An Air Force base just outside of Oklahoma City is not the first place you’d expect to find someone serving in the Navy. Nevertheless, that’s exactly where you’ll find Hot Springs Native Petty Officer 3rd Class Percy Cline.
Cline, a Logistics Specialist, supports a crucial Navy mission which likely isn’t as well-known as its importance would lead one to believe.
His unit supports a fleet of Navy E-6B Mercury aircraft stationed out of Tinker AFB. The E-6B, which is built on the chassis of a Boeing 707, is nicknamed “The Doomsday Plane,” and is operated as part of the TACAMO (Take Charge And Move Out) mission which provides a survivable communication link between top civilian leadership and our nation’s nuclear weapons.
According to an article by Lt. Lauryn Dempsey of the Navy Office of Community Outreach, “the Commander-in-Chief issues orders to members of the military who operate nuclear weapons aboard submarines, aircraft, or in land-based missile silos,” and the TACAMO mission ensures that if needed, the lines of communication to give those orders are open and available.
Cline, who in his youth spent time between Hot Springs and Trinidad, Colorado, is one of 1,200 active duty sailors engaged in support of the aircraft. As the Operation Target Financial Manager his focus is obtaining funds from big Navy sources and allocating them to the necessary places for the purchase of fuel, aircraft parts, flight hours, etc.; an important facet of operations for a nuclear deterrence mission that operates 24 hours a day.
He joined the Navy in 2012, about a year and a half after having graduated from Custer High School, and was stationed first in Virginia at Naval Air Station Oceana where he performed duties similar to those he has now, but for VFA-106 an F/A-18 Hornet and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Fleet Replacement Squadron, known as the “Gladiators,” with a mission of training both Navy and Marine replacement Pilots and Weapon Systems Officers.
Now at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, Cline, the most recent VQ3 Sailor of the Quarter, has high praise for his latest placement. “It’s an awesome command, you can go anywhere [from here]. It’s a very powerful command career-wise,” Cline says.
That kind of opportunity for advancement is partially why he chose the Logistics Specialist (LS) rating. “A positive thing about being in LS is you have so many opportunities if you decide to leave the military,” he says.
According to him, even without a degree, the experience and training involved in LS allows a sailor to obtain a good civilian career if the sailor does choose to leave, which is not always the case with other military job specialties.
Even though the work of an LS may sound a bit “regular guy” to some of us civilians, there’s a lot involved in keeping a squadron of aircraft flying day in and day out. “There are times where you’re logging 70-80 hours a week to get your job done,” says Cline, “and you have to be able to take it, and be able to do that without complaining.”
The 24-hour a day nature of TACAMO’s mission necessitates that there are always unit members working, often nine-and-a-half hours a day and at least once or twice a month sharing long weekend shifts. On top of his LS duties, Cline is also part of the Auxiliary Security Forces which augments the permanent security forces of the Air Force base.
“It can be a stressful job,” he says, “One thing that I like to tell people is to make sure you join for the right reasons, because there are people who do join for the wrong reasons.”
Cline says Navy life has made him a better person as a whole, and that it’s taught him respect and how to present himself. “I’m a completely different person than before I joined. I used to be a little kid with an afro,” he says, laughing, “and I’m not saying I was ever disrespectful, but now I’m completely different. I’ve got the military haircut [now] and I’m very respectful to people.”
But more than just offering a change to a tidier hairstyle, Cline believes that military life teaches a person how to live properly, and offers a bevy of benefits.
“If you’re unsure what you want to do in your life and you want a good building block to start with, the military is the spot,” he says. According to Cline even though the pay may not be fantastic and the hours might be long, the benefits, including experience and free college tuition, have far outweighed any negative aspects of his Navy service. “They really take care of you, whether you want to stay in for four years, or 20 years and get a retirement check, and start a new career when you’re only 38. It’s really awesome.”