In June 1972, I reported to Fighter Squadron 121 (VF-121) at NAS Miramar, Calif., for training in the  F-4 Phantom II.

After several weeks of ground school, plus the obligatory survival school (SERE) and advanced water survival (DWEST), I began flying in the back seat and learning to operate the systems there, talk on the radio and do navagation.

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An F-4J Phantom II of VF-121, the West Coast F-4 training squadron in the 1960s and ’70s.

Above is the actual aircraft in which I flew for the first time. During the 7 months it took to finish VF-121, I logged around 100 flight hours in missions that included air intercept, bombing, carrier qualifications and other miscellaneous missions.

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An F-4J of VF-121 over the Pacific Ocean returning to NAS Miramar, late 1972.

Most of the missions were conducted over the Pacific Ocean west of San Diego.

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F-4J of VF-121 over the Imperial Valley and Salton Sea near El Centro, Calif., late 1972.

Some training flights were conducted over the Imperial Valley east of San Diego, near El Centro.

After finishing up VF-121 in early February, I was sent overseas to join a fleet fighter squadron, VF-21, on board USS Ranger which was steaming in the Western Pacific and the Tonkin Gulf.