By Julie Ann Madden
“It wasn’t a job,” said retired Airborne Communications Specialist Doug Maurstad of rural Alcester, S.D. “It was a lifestyle.”
Maurstad spent 25 years in the U.S. Air Force, operating radio, Teletype machines and satellite operations from inside an E4 airplane, similar to a 747.
These planes have the capability to launch atomic missiles, said Maurstad who enlisted as close to his 18th birthday as he could get.
“I idolized my older brother, Maury, who was 13 years older than me and in the Air Force,” said Maurstad about why he signed up on Oct. 31, 1960. “I’d been staying with him and attending the University of Hawaii.”
“I didn’t want to go to college anymore,” the Newman Grove, Neb., native said, adding he’d graduated from high school in Sioux Falls, S.D., and that’s where he enlisted.
“I didn’t join out of a sense of adventure, it was more a sense of duty,” said Maurstad, explaining his father was in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War I; three of his brothers were in World War II; one brother in the Korean War; and he and another brother served in Vietnam.
His service to his country included traveling and flying more than 12,000 hours on various airborne command post aircraft.
He completed 100 combat missions during two tours in the Vietnam War.
“I’ve been on every continent except Antarctica. I’ve been to all the European countries and most Pacific countries. I haven’t been to any Communist countries behind the Iron Curtain (Russia) and Bamboo Curtain (Asia) because we weren’t allowed to,” said Maurstad.
In 1969, his crew flew to California and launched a minuteman missile from the aircraft that was in a hardened silo.
While stationed at Andrews Air Force Base, Maurstad was part of the team who helped build Air Force One’s communications package. He also served on a military backup team to Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan.
“We provided communications for the National Command Authority,” said Maurstad, who rode in an airplane operating various communications systems. “Just our voice communications console was about 5 feet long and 18 inches high filled with buttons.”
“Our job 24/7 was to prepare for war — that was our sole purpose in life — to provide the battle staff with communications instantly. We did our job with extreme honor and pride.”
“My job had no margin for error,” he said. “We trained daily never to make mistakes…you never make a mistake for the President.”
He was crew chief of 15, and there were always a minimum of two people working together to prevent one another from making a mistake, explained Maurstad. “When I was on duty (alert), I was required to be within 200 miles of the President at all times; and in an emergency, the airplane had to be airborne within 15 minutes to rendezvous with the National Command Authority.”
“It’s was a very tense, very high pressured operation I was in,” he said. “I loved it. I’d go back to it tomorrow.”
“You have a special camaraderie in that environment,” said Maurstad. “It’s not like living in Akron where neighbors may not have anything in common. In the service, you have a commonality. When you live and work on a base, everybody understands what you’re doing and why you are doing it.”
“It’s a wonderful lifestyle,” he said. “I spent almost 18 years within six rings of a telephone. Somebody always knew where I was.”
“You accepted that as a way of life,” said Maurstad. “Young people coming into the service today don’t see it that way. They see it as a job. There is a lot of difference between a job and a lifestyle.”
“We were like gypsies, nomads,” he said, adding he’d moved 23 times in 25 years.
His service included being stationed at Keesler AFB, Biloxi, Miss., Misawa AFB, Japan; Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C.; March AFB, Riverside, Calif.; Hickam AFB, Hawaii; Ching Kuan Kang AFB, Taiwan; U-Tapao AFB, Thailand; Andrews AFB, Maryland; Royal-Mildenhall, England; Carswell AFB, Texas; and Offutt AFB, Omaha, Neb.
Eighteen of his 25 years included three tours with the SAC Airborne Command Post in Omaha, Neb.; seven years with the National Emergency Airborne Command Post in Washington, D.C. and Omaha; and four years with the European Command Post in England where his final assignment was being in charge of Wing Standardization and Evaluation for all airborne communicators in Europe in the Airborne Command Post.
Maurstad received the Distinguished Flying Cross, which is the seventh highest military award; two Meritorious Service Medals for service; five air medals for the 100 combat missions in Vietnam and numerous other awards.
Maurstad retired as Master Sergeant E7 on Sept. 1, 1984.
He returned to Elk Point, Neb., to be near family. He and his wife, Cathy, live in rural Alcester, S.D.