At age 80 he appeared fit as a fiddle and his handshake proved that he was solid as a rock. Al Dugard, Air Force Colonel Retired, the best leader that I ever had the privilege to serve and his lady, Rosemary, met Grannie Annie, our son, Don (Dusty), and me at the restaurant in Southern California exactly on time. It had been 33 years since we worked together and the memories flowed eloquently that evening.
Col. Al was Wing Commander at K.I. Sawyer AFB, Michigan. His was a B-52 outfit standing alert loaded with nuclear weapons during the cold war. I was privilege to serve as his KC-135 Squadron Commander. Note: His bomber crews and my tanker crews would have gone to the ends of the world for him. In fact we lived almost there!
K.I. was a special place in a lot of ways. Located on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, it was near the shore of mighty Lake Superior the downwind shore of that huge body of fresh water. For most Air Force people, it was a place to be avoided but to those of us who adapted to living there it was a great place to be. Snow? Yes it knew how to snow. It is called lake effect and each passing weather system brought loads of the stuff. In fact, the average snowfall for the area is about 280 inches a year. The year that I worked for Al, it snowed 312 inches. Understand that in about late October, the temperature went below 32 degrees and stayed below until about early March. That meant that the snow that fell never melted, it just got deeper and deeper and packed down on the flat accumulated to a good five feet deep.
One can't walk in snow that deep so snow shoes and skis are the way of human travel. But then came the snowmobile. Everybody had one and ride we did. The snow machines were even legal for travel on the roads in some of the counties up there. I can testify that 80 miles per hour on hard snow packed road is not for the faint-hearted. I was younger and more brave then!
Automobiles and large airplanes don't do well in deep snow so streets, aircraft ramps, taxiways and runways have to be cleaned after each snowfall. K.I had a snow removal crew to meet that challenge. Those gents were mostly civil service government employees, most native to the area and longtime experienced. They could clear a two-lane road and accumulate an eight foot high windrow on each side. It was a lot like driving your automobile through a tunnel. Careful approaching an intersection!
Col. Dugard was a man of action and he knew how to motivate and lead men, even civil servants. Now these guys at K.I. knew their capabilities and mostly subtly ignored their military bosses to do snow removal their way and on their schedule.
As it happened. one night in particular, it snowed -- lots, a foot or so. Three bombers and three tankers were scheduled to launch next morning. The ramp, taxiways and runways were covered with way too much snow to move aircraft. The snow removal troops also were not moving.
The boss, Col. Dugard, was getting nervous. He hops in his staff car and proceeds to the civil service break room. Dugard doesn't ask about getting on with the job, doesn't give the order to move out, he just watches and engages in a bit of idle chitchat. The snow boss occasionally opens the door to check on the storm yet in progress.
Col. Dugard is about to give up that the launch can go on time when the snow removal guys swing into action. Two miles of runway 300 feet wide is cleared, the ramp and taxiways made clear and the six aircraft are airborne right on schedule. The snow guys just waited until the wind shifted and boss Dugard had sense enough to keep his mouth shut! That was the world's best leader in action.
The Dugard's retired to a home in Southern California and I came home to Nebraska. At K.I. our children attended school, ran snowmobiles and skied together. Our daughter named her first born after her best friend ever, Monique Dugard, sadly now deceased after becoming a lawyer. We all went our separate ways but each never far from the other's memory. The Internet has helped tie us together again.
Col. Al still teaches modern American literature in his local high school. Rosemary reports the kids love him. He also coaches girl's softball and usually his teams do very well in state competition.
He just released a book, "When the Wolf Rises" relating his experience flying B-52 missions over Hanoi during Linebacker II. One of their sons, Martin, teaches college, coaches girls cross-country and also writes historically accurate novels.
You may have caught his name as coauthor on Bill O'Reilly's books "Killing Lincoln" and "Killing Kennedy" both on current top seller lists. An accomplished family! I hold them in awe.
That is how I saw it.