Monday, December 19, 2011

Interpersonal Transfer of Experiences: A Working Cognitive Theory for the Echo and Oscar Flights Folklore

As mentioned in my very first blog article, over the 4 years that I was assigned to Malmstrom AFB, in the 490th Strategic Missile Squadron, I never ran across the story of the Echo Flight shutdowns. This also included my 4 months of crew training at Vandenberg AFB prior to my arrival on station. And to a certain point, that personal observation is what drives my questioning of the UFO event as the cause of the shutdown, as well as, any event that may have occurred at Oscar. Even my wife, a maintenance officer during the same time period at Malmstrom, never heard of any UFO stories involving Echo or Oscar and she had access to senior enlisted personnel (Master Chiefs) who never hinted about the incidents.

I am curious as to what drives these stories. How is it that a story such as our "haunted" Launch Facility, A-05, has longevity (originated in early 1960s), yet the Echo and Oscar stories were either non-existent, or locked up in some one's memory? Base on this interesting phenomenon, I've coined the term "Theory of Interpersonal Transfer of Experiences." Simply, the "Crew Force Oral Tale."

My theory is loosely based on the word of mouth passing of a rumor. Over a period of time the the rumor changes in its message and context as eventually the final message has no resemblance of the original message. In my exercise a personal experience that someone has is usually passed on in a verbal means of communication to another individual. For all practical purposes, this is similar to the oral tale. The telling of a missile crews' experience is usually a verbal form of communication.  For the purpose of this thought exercise, I use the passing on of a missile crew's experience, a story based in fact or rumor, to a new generation of listeners. A generation, in this context, means a period of 4 years. Four years was the time period that most of the missile crews had to serve before being reassigned to other duties either at the same locale or a new base. Missile maintenance personnel usually where on station for 3 to 4 years, if not longer, depending on the circumstances.

Based on the 4 year generation cycle, from 1967 to 1983 there would have been four complete generations.
Since crew/maintenance/security experiences are predominantly verbal (some experiences are written down as I will show later), there are factors that naturally affect the relaying of the initial experience in a story's format:

1) The significance of the experience will determine if the story will be passed on to the next generation.

2) With each succeeding generation, the passed on oral experience is subject to numerous factors. Over a period of time, the story develops "fatigue" and it's interest and importance fades. Details of the original story become blurred with the passage of time and the passing on of the story to succeeding generations. The story may disappear due to the lack of enthusiasm, yet resurface secondary to a trigger mechanism. And most importantly, the loss of first hand knowledge of the original experience degrades the initial significance of the story.

The experience can only survive the passage of time if it has a major impact on the succeeding generations.
I had mentioned previously that the missile crew experience can be in a written format. This usually presented itself by way of the "Captain's Log." Each Launch Control Center traditionally had it's own Captain's Log  which all crew members that pulled an alert at that facility could informally write their personal thoughts and views. This was an unofficial compilation of an individuals thoughts concerning missile crew duty.  At some missile wings, the practice of having the log was heavily frown upon by the wing staff. Its uncertain which missile wing started the tradition of the Captain's Log, as well as, when the first log appeared in use. My recollection for Malmstrom was that some of the earliest existing writings dated back to roughly 1973. Of the fifteen Captain's Logs that I had read and written in, there were never anything in them that mentioned and/or referenced UFOs affecting Echo and Oscar. More to the point, Echo's and Oscar's Captain's Log was a blank slate regarding any mentioning of UFO activity.  Of equal interests is the omission of any UFO sightings/activity over the Kilo Flight in 1978 which has been mentioned by Robert Hastings and others.

1967 - 1971, The First Generation

Based on documentation, both official and unofficial, it's well known that on 16 March 1967, that all ten of Echo's ICBMs dropped off alert.  It's also well known that there were numerous rumors that UFOs had caused the missiles to drop off alert.  This was made clear in the 341st SMW's Unit History.  These rumors evidently spread through out SAC and it's various support agencies.  Based on my past experience with missile related rumors, it is not a far stretch to believe that by the end of the day, most if not all of Malmstrom would have heard of the shutdowns and eventually the UFO rumor.  The UFO story would have been talked about through out the four operations squadrons.  Yet by 1971, the story would have either been fresh or starting to fade via "fatigue."  How much of the story would have been passed on to the next generation, that is, those new crew members newly assigned to Malmstrom?  Admittedly, this is difficult to say with any certainty, but it may be assumed that some of those newly arrived on station would have been told of the Echo story and the UFO angle.

1971-1975, the Second Generation

By mid-way through the second generation what remains of the original Echo story would have started to fade away.  This can be supported by the lack of anything mentioned in the numerous Captain's Logs that had entries dating back to that time period.  Yet our "haunted" LF, A-05, still persist during this time period as evident of some of the contents that I recall from A-01's Captain's Log.

1976-1980, the Third Generation

All traces of Echo and Oscar Flight had now evaporated.  My first and second crew commanders were newly assigned to the 490th SMS during this time period.  Both of these individuals never relay the story to me, nor do I hear of it from others that were assigned to the 10 SMS.  This would have been the time-frame for the allegedly Kilo Flight sightings during 1978, again there is no talk of such an event occurring.  Despite the "loss" of the Echo and Oscar stories, A-05's haunting still flourishes!

1981-1985, the Fourth Generation

This is my time period.  I arrived on station during Jan-Feb, 1981.  Over this time period, I personally never hear of anything occurring at Echo and Oscar Flights, this includes both the actually loss of Echo's sorties and the UFO angle.  By this time Carlson, Figel, Salas and others vanish from any unit memory.  Kilo's 1978 sitings equally evaporated from the wing's combined consciousness.  But...the haunting of A-05 continues to live on, despite anything actually happening on that site for 20 plus years!


What conclusions can be drawn?  Echo's loss of alert status for its 10 sorties was important only for a year or two after the event.  The UFO angle fizzled out about that same length of time because an engineering analysis concluded what actually did, or with high probability, occurred rendering the UFO story strictly a jocular fantasy.  Of note, Oscar's story suffered anonymity due to the total lack of any solid foundation to launch it even into the myth or folklore category.   Both stories had no lasting impact on the actual participants and the follow-on crew generations, yet an old, unsupported, folklore about a LF built over an old Indian burial ground, started by a long forgotten Security Camper team in the early 1960's lives on!  Now, some 40 years after the fact....enter Hastings and Salas...

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