Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then. ~Toby Keith

After boasting for several years that I had the best job at Wright-Patterson; There came a Spill, a Leak. (Spill & Leak capitalized by author)

FAKE HEADLINE

CITIZENS PANIC

MISSING AF NUKE FOUND SMOLDERING NEAR SCHOOLYARD

ACTUAL HEADLINE

OHIO GOVERNOR

‘SCOUTS AT RADIATION RISK’ FROM W-P SPILL; AIR FORCE COVERUP ALLEGED

The headline on the bottom doesn’t sound so bad when compared to the fake one on top. Still, it’s the kind of stuff Public Affairs Officers lose sleep over.

Don’t Worry Be Happy–Bobby McFerrin, Don’t Mean Nothing–Richard Marx, Only In My Dreams–Debbie Gibson were filling the airwaves.

As the Senior Public Affairs Officer for Wright-Patterson’s Americium 241 Spill (a radioactive isotope with a half-life of 432.2 years, most prevalent in nuclear waste).  I was in the media center or on call 24hrs for weeks at a time answering questions or preparing Air Force members who spoke to the media. No hyperbole necessary; this was a major story covered by dozens of newspapers, radio, and TV across the country.

Sample headlines followed by a condensed version of the Spill.

September 1986

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October 1986

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November 1986

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January 1987

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October 1987

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I’m quoted in a document with Sec. Weinberger!

Our Spill was a significant news event covered by dozens of newspapers, radio, and TV across the United States. Newspapers covering Spill included: New York Times; LA Times; The Plain Dealer (Cleveland); Columbus Dispatch; Cincinnati Inquirer; Pacific Stars & Stripes; Macon Journal (Michigan); Dayton Daily News (Ohio) and about thirty others.

Then came the Congressional Hearings in Dayton.

As the Senior Public Affairs Officer for the Spill, I prepared members of the Air Force who were to testify during the Congressional Hearings.

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Documents above from WPAFB archives.

Internally, Project 4060 was the code name for the Spills. (Building 4060 is where the Spills occurred).

Newspapers had a little fun with our Spill.

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Dayton Daily News copyright Mike Peters (above & below) Reprinted with permission.

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WPAFB archives.

Springfield News-Sun (above) Cattrow. Reprinted with permission.

My advice and counsel to the base commander, it was believed, kept him from losing his job. Officials at Wright-Patt and other entities thought the fallout from the Spill could have been even worse. A case study of my performance (in the Spill incident) was included in the curriculum of the Senior Public Affairs Officer course. I was rewarded with a promotion to GM-13 for my “performance and professionalism.”

My extracurricular activities that resulted in goodwill for the USAF and the community at large (expressed in the previous chapter) and a spotless record was certainly another plus favoring my promotion.

True Colors–Cindi Lauper, Two Of Hearts–Stacey Q, Danger Zone–Kenny Loggins played on the radio.

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Relating to meeting about Project 4060, and the Congressional Hearings, Mike DeWine became governor of Ohio in 2019.  (Swan archives)

I include the letter below (not related to Spill) because, as a major, this man piloted a helicopter deep into North Vietnam on the Son Tay raid. Col Strayer received a Silver Star, the third-highest honor for valor. And it was an honor to have served with Col Strayer. He should have been promoted to brigadier-general.

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Colonel Jay M. Strayer. (USAF)
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Col Strayer’s Pilot Wings and Medals.  Award at the top is Silver Star, the third-highest for valor. An oak leaf cluster denotes an additional award. A “V”  on the ribbon means it was awarded for Valor.
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Swan archives.

One thought on “Chapter 36: The Spill Heard Across the Country.

  1. Good job Sir! And John Glenn and Howard Metzenbaum were in the same room together? I hope that John kicked his butt!

    Like

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