Robert W. Ackerman


Prior to Joining USAF

Born in Baltimore, MD, 25 Sep 1938. At 2 years of age, I contracted rheumatic fever (heart disease) and spent the next four-plus years in hospitals (paralyzed and in an oxygen tent first two years). A new miracle drug, penicillin, just introduced in the U.S. in 1940 saved my life. Father reported killed in WW II. Due to my damaged heart, no physical exertion (running and playing) was allowed until age 12. Early teenage years involuntarily transferred around to various public schools as a troublemaker. Baltimore prided itself in being a blue-collar working-man’s city and my stepfather was a union organizer. I wanted out of that world. I quit high school and applied to the Air Force 14 days after turning 17.

Enlisted Experience

Date of entry; 12 Oct 1955, basic training at Sampson AFB near Buffalo, NY (snow capital of America). Next 3 months were spent marching, firearms training, and bivouacking in tents outdoors in freezing winter temperatures. First assignment to Ethan Allen AFB in upstate Vermont, even colder. Assigned to Base Operations flight line, but inside, as an aircraft dispatcher. My first boss, Major Jake Amato, was an OCS grad who logged time every month in every aircraft based there, recips (C-47, C-45, C-119), helicopters (H-13, H-19) and jets (T-33, F-86D, later F-102 Delta Daggers). He took me with him whenever he could fit me in a seat – great guy, I owe him big time. He kept me out of trouble and even assigned two young lieutenants to tutor me in math and English to pass my GED. At 18, I did the honorable thing and married pregnant local girl, my first wife. Eight months after our first daughter was born, reassigned to Libya for unaccompanied 18-month tour. Worked in Security Service communications intercept unit, listening to Russians. Returned in Oct. 1959, reenlisted at Charleston AFB, SC for choice of assignment to McCoy AFB, Orlando, FL. Worked in Operations, Broken Arrow (Nuclear Accidents) and in SAC Command Post during transition from B-47s to B-52s. Graduated SAC NCO Academy, made SSgt. In Jan 62, reassigned to 8th Air Force Headquarters (Bootstrap Office), Westover AFB, MA, where I was selected for OCS starting in Oct. 1962.

Memories of OCS Experience

No sleep, no food, mean upper class fiends terrorizing me at every opportunity. Impossible demands physically, mentally and academically. After first 3 months, I looked gaunt and a mere skeleton of my former self. But still hardheaded and determined not to fail. Then with new upper class status as OC Major, Group Ops & Training Officer (Chief OCS Terrorizer), made damned sure incoming lower class paid their price by facing the same awful treatment. Most memorable moments: Cuban missile crisis, “burials at sea,” and graduating as a 2nd Lt in Mar 63.

How Life Unfolded After OCS

Wonderfully! First assignment with Deputy Personnel Director, AF Hqs for CAP (Civil Air Patrol), Ellington AFB, Houston, TX; co-located with new Johnson Space Center just being built and staffed. TDY around U.S. speaking to groups of CAP volunteers. TDY to Ecuador as escort officer for 8 CAP cadet high school students as part of the International Aviation Cadets Exchange Program. Flew throughout that country in light aircraft (Cessnas, Piper Cubs, etc.). Whenever home, I took private flying lessons in base aero club T-34 to try for inter-service transfer to become an Army pilot (eyes not acceptable for Air Force). Second daughter born 22 Nov 1963, the day before President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, TX. Two months later, tapped for transfer to Air Reserve Personnel Center, Denver, to help set up surrogate alumni for Air Force Academy recruiting, using senior Air Force Reserve Officers not on active duty, in communities all over the U.S. Did a similar program for the JAG Reservists. I was the only active duty officer in both programs. In 1965, selected for Bootstrap Degree Program, University of Nebraska, where Jim Bigham and I crossed paths again. A crammed one-year program to finish undergraduate work for a Bachelor Degree. Before finishing, selected for Regular Augmentation. Upon graduation, selected for Air Force Attaché training in D.C. prior to assignment at American Embassy, Pakistan. During two years there (an awful place), participated in overt and covert intelligence operations, traveled to Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Also helped close down American Embassy in Iraq when diplomatic relations severed. Spent several great R&Rs in Greece during maintenance trips for our C-54. Returned to D.C. in 1968, joined faculty of Defense Intelligence Agency Attaché School. One year later, transferred to special Foreign Liaison office in the Pentagon, reporting directly to the AF Deputy Chief of Staff. Worked closely with the Undersecretary of the Air Force for International Affairs. Fabulous job — my assigned countries were the UK, Italy, Sweden, Japan, and South Africa. Negotiated cooperative R&D agreements, transfer of technology, and intelligence sharing. As a result of personally thwarting industrial espionage by a close ally, in 1972 was asked to join the AF Space and Missile Systems Organization in Los Angeles. Divorced and lost custody of two daughters. Accepted offer and moved to the West Coast to manage the business aspects of two multi-million-dollar contracts to design, build, and launch communication satellites for UK Defense Ministry and NATO. Lots of travel, briefing NATO countries. Remarried in 1975 to a WAF. My swan song the month I retired in April 1976 was a successful launch of the last of those satellites from Cape Canaveral, getting it into stationary orbit, and turning control over to NATO. Racked up 17 PCS moves in 21 years, changing AFSC almost every time. Loved every minute, but it was time to go.

Retire?—No Way!

Just reloaded to find success in the civilian business world. Left Air Force on Friday and started work following Monday for a successful entrepreneur in the aerospace industry. He hired me to set up a new company to organize major symposiums for government and high-tech industry. Took job for a token $25,000 base, plus 10% of gross (zero at the time). From my headquarters office in Los Angeles, organized annually over 100 events in the U.S., plus over 50 in Europe from my office in London and 10+ in Asia from office in Tokyo. It was a hyper-paced experience, lots more travel, speaking all over the world, which resulted in divorce from second wife. In three short years, grew gross sales to over $10 million. I did the math. With my percentage, left in 1979 to be my own boss, and created a business called Wine Ambiance. Used my passion for wine, food, and travel to market wine cellars, wine art, education, etc., internationally. Debra left the previous company where we met, and we grew the business together, were married, and moved to San Francisco in 1984. Got an offer in 1990 and sold it to a major wine industry company in New York. We “reloaded” again and started Ackerman International marketing luxury goods to 21 countries from our home office. We also participated in, and organized, major international wine events in 10 wine-producing countries, wrote numerous articles, and served as editors of Arbor Magazine, a wine-world publication.

Where Are We Now?

After 16 fabulous years in a San Francisco high-rise penthouse with incredible views, surrounded by 3,000+ restaurants, minutes from an international airport to anywhere in the world, we moved ourselves and our business 45 minutes North to Sonoma Wine Country. We still travel, just the two of us, 3 to 4 months of the year. At last count we have lived, worked, or played in over 60 countries, and have developed usable language skills in German, French, Italian, and Spanish.

What are Our Plans for the Future?

To never retire, we are still reinventing ourselves. We are now morphing into yet another career change. We like having a business income stream, in addition to our annuities, which gives us cash flow for the good life and also provides tax write-offs and home office deductions. So, using abilities already well developed, we are transitioning into becoming full-time journalists, writing articles for newspapers and magazines about travel in the context of culinary experiences—food and beverages as part of cultures and places. We plan to spend 6 to 12 months per stay, living in various countries, returning to the U.S. in between trips. We feel extraordinarily fortunate. Debra and I have been together 24/7/365 for 24 years now. We are perfect mates. We have enormous love and respect for each other; it doesn’t get any better than that. There is nothing we can’t do (thanks to OCS and her Midwest upbringing). Our health is excellent—no handicaps or meds of any kind. Everything is in place to be happy together forever after…into infinity.