|USAF Photo by SSgt Adam R. Wooten|
So I sat down to write.
Stared at the screen.
Came up with a great title, in Latin even!
Stared at the screen some more.
Checked out Dilbert.
Drank some coffee.
Played with the cats.
Sat down in front of the computer again.
Stared at the screen a bit longer than before.
Then came to the realization that The Skipper and Tuna had already said pretty much everything I would've said. Only they said it better.
I felt like Babe Ruth and David Ortiz had just batted, both hitting home runs.
Then I came to home plate.
Popped out to the catcher.
Alright. Enough of that. I do have a tale to tell. This one is XBradTC inspired.
So there I was...*
It was 1975, I was in training to become a technician on the mighty F-4 Phantom warbird of much renown and fame. One of the things we had to do was fill out a "Dream Sheet."
This was (in those days) a piece of paper where you would list your preferences as regards places you would like to be assigned to.
The typical dream sheet would probably read like this:
- Bitburg AB, Germany
- RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom
- Lowry AFB, Colorado
- Tyndall AFB, Florida
- Overseas Short Tour Volunteer? NO!
At least that's what mine may have looked like. I wanted to go to Germany. A lot. Next would have been England (the UK to be all technical about it).
So what happened after you filled out your dream sheet is that the personnel wienies would go into a backroom, where they would laugh hysterically for quite some time. Gasping and pointing at your list of choices as if you were asking the Air Force for a billion-zillion dollars.
After recovering from laughing at your choices, the personnel wienies would enter your choices in the computer. I think in those days every base had one computer. Yup, one.
|Base Level Computer circa 1975.|
Photo by Matthew Brady (No, not really, it's by some guy named "Public Domain")
So when the assignment grand panjandrums would gather at one of their periodic Black Masses to decide which bases needed replacements, this information in the computer would (allegedly) be used to match one's preferences with "the needs of the Air Force."
Okay, I get that. Not everyone can be stationed in Hawaii. Or Italy. Somebody has to man those remote radar sides Buck would tell us about. Someone has to go to the Aleutians. Or Greenland. The needs of the service are real and are paramount. I understand.
No really, I do. (Or did, I'm retired now. And things have changed in my old service. Not for the better in some ways. Just wanted to throw that out there. Sort of a rant. If you want the real skinny, read Tony. He's got it covered.)
All that aside, as my time at tech school in Denver wound down, I looked forward (with eager anticipation) to see where I was going to go next. Then one day I was summoned to the orderly room. (I think, it was an awfully long time ago, dontcha know?) My assignment had arrived!
I rushed there and breathlessly awaited the news of where my true adventure would begin.
"Sarge!" (Of course I wasn't one at the time, bit it was my nickname from Basic Training and it's the handle I go by now. So, let's leave it at that. I wish to maintain whatever vestiges of anonymity remain. Which ain't much.)
Stepping forward I took the proffered computer printout.
Stepping forward I took the proffered computer printout.
|Yeah, this is what printouts looked like in 1975.|
"Endlospapier fan-fold paper" by Kungfuman - Own work. CC
Staring intently at the form I saw some weird code where the base of assignment was supposed to be. Turning to a classmate I was preempted by -
"Alright! I'm going to Eglin! In Florida!"
I asked him where he saw that, it was in the same place on his printout where I just had some gobbledygook alphanumeric code. While it wasn't cuneiform, it might as well have been. I didn't know what the heck it meant.
So, I turned to the First Sergeant.
"So Shirt**, where am I going? What does this weird-ass code mean?"
"Lemme see airman."
Taking the printout, he stared intently at it, then said, "Oh yeah, I recognize this code, but let me make a phone call first."
He called the personnel wienies who confirmed what the code meant. (No doubt after studying goat entrails, tea leaves and gazing balls. Dark arts for sure.)
"Nice, you're going to Udorn." sayeth the Shirt.
"Udorn? Where in Germany is Udorn."
Big grin, followed by a guffaw.
"Sarge, you numb-nuts, Udorn. As in Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base. As in Thailand. Man, you're going to love it."
Grrr. I was sorely disappointed. I wanted Germany. Not Thailand. I also noted that the space on my computer printout for my preferences was suspiciously marked "No Preferences." No one had entered my dream sheet into the computer.
Quickly though, word got around. The sergeants in my unit began to regale me with stories of Thailand. I began to come around to the idea. After all, I did kind of like Asia back in those days. (These days, I love Asia. Back then I was a bit of a naif. Go figure.)
As I began to be excited about Thailand and the mysteries of the Far East I got a phone call.
I was to report to the Consolidated Base Personnel Office, or CBPO, the lair of the personnel wienies and home to their Dark Arts, voodoo spells and other black magics.
I was, shall we say, nervous. What could this be? Had the augurs determined something while observing the crows perched outside the entrance to CBPO? What was my fate to be?
|Consolidated Base Personnel Office, Lowry AFB, CO circa 1975|
Upon arrival at the assignments section of CBPO I was greeted by
a minion of Sauron one of the clerks, who directed me to the individual handling my assignment.
"Ah yes, you had the assignment to Udorn, that's been changed." the airman stated in a rather impersonal and abrupt manner.
"Here's your new assignment."
Another computer printout, another mysterious and arcane code (which I had since learned designated an overseas assignment).
The assignments airman felt that her job was done. She had handed me the printout. I asked her what the code meant. She looked at me like I had just asked what planet we were on. (Odd thing about fields with arcane codes, computer printouts and whatnot, they have their own jargon and expect everyone around them to understand it too. Kind of like real estate agents. "Points? What the Hell are the points? I want a loan, I'm not betting on a football game... but I digress.)
She grudgingly told me that the new code meant "Kadena Air Base, Japan."
I tell you, I was excited now. The land of the rising sun. Mount Fuji. Samurai. Sake. Geisha.
Then I got back to the squadron, ran into the Shirt.
"So, you got your new assignment? Where ya headed?"
"Japan" says I.
"Japan" says I.
"Where in Japan" asked the Shirt.
"Kadena" I responded joyfully.
"Sarge, Kadena is only sort of 'in' Japan. It's on Okinawa. Do you know where that is?" the Shirt was kind of chortling at my newest dilemma.
"Yeah, Shirt, I know where Okinawa is. It ain't really Japan, is it?"
Well "yes and no" was his answer. Okinawa had once been an independent kingdom. One of those small places that all the big boys want to take over and have for themselves. Some Chinese influence, some Japanese influence. The United States owned the place from the end of World War Two up until 1972. When I got there, I felt like I'd been transported back to the '50s.
The Okinawan kids were all about Elvis, duck tails, bobby socks and "going to the hop."
It was weird, but kinda cool too.
At first I hated it. It was hot, it rained from Friday afternoon to Monday morning. Snakes. Jungle. Typhoons.
But it kinda grew on me.
When people ask me if I ever had a "bad" assignment, I think back to Okinawa. The first six months sucked. Then it got better. Bit by bit.
It was supposed to be an 18-month tour. I stayed for 24.
I learned something at Kadena.
It's not where you're at, it's who you're there with. I worked with some great guys at Kadena.
And they made all the difference.
So did I ever have a "bad" assignment.
Well, yes and no.
In reality, all of my Air Force assignments were pretty darn good.
And I did get to Germany.
And stayed seven and a half years.
Just gotta be patient.
**Shirt, slang for First Sergeant short for First Shirt. The senior enlisted adviser at unit level who reports directly to the commander. It's a position, not a rank. A key person in any unit. A good one is worth their weight in gold. A bad one... Aieee! Don't wanna go there.
***Watashi wa hijō ni yorokonde ita. "I was very pleased."