Gerald Mittelman

MittelmanI was born and raised on the near north side of Chicago (Lawrence and Broadway for those of you who might be familiar with Chicago). I attended Senn High School but thinking that money was more important than education I quit school in May of my senior year (not the smartest thing I could have done) and got a job. I sold shoes for a while and then got a job as a truck driver. I finally realized that quitting school was not the wisest thing that I could have done, so after being out of school for almost two years I attended night school at Central YMCA High School in downtown Chicago for six months to get my high school diploma.

Working full time and going to school three nights a week didn’t leave a lot of time for anything else but during this period I met Al. She lived and was going to school in Des Plaines Ill, a northwest suburb of Chicago. My meeting her was literally accidental because she worked for a cousin of mine in a ladies’ apparel shop. I had stopped by the store to get advice on a birthday present for my mother. So, along with getting gift advice, thinking Al was cute, I asked her out. That, as they say, was the start of something big.

After getting my diploma from High School I decided to enroll at the University of Illinois, Navy Pier in Chicago. I quit driving trucks and got a full-time job working nights for Standard Oil in their credit card department in downtown Chicago. Being a full-time student, working full-time, and carrying on what had become a rather serious relationship proved to be impossible, something had to go, and that something was college. As I was driving to school the morning of mid-terms, totally unprepared, I went instead to the Air Force recruiting office and enlisted. Four days later I was on an airplane to Lackland. To understand this rather rash action you have to remember that in 1957 the draft was a very real probability for someone without an educational deferment.

After Lackland, I was sent to Keesler for tech school. After three months in tech school, we were given leave and I returned to Chicago to get the redhead; we were married in March of ’58. Originally scheduled for the Radar Maintenance Course, I lucked out and was in one of the first classes for a newly developed computer repairman course. Unfortunately, as one of the first graduates, I was retained at Keesler as an instructor. I spent over four years as an instructor and the tour was great but I wanted to get out into the real Air Force. The Air Force however decided I was frozen for overseas shipment and there were no computers overseas and wouldn’t be for a good number of years. While at Keesler, Al and I started our family. Stephanie and Gerald Jr. were born at Keesler. Brady, our youngest, would come along later in 1965. My honest opinion at the time was that Officers were god and/or brilliant (of which I was neither) but in frustration about how to get off of Keesler I applied for OCS. I heard nothing about being accepted or not for months and given that I knew OCS was being discontinued I decided that I’d have to find another alternative. However, three weeks before 63-C was to start I was notified that if I could get a current physical, I was to report to Lackland to join the class.

My memories of OCS are basically all GREAT. Like everyone else, I’m sure that at the time I thought I was overworked, underpaid, and abused. However, seriously enough, I have nothing but good memories of the experience. The academics sucked pond water but were invaluable. I find it amazing that too many citizens have little understanding of (or interest in) the geopolitical realities of the world.

After OCS it was back to Keesler. I was sent to the Air Force’s Computer Officer Maintenance Course (a course I had helped develop and taught when I was at Keesler prior to OCS). I tried to plead reason with the hierarchy to allow me to skip the courses and just award the new AFSC, but they told me to relax and enjoy my one-year vacation. I really didn’t, it was truly a boring year. After graduation, I was sent to Ent AFB, Colorado Springs to a Field Training Detachment (because of my teaching experience) to develop and teach the courses necessary to support the new NORAD Cheyenne Mountain Complex (NCMC). What a great experience, not only teaching but also installing the original equipment and getting it operational. I had arrived in the Springs in August of 1964 and remained there until I was sent to the Officer’s Senior Communicator’s (3011) Course at Keesler in early ’70. While it sounds like a long time (and it was), I succeeded in getting enough college work accomplished that I got to go bootstrap for six-months at the end of 1969. With my new Bachelors degree in math I went back to Keesler for a year in the 3011 course before winding up at the 1974th Comm Group at Udorn Thailand for 13 months.

Like the man says, it may not have been much of a war, but it was the only one we had. Another great experience (I’m easily pleased). Met some great people, worked incredibly hard, and felt we had a very real mission. I was sent over as the computer maintenance chief for the group; i.e….all of the computers in Thailand. That lasted a month when a new computer officer showed up as the wire (all of the base’s communications) chief. He knew absolutely nothing about phones, teletypes, radio, etc. so since I at least had some experience other than computers, the Commander made me the wire chief. I apparently did OK because four months later I moved up as the Group exec. Since the ’74th was an AFCC billet I assumed that my follow-on tour would be with AFCC. However, one of my students from the FTD had wound up in the ADC Hqs as the maintenance chief for the NCMC and he wanted me on his staff since ADC was considering upgrading the computer systems in the mountain. After an interesting bidding war for my services, the NORAD Commander won, I returned to Colorado Springs in Jan 1972.

Again, an absolutely great job. We upgraded all of the original equipment, got several new systems in Space Tracking, Space Defense and Missile Warning, and even were lead command for the Mission Equipment (Electronics) on the AWACS. All of this flowed through my shop in the HQ. I was rapidly approaching twenty and still a reserve officer so I started considering what I would do when I retired. Gen. James (CINC NORAD) asked if I would stay an additional two years to complete the upgrade project and I agreed. I didn’t know reserve officers could stay 22 years but Gen. James said that was his problem. My date of separation was changed to 1979 and I hung around Colorado Springs. I was promoted to LTC, offered a regular commission, and selected for AWC by the ’79 selection board.

Following AWC I wound up on the RD staff in the Pentagon. Again, I was involved in system development of Command Control and Sensor Systems. Following four years in the Pentagon I went to Electronic Systems Division at Hanscom Fld, MA. I was now the Systems Command Space and Missile Warning Systems Director. If the Air Force was developing a Space or Missile Warning System, it fell under my Directorate.

In Nov ’87, I had reached the 30-year mark and had my papers in for a 1 Mar 88 retirement. In mid-December, I received a call from a friend in AFCC asking if I would consider coming to Scott to take over AFCC’s acquisition activities. Explaining that my papers were in and approved I suggested that accepting that offer might not be possible. This friend asked if I would accept the job if he could make it happen. I said yes and on the 20th of Jan I was advised by the Col’s group that I was to report to Scott AFB IL on 1 April 88. I spent another five years in system development, this time of standard Air Force computers and communications systems.

I retired from Scott in March of ’93. Al had bought some land in Alabama the year I was in War College (1980) and told me she was going to retire where her “bones were warm and hoped I’d join her” so we finally moved South in April of ’98 and built our retirement home. We live on Lake Martin about 40 miles northeast of Montgomery. I quit work totally when we moved down here so other than traveling to see the kids and grandkids (eight) we lead a rather sedate life but love it.


Gerald Mittelman Sr., age 73, of Eclectic, Alabama and formerly of Oakland, Illinois died Tuesday, September 20, 2010 at Jackson Hospital in Montgomery, Alabama.

Mr. Mittelman was born April 13, 1937 in Chicago, Illinois to Arnold and Ethel (Coon) Mittelman. He married Alta Countryman on March 15, 1958 at Des Plaines, IL. He served in the United States Air Force for 36 years and retired a Colonel. He was a  member of the Military Officers of America and the Armed Forces Communications Electronics Association.

He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Alta (Countryman) Mittelman; two sons, Gerald Jr. and Brady; one daughter, Stephanie (Mittelman) Hilligers; and eight grandchildren. He was buried on September 23, 2010, in Oakland, IL.

Jerry’s wife Alta (Al) was born June 28, 1939 and passed away November 16, 2010. She was buried beside her husband in Oakland Cemetery, Oakland, Illinois.