“Have a goal in life that is beyond yourself, have something big….and embrace that,” is the advice United States Navy Veteran Bob “Xfeed” Watson would have given his younger self after over two decades of service.
Watson, who is a Southlake resident, served in the armed forces for 24 years.
He earned his name “Xfeed,” pronounced as “Crossfeed” early in his pilot career when he attempted to balance the fuel tanks.
“I was going to be a good co-pilot and balance the fuel tanks while the aircraft commander was taking a restroom break. Well, I forgot it, didn’t tell anyone, and we got out of balance,” said Watson. “Eventually I had to admit it to the whole squadron and write a story for our safety magazine, etc. Ever since “Crossfeed” was my Navy Call sign.”
Call Signs are used as unique identifiers to military communications. “It’s used on the radio so other pilots know who they are talking to,” Watson said.
Before he earned his stripes with a decorated military career, Watson was a young boy who just wanted to fly.
“I wanted to fly airplanes; I decided it when I was in high school, that is what I wanted to do,” Watson said.
He enrolled in the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut in 1973 and graduated in May of 1977.
At the time, graduating officers were required to complete at least one year of sea duty before applying for flight school.
Upon graduating, Watson reported for duty as a Deck Watch Officer on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Duane (WHEC-33) homeported in Portland, ME.
The ship was a 327-foot long high endurance cutter and had a 5-inch/38-gun mount as its main armament. It was also named after William J. Duane, who served as the third Secretary of the Treasury under President Andrew Jackson.
The ship was used mainly for search and rescue (SAR), fisheries, and law enforcement patrols by the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard had acquired the ship from the U.S. Navy after WWII where it served as a destroyer escort on convey duty in the North Atlantic.
He qualified as an Officer of the Deck (OOD) and served as a Gunnery Officer and Combat Information Center (CIC) Officer.
Watson noted that he learned so much about the ocean and the sea while he was out on patrol.
“We would go on long patrols for about five weeks at a time,” Watson said.
He also experienced waves that measured 60-feet high on one SAR mission.
The ship/USCGC Duane was decommissioned shortly after Watson left in 1979. The ship was sunk as an artificial reef off Key Largo in Florida in 1987 and serves as a habitat for fish.
Watson still held onto to his dream of one day flying high in the sky. His application for flight training was accepted and after one year and five months on Duane, he reported for Naval Flight Training in Pensacola, Fl and then Corpus Christi, TX.
He did well in flight training and earned his “wings of gold” in January 1980. “I did my jobs to the best of my ability and always made my promotions,” said Watson.
He was then assigned to USCG Air Station in Sacramento, CA. He qualified as a HC-130 Aircraft Commander and Instructor Pilot to fly long range patrols and SAR missions. “The HC-130 is the Coast Guard version of the venerable C-130. A large 4 engine turboprop transport, which is flown by all branches of the U.S. military,” said Watson.
He gained over 1,000 flying hours in the “HERC” as it was called. While at Sacramento he transitioned to a new Coast Guard Aircraft the HU-25A Falcon Fanjet. It was a medium range fast response SAR aircraft.
In 1984, he was assigned to the USCG Air Station in San Diego, CA, to introduce the new Falcon jets to the area and train new pilots.
After four years in the academy, and 10 years on active duty, Watson, resigned his commission from active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard in May 1987 and entered the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves.
At the same time Watson took on full time work as a pilot for Delta Air Lines. He was assigned to the Dallas Fort Worth (DFW) Pilot Base. The Coast Guard did not have reserve units in DFW so Watson did an inter-service transfer to the U.S. Navy and joined VR-59 at NAS Dallas, TX flying the C-9B performing worldwide logistic support missions for the U.S. Navy fleet. He would stay in that squadron for 10 years until his retirement from military service.
During this time, Desert Storm (1990-1991) had taken place and Watson’s squadron was mobilized and recalled to active duty.
“My squadron was mobilized to be used by the Air Force for transport,” said Watson. “We moved troops and gear from Europe into the combat theater for the first month. During the second month, we hauled bombs to the B52’s and on the last month, we were taking people back home.”
Watson added, “I knew this was serious when we got issued gas masks and completed the associated training, including how to recognize different agents and then pick the right needle to stab your leg with.”
His squadron was based at Bitburg Air Force Base in Germany and mobilized for a total of 90 days.
After returning home to NAS Dallas in April of 1991 he continued with VR-59. The squadron moved to the Naval Air Station (NAS) in Fort Worth, TX now known was the NAS Forth Worth Joint Reserve Base (JRB) base when NAS Dallas was closed in 1994. It still operates there today.
Watson retired from Naval service and VR-59 in August 1997 as a Commander. He continued to work full time as a pilot with Delta Air Lines.
After the September 11 attacks, Watson participated in a volunteer program to become a Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) where the TSA deputizes qualified volunteer pilots on passenger and cargo aircraft as law enforcement officers to defend the flight deck against acts of criminal violence or air piracy. Watson said, “I’m not gonna let them do that again on my aircraft.”
After 33-years of working for Delta Airlines, He retired at the age of 65 in July 2020.
He is now residing in Southlake where he enjoys activities at the Southlake Senior Center.
Southlake salutes, Robert “Xfeed” Watson. Thank you for your service.
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