Thursday, October 3, 2013

My First Second Lieutenant

I recall that I mentioned my lieutenant a couple of days ago. I promised you a story, and here it is. Well, there's a couple of stories really. (But you'll only get the one today.) I don't know of any NCO worth his or her salt who doesn't have at least one 2nd Lieutenant story. (For you aquatic types, substitute "Petty Officer" for "NCO", and "Ensign" for "2nd Lieutenant". The species are similar, just different names.)

So one day someone at Randolph AFB decided that Yours Truly could best contribute to the mission of the United States Air Force by being assigned duties at Offutt AFB in Nebraska. Home, at the time, to the Headquarters of the Strategic Air Command, or SAC HQ as we liked to call it. (Yes, we actually said "sack aitch queue", for those of you who are phonetically and acronymically* challenged.)

Now when I was first notified of this assignment, I noted that I was not assigned to SAC itself. No, I was assigned to something called the STRATCOMDIV. When I first looked at my orders my first thought was, "Damn! Am I being assigned to a Navy outfit?"

For you see the term "STRATCOMDIV" was unlike anything I had ever seen in the fighter aircraft world. The term looked very "Navy-ish" (think of terms like LANTFLEET, DEVRON, BUPERS and others of that ilk). Now this was my first assignment to an operational unit which had nothing to do with fighters. Or even aircraft for that matter. I was completely ignorant of what a 
"STRATCOMDIV" was. So I did some asking around. 

Turns out that 
"STRATCOMDIV" stood for "Strategic Communications Division". It also became clear over time that the people who generated my orders were the only ones on the planet who called it that. To the folks actually assigned there, it was just "The SCD".

So I processed into the unit and discovered that my office was in an old abandoned hangar. Well semi-abandoned actually. For my office was therein, so it couldn't be completely abandoned could it? Our "real" building was in the process of being renovated so they had moved everyone over to this unused hangar which had office space in the back.

So on very my first full duty day at the SCD, I crossed the old hangar floor (which was liberally strewn with pigeon sh!t and the occasional dead pigeon) and went into my new assignment. Wondering again just why I had re-enlisted.


Having made it through the pigeon minefield and having found my outfit's office space, I was introduced around. It wasn't half bad for being in an old hangar. (The next photo is of that very building, somewhat spruced up since I was there back in '87.)

My Hangar
There I met my immediate superior, a TSgt Potter and the very first 2nd Lieutenant I got to call my own. Tim Boerner, 2Lt, USAF. A native of Minnesota and a very smart guy. But he was, after all, at the time, a second lieutenant, which means that, by definition, he was not bright enough to be allowed out and about on his own.

Now at some bases, it might have been safe to let the young man roam freely for short periods. But this was SAC HQ. There were more generals and admirals around than fleas on a dog. Seriously, you couldn't walk through Building 500 (the actual headquarters building) without tripping over someone wearing stars! I know, I tripped over a Brigadier General one day and nearly wet myself apologizing.

The general looked at me and said, "Don't sweat it son, I'm just the sumbitch that makes the coffee around here."

Hhhmm, thinking back on it, he did sound kind of bitter.

At any rate, we couldn't let our lieutenant wander around on his own. The flag officers would eat him alive! Sergeants they tolerated and some they even respected, lieutenants were meant to be tormented and abused. In the hopes that some day they might grow up and become useful officers. (I guess it's one of those "rite of passage" things.)

Now the lieutenant and I didn't interact all that much my first few weeks at Offutt. It wasn't until we were moved back to our permanent location in Building 40 that I started working daily with the young lieutenant. (Our office area in Building 40 is circled in yellow in the next photo. We owned that wing of the building. It was a prime location. This building is oriented north and south. That is the active runway just to the north and just to the east is the transient facility. Where aircraft from "out of town" would be parked while visiting or just passing through. I've seen everything from a Junkers Ju-52 to an F-14 Tomcat parked in that area. Like I said, a prime location. And yes, I did say Ju-52, it's pictured below.)


Yup, Same Guy, Same Aircraft

So one day the boss comes into our office and indicates that he wants the lieutenant and I to go to a meeting in his stead. A meeting at our commander's office. Our commander being a general of the one-star variety.

Now both the lieutenant and I are pretty new, we wondered why our civilian boss wanted us to cover for him at a meeting. Of course, we later learned, through observation, personal experience and anecdotal evidence that our civilian boss was a complete idiot. Not sure how he got that job, I'm sure there were politics involved. Where there is politics, the idiots are not far away.

So 
the lieutenant and I headed over to the meeting. We arrived probably 20 minutes early and the general's secretary (for that's what they called them back in the day) told us to go ahead and make ourselves comfortable in the general's office. The others would be joining us shortly.

Like I said, we were early. The 
lieutenant looked longingly at the general's desk (for it was an awfully nice desk) and wondered aloud what it would be like to sit in the general's chair, at the general's desk.

I told him, "Go for it El-Tee".**

So the lieutenant walks over and plunks himself down in the general's chair. Gets real comfortable he does, starts turning the chair around, starts pretending to be a general himself. So, you can figure out what happens next. Right?

That's right. The door flies open and there stands all five-foot nothing of our commanding officer. (For he was small in stature.) Glaring at the lieutenant, the second lieutenant mind you, sitting in his chair. Pretending to be the august personage of the general himself.

I see the general's hand come up, ready to point at the offending junior officer occupying his chair, behind his desk. I can see the general's visage turn like the weather on a hot summer afternoon on the high plains. You can feel the electricity in the air. You feel that first gust of wind, you're expecting lightning and thunder, and then...

I kind of chortled. All quiet like, looking forward to the show I was. But that soft chortle, that little snicker caught the general's attention. Though I was sitting off to the side (and out of the general's immediate line of sight), that little bit of suppressed laughter caused the general's head to swivel in my direction like a tank cannon tracking a new target.

The general paused in mid-gesture. First he stared at me, then he stared at my lieutenant. Then he looked back at me, then once more at the lieutenant. Finally, his steely-eyed gaze returned to Yours Truly, and he said...

"You put him up to this didn't you Sarge?"

"Um, well, yes sir, I did." I responded, battening down my hatches and preparing for heavy rolls, so to speak.

"Jesus Christ! Lieutenant, get out of my chair. Sergeant, pick on your lieutenant in your own office. Not mine. Got it."

"Sir, yes sir. I got it."

'Twas then the general asked us who we were, discovered we were both new at the base and engaged us in fairly idle chit chat. Our general was a pretty cool guy.

The meeting was uneventful, neither the lieutenant nor I had any idea why we were there. During the meeting the general asked us who we were there for. We told him. All the general had to say to that was, "That a$$hole..."

Seems the general and our civilian boss weren't exactly members of any mutual admiration society that we were aware of. But like I said, the meeting was uneventful. But after the meeting, as we walked back to our own office, my lieutenant turned to me and said...

"I hate you."

But he said it with a smile.

And that's how I really got to know my first second lieutenant. Oh, I had more second lieutenants as time went on. But you never forget your first.

*Yes. I made that word up. It means "of or having to do with acronyms".
** El-Tee, LT or lieutenant. I'm sure you knew that...

16 comments:

  1. If I may I'll tell a 2ndLt story on myself. Down in Del Rio, I had just finished the T-41 (C-172) part of the syllubus and was celebrating the weekend in Cuidad Acuna across the border with some of my fellow class-mates. Feeling no pain from a long Friday night's worth of drinking and early am Sat imbibing, several of us ran into two fairly good-looking older American married women (the sort that would later be labelled MILFS) out shopping. We engaged them in playful banter, semi hitting on them-- sort of, you know, giving them the faux hustle just to shiow how coool we were. They asked us who we were and we drunken fools, er, hotshots, er superb future SkyPilots proudly proclaimed we were honest-to-god shit-hot future pilots just finished T-41 training and entering into T-37 tng on Monday. "Oh, that's interesting," said the blond slightly older of the two. "My husband is the Squadron Commander and xxx here is the wife of the Squadron XO." Not to be deterred (we were waaay beyond that drunken stage) we continued to brazen it out/make utter fools of ourselves before they tired of our act and moved on. Come Monday am we find ourselves down at the Squadron ready room being assigned our IPs. Most IPs had four students, the XO had two and the Squadron CO had one. Each had a glass enclosed office in which the student sat facing the desk with his back to the other students in the ready room who could see all that transpired (body-language-wise) Guess who had the pleasure of being the Squadron Co's ONLY jock? You guessed it. (Rumor had it that, due to demands on his time, they assigned either the sharpest student to the Co or the worst so he could concentrate on him--I was afraid to ask which I was, lol) At any rate the opening introduction (BTW he was a HUGE bear of a man) went something like this: "Let me introduce myself, I'm Major XXX yada, yada yada. .... and I understand YOU'VE ALREADY MET MY WIFE........"

    LOL! NOTHING like starting off on the right foot with good impressions, right? No pressure there, right? As they saying goes, I could see my AF career disolve before my very eyes--"DO NOT pass Go--head straight to personnel and process your paperwork, Lt, we'll take it from here." One helluva way to start primary jets, eh? lol (He was a great guy, tho, and things worked out jes fine, but talk about having serious. doubts just for a while!)

    NOTHING like being a hotshot fool 2nd Lt in pilot training (what did someone say recently? There aren't enough mirrors to go around? lol)

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    1. Now that is a great story.

      (So how did you manage to survive your early years?)

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  2. I have asked you before...MORE SERVICE STORIES PLEASE!!

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    1. I'm working on it Joe. The old Air Force memories are starting to bubble to the surface more and more these days.

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  3. That's like saluting an Ensign to see if he remembers he's carrying a hammer. (I actually did that once. Fortunately he remembered the hammer immediately after starting to return the salute, but prior to braining himself. Good times!)

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  4. The only ensign I ever had any kind of working relation with, other than watch officers, was a mustang, who was our EMO (electronic material officer), pronounced EEM-OH.
    He had more time in the chow line than most of us had in the Navy.

    I like the bit about the naval acronyms.
    My first duty station after boot camp was NAVSCHCOMTISFRANCAL.

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    1. You know, Mustangs almost don't count as Ensigns (or 2Lts). Many of them were sergeants/petty officers before they were commissioned. So they'd been around the block, so to speak.

      So how do you pronounce "NAVSCHCOMTISFRANCAL".

      Heh.

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  5. Great story, Sarge! I've been on the butt end of some jokes like that and the other end as well. Laughter keeps us halfway sane.

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    1. Laughter is the only thing keeping me from sitting down in a corner someplace and sobbing uncontrollably.

      Well, that and the need to hold down a job and pay the mortgage.

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  6. I never had an El-Tee of my own... and now I really feel deprived. I do have some LT stories, though, but all of 'em are X-rated.

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    1. Never had your own El-Tee???

      Ah Buck, you missed out on some fun times. (Headaches too, but that's a story for another time.)

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  7. One amusement was watching a green LT Officer of the Day picking a Supernumary at our Battation Guard Mount. The competition was fierce, and we knew answers to questions the LTs didn't know to ask. We could spot the ones with integrity, who tried to pick the best. The drones would just pick someone at random. There are all kinds of leadership tests. Some are not immediately apparent.

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    1. And it takes a smart old trooper to recognize those leadership tests.

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  8. Much like VX, there are two sides to being an O-1, some of which make GREAT stories.

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Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)