Friday, February 13, 2015

In Olden Times

Budweiser beverage delivery truck Romulus Michigan by Dwight Burdette CC
Long, long ago, I was a member of the mighty 18th Tactical Fighter Wing, stationed at Kadena AB, Okinawa (Japan). I was nobbut a junior airman and had not yet attained non-commissioned officer status. While I was not at the bottom of the totem pole, I could see it from where I sat. In fact, I could reach out and touch the bottom of the totem pole without having to stretch very much.

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 gossip news and we'd all have a beer. On the Old Man. (For that is what we usually called our commander, I'm pretty sure if the commander was female she would not be called the Old Woman, at least not more than once. I never served in a unit with a female at the helm. Though I have had any number of ladies as my immediate boss.)

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.




*SJC
** FOD

14 comments:

  1. Aye, brings a wee tear to my eye thinking back to when MY Navy would allow such things. Gone are the days when you could hold an all-out, divisional bender paid for by the division officer. He would yell at me" Johnnie! Go to the package store and get four kegs. Then, go to the base chow hall and fill up the rest of your truck with ice." We would drink beer, play softball, drink beer, grill hotdogs and hamburgers, drink more beer, and the afternoon would go on forever. Eventually the ground around my truck would turn to mud with all of the melting ice, which in turn, of course, would lead to mud wrestling...officers and all. More beer was drunk (drank?), bodies were tossed about, and punches were thrown (officers and all). A day or so later, being young, we had all recovered and gone back to work...all was right with the world once again...officers and all.

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    1. Esprit de corps, morale, that stuff IS important and events like that help build it.

      I wonder if those days will ever return? I sure hope so.

      Delete
  2. Great story, Sarge. And I'm here to tell you that not having the highest possible number of good conduct medals is in fact good for the ol' career. Or at least it was...

    Of officer-enlisted celebrating, did I ever tell you about the time Nimitz got thrown out of Livorno?

    Hmmm.

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    Replies
    1. Do tell!

      There's a tale I'm looking forward too!

      Delete
  3. Ahh, the memories. Apparently I had already left Kadena and missed such a grand party but it was not unique.

    I think we all know that aircrews figured out long ago that if they keep their ground crews happy, the ground crews will provide better quality maintenance. Thus improving their chances of returning to terra firma in one piece.

    The pilots provided a couple of parties like that when I was a Luke although I don't remember them throwing each other in the tubs of ice but then those memories are a little vague due to excessive beer consumption and time. And at that time, Luke was also the largest German pilot training base in the world so the quality and variety of beer was outstanding!

    Thanks for another great trip down memory lane!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Though it was a long time ago, I think you had left by the time that party happened. It wasn't too long after that I left for Korea.

      It was all such a long time ago that the details all tend to run together and get blurry.

      Though that might have been caused by the beer as well.

      Thanks Russ, glad you liked it.

      Delete
  4. The party alluded to in my Aussies and Afterburners post was of a similar nature. The beer was served from the iced down beds of a couple of pickups. All deployed personnel were invited, and the party stretched well into the night. The 18th TFW had brought Japanese Beer, the 21st TFW brought salmon and halibut, and the Aussies brought BEER! Where we brought beer in the avionics bay (4 or 5 cases per jet), the Aussies brought a C-130 load.
    Don't remember any altercations or other problems, but the key words were the first two. Sunday was pretty quiet around Chambers Hall.
    Not sure if the modern AF even understands Esprit d' Corps any more, or cares.

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    1. Ah, it was good to go back and read that post.

      Yeah, I'm not sure just what the modern Big Air Force understands anymore, though I'm sure the kids (the ones who make it work) still get it, it's the star-clan and the Perfumed Princes who have forgotten the old ways.

      To Fly and To Fight.

      And to party on down when not doing the first two!

      Delete
  5. Red: [narrating] And that's how it came to pass that on the second-to-last day of the job, the convict crew that tarred the plate factory roof in the spring of forty-nine wound up sitting in a row at ten o'clock in the morning drinking icy cold, Bohemia-style beer, courtesy of the hardest screw that ever walked a turn at Shawshank State Prison.
    Captain Hadley: Drink up while it's cold, ladies.
    Red: [narrating] The colossal prick even managed to sound magnanimous.

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    Replies
    1. Bwaaaahaaaaahaaaaa!!

      Well said Tuna, well said.

      Delete
  6. So there I was...2 stripes just out of tech school and for some unknow reason (Read: Air Force) I was a room mate of two short timer 4 stripers. Commanders Call on a Friday night and I'm standing around confused as Heck. I didn't, at that point, trust myself to drink, so I was just watching the guys have a great time. One of my room mates decided to pick up a very pretty lady (she was havind none of it (he didn't seem to care)). A very large man in a flight suit tapped him on the shoulder to slow down his advances, to which my room mate turned on him, growled : "get your own girl" and took a swing. The Lt. Colonel punched him once and nite-nite. The "Old Man" looked over at me and said "this airman just walked into a wall. Can you help him back to the barracks?"

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    Replies
    1. Not the first time an airman walked into a wall...

      Or fell down some stairs...

      Heh, sh!t happens.

      Delete

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