Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ma Vie Militaire (Part IV or "A Lieutenant of Marines")

Emblem of the United States Marine Corps
When we left this thrilling, heart-pounding saga (okay, it's neither thrilling nor heart-pounding, I'm exercising a bit of "artistic" license here) I had just finished United States Air Force Basic Training. I was no longer a raggedy-a$$ civilian (so our instructors assured me) and was now a highly-disciplined and trained member of the U.S. Air Force. I was officially an Airman Basic (E-1), one each.

While I might have been highly-disciplined, my training to this point mainly consisted of how to stand at attention (and parade rest, and "at ease", and - oh, I think you get the point) and how to march in step with a bunch of other brand new airman. I also knew how to respond with precision and alacrity to drill commands as barked by my instructors. And learned that I would catch holy hell if I turned the wrong way, pivoted on the wrong foot and did not salute anything that moved!

Oh, I was also highly trained in how to fold my underwear and display my uniforms properly in my locker. All this in just six weeks! But in order for me to become a useful member of my beloved Air Force, I would need further training. For that I would be dispatched to Lowry AFB, Colorado. Which was located in Denver. Alas, Lowry no longer exists. It was given back to the city of Denver and now (IIRC) is used for low income housing (the old housing area) and they also built a golf course upon the premises.

Oddly enough, it was the only Air Force Base I was ever stationed at which did not have a golf course. They built the golf course after the base was, shall we say, decommissioned. Normally my Service would build the golf course, the Officer's Club, the Consolidated Base Personnel Office (CBPO), staff it with various administrative types, then bring in the aircraft, pilots, maintainers and security personnel to protect the golf course and all those administrative types. (At least that's what the admin wienies at CBPO acted like every time you asked them to actually do their jobs. That, in my memories, is what it seemed like anyway.)

But I digress. There we were, still at Lackland AFB in Texas, awaiting transport. There I learned another key lesson which every military man (or woman) learns eventually. How to "hurry up and wait". We were marched out to an area with very little shade, during the early Texas summer, carrying our duffle bags (which held all of our earthly possessions) and told to "wait here for the buses to take you to the airport".

We waited. It got hotter. We waited some more. It got hotter still. And finally the buses arrived, must have been a two to three hour wait. But it was an important lesson, so I've been told. Honestly, it did prepare me for the many times later in my career when we would arrive (as ordered) at our marshaling area (normally well before the sun rose) and wait.

Usually we were waiting for an aircraft to take us some place where we would work on other aircraft. Normally the time betwixt reporting for movement and actually feeling the aircraft leave Mother Earth was anywhere from three to five hours. There was an exception to that on one occasion that I recall. Remind me to relate that tale later on down the road. But it involved the actual possibility of going to a real shooting war. For exercises there was normally no big rush. When things looked serious, I was always amazed at just how fast the USAF could get people and flying machines "down range".

Eventually our bunch which was headed to Lowry, arrived at Lowry. We expected more yelling and screaming, being marched hither and yon and (again) being treated like low-life scum. In reality we were greeted as fellow human beings by the staff at my new squadron, bedded down for the night and told to report in the morning for an initial briefing. Said briefing was to take place on Saturday morning (we'd left Lackland on a Friday).

We figured, "That's when they'll start yelling at us!"

Nope, again we were well treated and well-briefed as to what to expect at Tech School. Actual training would commence on Monday and we were told to have a nice weekend.

Huh? Really? We were free to do as we pleased? Cool.

Part of the briefing involved places which were "Off Limits" to military personnel. We also received a bus schedule. So we trooped back to our rooms, changed into civvies and headed to the bus stop. Our goal was to find a place which sold adult beverages involving barley and hops. But we were pretty clueless as to where these places were. We were also not very well flush with cash either, so the place had to be cheap. (Airmen did NOT make a lot of money in those days, probably still don't.)

Much to our surprise, while on the bus a rather tall, lanky chap (with hair down to his waist) asked us if we were "brand new airmen". The question was pro forma really, we all had that shaved head look common to new recruits and the gawking out the window at "the big city" pretty much identified us as being from out of town.

We admitted to being brand new airmen, rather cautiously as this guy looked exactly like the type of person we'd been told to avoid. It was at that point that the fellow informed us that he was a retired Marine First Lieutenant. Honestly he didn't look old enough to be a retired Marine. We figured him to be in his late twenties, early thirties. Also, though we were rookies, we knew what a First Lieutenant was and normally people don't retire at that rank.

But the fellow produced an Honest-to-God official US government retired military ID. Which indicated that he was indeed a retired lieutenant of Marines. To our quizzical looks he explained that he'd been medically retired due to wounds received while serving in Vietnam. Bear in mind this was 1975, so his story was plausible.

So we got off the bus with this Marine, in a fairly decent part of town, and went into a bar which apparently was very popular with veterans! Lucky stroke we all thought. And we were correct. We bought nary a beverage the whole time we were there (which was considerable) and were feted and congratulated by the denizens of this particular establishment. We heard many war (and sea) stories and received much advice on how to make it in the military. Much of which none of us could remember the next day as we all had gotten rather, shall we say, three sheets into the wind. Inebriated. Blasted. Intoxicated. Etc.

But, the lieutenant of Marines escorted us back to the bus stop, rode the bus with us back to the base (as he had a retired ID he could get on the base), kept us quiet and fairly well-behaved, and deposited us safely back at our barracks. We had a great time and learned another valuable lesson, perhaps the most valuable lesson we ever learned, perhaps the only thing we would remember from this Marine and his buddies at the bar.

GIs, whether active duty, retired or just one-hitch veterans, stick together and watch each others backs. Though our uniforms differed from one Service to another, we all served under the same flag and swore the same oath: "To support and defend the Constitution..."

Not doing so was to "break the faith" and would make us unworthy in the eyes of our fellow GIs.

So while I learned a lot during my military service, the most important lesson I learned was back when I was still a young, wet behind the ears, brand new airman.

"Keep the faith, always have your buddy's back. Respect and honor the veterans who went before."

And I learned this from a Lieutenant of Marines.

Semper Fi

Ooorah!!!

2 comments:

  1. In reality we were greeted as fellow human beings by the staff at my new squadron...

    My, how times change. I rode a train from Lackland to Biloxi, MS, with a three-hour layover in N'Awlins... during which we got a lil bit intoxicated (and bought nary a drink our ownselves) in this dive bar close to the train station. Which we were NOT supposed to be in, btw.

    My point, however, is that once we arrived at Keesler AFB my contingent of New Airmen was harassed, yelled at, and treated EXACTLY as we were treated in Basic. This went on for about the next month or so, or until we became A3Cs... putting on that first stripe. The year was 1963.

    Back on topic... you were fortunate to meet up with yer Lieutenant o' Marines. VERY fortunate.

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  2. Biloxi hadn't changed all that much by 1987. New trainees were still treated like dog crap. I was there for (yet another) Tech School and we old timers liked to stand out front in the mornings and watch the new guys being marched in for classes. The newbees in my class were always happy to fall out of their formation and head into class. From what I heard, Lowry was pretty much the ONLY Tech School where the newbees were treated like humans. Heard many a horror story about Biloxi and Shepherd.

    And the bein' in a place you weren't supposed to be, yup, been there, done that.

    The Marine Corps will pop up again in this saga, always in a good way. I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the Corps!

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