Thursday, July 29, 2010

Couple Murdered at Base Store, 1973

~Compiled from accounts by Maxwell SPs and news reports

On Saturday morning, May 5, 1973, a married couple was found murdered at the Town and Country Store on Maxwell AFB. They were MSgt (Ret.) Lawrence Shaw and MSgt (Ret.) Ruby Shaw of Prattville, AL. Both were shot to death. The bodies were discovered by a milkman making his deliveries. Reports state that $1,900 was taken during the robbery.

Town and Country Store (left), Maxwell Blvd - 1979
Crossing Guard SrA Cindy (Rawlings) Smith, child unknown
(photo by Philip "J.P." Brown)

The investigation was conducted jointly by the OSI and FBI. Accounts from Maxwell AFB SPs who were stationed there during that era indicate that some base officials entered the crime scene, contrary to protocol, and thus contaminated the area. This would have compromised the evidence to some degree. The murder was never solved, and no arrest was ever made.

Update, 05/05/2011 - A former SPOI investigator related that a suspect was identified, but that he was imprisoned in another state serving a life term without parole. Prosecutors decided to not prosecute him given that he will never again see the light of day outside a prison. This is certainly good news for those seeking justice over these many years.

Newspaper Sources (all via Google Archives):

Saturday, July 10, 2010

President Ronald Reagan Visits, 1982

~Compiled via accounts from Maxwell SPs, plus news reports

Speech to Joint Session
On March 15, 1982, President Ronald Reagan flew into Maxwell AFB to deliver a speech to a Joint Session of the Alabama State Legislature. He was greeted at the Flight Line by U.S. Senator Jeremiah Denton (formerly the highest-ranking POW of the Vietnam War), Montgomery Mayor Emory Folmar, and other dignitaries. Senator Denton and Mayor Folmar then escorted the President to the Alabama State Capital. President Reagan was received there by Alabama Governor Fob James and a delegation from the Legislature. At that time, Denton was a senator from Alabama. He and Reagan were personal friends, and they were staunch allies in efforts to fight Communism.

President Ronald Reagan
(official White House photograph)

Awaiting Air Force One, Maxwell AFB Flight Line - 1982
Podium: Mayor Folmar (left) and Senator Denton (right)
Background: A1C Andy Miller (SP), plus four others unknown (hidden and/or in suits)
(courtesy of Andy Miller)

Air Force One and Motorcade Security
The 3800th Security Police Squadron, Montgomery PD, Alabama State Troopers, OSI, FBI, and the Secret Service were involved in the team effort. Our unit provided security for Air Force One (which was parked behind Base Ops, Building 844), and along the route of the motorcade. Tensions were high, because it was almost one year to the day from when President Reagan had been shot (30 Mar 1981) by John Hinckley, Jr. (see video below).

SP Guarding Air Force One
AFB and Year unknown
(via Global Web Site)

Incident Approaching Base Ops
On the return trip, the motorcade entered through the Bell Street Gate, turned onto Poplar Street, then left onto Ash Street towards 8th Street (now named "Twining Street"). A "plug" car had been parked in the southbound lane of 8th Street, and northbound traffic was stopped by SSgt Tom Kovach. An individual on a motorcycle bypassed the traffic that had been stopped, and drove his motorcycle between the automobiles and the curb, towards the motorcade.

Intersection of Ash Street and 8th Street
Note: "8th Street" has been renamed "Twining Street"
(photo ©2010 Yahoo! Inc.)

At the same moment that Kovach observed the motorcycle, he could hear the distinctive engine sound of the presidential limousine as it turned onto Ash Street and passed the First Alabama Bank building (no longer there, as seen in aerial view). Kovach calculated that, unless he took immediate action, the motorcycle would arrive at the intersection at the same moment as the president's limousine. That, of course, was an unacceptable risk.

Beginning with the lowest level of force, Kovach raised his hand in a universal "stop" signal, and shouted, "Halt!" He shouted so loudly that pedestrians on Maxwell Boulevard immediately halted. From his nearby post across Ash Street, A1C Andy Miller heard the shouting and radioed the incident to the Desk Sergeant.

The motorcycle kept coming. Maneuvering between the line of stopped cars and the curb, the motorcycle traveled at about 10-15 miles per hour. Kovach could see the face of the rider inside a full-face helmet. So, it appeared to Kovach that the rider's continued movement was deliberate. Having no other choice, Kovach escalated the level of force.

He was not alone. Just east of the intersection of Poplar and Ash, there had been a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter hovering about 500 feet over a viewpoint of the motorcade. As the incident rapidly unfolded, the helicopter swooped down, made a "pirouette" turn over the incident, and the long-barreled rifle of a Secret Service sharpshooter could be seen sliding out the side door. The chopper took up a new hover position no more than a hundred feet above the SP Dorm.

Kovach drew his caliber-.38 revolver from its holster, shouted for occupants of the stopped cars to get down and take cover, and ran to the trunk of the second stopped car for cover as he aimed his pistol at the motorcyclist. By this time, Kovach and the motorcyclist were no more than 25 feet from each other. The bike came to a halt. But, the rider kept his hands on the controls and did not turn off the engine. Things were rapidly approaching an impasse.

Using exaggerated hand signals and lip movements, Kovach shouted for the biker to dismount. The two men were looking at each other. Even with the helmet's face shield, there was no doubt about eye contact. The biker stated, "I can't hear you," but took no action in response to Kovach's hand signals. Using an exaggerated hand movement, the Security Policeman cocked back the hammer of his pistol. Immediately after that, the biker exclaimed, "Oh! You want me to get off the bike!" He began to dismount.

As the motorcyclist -- wearing civilian clothing and a leather jacket -- was getting off his bike, OSI Special Agent Ron Norris roared around the corner in an unmarked sedan, accompanied by a Secret Service agent on the passenger side. The "plug" car backed up, making way for the agents, who then leaped out of the sedan and ran to assist Staff Sgt. Kovach with the apprehension. All three men simultaneously introduced the motorcyclist to the fence of the base swimming pool.

As the two special agents took up close-watch positions on either side of the subject, with pistols at the ready, Kovach searched the subject. No weapons or explosives were found. Kovach handcuffed the subject (who was tentatively identified at the scene as a Federal civilian GS-15, employed at the Air University Library), and then the agents took the subject into custody. He remained in Secret Service custody at SP headquarters for approximately four hours.

Diagram of Incident
(photo ©2010 Yahoo! Inc.; comments added by Tom Kovach)

Follow-up at Building 837
After the departure of Air Force One, the SPs involved in this incident were back at SP headquarters (the Campbell Building) – doing paperwork, of course. One of the supervisors, TSgt Mark Guest, came into the briefing room to give Kovach back his handcuffs. Guest had been in the room during part of the Secret Service interrogation of the subject. Guest told Kovach that the subject had explained that, because of his position on the base, he felt "entitled" to get up close to the motorcade for a better view. Guest also told Kovach that the Secret Service had confiscated a TV-news video of the incident.

Building 837 (south side) - 1979
(photo by Philip "J.P." Brown)

For about two months after that incident, Kovach was derisively nicknamed "Quick Draw" by a few people in the unit (mostly lower-ranking airmen), but upon learning about this, then-Major Carson told supervisors at a staff meeting to put a stop to it.

A recollection is posted on this web site by LtCol (Ret.) Leonard Carson. He was a Major then, and Commander of the 3800th SPS from 1981 to 1985. LtCol Carson wrote, "No one in the 3800SPS assigned will forget the day Pres. Reagan visited Maxwell. That was the day we almost killed the stupid Major. Us, the OSI, or the Secret Service.". Note: A GS-15 is a Civil Service rank roughly equivalent to a Major.

Weekend Threat in Birmingham
The Tuscaloosa News reported that a Birmingham, AL, man was arrested over the weekend prior to President Reagan's Monday arrival. The man allegedly made a threat against the president's life, and claimed to be a member of a "group of people who would kill the president" (see link below). Although that incident was not related to this incident, and no charges were filed in the Maxwell incident, the Birmingham incident illustrates the seriousness with which the Secret Service takes presidential security and protection.

Editorial Comments
The motorcyclist should have known better than to bypass stopped traffic, and disregard the order to "halt" of a Security Policeman. This was during an era when terrorist threats were high. During the 1972 election, then-Governor George Wallace of Alabama (a candidate for president) had been shot in the spine at close range, and was a paraplegic for the rest of his life. President Ford had two attempts made on his life in 1975. Given the hindsight of the Beirut Marine barracks bombing (Oct 1983) and the USAF Khobar Towers bombing (Jun 1996), and the current era of suicide bombers, security at presidential motorcades has hopefully been increased even more.

The job of a Security Policeman has been described as "98 percent boredom, occasionally interrupted by terror". The day of President Reagan's visit to Maxwell was a clear example that any moment can become a historic moment in an SP's life.

Related Links:

1981 Assassination Attempt on President Reagan

ABC News Nightline Broadcast, March 30, 1981

Former President Reagan Assaulted by Protester

President Reagan's "Tear Down This Wall!" Speech

Friday, May 28, 2010

Gates Undergo Major Overhaul

~Based on Mark Guest and AU/PA stories/photos
Thanks to Mark Guest for two photos of the new gates at Maxwell AFB. "Gate 1" (Poplar Street) is now further towards Bell Street, and is called the "Bell Street Gate". "Gate 2" (Day Street) is in its same location, but is now under construction.

The construction on the Day Street Gate (AKA "Gate 2") was scheduled for completion by December 16, 2009, although it may have been delayed by inclement weather. Some features of the gate reconstruction include:

  • Construction of a canopy over the road at the gate building,

  • Repair work to the gate, and

  • Adding a restroom (for a "10-14") to the gate building

Maxwell AFB story: Gate Renovations

Bell Street Gate, Maxwell AFB, Fall 2009
(photo by Mark Guest)

Gate 1 (Poplar Street, 130 yards west of new gate) - 1979
(photo by Philip "J.P." Brown)

Day Street Gate (under construction), Maxwell AFB ~ Summer 2009
(USAF photo by Carl Bergquist)

Day Street Gate (under construction), Maxwell AFB, Fall 2009
(photo by Mark Guest)

Gate 2 (Day Street) ~ 1978
(photo by Philip "J.P." Brown)

Day Street Fence - 2010
(USAF photo by Bennett Rock)

Gate 3 (Kelly Street, next to intersection with March Street) - 1979
(photo by Philip "J.P." Brown)

Related story: Contract Guards, DOD/DAF Police Hired

Gunter SPs Deploy for Desert Storm, 1990-91

Thanks to Charles "Dave" Catholdi for the following great photos from the Desert Storm Deployment by SPs from Gunter AFB.

  • The Gunter AFB SPs were assigned to the 62nd SPS at Mirage AB in Sharaj, United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). The 62nd SPS was the unit from McChord AFB.

  • Gunter and McChord troops were merged into the
    1650th Tactical Airlift Wing Provisional

  • At lookout posts (such as "Echo 1"), SPs were armed with M-60 machine guns.

  • SPs served 12 hour shifts (such as 0600-1800). After being there awhile, they received at least 1 MRE for a meal a day, a cold breakfast, and 1 hot dinner. Quote from Charles "Dave" Catholdi, "God I hated those MREs!".

Front Row, Left to Right: Rajesh B. Patel, Eric F. Phillips, Ernest C. "Dog" Murray, Jeff Stokely, Ken "Truitt Can Do It" Truitt, Randy Cunningham
Back Row, Left to Right: Michael A. "Mike" Doty, Terry L. Pridemore, David B. "Dave" DeRamus, Robert "Boos" Bussalacchi, Richard J. "Rich" Wryobeck, Charles "Dave" Catholdi, Donald L. "Don" Carter
Not Pictured: A1C Jeffrey Anderson
(USAF photo via Charles "Dave" Catholdi)

"Tent City", Mirage AB, U.A.E.
(photo courtesy of Charles "Dave" Catholdi)

Halloween During Desert Storm - October 1990
Seated Left-to-Right: Sgt Terry Pridemore, A1C Randy Cunningham, Charles "Dave" Catholdi, A1C Jeff Anderson (handing out "Trick or Treat" candy to British kids)
Standing: A1C Dave Deramus
(photo courtesy of Charles "Dave" Catholdi)

"R and R" at Kentucky Fried Chicken in Downtown Dubai, U.A.E.
Robert Busalacchi (facing), Randy Cunningham (glasses), Ernest C. Murray (right, white shirt), and Dave DeRamus (blue shirt)
(photo courtesy of Charles "Dave" Catholdi)

Dave DeRamus and Eric Phillips (from Gunter AFB);
Sgt Ken Jones (from McChord AFB)
Humvee, Mirage AB, U.A.E.
(photo courtesy of Charles "Dave" Catholdi)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

UFO Visits Maxwell

In the early 1980s, a "UFO" was spotted northwest of Maxwell AFB. It was seen over a two hour period, and it moved in the direction of Prattville. Sgt Jimmy Hall spotted it, and John Bolender of MAFB Flight Control tracked it on radar. Although the UFO approached the Prattville airport, there were no personnel there to identify it in the early morning hours.

Note: Even though this story is published on "April Fools' Day", this was a real story in the newspaper.

Newspaper "UFO" Clipping
(Clipping courtesy of Jeff Connors)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Contract Guards, DOD/DAF Police Hired

~Summary of AU/PA stories by Carl Bergquist
Maxwell AFB and Gunter Annex have shifted some duties from the sentinels of the 42nd SFS to contract guards, and DOD/DAF police officers. The first changes involved having contract guards man the gates. Next, Department of Defense police were hired starting in October of 2008 to take on many of the roles filled by SFs. By Fall 2009, Department of the Air Force police had taken over the duties at the gates.

  • These changes were prompted by the overseas deployments of sentinels from the 42nd SFS to expeditionary units.

Maxwell AFB story: DOD Police Arrive

Maxwell AFB story: DAF Police Man Gates

Contract Guard Inspects Vehicle - Winter 2009
Kelly Street Gate, Maxwell AFB
(USAF photo by Jamie Pitcher)

DOD Police Officer Chris Langston - Fall 2008
Assigned to 42nd SFS, Maxwell AFB
(USAF photo by Jamie Pitcher)

DAF Police Officer Monica Roberts Verifies ID - Fall 2009
Bell Street Gate, Maxwell AFB
(USAF photo by Bennett Rock)

Related story: Gates Undergo Major Overhaul