From grease pens to computers: Intel Airman reflects on decades of service

  • Published
  • By Justin Oakes
  • Eighth Air Force Public Affairs

When Ed Wempe entered the Air Force in 1970 as an Armed Forces Air Intelligence Training Center student, he didn’t envision retiring from service some 46 years later (to the exact day), let alone remaining in the same career field the entire time.


But a life with the Air Force seemed inevitable.


Growing up with military parents, “I loved Air Force life as a kid and never really thought of any other type of job except with the Service,” Wempe said. “And I wanted to serve in an operational capacity.”


Poor eyesight would prevent the young Sumter, South Carolina, native from being considered for an aircrew position – but there were other avenues. Wempe’s biggest inspiration came from Maj. Parker, an Air Force ROTC instructor who recommended the Intelligence field as an option. 


The instructor told Wempe his background in history would help him understand enemies when dealing with threat assessment analysis, a key component of intelligence gathering.


“Knowing I could have a direct impact by helping bring home aircrew and aircraft safely, appealed to me,” Wempe said.


Intelligence professionals also provide information regarding targets and conduct research such as target significance and development, as well as identify enemy capabilities, locations and tactics -- information which ultimately helps keep friendly forces out of harm’s way.


For more than four decades, Wempe served in a variety of Intelligence roles and at various locations.


However looking back, it was his time as a wing intelligence officer at Korat Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, which proved to be one of his most memorable and rewarding experiences. 


“It was my first operational assignment after tech school, and we were supporting the Vietnam War,” Wempe said. “There was a broad range of USAF weapon systems at the base, and they all required briefs and debriefs: F-4E fighter-bombers, dropping bombs and serving as fast forward air controllers; F-105 Wild Weasels, going after surface-to-air missile systems; EB-66s, performing electronic surveillance and stand-off  jamming missions; and the EC-121 BatCat gathering signal intelligence.”


It wasn’t long before the young Intel officer was supporting another mission at Utapao RTAB, Operation Linebacker, where the U.S. focused its B-52 strength on renewing and stepping-up its bombing missions over North Vietnam when the Paris peace talks had come to a stand-still.


“The impact of the B-52 bombers was profound as we helped put bombs on target, and more importantly, the B-52 bombing over Hanoi was primarily responsible for bringing our POWs home,” Wempe said.


While the Intelligence mission of yesteryear remains essentially the same, the weapons and technology used to perform the job have significantly changed.


“One of our basic tools used to be the grease pencil,” Wempe said. “We also had ‘one’ secure phone on base that sounded like ‘Donald Duck’ on the other end. In today’s Air Force, things have gotten much quicker and more accurate through the use of computers and smart weapons.”


Wempe went on to hold positions as a planning officer at Headquarters USAFE in Germany; a joint systems project manager for the Defense Intelligence Agency; and Chief of Intelligence Operations for three separate Provisional Wings at Jeddah Air Base, Saudi Arabia, during Operation Desert Storm -- just to name a few, before reaching his last active-duty station here at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.


Most recently, Wempe served as the civilian Technical Director for the Eighth Air Force Intelligence Directorate and the 608th Air Operations Center ISR Division.


In the Intelligence Directorate, he helped direct and support approximately a dozen Airmen with manpower, personnel and training, as well as plans, programs, exercises and resource issues. Within the AOC/ISRD, Wempe helped guide and assist 35-40 Airmen with analysis, targeting, and collection management operations.


“He was always there to guide the mission and get the job done without a lot of fanfare,” said Master Sgt. Samuel Moorhead, Eighth Air Force Intelligence Directorate NCOIC of Plans and Exercises. “He did a lot.”  


But after more than 45 years of service within the Intelligence career field, Ed Wempe decided to hang up his civil service hat.


Surrounded by family, friends and colleagues, he retired during a formal ceremony at Barksdale on Aug. 18.


“Throughout his decades of service, Wempe always placed the interest and needs of our units first when working any manpower, training, or equipment issue,” said Lt. Col. Derek Bright, Eighth Air Force deputy director of Intelligence. “He was always willing to share his experience and advice with our junior officers and Airmen, and go the extra mile to help anyone.”


So what’s in store for Ed Wempe now?


“I plan on attending my 50th high school reunion, spend lots of time with my daughters and grandkids, and plenty of vacationing,” Wempe said. “I can depart this job with the satisfaction of knowing that these many years of service have contributed to the success of our Air Force and the safety and well-being of our Airmen.”