the National Science Foundation.

“It’s quite impressive to see a half a million penguins in one place,” Reece said.

Reece said he found his true passion in aviation school.

“When I got into structures, sheet metal school, I kind of found my niche,” Treece said.

He graduated at the top of his class.

“I made sure they knew they got beat by the only Coast Guard guy in the class,” Treece said.

After years in the Coast Guard, Treece switched hats.

“One of the mottos of the Air National Guard is we work smarter, not harder,” Treece said.

Treece said he started by dedicating weekends to the Air National Guard.

“I never had a brother, but I had hundreds of brothers out here,” Treece said.

He ended up landing at the 184th, at McConnell.

“Numerous people working on that jet to make sure it is ready to go flying again,” Treece said.

That was a task, since the F-4 aircraft were already old, and pretty banged up.

He said the crew maintained 70 planes.

“We were able to make our F-4 fly better than anybody else in the Air Force or the Air Guard,” Treece said.

He said nearly 60 training flights, went up each day at McConnell, where as other bases were sending less than 10.

“We never saw light at the end of the tunnel,” Treece said.

He said life in the Guard got a little easier, when they took a major step forward and got the F-16.

“There’s nothing hard to work on on this airplane,” Treece said.

That was a good thing, since the guys in sheet metal maintenance were the ones they would call on.

“The only thing holding this, holding this little strip here, is glue,” Treece said.

He said the crew helped keep it all together.

“It’s a conventional, riveted, aluminum airplane,” Treece said.

He said when the Guard stepped up to the B-1, they had to borrow a hangar from the Air Force.

He said it was interesting when the planes needed repairs.

“We don’t bring them to the shop, we do it on the airplane, and she goes, well that is not what the tech data says, and they go, well, we save time and money,” Treece said.

He said he figured out quickly knowledge comes from experience.

“Having a bunch of old guys work on your airplane, that could solve problems, that 19-year-old kids right out of tech school didn’t have the experience to do,” Treece said.

He said he’ll never forget the maintenance crew he called the grey beards.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the people I work with,” Treece said. “It is like a family.”

He spent more than 20 years with his “family” at McConnell, before he put down the tools of the trade in retirement, what he did hold on to was the flight jacket, that still fits, fifty years later.

“It means, I haven’t put on as much weight as other 72 year olds,” Treece said.

He said the sheet metal guys were often repairing damage done by birds.

He said he figured out why birds are called fowl because once they encounter military jets, the smell sure is.

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