In the fall of 1969, I was a senior at Penn State University enjoying my last year of college and fraternity parties. The U.S. Army was drafting young men to fill its need for soldiers in Vietnam. Because I was a full time student in college, I had a student deferment that had kept me out of the draft for three years. The deferment would terminate on my graduation in June of 1970, and I would then be eligible to be drafted. My draft number was 183, a number selected at random by the U.S. Selective Service System by putting 366 birthdays in a jar and picking them out one by one. My birthday was the 183rd pick, which gave me a draft lottery number of 183.
Each local draft board was given a quota of the number of draftees that were to be selected by the draft board to be inducted into the Army. People who had a draft deferment for reasons such as college or medical problems were not eligible to be drafted. From the pool of eligible potential draftees, the draft boards were obligated to draft starting with people whose draft lottery numbers were started at 1 and then proceed in order to lottery number 365 if necessary. Because my number was in somewhat in the middle of lottery numbers, I was in a gray area. I could not predict if I would be drafted or if my number was high enough to avoid the draft.
I decided to hedge my bet by applying for admission to USAF flight school. If I got drafted and if I got into flight school, I would have the option to join the USAF and fly instead of being drafted into the Army and possibly being sent to Vietnam. If I were drafted, I would have to serve two years in the Army. I could also avoid the draft by volunteering for the Army and get a choice of what my job would be. By volunteering, I could get a “safe” job such as computer programmer or cook, but volunteers had a three year active duty service commitment. The Air Force commitment was three months of Officer Training School, one year of flight school followed by five years of additional active duty.
The application process for becoming an Air Force officer and airplane driver was intense and took many months. I first completed a lengthy application. I passed the first round of cuts and had to take several tests such as an aptitude test, general knowledge and eye-hand coordination. After passing the second round of tests, I was given a very comprehensive flight physical, including an eye exam. A common mis-conception is that you cannot become a military pilot if you do not have 20/20 vision. Only a select few (such as Air Force Academy cadets) know that it is possible to get a waiver of the 20/20 requirement from the Surgeon General of the Air Force. I also had to complete a detailed Department of Defense questionnaire about my entire life, which would be used by the FBI to investigate me to determine if I was eligible to hold a Top Secret security clearance. After passing the FBI background check, the last stage of the process was to be selected by a selection board.
I began the USAF application process in the fall of 1969, but did not get notice of my acceptance until May of 1970, about the same time I got a notice from my draft board to report for a draft physical. When an Army recruiter told me that I had a good chance of being drafted into the Army and being sent to Vietnam, I elected to accept my USAF slot and go to Officer Training School and flight school. I goofed off the summer of 1970 in Westport, Connecticut, were my parents lived. In early September of 1970, I took the oath to protect and defend the constitution of the United States and became an E-4 (for pay purposes) and reported to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, for three months of OTS.