Kelly's Korner: GAFB was more than planes

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Last week’s column had to do with memories of Griffiss Air Force Base (GAFB) and the airplanes which flew in and out of Rome back in the 1960s and the Cold War years.

But as some regular readers have opined, Griffiss was more than airplanes. What follows are some non-airplane memories of GAFB.

The base had an annual Commander’s Day. Thousands attended these open houses and got to look around the base, including up close looks at airplanes. Visitors also got to see flight demonstrations, including the Air Force’s Thunderbirds.  

Back in the 1960s, when winter was really winter in Oneida County, snowplowing was a major undertaking at GAFB. Clearing snow from the long runway and the many roads at Griffiss took many plows and many hours, especially during the famous Blizzard of ’66, when 41 inches of snow fell at GAFB starting January 29 and ending February 1. Making the situation worse were high winds that caused drifting.

Entering Griffiss these days is quite easy. Just drive in. 

That wasn’t the case when Griffiss was a U.S. Air Force Base. In those days, Armed Air Police officers were in guard houses at every entrance to the base. Signs on the guard houses stated that anyone entering the base was subject to the rules of the base. Visitors and employees leaving the base were routinely waved through but it was not uncommon for the Air Police to search a vehicle. 

GAFB was home to many units over the years, including the 416th Bombardment Wing, the 668th Bombardment Squadron, the 41st Air Refueling Squadron, the 416th Avionics Maintenance Squadron, the 416th Field Maintenance Squadron, the 416th Munitions Maintenance Squadron, the 416th Organizational Maintenance Squadron, the 416th Strategic Hospital Squadron, the 416th Civil Engineering Squadron, the 416th Transportation Squadron, the 416th Public Affairs Division, the 416th Bombardment Wing Safety Division, the 416th Security Police Squadron, the 24th Air Division, Rome Air Development Center (RADC), Field Training Detachment 211, the U.S. Army’s 10th Aviation Brigade, 2019th Communications Squadron, Detachment 8 of the 26th Weather Squadron, the 485th Engineering Installation Group, and the Northeast Air Defense Sector.

And then there was GEEIA, which stood for Ground Electronics Engineering Installation Agency. GEEIA was a huge operation. GEEIA technicians went around the world and installed, maintained and repaired radar systems.  

Those who weren’t at Griffiss during its Air Force days might be surprised at just how big GAFB was and all that was offered. There was a hospital, library, veterinary hospital, credit union, thrift shop, housing, base exchange, barber shop, beauty shop, service station, shoppette, theater, clothing store, post office, commissary, child development center, chapel, family services, youth center, swimming pool, softball fields, tennis courts, gym, golf course, auto hobby shop, arts and crafts center, photo hobby shop, ceramics shop, and a wood hobby shop.

Griffiss also had an aero club, which owned a Cherokee 140 and a Cessna 150. Air Force personnel and civilians working at Griffiss were able to join the club and fly cheaply. Aviation legend Elaine Roehrig managed the club and was an instructor.  

There were plenty of places to eat and drink at Griffisss, including the Satellite Grill, a restaurant offering breakfast and lunch in Depot 1; the Summit Point Dining Facility, located near the dormitories in building 443; Griff’s Pony Express, located in the Recreation Center and offering pizza, subs, sandwiches, soups, beer, wine and soda; the Mohawk NCO Club, just inside the Floyd Avenue gate; and the Officer’s Club, on Wright Drive across from the visiting officer’s quarters.

Yes, Griffiss Air Force Base was more than airplanes. 

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