National Guard July 2011 : Page 34
G UARD R OOTS : F IRST D IPLOMATIC A IRLIFT ‘Bull Shippers’ By Ron Jensen Long before agribusiness teams began helping Afghan farmers and ranchers, an Air Guard cargo plane made a special delivery to Kabul N NOVEMBER 1962, a C-97 Stratofreighter cargo plane from the Oklahoma Air National Guard’s 125th Air Transport Group ﬂew from the United States to Afghanistan carrying a few tons of beef. On the hoof. That is to say, alive. The breeding stock, which included 12 cows and two bulls as gifts to King Mohammed Zahir Shah from several American cattle breeders, endured nearly three full days of travel, four take-offs and landings, the desert heat of North Africa and what certainly must have been a puzzling I experience—if puzzlement, in fact, is in the emotional vocabulary of cattle. The Guard’s ﬁrst diplomatic airlift was part of an effort by the U.S. government to provide the king with a herd that would improve the quality of beef in his country. And to return to the Sooner State, the aircrew continued eastward to complete the Air Guard’s ﬁrst around-the-world ﬂight. “We were halfway anyway,” says retired Lt. Col. Frank Slane, who was the aircraft commander. He’s 87 now and living in Tulsa, Okla. A World War II veteran, he landed gliders behind German lines in 1945 to deliver American troops to the invasion of the Rhineland. In all, the C-97 carried 12 Guardsmen, including one public information officer from the National Guard Bureau, and one civilian, Fred Lege, a livestock marketing special-ist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who kept the cattle tranquilized and hydrated during the journey. Slane is not sure why his unit was chosen to deliver the 34 | Na tional Guard
By Ron Jensen
Long before agribusiness teams began helping Afghan farmers and ranchers, an Air Guard cargo plane made a special delivery to Kabul
IN NOVEMBER 1962, a C-97 Stratofreighter cargo plane from the Oklahoma Air National Guard's 125th Air Transport Group flew from the United States to Afghanistan carrying a few tons of beef.
On the hoof.
That is to say, alive.
The breeding stock, which included 12 cows and two bulls as gifts to King Mohammed Zahir Shah from several American cattle breeders, endured nearly three full days of travel, four take-offs and landings, the desert heat of North Africa and what certainly must have been a puzzling experience–if puzzlement, in fact, is in the emotional vocabulary of cattle.
The Guard's first diplomatic airlift was part of an effort by the U.S. government to provide the king with a herd that would improve the quality of beef in his country.
And to return to the Sooner State, the aircrew continued eastward to complete the Air Guard's first around-the-world flight.
"We were halfway anyway," says retired Lt. Col. Frank Slane, who was the aircraft commander.
He's 87 now and living in Tulsa, Okla. A World War II veteran, he landed gliders behind German lines in 1945 to deliver American troops to the invasion of the Rhineland.
In all, the C-97 carried 12 Guardsmen, including one public information officer from the National Guard Bureau, and one civilian, Fred Lege, a livestock marketing specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who kept the cattle tranquilized and hydrated during the journey.
Slane is not sure why his unit was chosen to deliver the livestock, but he says, "It was real interesting and, at times, a little bit challenging."
To get to Kabul in 1962, the crew first flew from its base in Tulsa to McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., where the cattle were put aboard the airplane, which had been fitted with pens. They left McGuire late in the afternoon Nov. 13, and reached Lages Field in the Azore Islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean at about sunrise the next day.
In his log of the trip, Slane wrote, "Well, last night it was 'Sundown–Wheels up,' and this morning it was 'Sunup–Wheels down.'"
Three hours later, they were airborne again, arriving just past midnight Nov. 15, at Wheelus Air Force Base in Tripoli, Libya, where their flight was dubbed the "Bovine Boeing."
In Libya, they faced a near crisis. Crew rest was required and the aircraft baked in the desert heat. An air conditioner requested to keep the cattle comfortable did not arrive until after sunrise.
Recalling the flight recently, retired Maj. Gen. Bobby E. Walls, who was a captain during the trip, says, "It was really hot and the cattle were suffering."
Walls is 80 and living in Drumright, Okla. He retired from the Guard in 1990.
In his log, Slane wrote, "We need to move to protect the health of the cows."
Leaving that evening from Tripoli, the flight reached Adana, Turkey, shortly after midnight Nov. 16. A few hours later, the Guardsmen were back in the air and headed for Kabul.
The "weather guesser" at Adana, as Slane called him in his log, had predicted bad weather, and he was right. Afghanistan was covered by clouds and the navigational aids in the mountainous country had been turned off.
In his log, Slane noted that the aircraft was flying at 19,500 feet, but the tower at Kabul cleared it to descend to 10,500 feet.
"Ha! In these mountains?? We said 'Thanks, but no thanks,'" he wrote.
"We just kind of had to pick a hole in the clouds and spiral down," Slane recalls in the interview.
Once below the clouds, "We just followed a road," he says.
LOTS OF ATTENTION
The C-97 touched down at Kabul in the middle of the afternoon. U.S. Ambassador John M. Steeves met the plane, as did about 300 other people. Lege, who had little sleep on the trip, wrote later, "The cattle had been on the plane 65 hours and were almost as tired as I."
According to a story a few months later in The National Guardsman, as this magazine was called then, Steeves, referring to the ongoing Cold War, called the flight "a contribution made in a critical part of the world where we're really up against a solid phalanx of communist competition. This mission has assured the Afghanistan people of our friendship for them, and I can assure you that it has been an effort that contributed to the peace of the world."
The Guardsmen shopped, rested and ate well for the next 48 hours. And wherever they went, they attracted attention.
Slane wrote in his log of a chador-covered woman staring at them during a shopping trip, adding, "I don't imagine you could fill a very big room with people from the USA who have been in Afghanistan and here were a bunch all at one time."
In an e-mail last month, Walls described two Kabuls–one modern and the other decidedly not.
"Old Kabul was like it must have been when Christ was alive," he wrote. "We saw no signs of electricity or plumbing."
He watched a blind man pull on a leather strap to spin a stone wheel on which another man sharpened knives.
Before leaving Kabul on Nov. 18, the Guardsmen were presented with the skins of karakul sheep. Slane's log describes the skins as beautiful and the crew members as "flabbergasted as well as overjoyed."
Leaving Kabul shortly after noon, the aircraft stopped a few hours later in Lahore, Pakistan, to refuel and then continued to New Delhi, India, where Lege caught a commercial flight to reach another appointment.
Walls remembers Lege as knowing little about the Guard when he joined the trip five days and a few thousands miles earlier.
"He thought we were a flying club," he says.
But in his account, Lege wrote, "I do not mind saying that I was sorry to leave the group from the Oklahoma Air National Guard. They are a dedicated group of men who are willing to give their time from their regular jobs to keep prepared to defend our country. This to me is the spirit of America and I hope it will never change."
The Guard repaid the compliment and called Lege "America's 'Ambassador in a 10-gallon hat'" in a letter to Lege's boss, Orville Freeman, the secretary of agriculture.
The rest of the trip took the Oklahoma flyers to Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Wake Island, Hawaii, Travis Air Force Base, Calif., and then home to Tulsa.
TOAST IN TOKYO
According to Slane's log, they ate and shopped to their hearts' content at every stop. Walls says the trip enabled him to decorate his house in an Oriental motif. Slane wrote in his log of arriving home with Christmas gifts for many.
Despite the long days in the air, the men enjoyed themselves. This is clear from Slane's log entry made during the stop in Tokyo. They had all gathered at the club and ordered a round of drinks before Slane proposed a toast.
"Here's to the crew of the one-two-five; that delivered the cows to Kabul alive; to the Indian brass and Hong Kong slippers; here's to us, the great 'bull shippers.'"
After leaving Travis on the final leg, the C-97 lost an engine. Slane chose to return to Travis rather than fly to Tulsa on three engines.
"Oh, well," he wrote in his log, "it could have happened at a far WORSE time."
He and Walls returned to Travis a few days later to fly their repaired airplane to Tulsa.
"To me," he wrote in his log, "going around the world in the first Air Guard airplane does not mean hitch-hiking the last 1287 miles. For my personal satisfaction and for the glory of the ANG, it's got to be me and [aircraft No.] 408 all the way."
Walls says now, "It was a sense of accomplishment. It felt pretty good to be the first ever to do that."
'SMALL THINGS REMEMBERED'
There is a postscript to the story. Pictures of the cattle delivery were part of a recent photo exhibit at the Meridian International Center in Washington, D.C. The center is a nonprofit organization that promotes international understanding through culture and the arts.
The exhibit was called "In Small Things Remembered: The Early Years of U.S.-Afghan Relations." It included photos of official visits, but also of U.S. children in Afghanistan dressed in cowboy garb, a typing class taught by Americans, an Afghan baseball team and more.
The photos are now traveling around Afghanistan to promote America's long-standing relationship with the country.
Curtis Sandberg, Meridian's senior vice president for the arts, said tens of thousands of photos from 44 donors were examined before the exhibit opened.
The Bovine Boeing photos survived, he says, because the mission touched the basic level of people helping people. The cattle were donated by private citizens in America and delivered by citizen-airmen and a government employee who was also a cattle rancher.
"It becomes emblematic of private initiative within the public structure," says Sandberg.
Too, he says, "For those of us who don't fly over mountains, it's a pretty heroic thing."
The significance of the mission to Kabul was not lost on the participants. Even then, they understood its potential impact. Slane wrote about it in his log just before the crew left Kabul to complete the historic lap around the globe.
His words are just as on point today with Guardsmen in agribusiness development teams helping to rebuild the agriculture base in Afghanistan.
"A trip like this may seem a waste to some people," Slane wrote, "but we have done more for a little nation and for diplomatic relations, than all the dams, roads, airports or technical (expensive) things in the past have done. These people appreciate cattle because it is something they understand."
Ron Jensen can be contacted at (202) 408-5885 or at email@example.com.
Read the full article at http://www.nationalguardmagazine.com/article/Bull+Shippers/772623/74054/article.html.