Raymond Clark Grechman
3rd Lieutenant – U.S. Navy, USS Midway,
Squadron VFA 192 and USS Independent
Persian Gulf War, Desert Shield, Desert Storm and
Operation Southern Watch (1986-1994)
Lieutenant Raymond Clark Grechman had wanted to fly a jet since he was three years old. His mother’s cousin, who was the family patriarch, was a Naval Aviator with twenty-four years of service and fought during World War II. He was a strong and honorable influence in Grechman’s life. He fondly remembers him at family gatherings showing him little models of Navy airplanes that he flew. From that point on, Grechman’s dream was to become a Naval Aviator.
He was born on September 1, 1965 in San Francisco, California. His father was a physician, and his mother was home until he was 15, when she went to work as an office manager. After high school, he enrolled in the University of California, Santa Barbara. He wanted to join the Navy; however, Santa Barbara did not offer an ROTC program. Grechman, slightly discouraged, did some research and found an officer’s program that he could enter upon graduation from university. It was an Aviation Officer Candidate School (AOCS). He applied his junior year and was accepted the following summer. He and his family were thrilled.
AOCS in Pensacola, Florida is a three-month Boot Camp for men and women who have already graduated from collage. Grechman remembers, “Basic training was about twenty two and a half hours a day of being yelled at while we had to run around in the sands of Northwest Florida.” He started in the middle of summer on the fifth of July and continued until October. He recollects the experience as, “A lot of sweating, a lot of physical exercise, probably half a day, three quarters of the day, and then the rest of the day was bookwork and classwork.” When asked if he thought if his efforts were taken seriously by his superiors, he answered in classic Grechman style, “Of course not, you’re not supposed to in basic training; you can do nothing correctly in basic training. Nobody can. It doesn’t matter if you’re perfect. It’s wrong.” Upon completion, he was commissioned and sent to flight training in Whiting Field, twenty miles away. He flew the T34 Charlie, turbo prop, single engine. He had four assisted flights. Then they let him go solo. With each flight, he was instructed to do something slightly different that build upon the last exercise. From Whiting Field, he continued to Kingsville, Texas to learn how to fly jets. In Texas, he first flew a BT23, which is a two seat, two-jet T2 squadron. After about six months, he progressed to a VT21, an advanced training jet that is more tactically orientated. He learned how to be proficient in air-to-air gunnery, air to ground gunnery, bombing, push and go’s and carrier landings. Upon completion, he received his wings and became a naval aviator. Grechman, at this point, was sent to La Moore, California to master the F18, a single seat jet. He remembers two assisted flights after which he was released to solo. He spent ten months getting to know the jet and how it would react as he tested its abilities and limitations. Together they became a single unit, an intrinsic weapon of the US Navy to be feared.
The Lieutenant’s first deployment was to the USS Midway. He flew out of La Moore, stopping in San Francisco, Tokyo and Bahrain. He was detained in customs in Bahrain and then helicoptered out to the aircraft carrier USS Midway. He was at sea for the next seven months. With his entire life in two duffle bags, he remembers his first few moments, “They literally grabbed me right off the flight deck and brought me inside and brought me into the radio room, and then I was assigned to a state room with three other roommates and told where to store my bags. And then, we were off to introductions to meet everybody.” His duties as a combat pilot were all encompassing. He recalls, “We’d be given a mission to strike a target: a bridge, a railroad, a road, troops. Then we were given the available weapons to use at the time, and we would plan it. It didn’t matter that I was a junior gun in the squadron. I was still involved in the planning. I was a trained aviator, and I would be flying the missions with everybody else. So, everybody planned, everybody trained, everybody went and everybody fought.” He had some close calls but was never injured. He remembers perhaps the scariest moment was the first time he was shot at. He expounds,“ I saw bullets coming at me. Actually, it wasn’t even bullets. It was a missile coming at me…. Yeah, that’s when I realized that we were actually targets, and I had a missile shot at me somewhere in Southern Iraq. It was tracking on me, and I could see it. I knew it was there, and I was just trying to get away from it.” Together as a unite they experienced times that would bond them together forever. He fondly speaks of his squadron and still keeps in touch. They became a team, then a brotherhood.
His room, BK1, was six by fifteen feet and had two sets of bunk beds. He kiddingly states he still has the key and refers to his time spent in the military as his gray period. On a battleship everything is painted gray. He remembers the food to be actually pretty good and plentiful. It was pre Internet, so entertainment was limited to books, movies, improvisation skits and practical jokes. Humor was their escape and sanity. Mail was also an opportunity to escape back home through the letters. However, the mail was inconsistent, fixed on aircraft COD, carrier onboard delivery. Once it landed, its weight was always announced over the PA. He knew if it were over 5,000 pounds, he would have a letter or two.
He does not remember any major malfunctions or problems except one. He was flying in the middle of the Pacific, and his jet started dumping fuel. He had nowhere to land but an aircraft carrier that was not ready to receive him. They wanted him to come in but had to quickly vacate the landing deck, so he could land. Once he landed, there was still fuel spilling out of the jet onto the landing deck. It was a hazardous mess, he recalls.
When asked how he coped with his deployments, Grechman is uniquely realistic. He describes his tenure as follows: “It became my life. It became what I did and who I was.” In the Navy there were two theories, either it’s the same thing every time, everyday, or it’s a different thing every time everyday. Grechman states for him everyday changed. When he was at sea, he generally knew, but not specifically, what his mission was to be each day. When he was ashore, his days were a bit more predictable. He describes it as, “More like an office job, I would get up, work out, have breakfast, and go to the office. Now my office could be different. I might actually be behind the desk for the day, or I might be flying once or twice.” The main difference was he was allowed to go home at the end of the day.
In the Navy, one always has two areas of responsibility their main vocation and a secondary job of administration. Grechman’s second responsibility was as the squadron’s legal officer. He only had a problem with the people that never really wanted to be in the Navy from the start. He believes that some people are talked into joining, to see the world; while others saw it as their only option to propel them out of a depressed or poverty stricken circumstances. Consequentially, they misbehaved, and it was his responsibility to reprimand them. He describes how the military is not a place, “if in your gut, you really don’t want to be there.”
Being an aviator, Grechman’s leave opportunities were broadened. In addition, he was required to keep the jets performing at an optimal level that needed to be constantly flown. This created an opportunity for the pilots. Grechman fondly divulged when the Navy would announce, “Okay well you need to send four airplanes away this weekend. At the time in my squadron there were four bachelors. That was it, everybody else was at home with his or her family, so the four of us would go flying pretty much every weekend, and we’d take off. We’d go to the Philippines, or we’d go to Southern Japan, wherever we could go to get gas…It was training really. Once we left the base, and of course a horrible snowstorm had hit the base, and there was probably four feet of snow. The four of us came back tan, and everybody else was miserable, so that was the last time we got to do that for a little while.” When he was based ashore in Japan, he would take the train, and they would just go somewhere new, enjoy the food, culture, sightsee and then make their way back. He remembers it as an awesome opportunity to see the world.
Grechman was aboard the USS Midway during both Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm. In Operation Desert Shield there was no combat but air patrols flying over the gulf. It was a show of US military force before the war. He flew missions during the day and night. Operation Desert Storm, in contrast, was a combat operation. His ship, the USS Midway, was assigned to the nightshift, and all his missions were to implement and strike targets in Iraq and Southern Kuwait, at night. Iraq had invaded Kuwait, and the UN Coalition decided they should force them to recede. He describes his time as all consuming. During this time, a typical day would look like this: “I had three roommates in my bunk room, two pilots and two ground officers. We hardly ever saw each other at that time. Everybody was so busy. We’d get a couple of hours of sleep in the daytime and plan, nap if you could, go out and fly, come back, land, maybe go out again, maybe not. It just depended on what was tasked for the night. Then we would sleep, eat, and plan our next day.”
After the Gulf War ended, the USS Midway was retired stateside, and Grechman swapped out aircraft carriers to the USS Independent in Hawaii, a halfway point. The USS Independence continued to Japan and then straight to the Gulf for Operation Southern Watch, a no fly zone patrol. Grechman describes his flight duties: “It would be day and night, didn’t know, we would take off, fly north and just fly around, and if anything got airborne that shouldn’t have been we would be tasked to go and attempt to shoot it down.” He never shot anything down. He did chase after a couple of airplanes that were flying, but somebody else closer got them. At the same time, because the USS Independence was still in the Persian Gulf, and it was a highly volatile region, he also protected the aircraft carrier.
Lieutenant Grechman did receive several medals for his service. They include: (2) Air medals, Navy Commendation combination medal with a V for valor in combat, (2) Battle E Ribbons, (2) Battle A awards, Unit Combination, National Defense Service Medal, Meritorious Unit Accommodation medal, (3) Southwest Asia Service Medals, Ribbon, (2) Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, A Joint Meritorious Unit Award, Kuwait liberation medal, Navy unit accommodation with a V. He has two Battle A awards and a Navy unit accommodation.
The hardest part of his service was being away from his family and missing all the small moments. He was released in 1995 when his reserve obligation term was up. Because he went through OSCS, he was a reserve commissioned officer. At the end of the war, they let the reserve officers go. Grechman was RIF, reduction in force, and sent home. He was really heartbroken to leave the Navy because it was a very positive and meaningful experience for him. Upon release, he took the opportunity to travel a bit. He then used his GI benefits to obtain a civilian flying license and rating. It took him two years to get hired as a commercial airline pilot, which is what he does today.
Grechman has settled in Greenbrae, California with his wife and two children. He does get together and keep in touch with five to six of his friends from the Navy on a regular basis. They were all in each other’s weddings, and the weekends together are fewer as they all have families now. Thanks to Facebook, they are never far apart. He gives back to his community through FISD, First Imperial Stormtroopers Detachment, an organization whose motto is “troopers helping troopers.”
In closing, about the war, he thinks the entire geopolitical situation of the Middle East hasn’t changed in thousands of years and probably won’t change in thousands of years. He has no idea how to fix the situation. However he reflects, “As far as being in the military, being an officer in the military, being part of that unit, it was fantastic…I went open eyed, closed mouth, open eared, and I just learned and had a great time. Very few things really got me upset. I mean I went hungry for days. I was cold. I was wet. I was yelled at. I was jokingly tortured. Somebody will understand that out there, but it wasn’t bad. It was a great experience.”
Interview by Peter Jake Daniels on June 25, 2014.