Mark Tarpley, Navigator
18th SOS, Nakhon Phanom, Da Nang, and Bien Hoa, 1972
I earned my wings as an Air Force Navigator in February of 1972. When our class was picking assignments I put down my choices on the Dream Sheet with an F-4 as my top choice. On advice from some old head instructors I listed all assignments in South East Asia that had no state side counterpart. When my name came up and my assignment was announced it was “2nd Lt. Tarpley you have an AC-119K to NKP Thailand.” My first thought was “What, I got an airplane I never heard of, to a place I never hear of. This could be interesting.” Interesting hardly describes my assignment in Stingers.
I checked out during the early summer at Hurlburt and on 2 Aug 1972 boarded the stretch DC-8 at Travis AFB to take me to Survival School at Clark and then to Thailand. When we landed at Bangkok our orders were to proceed immediately to the MAC desk to get our flight to NKP. One of the old heads grabbed me and a couple of other Lts and said wait here with me. After about an hour he said OK lets go register now for our flight. When we got to the desk they said sorry, we are all full. We will get you on a flight in two days. So we had a two day vacation in Bangkok!
I learned a lot about warfare in Gunships and had some memorable missions that are not what you may expect. Yes I flew North to the PDJ on my first mission on the NOS scope. I had wondered what my reaction was when we would ultimately be shot at with AAA. It was actually more anger than anything else. As a NOS I was able to spot where the AAA may have come from and targeted it so we could fire back. Mission one complete and I survived being shot at.
One mission out of Bien Hoa that was memorable was a TIC south of Saigon. An Army base camp was being attacked with the VC trying to penetrate their perimeter. We put all six guns on the line ate hosed the place real good. The Army guy was very grateful and voiced it once the radio. That was a good feeling for sure. Flying up toward An Loc on a mission we took accurate AAA over and over again. On one Break Right the IO lit off the Flares. Shocked me to see the bright light flash off the tail of the aircraft. I had no idea what was happening. The IO finally said he thought it may have been an SA-7 so he fired the flares to be safe. On a mission out of Da Nang we were cruising around the base area when there was a bright fire coming from the bomb dump area It grew in intensity and then blew up. We flew over it the next hour and I have never seen such an inferno. One night we flew with what was supposed to be a very high chance of a rocket attack. We fired on all the normal rocket fields and there was no attack.
One early morning I was sound asleep in our barracks was rocked with the loudest attack I have ever felt. After a few minutes under the bed in flak vest and helmet I got back in bed. After getting up after lunch I was cleaning up after my shower, with a radio on AFRTS. When the news came on, the lead story was “F-4s mistakenly bombed Da Nang AB today.” That was my rude awakening. I was still at Da Nang when the war stopped. I came home on a 707 in mid Feb of 1973 and continued my 27 year Air Force career ultimately retiring as a Colonel.
I retired from the United States Air Force in 1998. During my Air Force career I flew as a Navigator in a variety of aircraft and held several staff positions in contingency war planning. I am a published author in a variety of media outlets and principal author and contributor to several books analyzing the operational effectiveness of the Desert Storm Gulf War. I also served as an Operations Group Commander and Base Commander at Riyadh Air Base in Saudi Arabia. My final Air Force assignment was as the Inspector General for Air Combat Command at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.
I earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration and Computer Science from Texas A&M University-Commerce, hold a Master of Business Administration from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, and Doctoral Studies at Oklahoma State University.
My after Air Force career was as a Defense Marketing Consultant and Field Representative for multiple aerospace companies that conduct aircraft component repair and overhaul supporting Air Force, Army, and Defense Logistics Agency requirements. I am on the National Board of Directors of the Air Force Association. I previously retired as a Marketing and Sales Representative in Business Development, Maintenance Modifications and Upgrades, for the Global Support Systems sector of The Boeing Company’s Integrated Defense Systems group. I was responsible for planning, proposal development, capturing and executing new business for the KC-10 and other types of Department of Defense military maintenance, repair and overhaul, and logistics operations.
I previously held responsibilities as a Senior Consultant and Associate Director of Business Development for Robbins-Gioia within the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center. I also have been an Adjunct Professor for Oklahoma State University, teaching within their Aviation Education department.
I am married to Shelley and have a son Christopher, a daughter-in-law Jeana, and a Grandson, Gideon. I live in Edmond Oklahoma.