So I had enlisted in the Air Force, on the delayed entry plan. That was in January of '75. Now it was April of '75 and the time was rapidly approaching when I would have to depart for basic training at Lackland AFB, Texas. I was scheduled to report on the 13th of May.
Now as my reporting date approached I had a decision to make. Should I work at my current job up to the last minute, or should I take some time off to, shall we say, enjoy my last few days of freedom? Before entering the "big blue machine". I decided to take some time off. It's worth noting at this point that I was once again living at home with my parents.
Shortly after I had enlisted, delayed entry, my parents had suggested that I move back into the ancestral home in order to save some money. After much thought (approximately 2 minutes) I said, "Sure, why not?"
Now my Dad and I partitioned a spot in the basement of the manor to provide lodgings for myself. A bit of drywall, some paint and baseboards and voilà, I had my own pad. In the basement. Of my parents' house. How very "failure to launch".
Before I had set off on my own after my departure from a single year of college, I did have my own room. My two younger brothers shared a room. So at this point in time, both of the kid brothers had their own room. No sharing of sleeping facilities. Both brothers had panicked somewhat upon hearing that the heir was moving back onto the ancestral estate. Hence my Dad's idea to do that whole partitioning of the basement thing.
In a way it was very nice. I had my own room, apart from the rest of the clan. On the other hand, it was winter. In Vermont. One part of the scheme which had not been considered in the partitioning was heat. Or the lack thereof. In Vermont. In winter.
Dad's solution? He bought a portable electric heater. Egads what trouble we would be in now-a-days with all the bureaucratic nanny-types prevalent in modern society. Back then? Be careful. Don't put the heater next to anything flammable. And for Heaven's sake don't knock the bloody thing over. You know, apply common sense.
But back to the decision to take some time off prior to heading off to basic. I went and told my boss that I wished to depart the company approximately one month prior to going into the Air Force. First, as he was a veteran, he thought it was awesome that I was going into the service, second, he didn't want me to quit. I was rather surprised. After all, it's not as if I was the most valuable worker in my department. Biggest pain-in-the-ass? Yes. Most valuable? No.
Before I could protest, he said, "Don't quit. We'll lay you off. That way you can collect unemployment." Hhmm, thinks I, not have to work for a month and have a little spending money. So upon that note the company and I parted ways. Me to collect unemployment and party as much as possible for four weeks. The company to eventually go the way of many manufacturing concerns in the United States. To eventual closure. (Yes, why build things in this country when we can have them built cheaper and with lower quality somewhere else? I felt at the time that this was not a very smart thing to do. Subsequent events have proved me right.)
But the lazy days of late April and early May of '75 eventually ran out and I was off to see the world.
The first step in the trip was being transported to Manchester, NH the night before I was to travel to Lackland. Parents dropped me off at a hotel with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, though no rending of garments. Those cost money to replace. We always were a parsimonious bunch. Probably all that Scots blood in our background.
The next day a bus took me to the Armed Forces processing center, not sure what it was officially called back then. I do know that the places are called by a different name now. Didn't care what it was called back then, don't care now. Probably some boring name in bureaucratese which makes a silly acronym. We shall speak much of acronyms in this series. All I'll say now is that there are acronyms I like, there are those I don't. The latter generally out-number the former.
Eventually I was all processed and prepared for the flight to Texas. Myself and five other New Englanders. For some reason, a rather stern sergeant handed me all of the paperwork for the six of us and announced that it was my mission to ensure that these six packets of official paperwork, sealed in manila envelopes, arrived, seals-unbroken and intact, at Lackland AFB. There to be turned over to the duly constituted authorities. "How will I know who those authorities are?" I queried. "Trust me, you'll know." saith the sergeant of many stripes and no doubt very long service.
And off we went. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. Well, not yet, but we would be fairly soon. (And no Shakespeare fans, it was not St Crispin's Day.)
Due to rather heavy storms in the vicinity of San Antonio, our flight was diverted to Houston. There to wait until the atmospheric disturbances had moved on. And there we lost two of our little band. Apparently they had decided to break away from the main body and go exploring on their own. And, of course, they missed the flight. Not an auspicious start to one's military career, I remember thinking at the time.
Later I learned that those two were true knuckleheads. They proved it again and again in basic training. I don't recall either actually graduating with the rest of our basic training flight. I still wonder if they ever made it out of basic training. Perhaps they are still there, two aging n'er-do-wells in ancient fatigue uniforms, with no stripes on their tattered sleeves, doomed to march about the base doing PT in the mornings and attending boring classes the rest of the day. Perhaps the Air Force isn't even aware of their existence? (Nah, they either graduated with a later flight or they got booted out. Not really important to the story. But they were knuckleheads of the highest order.)
Eventually we landed in San Antonio, literally in the middle of the night. There to be transported by a US Air Force bus to our basic training squadron. Now these buses, Back In The Day (BITD), were nothing more than your traditional school bus painted in "Air Force Blue". Which is a rather nice dark blue, not dark blue like "Navy Blue" (which to the untrained eye looks black) but an actual blue. And BITD, a bus of this type was uniformly referred to as a "blue goose". I have no idea why. They bear no resemblance what-so-ever to an aquatic water fowl. Perhaps one of my more enlightened readers can provide the provenance of the term "blue goose". (Note the introduction of the acronym for "back in the day". Spelled out upon first time usage with the acronym for the term in parentheses following its introduction. This is the correct military way to introduce an acronym. Just to whet your appetite for the acronyms to come.)
Upon arrival at the 3708 Basic Military Training Squadron (BMTS) we were greeted quite pleasantly by "the cadre". These are the chaps who are assigned to Lackland full-time and whose job in life is to take civilians and convert them to useful members of society, i.e. members of the Armed Forces. (By the way, I have always got a kick out of the term "Armed Forces". Does the USA maintain any "Unarmed Forces"? Food for thought.)
When I say "pleasantly" it's because I don't recall hearing the cadre use that fabled Anglo-Saxon epithet which begins with the letter "F". And rhymes with "truck". Though there was much screaming, bellowing and commenting on the ancestry and upbringing of us new recruits. I don't recall if there were yellow footprints painted on the cement for us to place our feet in but there may have been.
Or perhaps I have seen too many Marine Corps movies since that day which involved arrival at either the Parris Island or San Diego Marines Corps Recruit Depots (MCRD). (Tangent Alert: MCRD is pronounced M-Crud. Really good acronyms are readily pronounceable. A bad acronym is one which can neither be readily pronounced or which can be readily mis-pronounced, usually by a civilian. End Tangent)
Now, as you may recall, the Old AF Sarge was carrying all of that paperwork. (Back then I was neither "old" nor a "sarge", and as I had not yet completed basic training I was technically not in the Air Force. So BITD I probably would have blogged as "Young Civilian Civilian", if that makes any sense. But of course, back then, Al Gore had not yet "invented" the internet.)
Upon being allowed into the building for processing, having spent some long moments being yelled at and forced to stand in something of a line (all four of us, yes we were still only four in number) it was time for yours truly to hand over his paperwork burden to the duly constituted authorities and complete my first official mission for the US Government.
The individual seated behind the counter indicated that the "stupid, sloppy civilian idiot with the paperwork" step forward and present it (in a proper military manner) to him. That being me, I stepped up to the counter and rendered the paperwork to His Lordship. In a most correct military manner, I might add. Having had a year of ROTC, I was no stranger to that kind of thing.
Apparently my demeanor and bearing passed muster because I didn't get screamed at. At least until His Highness noted that there were six manila folders in his hands and only four bodies standing before him.
"Idiot! I have six folders and I see four idiots standing here! Where in Hell are the other two bodies?"
"They didn't make it." I replied honestly and succinctly.
"Didn't make it! What the Hell d'you mean they didn't make it?"
"The other two guys wandered off in Houston. I told them to stay with the group. They decided not to. So they missed the flight."
"You idiot! Didn't they tell you at the processing station that you were responsible for getting the paperwork and ALL of the bodies here?" The gentleman was, you may imagine, apoplectic at this point. I was sure the poor man was about to have a stroke.
"Sir," I said in my most humble, yet military, voice, "the sergeant at the processing station told me to bring all of this paperwork here. Nobody said anything about accounting for all six bodies. You have the paperwork. I'm sure that those two morons will show up eventually."
I was quite sure that this lofty individual was going to come down on me with great wrath at this point. But one of the cadre "rescued" me at this point by saying, "Dumb-ass. Go sit down with the other dumb-asses." Then proceeded to quietly read the riot act to the guy behind the counter. Turns out that this individual was not a sergeant, had nothing to do with recruit training and was simply a clerk-type whose job was to process the paperwork.
This was my first real learning experience in the Air Force. There are those who have rightful authority over you and there are those who will attempt to assert some form of authority over you. The former you must obey to the letter, the latter you can quite safely ignore. This lesson served me well throughout my career.
So four of the six had arrived. (The other two did arrive about four hours later, they experienced much ass-chewing and questioning of character and intelligence.) What was our first task as basic trainees? We were to stand at the foot of our bunks and memorize these little booklets we had been issued. And god-help-you-don't-even-think-about-talking-or-sitting-or-lying-on-my-racks. So our Training Instructor (TI) informed us.
Now as I recall, the Army and the Marine Corps have the "DI", the Drill Instructor. These individuals are much celebrated in military lore. The Air Force, on the other hand, has the "TI", or Training Instructor. I was sore disappointed. I don't get a "DI", I get a "TI". Both wear the Smokey Bear hat, but there is a wide gulf between the two. A very wide gulf. Probably why the Army and the Marines don't really consider the Air Force as being part of the military. I have many examples to prove that theory correct.
Now during my time in service, I always tried to carry myself as a warrior should, one of those whose mission in life is to "blow things up and kill people". (Not just any people mind you, only those people whom the US Government has directed to be killed.) Those who worked for me understood this. There was no wimpy behavior in my outfit!
But yeah, I understand what the soldiers and Marines are talking about. It's all those damn golf courses! The whole nine-to-five attitude which hovers about my service. But I will say this for those on the pointy end of the Air Force spear, that is, those who fly the bombers and fighters and those who maintain them, we knew we were warriors of a sort. We knew that the pretty camouflaged aircraft were meant to go out and "blow things up and kill people". It's all those personnel types and non-flyers that give the Air Force a bad name within the Armed Forces of the United States. But enough of that.
So there I was, standing at Parade Rest at the foot of my rack, reading my little booklet (which contained much information needed to begin my transition into the Air Force). After about thirty minutes, and quite comfortable that I had had enough of the little booklet and of standing at the foot of my rack. I carefully looked around. It was just the four of us. The TI had left to await the arrival of the remainder of our flight (36 more were due in at any moment). No one was watching us and I was dead tired. It was round about 3:00 in the morning at that point. So I sat down in the chair next to my locker. The other three guys looked at me as if I'd just committed some horrible crime. I gestured at them to remain silent and to look around. Do you see anyone watching?
The other guys did look around. No one was watching. So they too sat down.
Now much later in my career, the Senior Enlisted Advisor of the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) had a little saying he liked to share with us on the Armed Forces Network (AFN - our own little English-language TV and radio station). Seems that, to him, integrity was "doing the right thing, even when no one is looking". Now I definitely agree with that concept. Seems like I violated that early on in my career, doesn't it? But, as I said, we were all exhausted and not quite ready to begin playing the Air Force game. I think bringing us in in the middle of the night was done intentionally to put us at a psychological disadvantage. That might work with 17 and 18 year olds. I was 22, didn't work with me. Probably why the military likes their recruits young and impressionable. Makes those recruits easier to train, fewer bad habits to break them of. But I digress.
Eventually the remainder of the herd arrived in the barracks. Names were shouted and answered to, bunks were assigned and we were allowed to lie down and get some sleep. I do believe said sleep lasted about one hour before the TIs (there were two) slammed the door open and began bellowing "get your asses out of those racks you lazy bastards!" This was before the days of political correctness. I long for those days.
So we were all present and accounted for. Our training was about to commence. We were excited and intimidated all at once. What would happen next?
We shall see that shortly.
In Part III of "Ma Vie Militaire".