Wednesday, April 8, 2015

You Wanna Go Where? (Yeah, Right...)

USAF Photo by SSgt Adam R. Wooten
So I was all set to rant, rave and opine about the world today. I tell ya, The Skipper and Tuna got me all riled up. Frothing at the mouth I was.

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. Blame Thank him.

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:
  1. Bitburg AB, Germany
  2. RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom
  3. Lowry AFB, Colorado
  4. Tyndall AFB, Florida
  5. 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.

Actual USAF Personnel Wienie. (I think...)
Oh yeah, Public Domain photo (I keep forgetting...)
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.

Computer printout from... (Public Domain)
No, wait a minute.
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.

Bastards.

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
(Source)
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.

私は非常に喜んでいた。***

Neh?

Then I got back to the squadron, ran into the Shirt.

"So, you got your new assignment? Where ya headed?"

"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.

Seriously.

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.

Eventually.

And stayed seven and a half years.

Just gotta be patient.

I suppose.





*SJC

**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."

20 comments:

  1. Legible computer printouts? We got mimeographs. Numbers 390 to 400 of a stencil from a run of 400. Good luck reading that, as in the first four letters of mimeograph. Agree the people you serve with are more important than the place.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mimeographs? Man, that's a classic. I remember those from high school.

      390 to 400 of a run of 400. Might as well hand you a blank piece of paper!

      Delete
    2. 30+ troops going to the same place. Each gets ten copies. Those whose names start in the A to D range lead and those of us whose names start with W just follow along.

      Delete
    3. Oh yeah, the alphabet thing. It's good being near the front of the alphabet.

      Trust me.

      Delete
  2. "All military bureaucracies consist of a Surprise Party Department, a Practical Joke Department, and a Fairy Godmother
    department. The first two process most matters, as the third is very small; the Fairy Godmother Department is one elderly
    female GS-5 clerk usually out on sick leave." - Robert Heinlein

    I would say that roughly half of all assignments come from the Practical Joke Dept and the other half from the Surprise
    Party Dept. 1-2 percent are granted by the Fairy Godmother Dept. Like you, I had Germany as my first choice and UK
    as my second and some stateside bases after those. I'm not sure if my first assignment was from the PJD or SPD
    because the assignment to Phu Cat could have fit the Practical Joke criteria and it definitely WAS a Surprise!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I will have more stories of the idiosyncrasies, stupidity and surprises revealed to me over the years by the Air Force personnel system. Including the CMSgt who had been assigned to Lackland for over 20 years berating me for wanting an assignment in Colorado. "Sounds like a personal preference Sarge." Was his reply when I pointed out that assigning me there would save the government a crap ton of money. Seeing as how he had had ONE assignment in his entire effing career, he was an expert on the "needs of the service."

      I had a deep and personal dislike for most personnel pukes outside of a squadron orderly room. Most of them were inefficient and self-serving assholes.

      Of course, YMMV.

      Delete
  3. I'm married to a retired Personnel Officer. I'm going to take this opportunity to keep my mouth shut.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Really? Though you were a bold fighter pilot.

      Delete
    2. Juvat, I was only referring to the enlisted pukes. In later years I was often rescued by a commissioned personnel type who would come out (wondering why the nice sergeant was exploding at the counter) to straighten out the E-4s manning the front desk.

      E-4s are another group who earned my special dislike. An E-4 personnel-type? I shudder to remember.

      I used to call my E-4s "semi-sergeants" - had one who insisted on answering the phone "Sergeant So-and-so, can I help you?" Yes, he earned my wrath. But that's another story for another day.

      As soon as I hit "Publish" on my response to Russ, I had this thought "Hhmm, isn't Mrs Juvat a retired personnel officer?" I now realize that it was the enlisted ones who earned my spite so I should apologize to Mrs. Juvat. Or you. Or someone.

      Delete
    3. WSF, there are old pilots and there are bold pilots. The intersection of those two sets is the null set.

      Not that I'm saying Juvat is old.

      I think at this point I should put the shovel down, neh?

      Delete
    4. WSF, There's Bold and then there's Suicidal.

      Sarge. No apology needed. A lot of Personnel Policies didn't make sense to me either and I had a professional translator.

      Delete
    5. Still and all, I want to make amends. May the fair Mrs Juvat find tomorrow's post pleasing.

      Delete
  4. All the services were afflicted with the same assignment black arts. In the ASA we had field stations all over the world. Assignments could range in satisfaction from Hawaii to Shemya to Pakistan to Germany . . . and on and on. There are stories told . . . a MRDF operator who was near ETS volunteered to re-enlist if he could switch assignments with another operator. The assignment was for The Bahamas. The one going didn't want to, as he'd just gotten engaged and wished to remain stateside. The request was turned down. Then there was the married couple, both from Hawaii, who wanted to share one tour at the Field Station there. They were willing to re-enlist for the assignment. They were turned down . . . even after they pointed out that the army was going to pay for them to go there anyway as it was their Home of Record. We never could figure the rationale involved in some of these postings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rationale? Did they ever need one?

      I've heard similar horror stories.

      Delete
  5. I relate to your preface.
    Hence, my posts have been on the "light" side (NTTIAWWT).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hear you Skip. I've always been better at humorous than serious.

      Better being relative, of course.

      Delete
  6. Great picture at the top of the post, Sarge. That's where all the B-52 bubbas who put Barksdale on their dream sheets ended up, so my Unk tells me. The guys who picked Minot went to Andersen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, you understand how the system works.

      And if you picked Barksdale God only knows where you'd get sent.

      Delete
  7. There was the old joke running around in the Army about the Air Force 2nd LT who somehow managed to piss off a Sgt - who happened to be in Personnel. Said Sgt managed to get the 2nd Lt posted to...Thule.

    That's "Green"land.

    Which reminds me of another story.

    A C-141 captain was at Thule getting refueled to go on to Europe.

    It is winter out there, which means extra-extra cold. Minus something into double digits.

    The service isn't as fast as the captain liked, and he is telling this poor Airman out there - who happens to be emptying the lavatory, to hurry it up or he will be on report.

    "Sir", the airman says (even as a lowly enlisted guy I knew you could say the most outrageous things to an officer if you prefaced it with "Sir"...)

    "Sir", he said, "it's -50 out here with a blizzard, I'm emptying sh##, just what kind of punishment do you have in mind?"

    As I recall, the captain could say nothing....

    As for my own little story I had finished advanced training at Ft Bliss, TX. Army Air Defense.

    The Army was keen on getting their bodies by the alphabet - and all the "E"s to the "Z"s got Korea.

    There was 5 of us that they had in bureaucratic limbo - no assignment - and 3 of us out of that group wanted to be posted **somewhere** and not have to empty ashtrays and show movies for the duration.

    So we visited the civilian bureaucrat spinning the ouija board, er, making the assignments.

    On the 3rd visit he said "quit bugging me - I'll send you 3 to Germany"

    Which as a draftee was about the best assignment one could get!

    The other 2, you guessed it, stayed in El Paso and emptied ash trays and showed movies for 2 years.

    I view my time in Germany as, with reflection, one of the highlights of my life.

    But would you believe it, there were some GIs over there who would piss and moan about their "bad luck" at being away from "The World".

    So I would have to say most assignments are what you make of them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have met a few airmen who insisted on calling the United States "The World," as in "I can't wait to get back to The World."

      I spent 13 years out of 24 overseas, away from "The World."

      Like you say, Germany was one of the best times of our lives. The entire family loved it.

      "The World" is wherever you feel at home.

      Let me see, El Paso or Germany? Bitte, geben Sie mir Deustchland! Danke!

      Delete

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