By TSgt. D.K. Holland
Shock, profound grief and a sense of overwhelming loss permeated Headquarters, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center at the sudden death Feb. 1 of Lt. Col. (Colonel-select) Leonard C. Broline, who collapsed in his office that Thursday afternoon. Despite Herculean efforts by his friends and co- workers Maj. Jim Meassick and Lt. Col. Mike Mullady, and by base medical experts, the colonel could not be revived.
The anguish laid bare in the wake of his death was evident in the tears, emotion-choked voices and hollow eyes of his coworkers, his friends.
His death brought to a close a life marked by light, love and laughter, and an end to an impressive, promising career. He was young, only 44, but had served 22 of those years in the Air Force.
In those 22 years, he tallied a host of accomplishments envied by many, but service records only cover the surface. Broline aggressively pursued higher education, embraced new experiences, and sought opportunities to learn, to lead, to do what others lacked the imagination to even consider.
He accepted his commission in the early 70s, when military service wasn't a popular decision, and attended undergraduate pilot training at Webb AFB, Texas. He flew a variety of aircraft, from the F-4 to the F-117 stealth fighter.
He earned tough, hard-science, undergraduate and post- graduate engineering degrees, and as far as professional military education courses, he completed them all--Squadron Officer School, Air Command and Staff College and Air War College.
His duty history is similar to that of many AFOTEC officers, if you only scan through his biography, but you'll find more if you read between the lines.
As a command pilot he logged nearly 3,000 flying hours, most of which he earned in high performance jets. He was also an instructor pilot and aircraft commander, an operations officer for several units, and he served one tour as Chief of Flight Safety at Nellis AFB, Nev.
His career deviated from those of many of his peers, though, when in 1984 he accepted a position as a physics instructor at the U.S. Air Force Academy. But the opportunity to work with and eventually fly the F-117 stealth fighter lured him back to the operational world.
Also like many AFOTECers, he served in test and research related areas before accepting a position with the center. He was assigned to Phillips Lab at Edwards AFB, Calif., where he held several positions, from 1992 until 1994.
He was assigned to AFOTEC Feb. 1, 1994, two years to the day before his death.
A recitation of his background and biography isn't what Broline was about, said Mullady. "He was so much more and he can't leave us with a story that just says 'He was a nice guy and he flew the F-117'."
Mullady and others who knew him tell the tale of a man who was more than a pilot, more than an officer, more than a boss. "Leo was a 'Dead Head'--he loved the Grateful Dead. When Jerry Garcia died, Leo wrote a tribute to him and sent it over the Internet. It was good ... Newsweek printed it ... Leo said 'I hear Bach and Garcia are jamming in heaven tonight'," explained Mullady. "Leo's dancing to the jam tonight." But that's not all Mullady imagines Broline doing now.
More than any other quality he possessed, Broline was known for his rapier wit and ready humor. He told Mullady about the time he served as an operations officer for the F-117 squadron that mobilized in support of Desert Storm. Broline established an unorthodox squadron tradition.
A fan of the movie "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," Broline showed the tape to the squadron and motivated them to join in the audience participation portions.
"He lined them all up and taught them to do the Time Warp," said Mullady. "I can see him up there somewhere lining people up, doing the Time Warp," he added softly, with half a smile and tears in his eyes.
Mullady and Broline shared similar taste in music and Mullady joined Broline and his wife, Claire, at many concerts. They went to see folk-singer John Prine together and since Broline's death, the lyrics to a Prine ballad continue to run through Mullady's mind. When he hears the lyrics, he can also see the face of the best boss he's ever had.
"Oodles of light, what a beautiful sight, both of God's eyes are shining tonight, raisin' beams of incredible dreams, and I am a quiet man," Mullady quoted softly.
Broline's highly developed sense of humor endeared him to everyone he met, including the men and women who worked for him. He particularly enjoyed the "Dilbert" cartoon strip (a cartoon depicting an ineffective manager misusing quality concepts) and entertained his entire office with clipped comic strips.
Although able to see the humor in life, Broline wasn't the "class clown," according to coworker Maj. Helmut Reda.
"At work he had the big picture. He didn't waste his energies on the bureaucracy. He invested his efforts on things that really mattered," recalled Reda, who admitted that he was on the receiving end of Broline's teasing a time or two.
Mullady's and Reda's memories of Broline describe a thoughtful, witty leader who garnered the respect and loyalty of his peers, his followers and his boss.
Maj. Paul McDaniel, like Mullady, worked for Broline. He remembers his boss' uncanny ability to set people at ease--to make it easy to talk to him about anything. McDaniel said he'll miss working for him; will miss his motivated, fun outlook on life, and will miss the sanity check he provided with his ability to see the bright side of life.
His dry, deprecating wit is a quality many outside AFOTEC also remember. According to retired Lt. Col. Bob Maher, Broline's squadron commander from 1989-91, Broline was the kind of person who--given an audience--would become Rodney Dangerfield before your eyes. Maher described his friend as a conscientious, hard- working man who could be relied upon, without question or hesitation.
"I think what I'll miss most about Leo, though, is the silliness of some of our conversations. He was so diverse. He was able to talk knowledgeably, intelligently about a variety of topics. A conversation with Leo tended to drift. He could talk about physics, the Grateful Dead and Bach in the same sentence. He was brilliant," said Maher.
Broline was also a dreamer and a visionary.
He was an amateur astronomer, according to Col. James Reed, and sought ways to share his interest with others. Broline and Reda, in fact, were planning a "Star Party" and barbecue for their directorate members' children this summer. The vastness of the stars and space motivated him in many ways.
"He was a very private person, and he clearly separated his home life from work. He lived in a beautiful home in Placitas, with a spectacular, expansive view overlooking the Rio Grande. You could see for miles and what you could see was untouched by people," said Reda. That magnificent view also facilitated an uncluttered view of the heavens.
Earlier in life, his passion for space also motivated him to apply for the astronaut program. His demonstrated flying skills, academic background, professional performance and enthusiasm earned him a slot as an alternate NASA mission specialist.
Recently selected for promotion to colonel, (promoted posthumously by his commander, Maj. Gen. George B. Harrison) Broline had plans for his future which included learning how to play the banjo from another friend, Director of Staff Col. T.D. Woodruff.
Broline was looking forward to sharing his life with his wife, Claire, her son Mark and his wife Lyza.
During memorial ceremonies held Feb. 8, Claire bid farewell to her husband in manner he would have considered fitting: She ensured that, for this his final flight, he would be dressed appropriately in his flight suit, wearing Tactical Air Command and F-117 patches and an F-117 scarf on the outside, and his Grateful Dead T-shirt beneath his warrior garb.
Broline's warm and generous nature, split-second wit, thoughtful insight, energy, passion, and vision will be missed. But those are the gifts he gave family and friends that will help them recover from this immeasurable loss.
The first week of February was distressing for many headquarters folks, particularly those in the Plans, Policy and Requirements Directorate. They faced a terrible loss when a co- worker and friend passed away, and also face a difficult road ahead as they come to grips with the fact that he's gone.
Even those of us who didn't know him well are emotionally affected by Col. Leo Broline's death. Part of that is our ability to empathize with the anguish his friends are experiencing, and part can be attributed to the immediacy of his death. He wasn't a stranger in the newspaper. He was a member of the AFOTEC family.
In order to prepare a memorial article about him, we had to interview some of those who knew "Leo" best. It was somewhat uncomfortable for the staff, but it was far more heart-wrenching for his friends.
I can't fathom the courage it took for some of the colonel's friends to share their memories, and we owe those strong people our deepest thanks.