Former Plattsburgh Air Force Base Personnel Remember Good Times and Bad

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Plattsburgh Air Force Base

Plattsburgh Air Force Base shuttered and the community shuddered 25 years ago today.

That's hard to believe for many like Col. Paul Malandrino, who served at Plattsburgh Air Force Base and last saw it beneath the wings of a FB-111.

He arrived in 1985 as the Deputy Commander for Operations.

Subsequently, he became the Commander of Operations, then the Vice Wing Commander and then Wing Commander.

"The last Wing Commander of the 380th Bombardment Wing," Malandrino, Airport Manager/Vice President of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, said.

"Then, they switched to tankers.

I flew the last plane out, I believe, July 10, 1991."

FOREVER PLATTSBURGH

PAFB was the most memorable assignment of his 30-year Air Force career.

"I loved the people," Malandrino said.

"I loved the Wing. I loved the area. I liked civilian friends -- Bill McBride, Clyde Lewis, and all the others. Being the Wing Commander was just a phenomenal experience.

"The Wing just outperformed just about everybody else. It was just a great bunch of people. I just always have respected them and admired them. I was privileged to work with a great group of people. Very proud."

The last time he saw Plattsburgh was from the cockpit of his FB-111, "Little Joe."

"The last flight was, obviously, very emotional," he said.

"Just very, very emotional. I flew it out to The Boneyard (Davis-Monthan AFB in Tuscon, Ariz.) and left it there. I had my name on it and Little Joe was the nose art painted on the side of the airplane."

BACK DOWN MEMORY LANE

Subsequent years go by, and his oldest son/U.S. Navy Capt. Gregory P. Malandrino was flying a F-18 Super Hornet from Florida to San Diego.

"He had a serious in-flight emergency and landed out there, I think, at Luke AFB," Malandrino said.

"He called me up and said, 'Hey, what's there to do out here. You were stationed out here.' I said, 'Go look at my airplane.'

The Navy fighter pilot went out to the Boneyard and looked for his father's airplane and sent him a picture.

"He said, 'Before you look at it, I don't think you're going to like it,'" Malandrino said.

"The paint was all faded. The nose was open. Obviously they'd taken something out. It was very sad, very sad, to look at it."

'STRENGTH & CONFIDENCE'

The FB-111s went to Australia and many communties like Plattsburgh lost the sound of freedom.

The planes were finally retired and cut up.

"Of course now, they're all gone," Malandrino said.

"The 380th Bombardment Group flew B-24s out of Australia in World War II had a reunion in Plattsburgh.

"I was talking to a gunner, who had been on this aircraft. He showed me a picture, Little Joe was a pair of dice that was painted on their B-24 and that's what was painted on my airplane.

"I'm not a gambler, but people who gamble with dice knows what it means."

The 380th Expeditionary Wing's motto was "Strength and Confidence," which was echoed n the Strategic Air Command's 380th Bomb Wing.

The artist who painted the dice replicated it on the back of a leather jacket the Plattsburgh community presented to Malandrino on his departure.

"I wear that proudly," he said.

"Plattsburgh was the high point of my Air Force career. I just loved PAFB, the people around the area, the people in the Bomb Wing. It was a beautiful place and a memorable experience. I was very lucky to have that opportunity, and the Wing really excelled."

LAST MAN STANDING

When the FB-111s departed, U.S. Air Staff Sgt. Peter Garnot was an avionics technician in the 380th Avionics Maintenance Squadron when Malandrino was the Wing Commander.

"I was actually the last Plattsburgh person to leave," Garnot, a Chazy resident said.

"I had to stay and finish up some stuff, and then I departed the Air Force."

He had arrived at PAFB in 1986 and separated in November 1995.

"Just being married and with a young family, I liked the area," Garnot said.

"My wife was from the area. I'm from about four hours south, down toward Poughkeepsie. We wanted to stay."

His wife, Denise, opened Hair Styles Unlimited on Route 9 in Chazy.

"I had a young son," he said.

"My wife was pregnant with our second, and we decided to bail out, which I kind of kick myself in the butt for not going into the Reserve or Guard or something because I gave up like almost 14 years."

Garnot applied and got interviewed for Wing Historian.

"I saw that the position was available," he said.

"I got interviewed by the Wing Commander, and I got hired. I wrote the present day history of the base. So every six months, the Air Force required a person on each installation to write a present day history, a snapshot, of the past six months.

"This was a secret document. It was everything from the flying mission to who was put in jail to housing statistics. It was a snapshot of the base. It was classified."

ADJUST & RECOVER

Rumblings of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRACC) became an unsettling reality.

"The first BRACC, we went up against Loring AFB in Maine," Garnot said.

"Boring Loring. We went up against them, and that was the first BRACC and we won. They got closed. Then two years later, the next BRACC we lost to (McGuire AFB).

"This is me personally speaking not the United States Air Force, the air space down there in those areas were very tight and congested versus upstate New York.

"We had a perfect shot right over to Europe for any air refueling or any humanitarian efforts, whatever might been. It made no sense. Everyone seemed to think it was politics."

Hairstyles Unlimited was successful, and Garnot started a small lawn-care business that lasted nearly 20 years.

"I also had a consultation computer business which I enjoyed that kind of turned into a little business," he said.

"Then things got quieter with Sam's Club and Wal-Mart coming in and selling computers and whatnot. Then, I decided to get into delivery business and I went to work for an oil company, a local guy in Chazy."

Garnot went on to work for Agway, Suburban and now Adirondack Energy where he manages the Plattsburgh operation.

A TWINKLING

Garnot can barely believe it's been 25 years since PAFB closed after a 42 year run.

"No, but I can because my daughter (Paige) is 24," he said.

"My wife was carrying her when we departed. She's a registered nurse at CVPH."

His son, Peter, is a Lake Champlain Ferry Company captain.

"And, he also works down in the engine room," Garnot said.

His family flourished, and so did the former PAFB.

"It was a little tough in the beginning because there was a lot of bickering going on by locals, but it turned out awesome," Garnot said.

"It was a little sketchy in the beginning. I was like holy crap, I don't know if this is going to work. They did a great job. Back then, it was Mayor Clyde Rabideau, Clyde Lewis and Bill McBride. They were the big boys back then.

"We frequent the airport, of course. We frequent Valcour Brewery. We did frequent the gym. We played pickleball and whatnot at the Wellness Center and over at the Old Base Gym. I get over there quite often."

This article is written by Robin Caudell from Plattsburgh Press-Republican and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@industrydive.com.

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