Robert L. Proteau


Life Prior to Joining the USAF

Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, 21 Dec 1937. Grew up in a small town, Millbury, near Worcester. Graduated from Millbury Memorial High School in 1955. Worked full time and part time in a small factory in Millbury making hand tools (hammers, chisels, hatchets, etc.) for over 4 years. Graduated from Worcester School of Business Science (small 2-year unaccredited school) in 1959. Worked as an office manager after graduation from Business School until the draft board started to haunt me. Tried to get into the USAF Aviation Cadet Program but couldn’t get pilot training due to less than perfect eye sight and was deferred for navigator training until I could get my nasal passages reamed out and teeth fixed. So a decision was made to enlist in the Air Force and get the physical problems fixed so I could later reapply for Cadets.

Enlisted Experience

Joined the USAF in March 1960. Went to Basic Training at Lackland and then to tech school at Chanute AFB, IL, to learn to be a Flight Simulator Specialist. Was assigned to the 306th Bomb Wing at MacDill AFB, FL, and enjoyed working on a KC-97 flight simulator until deciding to apply for OCS in 1962. A couple of highlights from this period was meeting Barbara, who would later become my wife, and competing on the base, 8th Air Force, and SAC smallbore rifle teams.

Memories of OCS

My most significant OCS memory was  walking out of the dining hall on the third day and trying to quit. After a slight attitude adjustment, I became convinced that those sorry bastards (class 63A) were not going to get the best of me. The next day I recall telling Burrell Sullivan that “We got this program beat”. That was followed by a howl of laughter and several requests from him in the following weeks to repeat those words. My new positive attitude was the best thing I acquired in OCS and it has served me well ever since. Other fond memories were shopping for a confidence car with roommate, Bruce Olsen, and attending graduation. Driving home to New England in the Austin Healy with all my worldly belongings, plus my Niece and her luggage, through a blinding ice storm, was also quite unforgettable.

Life after OCS

First Assignment: I was off to Keesler AFB, MS, to attend Avionics Officer tech school. After tech school I had the pleasure of being assigned to Headquarters Tactical Air Command at Langley AFB, VA. It seems that the Avionics Division of the Maintenance Engineering Directorate was looking for an Avionics Officer with enlisted Flight Simulator experience and they grabbed me. That was an awesome experience for a young Lieutenant. I eventually became Chief of the Airlift and Support Aircraft Branch and became intimately involved in the development of many new Avionics systems (mainly Electronic Warfare and Night Attack Sensor system) and the subsequent modifications to the aircraft that would use them. My job was to program the manpower, training, spare parts, test equipment, and tech manuals to support the new systems. I got involved in several so-called “Black Programs” to procure and install systems for Special Operations missions in Southeast Asia. It was a very challenging and rewarding experience. The biggest thing that happened during this assignment was when I married the terrific girl, Barbara, that I had met in Tampa while stationed at MacDill.

After: I left Hq. TAC in 1967 and was assigned to the 463rd Airlift Wg at Mactan Isle in the southern Philippines where our C-130s operating in Vietnam were based. We maintained a TDY avionics shop at Tan Son Nhut AB, near Saigon, to support the C-130s while they were in-country. In 1968 my former boss at Hq TAC was now the Avionics Divsion Chief at Hq PACAF in Hawaii, and he dragged me there to spend four years doing the same job I had at Langley. My main project became the AC-130 gunship which underwent major modifications during every wet season so it could deploy with new capabilities and a new package of support for each coming dry season. Subsequent assignments included; the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth, SD, then upon promotion to Major, squadron commander jobs at the 56th SOW at NKP (1973) and the 388th TFW at Korat (1974). Then another 4-year tour in Hawaii as Commander of the 15th AMS. My next stateside job was back to Langley for duty in the 1st TFW with the then-new F-15. I was initially the Maintenance Supervisor for the 1st AGS and then, upon promotion to Lieutenant Colonel, became Commander of the 1st EMS (1978 – 1980). My last active duty job was Director of Maintenance for the Tactical Air Warfare Center (TAWC) at Eglin, prior to retiring in October 1981.

Post Retirement

Took advantage of the GI Bill to complete a bachelors program and almost finished a masters in Control Systems Engineering. Since my oldest son, Michael, was starting college, I could no longer afford the luxury of being a full-time student. We moved to California in 1984 where I worked as an Engineer for Hughes Aircraft Company. A year later, we lost a big contract to build digital airborne command and control terminals for the Milstar program and I was assigned to a Navy torpedo project (yuck!). I decided to return to the Eglin area in late 1985 where I worked as a support contractor for a series of companies helping the Air Force develop and field GPS-based test instrumentation for tri-service test ranges. Retired again from Teledyne Brown Engineering in December 1997.

Current Life

We enjoy waterfront living and love the Eglin area. We both like to do a lot of sailing and play a lot of tennis and generally are enjoying retirement life. Michael is still single and working hard as an Architect in Miami. On the negative side, our younger son, Kenneth, passed away in 2000 from a heart attack. Ken was married and running his own business in Atlanta but had not had any children yet, so we still don’t have any grandbabies to spoil.

Future Plans

Barbara and I have been blessed with reasonably good health and hope it continues. We also hope that Michael finds a good woman to share his life with and make us some grandchildren. However, all these things are pretty much out of our control. So we will continue to do our best to be good citizens and enjoy the years we have left.