Sunday, August 12, 2018

Epilogue - Down Mississippi Way

"Hurricane Hunters" such as these aircraft, the WC-130J (right) and C-130J-30, are part of the Air Force Reserve's 403rd Wing located at Keesler Air Force Base, MS.
(U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. James B. Pritchett)
So the long awaited dream of a commission was DOA. I headed home, back to Colorado, couldn't put enough distance between myself and Medina Annex. And yes, this scene ran through my head a few times...



But hey, no hard feelings, right?

I got home on the morning of 2 April, a trip documented here. While The Missus Herself was rather irked that I had walked away from a $650 raise, and The Naviguesser was somewhat aghast that his old man had actually "failed" at something, the daughters were cool with having Daddy home again.

Thing is, I looked like death warmed over. I went down there at 185 pounds, came back hovering around 170. I hadn't weighed 170 pounds since high school. All my clothes and uniforms hung on me. I forgot to mention just how bad the food was at Medina, but I did mention that here. I wouldn't feed the slop they served up to my worst enemies. Hell, I wouldn't even feed it to the OTS staff. (Heh, they inflicted that chow on themselves, with no help from me!)

But a month off with home cooking and nothing to do restored my weight to its then normal level. The month passed quickly and all too soon the movers showed up to pack us out of our apartment so we could hit the road to Mississippi.

They were three hours late, they were lazy inefficient idiots, and they helped themselves to some of my property. Which was discovered later and I discovered that the Air Force in the '80s seriously didn't give a shit if movers stole things. Hey, we'll reimburse you, they said. At about half of what the stuff was worth. Bastards. Movers and the Air Force. On my last two moves I didn't lose a thing. I took pictures, told the movers that if any of my things "went missing," I'd be back.



So rather than hit the road around noon, we were on the road to Biloxi around 1700. No, we didn't make it far the first day. Maybe a hundred miles east of Denver, where we decided to hold up in a Motel Six until the next day. I do believe that The WSO, all of two and a half, mentioned that while the car ride was fun, couldn't we go home now? So she could sleep in her own bed?

Struck me that although the older two had "been there, done that" in terms of PCS* moves, this was The WSO's first move. She eventually got used to the idea that home was now in front of us, not behind us. For a while that is, the school in Biloxi would only be three months.

Three months on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the summer: May, June, July, and about half of August. Yes, as I mentioned yesterday, it was a very hot and humid summer. But we overcame, we improvised, we adapted. In short, we were together and we had fun.

We found a place to live in Long Beach, right across the road from the beach. Fully furnished, pots and pans and all the amenities. Maid service and a pool. We never actually went to the beach, going to the pool meant not having to cross a four lane highway with three small kids. Also the water in the Gulf was shallow. I swear, one had to wade out to the Continental Shelf before the water got above one's waist. An exaggeration yes, but not by much.

Now the place was small but it was well-furnished and cozy. It was also air conditioned, a very important thing, down Mississippi way, where opening the car door after school was like opening the oven door to check on the turkey on Thanksgiving. Yes, Tarzan would have had trouble with that heat.

Our maid was this grandmotherly black lady of about seventy, she loved telling stories to The Nuke and The WSO, they loved having her pay attention to them. Odd thing though, every now and then The Nuke and The WSO will pronounce a word in a rather odd way. They actually say it like an older black woman from Mississippi. Like when we got to Germany.

Coming home from work, The Nuke ran up to me and said, "Daddy, daddy, our town has a wint meal!" Those last two words actually came out in a Southern drawl,

"A what?"

"A wint meal!"

Eventually it dawned on me, having seen it on my way home that very day, that what our town had was a wind mill. Odd the way kids pick things up, innit?

Anyhoo. Though our place was a good sixteen miles from the base, I didn't mind it much. Truth be told, I don't like living too close to a base. Too many pawn shops, tattoo parlors, dive bars, and other places designed to separate an airman from his pittance of a pay check.

One drawback to living so far out was that my school started at 0600. In order to be alive, alert, and presentable at such an hour, I had to get up at 0400. Lovely.

Also, unlike every other Air Force school I had ever been to, this school was a full eight hours long. Started at 0600, an hour for lunch, all down at 1500. Because you know programming a computer is hard. People go to college to learn that stuff.

Well, d'uh.

Even so, it was a vacation for me. Assignments took maybe a half hour to complete, if I took my time. Yes, I was freaking sleepy all the time, but it beat working for a living.

A couple of incidents from the school have stuck in my mind all these years. One was on the very first day when a class leader was to be selected. Our squirrel of an instructor, she was a nice civilian lady but a real squirrel, in fact, that was her nickname, Squirrel, she told us that! Anyhoo, she said she had looked at our records and Staff Sergeant NotMe would be the class leader as he had the most time in grade.

Raising my hand I said, "Uh, I object, I think you might be wrong there Ma'am. Staff Sergeant NotMe, what's your date of rank?"

"01 December 1984."

"Alrighty then, guess I'm the class leader, 01 December 1979."

"Should have looked just a bit closer Ma'am. Now let's get on with this computer programming stuff, shall we?"

Our class was composed of people who had been the Air Force for a few years and were cross training (I wonder if they had had to wait two months) and young guys just out of Basic Training. Most of the young guys knew computers very well. The older lot, not so much.

Anyhoo, the other incident I remember is a young instructor explaining to the younger airmen that this, the school, was not the "real" Air Force, but was...

"Yeah, I'm going to have to stop you right there Sarge."

Turning to me with a puzzled look, he asked, "Did I misspeak?"

"Why yes, yes you did. This is the real Air Force. I'll bet they treat you new guys like crap back at your squadrons, right?"

A lot of head nodding on that point.

"Well, instructors like to tell you that the "real" Air Force isn't like that. And to a certain extent they're correct. But make no mistake, when you get to your first permanent duty station you are going to find sergeants and officers who are going to treat you like crap. If you get a civilian job someday, it'll be the same. Assholes are everywhere."

"They're not just instructors at training bases. Now, computers Sarge, I believe that's why we're here?"

The school staff pretty much left me and my class alone. Probably because we were a pretty savvy bunch, We had a tech sergeant in another class who thought very highly of himself, but wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer in computer terms. I overheard him telling one of my airmen that his average in the course was 89.

"Hell Sarge, our class average is 95. You'd be the dumbest guy in our class."

I rescued the kid before TSgt Dumas (not pronounced that way) could jump all over him, but I was proud of the kid. We had very high morale in our class. Everyone made it, we even picked up a kid from another class who had been set back for not making the grade. We helped him out, showed him a few tricks of the trade and he made out fine.

It was a great bunch. Whoa...

Another incident (a third this would be) just popped into my head, the day Sergeant Cook and I nearly caused an international incident.

We were out on break and saw two guys from another class smoking and acting like big shots. Two Egyptian lieutenant colonels. Yes, in other countries the officers had to do the thinking work, conscription, dontcha know, doesn't yield a high class of recruits in some (most?) Third World countries. When kids learn (maybe) to read and write then go to work on papa's farm, it kind of limits their opportunities.

Anyhoo.

The two light colonels went sashaying past us into the building when Cook (one of the funniest guys I've ever met) starts whistling this...



Then I started, well, you know, walking like an Egyptian. We had each other in hysterics. I don't think the actual Egyptians noticed, but the school commander did. He was right behind us.

"Ahem."

"Hahahaha, ha, oh shit..."

"Good afternoon Sir!" I barked.

Shaking his head, the commander opined, "Knuckleheads." but he said it with a grin as he walked off.

Heh. We were incorrigible.


I look back on my time in Mississippi with great fondness. I was there again for the NCO Academy, a six week course a couple of years later. Another pleasant experience, good classmates, good instructors. But the family was back in Omaha and I missed them dearly. I drove out to our old condo when I was there.

Big mistake. I could almost hear the echo of my kids' laughter in the little yard outside our door. (We had a corner unit on the ground floor, a place for the kids to get outside and play was awesome.) I was nearly overwhelmed with homesickness. Damned allergies started acting up. Might have been the beach dust...

Still and all, I have fond memories of the Gulf Coast, so I was devastated at the damage caused by Katrina. Most of the places I remembered, and loved, were gone. Literally blown away by the storm, including our little place by the beach.

The view looking south, there used to be more trees here. This is across the road from where we lived.
This empty lot is all that remains of the condo complex where we spent three and a half great months.
We were in the building in the yellow circle. Our place was at the top, in the front.
It's sad to see a place you lived, a place you loved, destroyed like that. Just gone.

But we keep it in our hearts, we have to, it's all that's left.


And so ends the saga of the Old AF Sarge's journey to O-land**. All to the good I suppose, after all, Old AF Captain just didn't have the same gravitas.

Ah well...






* PCS = Permanent Change of Station
** O-land = Officer land. D'uh.

38 comments:

  1. An entertaining and well-told tale there Sarge..... and ya..... NCO imparts a different...ah.. flavor rather than the officer class.....uuuhh...no insult meant to Juvat and Tuna. BTW let's hear it for big hair in the eighties....... oh yas....

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    1. We NCOs tend to be a bit more raw than our officers. Sometimes a good thing. ;)

      Especially on that band. ;)

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  2. I'm taking a deep breath at this point in the story, and I wonder how you avoided crossing the line between, "older and wiser" into the territory of, "so deeply embittered that you drag everybody down."

    Very well told, and my hat is off to you.

    As you said earlier, our experiences make us the people we are today, and for better or worse, without those experiences we wouldn't be exactly who we are.

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    1. I have always had a pretty good sense of humor, and I'm a bit silly. If you let the bad times drag you down, you never get up again.

      I say laugh, walk it off, have a Guinness and drive on!

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  3. Good story, as usual. About going back, last year I was in Detroit and took a few hours to visit Selfrigdge ANGB. The housing area was abandoned and falling into ruin just like much of Detroit itself.

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    1. Thanks Cap'n.

      It's more than a shame what's been done to Detroit, and some other cities in this great nation, it's criminal. Literally. But when the higher ups give each other a pass...

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  4. A tale worth telling. Nicely done!

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  5. I'm glad you gave us the low down. And I'm glad you made it through there without getting in too much trouble. Very neat to see your perspective.

    Speaking of Katrina.... I sat in front of my FT747 for hours after Katrina went through. Listening for any outbound traffic I could help with. Nothing. Not a peep. After a while, folks started inbound traffic, "My son, XYZ is at Biloxi, if you get any word, please send to N7ABC..." That had a poignancy all it's own. I can't imagine losing a place of such good memories...

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    1. What happened to the good folk down there is such a sad story. But they got up and rebuilt, though some spots are still a work in progress.

      Tears at my heart it does...

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  6. You're right, OldAFCaptain just doesn't sing, does it?

    Great story, explains a lot about you. In a good way.

    Earth to Beans....Earth to Beans....Cleared for re-entry!

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    1. Missed your geezer=quality comments yesterday, NOT! But, yeah, I think a smiling, happy NCO would have been better than a broken O, and the bastards sure tried to break him. The bastards.

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    2. Juvat - I was reticent to tell the tale, now I'm glad I did. Rather does explain a lot about me now that you mention it, glad it came out in a good way.

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    3. Beans - I probably would have been happy and smiling no matter what. The Missus Herself and the progeny had a LOT to do with that. I also have a fairly easy-going personality.

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    4. It is amazing and unfortunate that so many times people forget that the support of the spouse and children is extremely important for the survival, let alone success, of a servicemember.

      Even worse when people in the services make life hard for the spouses and family members.

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    5. When I retired I actually got to make a speech, in which I purposely thanked each and every spouse in the room and asked them to pass it on to their kids as well. I would never have made it as far as I did without my family behind me. Hell, sometimes it was The Missus Herself out in front dragging my reluctant ass to the objective.

      Every now and then a civilian will thank me for my service, I always thank 'em right back. Somebody had to pony up the money for all that training and equipment. Not to mention the paycheck!

      A nation fails when we forget that we're all in this together. One Team, One Fight as the flags like to spout, I count the American people as a BIG part of that team.

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  7. +1. Great life story, well told. Part of what tells me that is as I am muddling through my morning routine digesting a story, and have "hmmm" moment.

    Like this.

    At OTS, you were ostensibly going to be trained to tell othesr what to do.

    In Mississippi, you were learning how to make it work and get it done.

    "We had very high morale in our class. Everyone made it, we even picked up a kid from another class who had been set back for not making the grade. We helped him out, showed him a few tricks of the trade and he made out fine."

    Mike Rowe has some thoughts on the subject--

    https://www.ted.com/talks/mike_rowe_celebrates_dirty_jobs#t-14184

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    1. Thanks RHT447.

      Mike Rowe, a personal hero of mine, good man, celebrates the folks who do the really important jobs in society. Without them, there is no society.

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    2. Indeed. And without sergeants, the military is reduced to talking heads.

      Forgive me. Captain Bandit. Rubber bands. Hmmm.

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    3. Hahahaha!

      Your mind went there too? Great minds and all that...

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  8. Ha, you even got to experience the old south, before it was finally demolished. Sad that the happy summer place is no more. One thing to move on but another thing to have it wiped off the face of the earth.

    Katrina was a not-nice female dog of a storm. Mention Katrina and everyone thinks Nawlins, but she beat the dog-squeeze out of Mississippi, where the storm really hit. Storm surge up the Pearl River all the way to Lumberton, MS. Some of the smaller towns just basically disappeared for all intensive purposes. 2 major highway exits south of Lumberton, the Walmart had both dead people and dead alligators on the roof.

    Glad you survived, and came out better, not bitter. I think you needed the transition period back into the real Air Force and some serious family time to reset your mind.

    And so much for the vaunted Air Force Chow, huh?

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    1. Yes, I get a little pissed off when you say "Katrina" and everybody thinks "New Orleans." Not me, Mississippi, where I used to live, was savaged by that storm and got very little press. Of course, no fancy hotels for the media whores to stay in...

      Yeah, I think Medina had the worst food I've ever eaten, it's like they didn't care.

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    2. Of course there weren't any fancy hotels for the media to stay in, because they got WIPED the FRACK OUT!!! Biloxi and Gulfport had to basically rebuild everything. Both did it in an interesting way, rebuilding the casinos and hotels ASAP and then getting along with life. Bring the money in, the people will follow. And the people weren't as vocal as the 9th Warders. And Mississippi had a, horrible, horrible, a. a... a..... Republican governor who asked for FEMA and other gov assistance BEFORE the storm hit.

      How bad was it in Mississippi? A local police agency sent a parcel of cops and equipment to aid the area, thinking they'd be assigned to Nawlins. They got assigned to Biloxi, and went to Nawlins for time off and rest. They don't show, in all the pictures, the slabs where multi-story hotels disappeared. Bastid newsies. But the 'we take care of our own' attitude of the real Southerner wasn't as photogenic as a bunch of crying idiots in the Superdome... Grrrr. I think I'll go kill things in the kitchen for a while.

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    3. Exactly!

      I remember well the long drive between Long Beach and Biloxi, vibrant, alive. Now there are spots where it appears nothing ever stood. Crying shame that, but it looks like things are slowly coming around.

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  9. But, overall, excellent story. Definitely done right in a chapter format, especially when connected to the travel story. Glad you finally got this off your chest.

    And your sense of 'rightness' and humor definitely allowed you to get some shots into your tormenters. Piercing shots, the type that burn the soul for years. Good on you.

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    1. Heh, no, they did not walk away unscathed.

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    2. One of my fighting teachers, upon being told I was 'slow' in my shots, said not to worry too much about speed. He said, "Sure, speed may win the fight in the immediate moment but if you hit them so hard you bruise their souls, they'll remember it forever."

      Wise words.

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    3. Bruise their souls.

      I like it.

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    4. Yup. I'm not the fastest fighter out there, but I leave a mark if I hit. Actually hit someone so hard one day he didn't call the hit, but kinda said "Ouch." So I hit him again, harder, and again he said, "OW" but he didn't 'die.' So I hit him yet again, on the left butt-cheek (I was on my knees inside a greekish-phalanx) and someone else finally got me. Later on, my shield mate asked the dude why he wasn't sitting down. The kid actually said I kept hitting him too hard. Friend relayed info to me, and Game ON! Hit him with a single-sword, hard, on left butt-cheek. Hit him hard with a glaive with a really nasty back-cut, on the left butt-cheek. Hit him with a reasonable blow with a spear, after hitting him really hard with said spear on the shield, causing him to rotate and expose... the left butt-cheek.

      He came and apologized later. His teacher, a 'knight,' was kinda pissed at me, but then I related all the story. So he calls the kid out, and blasts his... left butt-cheek.

      Bruised his butt, bruised his soul, bruised the souls of his team-mates. I felt like Godzilla stomping through a suburb of Tokyo. I was a Pain Inducing Demi-god that day. And it was me, 2 other 'good' fighters and 2 nuggets against a 24 man phalanx. We ate them for breakfast, lunch, dinner, afternoon snack. If pain was food, I would have gained 30 pounds that day. Ahhhhhhh, the good old days...

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    5. The only thing missing was hearing the lamentations of their women.

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  10. So, when you were marching your people around, did you use " hiedy ho, y'all go " and " hippity hop, y'all stop " or the old boring " forward march " and " flight ( or whatever ) halt "? Inquiring minds want to know.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

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    1. I stuck to the manual, none of that modern stuff for me.

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    2. Well you likely weren't moving a bunch of Air National Guard and Reserve guys. Plus, most of the other units were just out of Lackland.

      Paul

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    3. Guard and Reserve? I would start with "Route step, HARCH."

      Talk about a gaggle!

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  11. Moving from the high ad dry Front Range to the Gulf? Some change.

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  12. I rather enjoyed that series- funny, serious, heartwarming, and all that. Thanks for baring your soul for us.

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    1. Thanks Tuna. Been wanting to put that out there for a while.

      Feels good.

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