Colonel Billy B. “Rusty” Napier began his Air Force career in 1968 after earning his B.A. degree from the University of the South located at Sewanee, Tennessee and receiving his commission as a Second Lieutenant through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC) program. After completing navigator training at Mather AFB, California in 1969, he was assigned to the 17th Special Operations Squadron (SOS) at Phan Rang Air Base, Republic of Vietnam (RVN) as an AC-119G Shadow gunship navigator on 6 March 1970.
Napier was first assigned to A Flight at Tuy Hoa and subsequently to Phu Cat Air Base, RVN. He was transferred midway in his tour of duty to Fighting C Flight at Tan Son Nhut Air Base during the Cambodian Incursion. During his tour of duty in Vietnam, First Lieutenant Napier flew 650 combat hours and 155 sorties with six of those sorties on AC-119K Stinger gunships. He participated in two major offensive operations; relieving the siege at Dak Seang and the invasion of Cambodia.
Upon completion of his tour of duty in Southeast Asia, he returned to Mather AFB as an instructor navigator. In 1974, Captain Napier was assigned to the 701st Military Airlift Squadron at Charleston AFB, South Carolina, serving as a C-141 navigator, instructor navigator and flight examiner.
In 1979, Napier was assigned to the 16th SOS as a fire control officer on the AC-130H Spectre Gunship. In 1980, he was selected as Executive Officer to the 1st Special Operations Wing (SOW) Commander. He served in that position until 1982 when he assumed the Executive Officer position in the newly created 2nd Air Division. Having distinguished himself as a staff officer, Napier was assigned to United States Air Force Headquarters in Washington, D.C. While working at the Air Staff, he served as Program Element Monitor for all major Special Operations Forces (SOF) acquisitions; the MC-130H Combat Talon II, the MH-53 Pave Low Helicopter, and the AC-130U Gunship. He completed his Pentagon tour in the Air Force Secretariat, helping to implement the Air Forces’ $5 billion SOF revitalization effort.
In 1987, Napier returned to the 16th SOS as Operations Officer and became the Squadron Commander of the 16th on 20 June 1989. In December 1989, Colonel Napier led the squadron into combat against Panamanian Defense Forces in the Republic of Panama during “Operation Just Cause.” The following year, Commander Napier led his AC-130 Spectre Gunships into combat in Kuwait and Iraq during “Operation Desert Storm.”
In 1991, Colonel Napier was reassigned to United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) as Deputy Director of the Special Operations Research, Development and Acquisition Center at MacDill AFB; Tampa, Florida. In 1992, he became Director of Legislative Affairs for USSOCOM with offices in both Washington D.C. and MacDill Air Force Base.
Colonel Billy B. “Rusty” Napier retired from the United States Air Force in October 1994 and assumed a position with the Boeing Company as the SOF Business Development Manager in Tampa, Florida, specializing in the special operations market environment. He is currently assigned to Boeing’s SOF Aerospace Support Center in Fort Walton Beach, Florida as the Business Development Manager for marketing the SOF C-130 aircraft and for development/production of SOF’s latest aircraft such as the tilt-rotor CV-22 Osprey.
A Master Navigator, Colonel Napier has logged over 6,000 hours in T-29, AC-119, AC-47, C-141, and AC-130 aircraft. His military awards include the Distinguished Flying Cross with two oak leaf clusters, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with seven oak leaf clusters, Vietnam Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with palm, and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal. He is also the recipient of the 1990 Mackay Trophy, awarded for the most meritorious flight of the year, for action in Panama.
Rusty is married to the former Shirley Ann Farmer. They have one son, Jonathan and one granddaughter, Ashley.
Shadow War Stories in S.E.A.
Nicknamed “Nap” and “Napalm” by his close Lieutenant buddies at Tan Son Nhut, Rusty Napier flew with just about every crew that served in the 17th SOS during his tour of duty in Vietnam between March 1970 and March 1971. Previously stationed at FOL’s, Tuy Hoa and Phu Cat before reporting for duty with Fighting C Flight at Tan Son Nhut had taught him to pack light, make new friends, and not buy any stereo equipment from PACEX.
Rusty, like all Shadow navigators, was duly qualified as a table navigator and as a Night Observation Scope (NOS) operator. He enjoyed duties at both positions but usually took the NOS position because the majority of higher ranking navigators preferred table navigator duty.
While operating the NOS on one-night mission, he found a solitary enemy truck traveling with lights out in a free fire zone. He targeted the truck and the aircraft commander opened fire with all four miniguns. In Rusty’s night scope, the truck disappeared in clouds of dust while being peppered with thousands of rounds. After the crew patted themselves on the back for the “kill”, they called home base about their accomplishment. No sooner than the radio call was completed, the truck started moving down the road and to add insult to the Shadow crew, turned on its headlights. So much for that “kill” and the power of 7.62mm ball ammunition.
Flying an armed reconnaissance mission over the Mekong River in Cambodia one sunny and hot day, Rusty was again at the NOS position. A couple of sampans were spotted on the river north of Kampong Cham, another free fire zone. The aircraft commander, one of Nap’s Lieutenant buddies, could clearly see the sampans as he entered a firing circle.
Before opening fire, the AC made sure Rusty was ready to record the “kills” on the AC’s 8mm movie camera. The AC opened fire and movie-maker, Napalm Napier recorded the action, filming the “kills” out the NOS doorway. Bullets raked the sampans and the surrounding brown river water as the enemy abandoned ship and jumped overboard only to be pelted by more bullets. Kills confirmed on film.