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NEWS | March 11, 2021

Pleiku departure; 50 years later, veterans recall memories

By Staff Sgt. Chandler Baker 633d Air Base Wing Public Affairs

On March 24, 1971, the 633rd Air Base Wing inactivated at Pleiku Air Base, Republic of Vietnam. The unit was originally designated as the 633rd Combat Support Group when it was activated at Pleiku in April, 1966.

“The mission partners on Pleiku never could’ve completed their missions without the support of the 633rd,” said Ryan Collins, 633rd Air Base Wing historian. “Each unit benefited from the security, facilities, medical-care and morale activities provided by the 633rd Combat Support Group.”

The 633rd supported many different units: the 1st Air Commando Squadron, a flying unit of 25 A-1 Skyraiders and four U-10 Super Couriers, the 9th Air Commando Squadron, which flew 18 O-2 Skymasters and six C-47 Skytrains, and the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Division.

“It was hard to believe this small plot was a USAF Base and this small village is where I would be for at least the next year, but it was better than some other places I had heard about,” said retired U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ron Chromulak, who served as a 633rd CSG life support supervisor. “I taught survival, escape, evasion and rescue, and prepared aircrews with all their personal flight and emergency equipment that they would need for their mission and for their use if they were shot down or had to bail out of their aircraft.”

One particular unit in the 633rd CSG, the Consolidated Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, assisted in the maintenance and sortie generation out of Pleiku.

“My primary duties were aircraft radio and communications repair and maintenance,” said retired Staff Sgt. Charles McLaughlin, 633rd CAMS. “This involved bench testing radios and communications equipment, including equipment for secure/coded communications. Also troubleshot issues on the aircraft including O-2, AC-47, various A-1 (single and 2- seat), and the odd [C-130], AC-130, or AC-119 that came through.”

During their time at Pleiku, the 633rd Air Police Squadron defended the base against guerilla forces. On January 5, 1967, Viet-Cong forces attacked the perimeter and overran the South Vietnamese army outpost. The VC forces also attacked nearby Camp Holloway, also secured by the 633rd APS. According to retired Senior Master Sgt. Benjamin Barto, flight chief, the APS returned fire and pushed back the assailants, preventing the destruction of several air frames. On May 15, 1967, the unit was redesignated as the 633rd Security Police Squadron, receiving additional equipment for their enhanced force protection mission.

From air support, to communications and force protection the 633rd was integral to mission success; enhancing their counterparts through training and expanding capabilities throughout the community.

According to Collins, while the 633rd was at Pleiku, they engaged in many community relations activities, including the Security Police Squadron’s efforts to help construct the Montagnard, the indigenous tribe in the area, Police Academy. Additionally, the SPS provided instruction in the English language and police procedures to the indigenous population.

 “The 633rd Medical Group provided critical care and defended against deadly tropical diseases while personnel services operated Irvine’s Inn recreation facility,” said Collins. “Indeed, the 633rd Combat Support Group placed first in the 7th Air Force Commander’s Management Competition for Support Activities October – December 1968.”

On quieter days, there were also unique opportunities for Airmen and Soldiers to relax.

“There was not really a lot to do, but thinking back, watching a movie outdoors in the middle of a monsoon might not qualify as fun but something you never forget,” said retired Chief Master Sgt. Bill Thompson, 633rd Civil Engineer Squadron firefighter. “Trips into town were always exciting because you never knew who would be there or what would be going on. But much of time we would just hang at the fire station on off days because that’s where the action was.”

On March 15, 1970, the 633rd CSG and Pleiku Air Base was turned over to the former Republic of Vietnam Air Force under the Vietnamization program Operation Corona Harvest.

One Pleiku veteran has advice for Crossbow Nation: “The strength and camaraderie in that environment was incredible,” said retired Master Sgt. Jim Wade, 15th Aerial Port Squadron air freight. “I’ll never forget my experience out there, and Airmen in the 633rd now should take the time to understand where they came from. You can’t change history, but you can learn from it.”