|Budweiser beverage delivery truck Romulus Michigan by Dwight Burdette CC|
In those days there were certain behaviors which, if not quite required, were indeed condoned and even celebrated in the annals of our service. One of those things was the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Beer was a favorite of we enlisted swine, the officers (so we were told) leaned towards the hard liquors (aircrew drank whiskey, neat, or so we were told) and the spouses of those lofty personages were said to drink wine and mixed drinks. Staff and office pogues drank what the ladies drank, if they drank at all, again so we were told. For they were less than men in our estimation.
For we were the knuckle-dragging, aircraft flying and fixing clan. We worked hard, fought hard and partied hard.
Mind you, this was before the "one mistake Air Force," in fact we young airmen were often told that having an incident of non-judicial punishment in one's record, depending on what it was for, could even be somewhat career enhancing for a potential senior sergeant. Shows that one had "been there, done that" and that one could shepherd the young'uns and understand them better. At least I think that was the theory. (I think the officers were expected to behave better.)
All that being said, it was perhaps a simpler time. The nanny state had not reared its ugly head, people were supposed to be accountable for their actions and grown-ups were expected to act like, well, like grown-ups.
So there I was...*
Now in the way back, every month a unit would hold what was called a Commander's Call. The troops would gather and would then be regaled with necessary information, interesting tidbits of Air Force
One beer on the Old Man. In my early days we marched and/or walked everywhere. Not that automobiles hadn't been invented yet, but enough money to buy an automobile was beyond our reach. So after Commander's Call, we could have more beer should we wish to purchase same. But again, there was that whole "enough money" thing. Moderation was enforced upon us by our modest means.
Time passed. I learned more about my job and was able to function without a great deal of supervision. Then we heard that a major exercise would be forthcoming. All days off were cancelled, aircraft were prepped and radars were tweaked to peak performance. Well, as peak as we could make them. Which was pretty fair as I recall. Though I didn't appreciate it at the time, the 18th was actually a pretty good outfit. Not as good as the 8th, the Wolf Pack, but few units achieve that mythic status.
The exercise came and the aircrews flew the Hell out of those jets. As many sorties as we could generate went out, aircraft broke and had to be repaired. We truly worked our butts off. But no more so than our aircrews. I believe Juvat has mentioned a few times that throwing a Phantom around the sky with all the skill our pilots could muster was not a task for sissies. No Sir. Hard work it was. Sweaty it was. Required a great deal of skill and concentration. Because the jet will kill you if you don't pay attention. Sometimes even if you do!
Aircraft would recover and we'd see the crews, sweaty yet exhilarated, they couldn't wait to get back into the air. This exercise was as close to the real thing as one could get in peacetime. The crews were working hard, we worked hard to get the jets ready to go back up.
I think the exercise lasted a week. It was a very long week, but by Thursday evening the inspectors were on a plane back to whatever Hell had spawned them. The word spread quickly, the Wing had passed. In fact, the Wing had exceeded expectations.
Another word came, all maintenance personnel to report to one of the big hangars (it was so long ago I forget which hangar it was or how many we had) on Friday afternoon. A collective groan went around the shop, what now? We had hoped for a nice long weekend after the efforts of the week past. Guess not.
So we dragged ourselves to the hangar on Friday afternoon. Where we found people laughing, people drinking beer, people having fun.
A captain in a flight suit handed out beer to all of us out of a great plastic tub filled with ice. He told us to drink up, there was more where that came from as he gestured toward a flatbed trailer, loaded up with case after case of beer.
It got very drunk out that afternoon and evening. After a while the ice in the big tubs turned to ice water. 'Twas then the aircrews began to throw each other into the big tubs of icy water. We enlisted watched and laughed, I began to learn that our officers were people too. People who knew how to work hard and knew how to play hard.
That day they treated the maintenance folk like royalty. I think burgers and hot dogs may have been grilled as well. It was a great time.
I ran into our Old Man, a lieutenant colonel I think, it was a long, etc., time ago. I was in my fatigue uniform, he was in his office uniform, dark blue trousers, light blue shirt and flight cap. A beer in each hand. Quite honestly he looked a little unsteady.
|Both officers are wearing flight caps, the American version is on the right.|
US Air Force photo by SrA Michelle Arslan
Odd thing about the Old Man's flight cap, he was not wearing it fore and aft, as shown in the picture. For reasons known only to himself, he was wearing it, well I guess the nautical types would say athwartships, if you will. Side to side, that is, incorrectly.
So with great pomp and circumstance I staggered over to my commanding officer and gave him a rather melodramatic salute. And greeted him thusly -
"NICE HAT, SIR!"
The colonel fixed me with a steely eyed gaze, and replied with great gravitas, "Chuckles. You're an asshole." Then grinned.
I was somewhat taken aback but I mustered enough wit to thank the colonel and ask him his pleasure. Smiling he said, "Get me another beer. And wipe that stupid grin off your face."
"SIR, YES SIR!!"
Off I went to get the Old Man a beer. I did stop to help throw a major into one of the tubs. I assumed that the lieutenant knew what he was doing when he begged my assistance. I'm sure the major forgave him, eventually.
The Old Man got his beer and I awoke the next day with a massive hangover.
Our sergeants mustered us (after a fashion) and we went back to the hangar, figuring that the colossal mess we'd made the day before was not going to clean itself up. (When we left there were beer cans all over the hangar floor and all over the tarmac outside the hangar. A big FOD** problem if it were not cleaned up.)
Well, we arrived at the hangar, rather unsteady I might add, to see a hundred or so guys in flight suits. Tossing beer cans into trash bags and generally tidying the place up.
Yes, the aircrews chased us away. The whole party was their idea. They bought the beer, they treated us to a good time. And like good hosts, they were cleaning up after the party.
From that day forth, I have always had a special feeling in my heart for the men and women who wear flight suits and go into the "wild blue yonder."
Never saw another party that grand. That would be hard, no impossible, to top.
Nowadays it would never happen. For my Air Force has grown too PC, too worried about all of the wrong things to ever have a big party like that. At least not with the vast quantities of beer which we consumed there on Okinawa.
Nope, wouldn't happen today.
But that was in olden times.