|Jim Nabors and Frank Sutton in Gomer Pyle 1968 by CBS Television (Public Domain)|
So what does 32172P mean? I won't bore you with all of the details (yup, every number and letter means something) but the 7 means that I was a 7 skill level, which now-a-days is described as "Craftsman - Airmen with many years of experience in the specialty, responsible for supervision and training."
In my day, everyone knew what 3-level, 5-level, 7-level, etc meant. Somewhere along the way, some staff guy decided those things needed names. So now, they do. After my time.
I was a "craftsman" (heh) and my specialty was Weapon Control Systems on the F-4C/D aircraft. Think Phantom, think Rhino, think Old Double Ugly, ya know, this guy:
|F-4C-20-MC Phantom 63-7623 USAF photo by Peake, William R|
|F-4Es 86th TFW in flight 1985 by SSgt. F. Serna, USAF|
So, now that we've established all of that, what does my having been an aircraft maintainer type SSgt back in the day got to do with "the price of tea in China"? As my Dad used to say.
Well, when I was in Korea, most of us were SSgts, except for Skip, then Charlie, who were our shop chiefs (Skip, then Charlie**) in the 8th Component Repair Squadron (CRS), they were Tech Sergeants (TSgt). They were in charge and SSgts were a dime a dozen. I was a shift lead but "big deal" as we say. There were two of us SSgts, I was the more senior by date of rank but the other SSgt was every bit as capable as I. Really, I just got to do the paperwork.
But then came the time when the F-4D Phantoms were leaving Korea, by dribs and drabs. We would check 'em out (does the radar work?), button 'em up and ship 'em out. Didn't take a lot of time. If a radar set was inoperable, well just make him the wingman, neh? And make sure lead has a good radar.
Our days were reduced to stripping, waxing and buffing the floors in our work spaces. We thought that playing pinochle all day would be wondrous and grand but Charlie (who was the bull goose loony at that time) had hopes of making Master Sergeant one day. Allowing us slobbering SSgts to play cards all day was probably not career enhancing for him. We didn't mind, even pinochle gets boring after a while and it's not like we were stripping, waxing and buffing every day. (More like every other...)
So gradually we all moved on, most of the guys went to Homestead AFB in Florida. I, lucky me, was transferred to Lowry AFB, in Colorado. Denver to be precise.
Now I know what some of you are thinking, Florida equals sun and fun, Colorado equals snow and cold. You couldn't be more wrong.
Florida meant working on jets. Outdoors.
Colorado meant working on radar trainers. Indoors.
In my old career field, Lowry was the promised land. The place of regular hours, no weekends and a location so far down the logistics food chain that to get parts for the radar, we had a better chance of pulling the stuff we needed off a jet crash landing in the parking lot than getting anything through Supply. (Not Supply's fault, the Cs and Ds were being phased out, all available spare parts went to Florida. Where my old colleagues sweated in the hot sun. Working on jets.)
So I arrive at Lowry. There are about 25 guys in the shop. Couple of TSgts and one MSgt. Five guys work 1500 to 2400, the other 20 work 0700 to 1600. Or thereabouts. The MSgt did MSgt type stuff, the two TSgts were essentially useless. They sat around doing paperwork and "planning" all day.
The MSgt decided that I would run day shift. Sweet!
I had some F-4E types (very few) and the rest were all fairly junior F-4C/D airmen types, most not long out of school. Not one, to my knowledge, had ever been overseas. A lot of rookies.
So instead of being one among equals, I was now the bull goose loony in charge. Not a problem. I was born for that.
First thing I did was determine which of my airmen was the best at doing paperwork. All the various maintenance forms, checklist and tech order stuff. One guy proved himself the best of the best. (Hell, he knew more than me!) Yup, he was now the AIC Documents (AIC = Airman In Charge, a position I created just for him. As I recall, the troop's name was Golden and he was worth his weight in that substance!)
Second thing, how much work did we really have? Well, seems there was enough work to keep five, maybe six guys busy all day on the F-4C/D side. The E-model guys? I put them on autopilot, they had two really sharp SSgts who knew the drill and knew how to get things done. So on the E side of the house, it wasn't broke, so I didn't attempt to fix it.
Third thing. One of the TSgts liked to come down to the dispatch area and tell the airmen what to do. Okay, technically he was authorized to do that. Problem was, he was out of touch with the day to day operations of the shop. Such as they were.
One of the airmen complained, so I threw the TSgt out. Nicely, but firmly.
He appealed the ruling on the field, the MSgt reviewed the tape and upheld my call.
So, I had established the hierarchy, made a couple of calls, took time to observe the day to day and see who knew their jobs and who didn't. I got settled in, so to speak.
Most of the kids knew the technical aspects of the work. Some of them thought they were civilians who just all happened to dress alike. In other words, they weren't in the military. Or didn't think they were.
So, out of necessity, I became something (shudder) of a martinet.
Example: Airman Schmuckatelli liked to sit at the dispatch board and talk on the phone with his girlfriend. Now Airman Otherguy might need to use the phone to call Supply, or one of the school instructors or a crew working in one of the trainer rooms. Well, he could just wait until Airman Schmuckatelli had settled his evening plans.
Airman Schmuckatelli was told that the phone was for official use only. The very next day he decided that he could now call his girlfriend, as perhaps my ruling only applied to the day on which I made it.
The lads and lasses discovered that I had a very loud voice. Rumor had it that the base commander (over a mile away at HQ) could hear me inquire of Airman Schmuckatelli:
WHAT PART OF OFFICIAL USE ONLY DID YOU NOT EFFING UNDERSTAND, AIRMAN???!!!
The MSgt came down to see what all the ruckus was about. One of my airmen told him that now was not a good time to go near the dispatch board as "Sarge is tearing Schmuckatelli's head off. He's really mad. Maybe you should wait until later..."
MSgt McKellar (for that was his name) smiled quietly to himself and returned to his office.
(To be fair, once I got Airman Schmuckatelli on the right path he turned into a very good troop. He used to be late all the time. Yup, I "corrected" him on that behavior. After I left Lowry, I heard that Airman Schmuckatelli had made Airman of the Quarter and was one of the sharpest guys on the base. Yeah, made me a little teary-eyed. Ya like to see your guys improve.)
Now our area had a break room, two (maybe three, it was a long time ago) tables in a long line with chairs for the troops to sit, do their paperwork, study and/or eat lunch. The first few days after I had established my
Chairs pulled out and askew. Candy wrappers on the table, etc., etc.
I suggested that the break area needed to be kept ship shape, as it were.
A couple of days passed. No change.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, YOU WILL KEEP THIS AREA CLEAN AND TIDY AT ALL TIMES!!! ARE WE CLEAR!!!
YES, STAFF SERGEANT!!!
The next day, better. The day after, still okay. Day three. YHGTBSM!
AIRMAN X, AIRMAN Y!!! TAKE ALL OF THESE GORRAM CHAIRS DOWN TO STORAGE!!! NOW!!!
"But Sarge, where will we sit?"
YOU WILL NOT, REPEAT NOT SIT AT MY TABLES!!! YOU WILL STAND BECAUSE YOU ARE ALL ANIMALS!!! ANIMALS DO NOT CLEAN UP AFTER THEMSELVES!!! ANIMALS EAT STANDING UP!!! AM I CLEAR???
YES, STAFF SERGEANT!!!
Later that day, the MSgt came down to see how things were going. Upon entering the break area, he noticed the lack of chairs. Airman X was in the room so the MSgt asked, "Airman X, where are all the chairs?"
"The chairs are all in storage because Sarge said we were all sloppy pigs and did not deserve to sit at a table like human beings."
MSgt McKellar smiled quietly to himself and returned to his office.
Yes, the troops eventually got their chairs back and became very disciplined, sharp troops. I loved them all dearly. So much so, that I committed the sin of allowing them to address me by my first name, my given name, that is to say, my Christian name.
The squadron First Sergeant came a'calling one day and asked to see me. As I was down in one of the trainer rooms, Airman X said "Chris is down in trainer 1, do you want me to go get him?"
The First Sergeant indicated that that would be nice.
Airman X came to collect me. Upon entering the room, the First Sergeant said, "So Sarge, you let your airmen call you by your first name?"
Before I could answer, Airman X replied -
BEGGING THE FIRST SERGEANT'S PARDON BUT SARGE LETS US CALL HIM WHATEVER WE WANT TO CALL HIM. AS LONG AS WE OBEY HIS ORDERS AND NOT DIRTY UP HIS BREAK ROOM!!!
The First Sergeant had to be satisfied with that answer. But he still "expressed his concerns" to our Commanding Officer (CO).
Later on, the CO and I had a few words about the situation. I told the CO that that shop was my shop. Those were my troops. As long as they did their jobs, I didn't care how they referred to me. As the CO was very pleased with that shop, he decided that I was good to go.
"Sarge, on your way out, tell the First Sergeant that I want to see him."
As I left, I could hear the CO yelling at the First Sergeant.
Hhmm, I wonder what that was all about? First time I had ever heard the phrase "pretentious asshole" used in a sentence.
I mellowed somewhat in later years. Then again, as a SSgt I had 20 guys working for me, as a TSgt I only had five. When I made MSgt, I had one guy, one freaking troop! So yeah, I got mellow. The SSgt days were the highlight of my career.
(If only I had known about Turkish SSgt stripes, à la Buck. And that story is in the comments here. Good Lord I do miss that guy. I'm sure there is a comma in the wrong place or some other thing that only he would remark upon. Every time I type a quotation mark I wonder, "Now where did Buck say to put the gorram thing?" I'm sure he's chuckling about that in the Hereafter, beer in hand, stogie smoldering nearby...)
|For Buck, heh.|
*AFSC = Air Force Specialty Code, which is an alphanumeric code used by the United States Air Force to identify an Air Force Specialty (AFS). (S)
** Actually there had been another shop chief somewhere in there but him I don't mention. He was a politicking, ass-licking, thieving sum-bitch. He came within a hair of being court martialed for black marketing. Selling gubmint property downtown. Had two heart attacks while being questioned by the Office of Special Investigations. (No, not on the same day.) So USAF decided it was cheaper to medically retire the a-hole rather than finance another hospital stay for a bad ticker. His name will not be mentioned by me, ever.