Manuel P. “Mike” Brooks was born in Miami, Florida in April 1936. He graduated from High School in Columbia, South Carolina. He entered the US Navy Ready-Reserve in 1952 and attended Navy boot camp at Bainbridge, MD. He also completed the Navy radio school at Norfolk, VA in 1953 and served aboard the USS McClelland.
He married Emma Jean Bruner, his high school sweetheart of four years in 1956. Realizing the prospects of trying to mix marriage and shipboard life he enlisted in the US Air Force in 1957 after a year as a civilian broadcast radio engineer.
Based on his naval and commercial electronic background, Mike was assigned to the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratory (an MIT project) serving as a research technician in multiplex data-link (TDDL), electro-counter measures (ECM) and as a flight test crewman for those projects on several aircraft based at Hanscom Field.
As a young family man working two off-duty jobs to support Jean and two Mike knew he had to take some significant steps to secure their future. Thus, he commenced taking night classes at Boston College and applied for the Airman Education and Commissioning Program (OTS).
As a hedge to gain an Air Force commission he also applied for Officer Candidate School. He qualified sooner for OCS and accepted his appointment at the expense of giving up a reenlistment bonus and a promotion to T/Sgt. Mike entered OCS in April 1962 and graduated in September 1962 with a commission as a Second Lieutenant.
He was accepted into pilot training on an age-waiver and completed the program at Webb AFB, TX in December 1963. At the completion of pilot training he was assigned to C-130 aircraft (his second choice after F-4s). However, his final flight physical brought into question injuries sustained earlier as an air crew member. A physical evaluation board disqualified Mike from further duty as a commissioned officer. After a 17-month battle he was able to salvage his commission on a waiver with assignment limitations. But he lost flying status.
He did, however, gain a third daughter and an assignment to Amarillo Technical Training Center, TX (Jan 64 – Nov 65) as a squadron commander. In November 1965 Mike slipped by the assignment limitation and managed an assignment to the Gray Eagle Advon Team that landed a C-47 in Vietnam on a WWII Japanese PSP runway and began the effort that eventually became Phan Rang AB, the RVN home of the 366th Tac Fighter Wing.
His duties included several fancy titles which really amounted to jack-of-all-trades: OIC BCE Work Control Center (poured concrete), OIC Motor Pool (convoy cowboy-in-c), communications tech (wire stringer), OIC officers club/tent (rum runner) and protocol officer (read, wrote & spoke Vietnamese language for commanders)
At the end of his tour in Phan Rang he was serving as Executive to the Base Commander and managed to fly (as his right seater) the Commander’s Gooney Bird at every opportunity. In January 1967 Captain Brooks returned to the U.S. with an assignment to the Air Staff, HQ USAF at the Pentagon. His initial duty was as Executive to the Director of Plans in the DCS Plans and Operations shop.
In less than a year he was assigned as Chief, Executive Services Division, an 0-6 position under the Chief of Staff where he massaged Air Staff and Joint Staff action papers. Over two years of sixty and seventy hour work weeks eventually paid dividends for Mike.
He overcame the physical obstacles of record, was augmented into the regular officer corps in 1968 and was tendered an opportunity to regain his flight status. Acceptance of the offer, however, required a minimum one-year assignment as a helicopter pilot. The mortality-rate and life expectancy of chopper jocks then being seven to ten months Mike passed on the offer and instead arranged an assignment that would allow reintroduction to his family.
This assignment took him to Italy where he served from 1970 to 1974 as Executive to the Commander, Air South (NATO) at Naples, Italy. While there he completed Army Command and General Staff School by formal seminar and was promoted to Major. Also. he and Jean were surprised (after an almost 9 year dry spell) with the arrival of their last child (a daughter).
Upon tour’s end in 1974 Major Brooks arranged what was billed as an assignment to HQ Air University, Maxwell AFB, AL. However, upon arrival he was assigned as the Hq Sq Commander, 3825th Academic Services Group. The challenges Mike accomplished and/or surmounted in this job included fielding a winning basketball team, endemic pedantry and perfunctoriness, boredom, and coffee overdose.
Unable to end the debilitating impasse he decided to seek fresh air in the civilian sector. Mike retired from active duty (and smoking) in June 1978. He had attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel with 26 years of service (more to this epoch – just ask). Prior to retiring he completed his bachelors degree at Troy State University with over 260 credit hours many of which were to be applied towards a master’s degree.
Mike’s service awards include the Presidential Unit Citation, the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award w\V & clusters, National Defense Service Medal w/ star, Korea Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Viet Nam Service Medal w/ 3 campaign stars, the Air Force Small Arms Marksmanship Award and also received the Republic of VN Campaign Medal w/ bar.
His personal decorations include the Army Good Conduct Medal w/knots, the Air Force Commendation Medal, Joint Services Commendation, the Air Force Meritorious Service Medal, and the Bronze Star.
Initially, from June 1978 to June 1979, Mike sold real estate (mortgage interest rates were then in the high teens) before tiring of gasoline bills which exceeded his sales. In January of 1980 he accepted a merit service position with the State of Alabama and worked in Montgomery, AL. He served as a Manpower Planner for a number of years eventually taking a new position as a Systems Manager. The “system” was the first statewide PC network-based federal grant and contract management system — which Mike personally developed and programmed.
In 1993, he and Jean decided to slow down and enjoy life and after some 14 years with the State of Alabama, Mike was truly and fully retired. He and Jean, long settled in Montgomery as home, wound up living at the same address for nearly 30 years. Within the past year, having grown tired of pool, yard, and other maintenance duties, they sized down to a modest but very comfortable and quiet garden home.
Time in retirement not spent with their children, grandchildren or their first great-grandchild (expected in December) finds Mike and Jean touring somewhere in North America on their mini-RV, a Honda Gold Wing. There are 60,000 miles on the current bike so far.
Mike has yet to get over his love of old cars and bikes and he still flies, sails, bicycles, and rides his dirt bike in the woods at every opportunity. With much gratitude for Jean, his loving life partner, without whose unstinting support and cheerleading he would never have attained the commission and education to which he aspired and from which his family has so richly benefited.