James A. Coombes

CoombsI was born on August 27, 1939 in Paso Robles, California to Mildred L. Coombes and Clarence J. Coombes. Within a year my family moved to Burbank, California where my father was employed in the aircraft industry at Lockheed. WWII was about to begin and Lockheed was very busy. As the end of WWII approached, I was old enough to recall looking up from our backyard and seeing many aircraft, especially the P-38s, flying out of Lockheed. Great memories… and why I always wanted to fly!

I attended elementary, junior high, and high school in Burbank and graduated from Burbank Senior High School in June 1957. I was very interested in mineralogy and planned to attend the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. Those plans changed when I enrolled at Pasadena City College and shortly thereafter (Oct 57) enlisted in the USAF.

As were all new enlistees, I was herded off to Lackland AFB, Texas, where I survived Phase I of Basic Training. I was selected to attend Radio Intercept Operator School at Keesler AFB, MS, and also completed Phase II Basic Training at Keesler. In August 1958 I was PCS’d to the 6925th Radio Squadron Mobile, Clark AB, Philippines. While stationed in the Philippines I enjoyed good duty, rapid promotions and a wonderful opportunity to travel throughout the Philippines and develop many lifelong friendships.

In Sept 1960, I was selected to attend the U.S. Military Academy Prep. School at Fort Belvoir, VA. This assignment was a stepping stone to my attending the Philippine Military Academy, Baguio, Philippines. Married Teresita Trinidad on June 21, 1961 in Manila. Following two more assignments in the USAF with the Security Service and at Hq. PACAF, I was selected for OCS Class 63C. And, you all know the rest of that story! We made it!

OCS presented many extreme challenges and memorable experiences. The numerous challenges and accomplishments that I realized through OCS helped to prepare me for several great career opportunities to follow. As I recall, the military/physical training phases of OCS were accomplished with reasonable effort, however, several of the academic courses were nearly my undoing. With the constant support (and sometimes prodding) of our professors and training officers, and considerable assistance from many of my fellow cadets, I survived the “ordeal” and was commissioned. Undoubtedly my greatest concern during that six-month period was for my wife, Terry. This was Terry’s first time to live in the U.S. by herself and at the same time she was expecting our first child, James. Following several complications, James was born on Jan. 10, 1963. Win Butler’s (OCS 63C) wife, Thelma, was a godsend to Terry during our OCS “internment” and the two served as OCS “Mothers” to several cadets.

Immediately following commissioning, I went TDY to Sheppard AFB for computer officer training, after which my family and I proceeded to Langley AFB, VA, and my assignment as a Data Automation Officer at Hq. TAC. Langley was a beautiful base and a wonderful assignment. I worked in the Hq. TAC Computer Center and learned a great deal about staff management and “how to get things done.” I was blessed with working for several senior officers that helped guide my career over the course of many years. The following is a brief recap of my remaining assignments in my Air Force career:

From June 65 to Dec 66, I served as Data Automation Officer at George AFB, CA.

Then on to Tuy Hoa AB, RVN, where I served as Chief, Data Automation from Dec 66 to Sep 68. Two years in Nam… what did I do to deserve that? Actually, I volunteered after which I hoped to get stationed back at Clark AB, Philippines. On my way to Viet Nam, I relocated Terry and family to an apartment in Manila. I was able to arrange TDYs to Clark AB on several occasions so the RVN tours worked out OK.

My assignment as Chief, Data Automation at Clark AB finally came through thanks to Col. Glenn Riggle at Hq. PACAF. He’s one of the senior officers at Langley that helped get me off to a good start. I was stationed at Clark AB until Sep 73. That was a marvelous assignment for all of us and kept Terry close to her family in Santa Ana, Manila, who we visited frequently. While stationed at Clark AB (and after many many long trips to Manila) I finally received my BS degree from the Technological Institute of the Philippines. During this assignment, I also received my commercial pilot’s license and instrument rating and logged several hundred hours flying TDYs to USAF Air Stations throughout the Philippines. Tough duty… but somebody has to do it! But alas, all wonderful things must come to an end and it was back to CONUS and our final assignment at Hq SAC, Offutt AFB, Nebraska.

I was assigned as a Computer Systems Staff Officer in the Underground at Hq SAC fromSep 73 through Oct 77. Good Duty, many challenging experiences, and served with many great people. Tried to stay in the Air Force longer than 20 years (even tried to volunteer for a remote Korea assignment) but it was not to be! Being a career reserve officer does have its shortcomings! During this period I got my multi-engine rating,bought into a Cessna 310J, logged lots of hours in preparation for a corporate pilot career after USAF retirement. It’s been great fun, USAF, but I gotta go!

The Coombes family moved to our present home in Nine Mile Falls, Washington, and have never looked back (well, not very often). After arriving in the Spokane, WA area Terry found a staff position at Gonzaga University. She’s still there! I was the corporate pilot for Northern Hardwood Company based in Spokane and flew throughout the Pacific Northwest and Midwest for them until I received an offer from Spokane County that I couldn’t refuse. I served as the Computer Operations Manager for the County until September 1993.

In the mid-1980s I founded Northwest Aero-Marine Enterprises, an aviation and marine services business, and in the late 1980s also founded Airshows Northwest, Ltd. By now you can see where this is going! I was hooked on aircraft and aviation from day one! “It Just Had To Be Done” so I bought a Pitts S-2B (and later another exotic unlimited biplane), joined the air show industry, and flew several hundred air show performances throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico. I’m enchanted with unlimited flight… and I wish that I could do it all again! And then there was Lookout Pass, Montana (about 7,000′ MSL, 0′ AGL). I should have known that they named it that (“Lookout”) for a good reason! I’ll save that part of my life for another time…

Post Script: Our son, Jim, is a Master Chief in the U.S. Navy stationed in Charleston, S.C. Our son, Mike, is a Major in the U.S. Air Force and an instructor pilot at Sheppard AFB, TX. Our daughter, Susan, is a biologist and also presently completing her MBA at Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington, where Terry and I are currently on staff.