Fulton Interview – Part 1

Captain Richard Fulton is interviewed by John Thomas Wiseman.


  1.  How would you define National Security and in what capacity have you been involved with United States National Security.  How did you get involved? (Approximate dates and job titles if possible).

My federal career started with enlistment in the USAF in 1962. When the Cuban Missile Crisis hit, I was in Air Police School at Lackland. In December that year I arrived at Wheelus Air Base in Libya for an 18-month assignment.  This was followed by time at a SAC base in Arkansas, then assignment to Korea for 13 months, and to Vietnam for 23 months.

I left the service as a SSgt holding the Bronze Star and the USAF Commendation Medal for work in the information career field during my second enlistment.  My work had been in public affairs and included duty as a wing historian and also an assistant to the 7th AF historian.  My first enlistment I had been an Air Police sentry dog handler.  I went to the university world and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in History. During this time I was active with reserve components of the US Army.  In 1977 I was hired to be a GS-7 Army civilian and to serve as managing editor of the Fort Leavenworth LAMP. I then worked in Public Affairs at Fort Hood, in Korea, in St. Louis, at Dugway Proving Ground, back in Korea, in Chicago and at Fort Jackson.  I am a graduate of the Department of Defense Information Specialist Course, the DINFOS Public Affairs Officer course, and the Army Advanced Public Affairs Course.  I reached GS-12/Step 8, was cut back by Army downsizing to GS-11/Step 10 due to downsizing, and wound up as a USACE YA-02 when recalled for Katrina duties. Along the way I met some great people, and really liked my job.  The Army awarded me the civilian equivalent medal to the Legion of Merit, for duty as a speechwriter in Korea.  As a retiree I am most interested in helping to inform concerning our Nation’s involvement in Libya for the 20 years after World War II.

As one who spent decades in the world of Military Public Affairs, the way I have come to think about a definition of National Security is the same manner in which I think about responsibilities with regard to command information, public information and community relations. In Public Affairs, we old timers came to think about the process as akin to safety and security, meaning it is everyone’s task, everyone’s responsibility. In a much greater sense, National Security is the same way. In and out of government service, every citizen has the personal obligation and the personal responsibility to be aware of, to be involved with, and to in all ways promote National Security. That is because the bedrock of our society is the United States Constitution.

Everything about us as a Nation depends upon this document, in terms of interpretation, and in terms of application. As a person reads the document, and sees the task of application by the executive branch and the legislative branch, and in terms of safeguarding proper applications of authority, the judicial branch, it is crystal clear that Freedom cannot endure without the sanctions, protections and the authorities of government at large. To be Free, Americans must always be made aware of, and understand, the costs. They must also comprehend the challenges, and then, in a variety of ways, provide the wherewithal to meet them.

To somewhat narrow the focus of this discussion, please permit a consideration of all who serve; civilians employed in all offices of government, uniformed personnel in the various entities, including the Department of Defense, but also some other departments in peacetime, in which abide coastal defense, and operations of health and transportation. These are not singular tasks and groups. Instead, it is all part of a large and very complicated circle, the outer perimeter of which constitutes the entity called National Security, a complex and intricate interlinked network, which has so many different kinds of ways and means to constitute the whole.

Differences aside, there is a commonality—the oath taken by all of the Federal Government to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America from all enemies, foreign and domestic. Now, most of what follows involves words and paragraphs devoted to personal military experiences; but the foundation of such discussion for me—and for every veteran of government, especially the military—is that the act of discharge and retirement does not mean release from the oath. We who served followed unique and courageous traditions; we took that oath clearly and distinctly, and in lifetime it always remains with us. Without a Constitution there is no United States; a Nation rests on the sum of the parts of its Constitution, and not on this or that interpretation or debate of individual points.  This is what I have come to understand in a lifetime spent with various attachments and relationships of service.

I was raised in a single parent childhood by an employee of a TB hospital operated by the Administration of Veterans Affairs. My mother worked in house cleaning and as I grew up, would hear stories told to her by patients—men who had fought in the Spanish American War, World War One, World War Two and Korea. When I was 16, an explorer scout, the Air Force Reserve gave us aerial navigation course, along the way telling many stories about life in the service. I was hooked, and shortly after turning 17 visited the local Air Force recruiter. He told me I first had to finish high school (which I hated and didn’t do all that well in) before I could go to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. Six days after graduation I made that journey. From the very first day I liked being in the Air Force, which decided I should become an Air Policeman. That is the technical school I was sent to, and in the Air Force I began to grow up. Aside from training, the first real world event to surface which made me do some intensive thinking about who I was and what I was doing was the Cold War Cuban Missile Crisis. My flight was pulled from the classroom and we took over as the Lackland Base Police while those having the duty were forward deployed to bases in Florida. When they came home, they assumed the base police role and we returned to the classroom, only now with a much more precise knowledge about what it meant to be a cop and to protect an installation.

My first duty assignment was at Wheelus Air Base, about six miles east of Tripoli, Libya. I spent 18 months at Wheelus, in the 7272nd Air Police Squadron, first in regular law enforcement flight operations for a few months, serving as a BAR gunner in base alerts, and then mostly as a sentry dog handler, guarding remote locations. North Africa is always a cauldron, as true in the early 1960s as it is today. What I gained in Libya provided a crisp foundation for the stresses faced in later Asian locations; all a cumulative process. In Libya I spent a week on a bodyguard detail for the Monarch and his wife, when they came to the base hospital for some medical treatment. That was King Idris. I was handed an M-2 carbine and locked into an open bay, right next to the King’s suite. He honored me by insisting I was the youngest present during the first night of the annual Ramadan, and should be fed first. Other Libyan experiences I remember include spending the night on the beach with dog and M-2 (normally we carried side arms and occasionally shotguns) right after President Kennedy was killed; going to Cyrenia, landing at the Bennina Air Port at Benghazi, and going as part of a field hospital up the escarpment to the earthquake destroyed town of Barce (Al Marj); being at the bomb dump with three other handlers and a regular Air Policeman in the spring of 1964 when a group of Libyans flooded across the stone wall into the five square mile facility. In that early morning hour experience we were ordered to release all four dogs and then to fall back to the strong point in the middle where we set us an M-1919A6 .30 caliber machine gun and spent a long night until relieved at daylight. It was a long night. A lot was then going on throughout Tripoli. All of our dogs were bloody but unhurt.

In June of 1964 I returned to the United States and was assigned to a Strategic Air Command Base in Arkansas, where I served the rest of the enlistment as a sentry dog handler. The Vietnam War was building so I decided to re-enlist, but I cross-trained into the Information field, today called Public Affairs. As I trained I served as the sports reporter, an assistant in public information, and learned photojournalism. After I passed the necessary tests to be rated a five level, I was given the necessary security level and assigned for nine months as the wing historian. I volunteered for Vietnam but was sent to Korea in the early fall of 1966. Instead of being a military journalist I was put back to work in the Air Police. I was offered a dog but declined, so was assigned to Air Police Investigations for a few months, then when the pipeline produced an access of cops was sent to the Air Forces Korea newspaper, The DEFENDER, to be a features writer. It was an interesting job that let me see all of the Republic of Korea as it was 13 years after the signing of the armistice (very different than what it now is).

In 1967 I deployed to Saigon from Seoul, specifically Kimpo Airfield to Tan Son Nhut Air Base, and was assigned as a photojournalist within 7th Air Force Directorate of Information Combat News Branch. There were several different kinds of jobs in that 23 months before the 1969 discharge, but primarily I wrote features and did the necessary photography, mostly on bases but sometimes in the field. I was also put on non-crew member flying status to do the required coverage, and flew a variety of mission types aboard cargo planes and helicopters, and also aboard Shadow and Spooky gunships. I returned to the USA in early fall 1969 to honorable discharge and to enrollment in the Kansas State College of Pittsburg, later renamed Pittsburg State University. When I came home from Vietnam I was a staff sergeant who had a Bronze Star (M) for work during Tet, and a USAF Commendation Medal for having helped establish a base level Office of Information at Tan Son Nhut in 1969. I was the NCOIC of that operation, experience that would be very valuable in the years ahead.

To help pay for college I tried some jobs in civilian journalism but eventually went back to law enforcement, as a Campus cop. I also paid for college expenses by membership in US Army reserve components, the Kansas National Guard for several years where I was an Infantryman, and then in the compression program of USAR ROTC at the university. As a reserve soldier I eventually worked my way to captain. I did both undergraduate and graduate level studies at PSU. In 1977, the US Army offered me a GS-7 level job as post newspaper editor at Fort Leavenworth. My goal had been to become a community college instructor so I took the Leavenworth job, thinking it would be income while I searched for an opening. It wasn’t long though before I realized I really liked Public Affairs management, so I quit my teaching job hunt and applied myself to the DAC job.

My civilian career gave me a lot of opportunity; I attended and graduated from the Department of Defense Information School’s Information Specialist Course and the Public Affairs Officer Course, a PME course in Korea, and the Army Advanced Public Affairs Course at the College of Journalism University of South Carolina. It was all great training, with some wonderful colleagues as fellow students and PA practitioners. What I had learned as an NCO in the USAF and in the Army reserve components directly applied to the earliest jobs at Forts Leavenworth and Hood, being accountable for young troops and for senior folks as well in the various daily tasks of Public Affairs.

At Fort Hood as a GS-9 I provided daily leadership for a platoon strength of military journalists. In my mind I just remembered what some great NCOs – SMSgt Marcus Grant, SSgt Clarence Stokes, MSgt Harvey Inouye, and TSgt Joe Covolo – had taught me about duty performance and accountability. It worked like a charm, yet the higher up the ladder I climbed, fewer and fewer came the opportunities for daily contact with the people who were really making the Public Affairs process work. I missed that contact, and highly valued it when it briefly happened. At Fort Hood I was promoted to GS-11 and assigned as III Corps Public Information Officer, a job that allowed a lot of daily contact with some truly excellent Soldiers.

As an Army civilian, I served twice in the Republic of Korea as a speechwriter for the generals and others of senior leadership, simultaneously as a writer in the US Army Aviation Systems Command and in the US Army Troop Support Command in St. Louis, as the installation Public Affairs Officer for Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, as deputy PAO in North Central Division US Army Corps of Engineers then at the Fort Jackson PAO. I reached GS-12, Step 8, and had extra duties that were interesting such as being the career program manager on the side for the -22 program at the MACOM in Korea, and was also given additional tasking of command interest.

We returned to the United States in 1990 and almost immediately heard about Army Downsizing and Corps of Engineers consolidation. My job in Chicago was eliminated, and I was offered a GS-12 job with HUD. My life had been spent in the Department of Defense so I looked around a bit, talked to some folks, and was then offered a GS-11 deputy PAO slot that was open in TRADOC at Fort Jackson. It was GS-11, Step 10, a pay cut of several thousand dollars, but I took it, thinking I could find a GS-12 job on down the road. Instead, Fort Jackson experienced another round of downsizing and my position was eliminated. I was offered a GS-7 job in supply but decided instead to take early retirement, something I really hated to do.

We moved back to Kansas and I found a job in television news, and then a job working as an adjunct instructor at a community college. When Katrina came in, the US Army Corps of Engineers offered me a job in Mississippi as a rehired annuitant. I went to southern Mississippi expecting to be assigned way out on the fringe of the operation, but instead, within a month, I was the USACE Recovery Field Office PAO at Keesler Air Force Base, with responsibility for four field offices. The reason for the selection was previous disaster experience (the Underground Flood Fight in Chicago). At that time most of the USACE PA resources were assigned overseas and manpower was at a premium. I was in Mississippi for a total of five months, and then was kept on stand-by, unpaid another year and a half in case another major hurricane came in.

In retirement I have worked as a volunteer with the 50th Commemoration of the Vietnam War. It is a very special program. Information about this congressionally funded DOD program can be found at www.vietnamwar50th.com.  These days I am again retired, read a lot (as I have always done) and continue to be as knowledgeable as possible about world affairs and US National Security affairs and events. In that regard, the Internet is a wonderful device!

The last point in response to this question concerns a philosophy that was branded in my heart and mind and soul by a SAC colonel named Paul Handy. Early in the assignment of being a bomb wing historian, he saw the job was weighing heavily on my then E-4 Airman First Class shoulders. The officer was known as a typical gruff SAC leader, but he took the time to sit down with me and talk about the situation. My first enlistment had mostly involved time spent in the enlisted community. Now, all of a sudden, I was around a lot of officers and even some colonels. It was scary. What Colonel Handy did was to point to a model of a B-52 aircraft and to explain how every nut and bolt was important in order for the aircraft to fly and protect peace. We talked some about the SAC motto, “Peace is our profession,” and then he gave me a linkage of a few words – his own motto– which have been with me ever since. The colonel taught me to believe in PRIDE as an acronym with each letter standing for this: Professional Results In Daily Effort.

In all the days and years since that talk, I have always used the colonel’s words as an anchor point, and it has always worked, regardless of circumstances, even directly working for four-star generals!

  1.  Was there a particularly funny or comedic experience?

Ahhhh, Libya, and life in the barracks. It was towards the end of the month, our dog flight was on break, and none of us had any money—not even the quarter necessary to buy a movie ticket. It was a Saturday. We lived two blocks from the Med but had spent month after month of going to the beach. We were tired of shooting pool with broom handles, and of playing hand after hand of penny ante poker—there had to be something to do. Somebody spoke up. The base service club (a place we all religiously avoided, for some unknown reason) had a bus trip set up to go to Leptus Magna, the ruins of an ancient Roman city located roughly in the same area that ISIS now controls.

We decided to go and collected our water bottles. “I do have a new kind of pop”, Troy said, “I bought it payday but haven’t tried it yet; I’ll stick it in my camera bag”. So off we all trooped to the service club, boarded the primitive and shaky GI bus (think “old school bus”) and set off for an hour and a half or so trip to Magnus. There were a bunch of us doing this 1963 trip—Ted Baldwin, Russ Clark, Terry Seats, Ken Ward, Troy Lyons and myself. We drank our canteens dry, and then discovered there was no water supply on the bus, nor was their water available at the site.

Well, we trooped the city, walked the old tile roads, explored the coliseum, checked out all the eight-foot tall headless statues that someone over the ages had vandalized, and we stripped to our undies and went for a swim, trying to see what lay under the water. It was a neat day, except for the fact we had no water. Most of us had seen this city before, in a 1950s movie with John Wayne and Sophia Loren. We all took many photos, then trooped off to the bus to start the long ride home, back to Wheelus Air Base. The wheels were moving and we were on the Homs Road headed west. “Troy”, someone said, break out the pop, “We’ll share. We’re thirsty”. So our non-drinking friend did. He had bought a six-pack—of quinine water, to make gin and tonics with. It was a long thirsty trip home, and Troy couldn’t understand why we threw the empty cans at him.

Ahhhhh, Korea, and life in the Namsan Foreigners Village, a complex of two large concrete towers near the Hyatt Hotel, up on Namsan Mountain. This was home for international families, and once counted as representing over 40 separate Nations. A few service members lived there but most of the Americans were civilian employees down at Yongsan Garrison, at the bottom of the mountain. Most of the American families were long-term residents. We lived there during both of the speechwriter assignments. We even drew the same apartment, 1212-A Dong. On that second tour, my neighbor across the hall was a retired US Army chaplain (Major) who now worked at 8th Army’s recreation services. Bob had spent a lot of time in Vietnam and then in VA hospitals, before retirement. He taught himself a lot of magic tricks, involving playing cards, and making animals out of long tubular balloons. Bob was bored, so he started a clown troop of himself as the boss clown and the rest of us, five or six others, as his minions.

We all went whole hog with clown suits, face paint, floppy shoes, even red noses. We went to many organizational events and unit parties, and became—in a Yongsan sort of way—quite famous. It was the time of high school graduation, and the US Ambassador and his wife threw a yard party at the residence for the graduates. Bob was contacted and asked to provide a clown troupe. Now at the time there were a lot of street demonstrations going on, and the ROK riot police had their Black Maria paddy wagons out, along with many stick carrying troops, and a lot of pepper fog.

I didn’t hide fast enough, so Bob picked me to go with him, primarily because my son was one of the graduates and was taken to the residence in an escorted bus. Bob and I donned our makeup, dressed up, put on our noses, and called for a PX taxi. When it showed up, and the driver learned where we wanted to go, he didn’t want to take us. We paid double and off we went, down through a lot of clouds, horns honking, people yelling, and then we got caught in a traffic jam, right next to city bus full of students who were all scowling and carrying signs. Uh-oh. Bob thought fast and told me to start blowing up balloons. He made weenie dawgs and started handing them up through the window to the young people on the bus. Then he started doing card tricks. We sat there about half an hour, and finally decided to walk because it was only about six blocks. One of the students spoke English. We told him why we out and about, and where we needed to go. He got off the bus with about 15 or so friends, and they escorted us to our gig. I will never forget the Marine’s face when we showed up at the residence, dressed as clowns. It took some persuading to get in, but once inside we went on with the program—although most of the balloons were now gone. I thought that was the end of it, the ambassador didn’t seem mad, and I did have all that face paint on. How could anyone really tell who I was? Well, it was interesting who all said something to us the following week, and I am not telling who. Looking back, no harm, no fowl or foul or whatever, yet in retrospect we both should have known better. Just a couple of old Vietnam vets, having fun.

I grew up in a steel town in western Pennsylvania. Many of the workmen were from West Virginia and Kentucky. They were very opinionated about issues of race. My uncle was of those ranks, so when I enlisted in the Air Force I took with me a prejudice against people of other cultures and skin color. Eight years in the barracks mostly cured me of such foolishness, but what did the job the best was a friend I had in Vietnam. He was older than me and had been in close to twenty years, but I was an NCO and he was an airman so it took a bit for the walls to come down. Carl was a photographer, one of the best I have ever met. Now and then there would be things happening away from the air bases, out in what was called in Vietnam simply “the field.” This was a place you carried weapons and wore helmets and flak jackets. The 7AF Director of Information would ask for coverage of air force support activities, and off a small group of us would go. Our band usually included motion picture and still photography folks from the 600 Photo Squadron, and writers and radio tape folk from our combat news organization. We worked together. We helped each other carry tripods and so forth. We went to nasty places and learned what it was like to get shot at and to be mortared. Once my friend and I were on a Huey that had a mortar round explode right underneath us. That was an attention getter. Once we landed in what was supposedly a secure location, and started talking about what had just happened, doing this on a tape recorder, we looked way off into the distance and saw a man waving at us. We waved back. He waved again. We waved back. Then he stopped. We kept talking. When we got back to Tan Son Nhut and put the tape on a reel-to-reel machine with an amplifier, you could hear bullets snapping past us. We couldn’t hear them because we were wearing helmets.

So it is towards the end of Carl’s Vietnam tour. I had convinced his boss to assign him to the Office of Information at the base level, the same place I had been assigned to. Life was good. We were both short as was said and kicking back. Then the phone rang. It was a Vietnamese Air Force NCO we both knew, and had a good friendship with. He was in a panic. The Republic of Vietnam Vice President Air Marshal Nguyen Cao Ky, a resident of the air base, needed a box of 8 x 10 portraits to be used as press handouts at the Paris Peace Talks. Our friend did not trust his photographers with such an assignment. Being young (or youngish) GIs I looked at Carl, who nodded, I grinned, and we said yes. Our captain was never around, so he didn’t know that an hour later a VNAF blue painted jeep showed up at the office door, we climbed in, and went downtown to the Presidential Palace where the Vice President had his office. As Vietnam’s top airman, he was a hard worker. His desk was a mess, papers all over the place. The Air Marshal came into the room, stood to his desk, sat down and fiercely scowled at our tripod-mounted camera. Carl asked that some of the piles of paper be moved a bit. There was a scowl but the papers were moved. Then Carl said, “Mr. Vice President, would you please smile?” Ky snapped “NO”! And Carl’s eyes got big. He looked at me, and being Mr. Cool, I said “Sorry sir”. Then Ky laughed. He had been toying with us. He did everything we asked, and Carl shot some wonderful portraits. We popped to attention but Ky was not done with us, and told us to come around to the other side of his desk where he showed us his submachine gun, laying on the shelf of a credenza behind him. And yes, he had on his revolver.

Now for the rest of the story. We went back to Tan Son Nhut and Carl went to the lab where he souped the film and started making prints. Some master sergeant wandered by, saw the pictures and went and got a lieutenant, who went to get a captain, who went to get some colonels—yes, more than one. “What’s this all about”, they asked. Carl had them call me. I explained how we were supporting VNAF. Very soon, Information Colonels were also involved. Our captain was still out there somewhere. Carl and I stood quiet and said “yes sir” a lot. However, one of the colonels had a sense of humor and he also liked Carl’s work, so we slid…but were told the next time the Vice President wanted something to be sure and mention it.

Well, that was Vietnam; to this very day I miss my friend. We lost track of one another. I think Carl moved back to Baltimore but I’m just not sure. I do know this. As skilled as he was with a camera I bet he made a fortune taking pictures at weddings! More weddings than Vice Presidents! Air Marshal Ky became American citizen Ky, and lived in Orange, California after the war. I still have a fond memory of the time he shared with us. A really neat gent!!

The first autumn I was an Army civilian employee, I was a GS-7 at Fort Leavenworth, a place where most people were majors. Second lieutenants were scarcer than hen’s teeth, and the one I found had just months before been a staff sergeant, the same stripes I wore on weekends in a Kansas National Guard unit. My wife and I became good friends with this couple. Mac was the officer in charge of a shop in a wing of the same building where the Public Affairs was located. He worked for a full colonel who decided to throw a Halloween Costume Party in his quarters. We were all invited. My wife sewed costumes for us that were supposed to be gray bats. When we got to the party we found Mac in Klu Klux Klan regalia, complete with mask and pointed hood. His wife was dressed in regular clothing, and told us, unlike her husband; she was dressed as a human being.

Mac and I immediately found the bar and did some drinking. Then the colonel announced that the fun and games of the evening would be a scavenger hunt. Most folks at the party were majors and formed teams together. Our wives ignored us, so we took the list, which included such things as a bloody Band-Aid and a B-B and a plastic clothespin and started wandering around in the late October evening of what was field grade housing. The routine was this. Go up to the door, knock, ask for an item, and then held out a shot glass. House after house. In the darkness, our costumes began to look alike.

Somebody called the M-Ps. It was a little old lady who told the desk that the Klan had invaded Fort Leavenworth. A young troop showed up and asked what we were doing. We told him. He started laughing, but then said to watch out for his NCOIC who was also headed in to take the call. Just then, another MP car showed up. This no nonsense NCO asked what we were doing. We showed him our list. He said, “Well, I must check this out, you two get in the back of the car”, and he drove to the senior colonel’s quarters where the party was located. He got out and started into the quarters. Our wives got big eyes when they saw us—still in costume—in the back of the patrol car. Some shrill voices erupted. The MP had everyone go into the quarters. Mac and I were left in the patrol car back seat. He had not taken our ID information. I looked at Mac. Mac looked at me. Staff sergeant-like smiles came out of nowhere. The sergeant had not locked the car. Quietly we escaped, I guess you could say, went around the quarters to the back door, shed our costumes, and then tiptoed into the back of the crowd to listen to the stern NCO trying to be stern with the crowd, most of whom had been in the sauce. We mixed in well. The NCO went back out to the car to get his prize subjects – and the car was open! The back door was open! Well, he left…and Mac and I did not win the costume contest nor the scavenger hunt, but we did make an impression, perhaps of the type no GS-7 or second lieutenant should ever do.

And about the KKK outfit, did I mention my friend was Black?

We had another adventure together, later. There was a community carnival my friend was in charge of. It was in November I think, and chilly. The boss of the carnival had ridden with Pancho Villa a long, long time back. Mac and I helped him empty a rum bottle and we learned a lot about the Texas border, back in the day. Being around Mac was always quite an education—and I loved every minute of it. My Army brother and his family moved on to a Pacific assignment and my wife, son and I went south to Fort Hood. After a few years of exchanging Christmas Cards, as in the military world only close friends do, we just lost track, but I have never forgotten him.

Oh, I should also say both the military police gents were Black also, but because we left our masks on, I don’t think he ever figured it out. Being a former military cop myself, the next day I did feel a little bit bad, but he really should have asked for our ID cards.

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