Springer was born in St. Louis, Missouri. He was active in the Boy Scouts of America where he achieved its second highest rank, Life Scout. He graduated from Ashland High School in Ashland,Ohio. He received a commission in the U.S. Marine Corps following his 1964 graduation from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Springer attended The Basic School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia before reporting to the Naval Air Training Command for flight training at Pensacola, Florida and Beeville, Texas.
Upon receiving his aviator wings in August 1966, he was assigned to VMFA-513 at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. There Springer flew F-4 Phantom II fighters. He was subsequently assigned to VMFA-115 at Chu Lai in South Vietnam, where he completed 300 F-4 combat missions. In June 1968, Springer served as an advisor to the South Korean Marine Corps units in Vietnam and flew 250 combat missions in O-1 Bird Dogs and UH-1 Iroquois "Huey" helicopters.
Springer returned to the United States to attend the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, receiving a Master of Science degree in operations research and systems analysis. In March 1971 he was assigned to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing at MCAS El Toro, California, where he became Wing operations analysis officer.
He flew UH-1Es in 1972 while with HML-267 at Camp Pendleton, California and then went to Okinawa in Japan to fly UH-1Es with HML-367, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. Springer flew F-4 Phantom II fighters as an aircraft maintenance officer with VMFA-451 in Beaufort, South Carolina and also attended what was then called Navy Fighter Weapons School ("TOPGUN").
A 1975 graduate of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, he served as Head of the Ordnance Systems branch and as a test pilot for more than 20 different types of fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft. In this capacity he performed the first flights in the AH-1T helicopter. He graduated from the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia in 1978, and was assigned to Headquarters Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic, where he assumed responsibility for joint operational planning for Marine Forces in NATO and the Middle East. He was serving as aide-de-camp for the Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic, when advised of his selection by NASA in May 1980.
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