Friday, June 29, 2012

Road Trip!

The Old AF Sarge is a gonna be a travelin' this coming week. Headed down to Virginia Beach for the Fourth at the invitation of the WSO. I'll get to see my granddaughter (Little Bit) and apparently the Nuke and Bear are coming over as well from Memphis.

Initially the Nuke was going to fly over to visit, but then she realized that Bear's birthday was also on the Fourth. And there was no way she was going to leave her faithful canine behind. So she's driving. For fifteen hours. She really loves that dog.

In my younger days I would've made the drive as well. I used to enjoy the trip down and back. Not so much nowadays. The New Jersey Turnpike has taken it's toll on my aging nerves. Both literally and figuratively speaking. Not to mention the cost of fuel. Even though it's lower than it has been in a while, it's still too much for a 550 mile journey, one way.

Besides which, the WSO is springing for the plane tickets. Nice of her isn't it? (Have I mentioned lately how great my kids are? All three of them are generous to a fault. We musta done something right when we raised them. Hhhm, the Missus would probably say, at this point, "We? We raised them? Seems I did all the heavy lifting." And she's right. She did the bulk of the upbringing of the progeny. And all three are (or were) officers in the United States Navy. If they'd followed my example they'd probably turn out to be really salty CPOs. Not that that is a bad thing. But you gotta admit, the O's make more money.)

To prepare for this adventure I have to go into my training routine. This involves coming up with ways to annoy the heck out of the Nuke. She expects it. And who am I to disappoint the first daughter?

No doubt at this point you're wondering why the post leads off with a picture of George Clooney in the role of Ulysses Everett McGill in the celebrated film O Brother, Where Art Thou? Well, it has to do with one of the most effective ways I know to annoy both the Nuke and the Missus without getting into too much trouble. Besides which, the WSO loves to play along.

You see, since arriving home from the banks of the Merrimack River on Thursday afternoon, I think I've listened to the song Man of Constant Sorrow from the film's soundtrack about a billion times. For to get the tone "just right". (For those of you wondering what the song sounds like, here's a link:, believe me, it's old-timey! Also the link has scenes from the film, awesome!)

Now how does this annoy the Nuke? Well for instance, we'll be walking out of a store and there I go, "Ahhhh am a ma-an of constant sorrooowwww, Ah've seen trubble all ma days...". Whereupon the WSO will join in and there we are, two Yankees wailing away in pseudo-country nasalness, in public, for all too see. The Missus will shake her head and add a soft-spoken "shut up you two idiots" while the Nuke slowly tries to fade into the background, doing the old, "I'm not with THOSE people, really. But I am so embarrassed." No one buys it, they all know that she is with us. And she knows it too. Which irks her like you would not believe.

I remember the first time I watched the movie. I believe the WSO and I went to our local video rental place (now that is old-timey all by itself - the place is long defunct). There we saw this movie which neither of us had ever heard of, but which starred George Clooney. Also the box said it was "loosely based on the Odyssey". Hhhmm? What do hillbillies and an epic Greek poem have in common? Oh what the heck, we rented it and it was hysterical, entertaining and the music was unbelievable. And this coming from a guy who's very much into rock and roll! I've probably seen the movie a dozen times by now. If it comes on TV, the Missus will roll her eyes and either find something else to do or forbid viewing so she can watch another episode of House Hunters International (bogus) or perhaps something on Lifetime (gag).

But the WSO and I are big fans, really big fans. We consider ourselves to be bona fide!

So that's the deal. I probably will be blogging from Chez Big Time this week (though he's deployed, I consider it to be his house, man of the family, etc., etc.). After all, the WSO still owes me some Strike Det stories.

I'll end with a bit from the movie:

Ulysses Everett McGill: Why are you telling our gals that I was hit by a train?
Penny Wharvey McGill: Lots of respectable people have been hit by trains. Judge Hobbie over in Cookville was hit by a train. What was I gonna tell them, that you got sent to the penal farm and I divorced you from shame?
Ulysses Everett McGill: Uh, I take your point. But it does put me in a damn awkward position, vis-a-vis my progeny.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Fort at Number 4

The Objective
From Wikipedia: The Fort at Number 4 was the northernmost British settlement along the Connecticut River in New Hampshire until after the French and Indian War. Now known as Charlestown, it was more than 30 miles (50 km) from the nearest other British settlement at Fort Dummer. Construction began in 1740 by brothers Stephen, Samuel and David Farnsworth. By 1743, there were 10 families settled in a square of interconnected houses, enclosed in a stockade with a guard tower.

In the early 1970's, not knowing that the War Between the States had been over for more than a hundred years, an intrepid band of Confederate infantry crossed the Connecticut River from Vermont into New Hampshire and seized the Fort at Number 4. These men were a detachment from the 10th Mississippi Volunteer Infantry who had been given the mission of raiding the North and causing maximum disruption to the Northern war effort. Obviously, they were too late and too few to have the desired effect.

Confederate scouts in mufti had been observing the bridge over the Connecticut River for a few days prior to the planned assault in order to determine the best time to strike. Finally it was decided that 3:00 AM would be the best time as traffic over the bridge generally ceased shortly after 1:00 AM and didn't pick up again until just before sunrise.

The raiders had been living undercover for a number of weeks in Springfield on the Vermont side of the river as it was felt that it would be easier to remain incognito in the larger town. Then, as now, Charlestown had a rather small number of inhabitants.

At 2:30 AM, the assault party met on the Vermont side of the river at a place just down river from the bridge. Gearing up, they moved out and began moving over the bridge towards the fort. The troops managed to move unobserved to the very walls of the fort. Dragging out their scaling ladders from where they had been concealed in an uncut wheat field, the party was quickly up and over the wall.

Discovering that the fort was unoccupied, the Confederate troops raised the Confederate banner over the tower and settled in to await the morning. The fort was theirs, but could they hold it?

The Real Story

The above actually happened. However, the "troops" were not actually Confederate infantry but a small group of reenactors who had had their sense of honor offended. I know, I was there and I shouldered my SN&WTC rifle with the other fellows when we seized the fort.

You see, in the days of my youth I was a Civil War reenactor. At the age of 13 I had joined up with a small group of reenactors who consisted of a few adults and multiple young lads like myself. We were horrible looking and about as authentic as those Italian admirals I mentioned in my Waterloo post.

For uniforms we wore dark blue "Big Yank" shirts and pants. Seriously. Not terribly realistic looking. For the very few reenactments we went to it was only through the chivalry of our fellow Northerners and the honor of our Southern foes that we were not laughed off the field.

As we got a little older we discovered that coming up with reasonably authentic looking Southern apparel was a lot easier than actually coming up with authentic looking Union uniforms. As many Southern troops wore their everyday clothes to the war, especially in the later years of the conflict, we found suitable woolen clothing of the appropriate period shades and went forth to war. The equipment and weapons we had were fairly authentic, so we didn't look too bad at all.

So we transformed ourselves from the 9th Vermont to the 10th Mississippi. The first reenactment we went to we were well-received by the other participants. But that is another story for another day.

During this period, which was after high school and before my enlistment in the Air Force, we had a buddy who had found a volunteer gig at the Fort at Number 4. Seems the folks who ran that place had a cannon and needed someone to fire that cannon on weekends for the joy and amazement of the tourists. Our buddy volunteered those of us who were willing to serve as the crew of this cannon.

Now if you will recall from that blurb above from Wikipedia, this fort was active around the time of the French and Indian wars. So we were all expecting a cannon from that era. Nope. What they had was a James six-pounder, from the Civil War (that's the War Between the States for my Southern readers). To add insult to injury, the uniforms they provided for the gun crew were completely inaccurate.

Now for a reenactor in those days, the worst insult which could be bestowed was to be called a "farb". This term was, I believe, derived from the German word for color, "Farbe". To be called a "farb" was to infer that one's uniforms and accouterments were inaccurate, or "colorful".

So the uniforms provided immediately placed us in the "farb" category. But we realized we were just there for the tourists and we all rather doubted that any of them had any real knowledge of the time period in question.

Our jackets were red. Which pleased the crowd, because we all knew growing up that the British wore red. Unfortunately, British artillerymen of the period wore blue uniforms. Most artillerymen of the day wore drab colored uniforms because serving the guns was a very dirty business. One got filthy very quickly.

But we adapted and over time we tweaked and modified our uniforms and equipment so we didn't look that bad. Management at the fort began to have certain, shall we say, misgivings about our behavior. After all, the folks who ran the place were supposedly experts on the period. Well, they were as far as what civilians looked like back then. About the military forces of the time period, they had no clue. They were insistent that we could not change our coats from red to blue, after all "everyone knows that the British Army wore red coats". Grrrr.

Another thing which irked the hell out of us was the powder charges they issued to us for the thrice daily firing of the gun. It came wrapped in tissue and was about enough black powder to make the gun go "poof". Okay, it was a little louder than that. But not much. To them it was enough to get the rather large amount of smoke which black powder produces.

We pleaded with the "colonial authorities" at the fort (for such they thought they were) for more powder. Just maybe a quarter pound charge, just enough to let our cannon bark, if not roar. But no. They were very safety conscious. We tried to explain that all of us were most experienced with black powder weapons and knew enough about the gun to take the proper precautions.

They thought they were being safety conscious but in reality they didn't know squat. For instance, when we brought out a wooden bucket, filled with water, they were curious as to what the bucket was for. They were kind of amazed when we pointed out that it was important to swab the barrel out after firing to extinguish any lingering embers. "Hmmm, we didn't know that", they murmured in amazement.

We put on quite a show at the fort. We actually staged a dual with flintlock pistols one day. The crowd on hand was most delighted. The authorities, not so much. We needed, they said, to stick to the script. Which to them was: march out, load the gun, fire it, then march back inside. Three times a day. Boring!

Well, we stuck to the script for the rest of the summer. But (unbeknownst to the Crown) we were squirreling away just a bit of powder out of our standard issue with each firing. By the last Sunday of the summer we had perhaps a half pound charge. Enough to make Mr James at least bark, if not roar. Then our gun captain figured out a way to make the show a bit more spectacular. The final Sunday we went out into the fields around the fort and cut some hay. Quite a bit of hay actually.

For the final shot, we loaded up Mr James with that half-pound of powder and tamped the charge down with rather a lot of well-soaked hay. The crowd was expectant, the authorities were a bit nervous as they were wondering what all the hay was for.

The gun was loaded. The crew stepped back and the gun captain brought his slow match down to the touch hole. The crowd sensed something was afoot.

When the cannon discharged, Mr James did not bark. No, Mr James ROARED! That wad of hay flew over the stockade wall and I swear the gun rolled back in recoil perhaps a foot.

The crowd was silent for a moment, then began to roar their approval. The authorities were furious but hid it well from the tourists. When the last group left the fort, the Crown informed us that we were NOT invited back for the next season. We were out of hand and out of control they claimed. Dorks.

So we did not return the next summer as a gun crew. But we did show up with a few friends in the garb of the Confederate States for to seize the fort in the still of the night. On the very first day of the tourist season.

When the staff showed up to unlock the gates, they were somewhat puzzled to see the Confederate flag flying over the fort. They were even more amazed to find a squad of 15 rebel soldiers drawn up at the present arms on the parade ground inside the fort. The younger guy on the staff thought it was a hoot, the more senior guy was NOT happy.

We were threatened with action by the local constabulary until the local newspaper showed up with a cameraman. We were interviewed and photographed, the local media thought it was pretty neat. (They had been forewarned of the impending action by a buddy of ours who worked at the local paper.)

We marched away from the fort, past a line of cars loaded with tourists who thought it was a great show. (I often wonder if any of them thought it odd that Confederate infantry had seized a French and Indian War era fort. But the ignorance of history has long been somewhat prevalent in the US. It has gotten worse over time,  sad to say.)

So we had avenged the insult to our reenactors' honor. We had taken over the fort from which we had been discharged as amateur artillerymen. We were, after all, unpaid volunteers and we did know our business with muzzle loading, black powder cannon. We actually studied prior to joining up!

But the fort did get a lot of visitors that summer. Seems that the article in the paper (along with pictures!) with our exploits had been picked up by a larger newspaper and this attracted a number of tourists to the fort.

We later heard that Mr James did not get exercised that summer (or the next), as the Crown could not find any volunteers to serve the gun...

A shame really, it was such a lovely cannon.

A Cousin of Mr James (foreground)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Statistics (or Why I'm Too Lazy for a Really Good Post Today)

Alright, alright. Everybody settle down and take your seats.

The Sarge has been rather lazy this weekend. A flurry of activity on the 19th (Ma Vie Militaire Part II) and then Part III yesterday. But no posts on Thursday or Friday. Usually those are the days I really feel like writing. This weekend? Not so much.

While the graph above is taken from my overall blog statistics as of today. It also kinda sorta is a pretty good chart of my relative energy levels this past week. Yes, I am like a diesel boat which has been submerged for far too long. Batteries are getting really low, most of the crew has been sent to their bunks to conserve the dwindling supply of oxygen and to prevent a greater build up of carbon dioxide in the boat's atmosphere.

And everything smells kinda moldy and funky. That has been my mental state the past few days. I'm running on fumes.

Normally I get that way during the week. It all starts with the Monday morning 0400 wake-up. Sea and anchor detail is at 0445 and I'm usually wheels up no later than 0515 for the long haul from the shores of Narragansett to the banks of the Merrimack River. (For those of you of a literary bent, yes, I like mixing my metaphors.)

Monday is a ten hour day. As are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. So normally by Thursday afternoon I'm beat. Then it's time to fly a reciprocal course and return to Chez Sarge. Normally the morale boost of just being home is enough to get me pumped up enough to post on Thursday night. Not so this week.

Maybe I'm feeling my age, maybe I'm just not eating right. My number one theory right now is that the temperatures in the high-90's at the end of the just finished week were rather enervating. I'm sure Buck out in Portales is chuckling. These would be "cool" days out in his neck of the woods. But as I'm Northern-born and Northern-bred, very hot temperatures wear me out quickly. My preferred temperature range is mid-40's to low-60's. Oh well. All that being said, I think I'm just naturally lazy.

Why do something today when it can be put off 'til the morrow? Or something like that. In the Air Force I was a blur of activity while on duty. Sort of a cartoon Tasmanian devil. Off duty, more like a three-toed sloth. And as time rolls on its flight, the sloth side of my Yin and Yang seems to be pushing its way to the head of the queue. I really have to fight it. The Missus is a big help in that area. She pushes me constantly with a seemingly never-ending list of "this has to get done today" tasks.

Well, enough of that.

Talked to the WSO last night and had another example of how old I'm getting. We were discussing my grandson's bee sting. Yes, the Big "O" stepped on a bee out in sunny California and got stung for his troubles. Seems it was his first. Upside was that he's not allergic to the little buggers.

So the WSO begins to relate the story of her first bee sting.

Now I need to remind you that I was born and raised in the Green Mountain state, long before it became the liberal wasteland that it seems to be today. (I know that there are still small pockets of conservatives and libertarians here and there. But you have to admit, Vermont is a very liberal state these days. Good Lord they have a socialist congress critter!) Back on point, having played in the woods and glens of my home state as a child, I got stung more than I care to remember. The little critters are very particular about who's in their air space around the hive.

So the WSO is regaling me with her first encounter with a flying, stinging beastie.

The WSO: "Yup, I remember my first bee sting, (and here's what I heard), it was in Pre-School." (Which is perhaps a reasonable assumption, given my upbringing.)

The WSO: "We were doing a firemen's carry across this field..."

Me: "What? Why on earth were they making a bunch of pre-schoolers do a firemen's carry?"

Long pause. I could picture the WSO with an odd look on her face. Which I get a lot.

The WSO: "Dad. I said SERE school. Not Pre-School."

Me: "Ah, that makes a lot more sense."

So yes, they don't make pre-schoolers practice the firemen's carry. They do make aviation types practice that at Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school.

To the WSO it was Dad being his goofy old self. To me it was another case of "Is my hearing shot to hell or am I just not paying attention?" The Missus thinks it's probably a bit of both. And she's probably right.

But as regards blogging, I am approaching my 3,000th page view. Not really a lot but it's somewhat gratifying that I seem to have a core audience who like my stuff. Heck if I get 10 people to check out Chant du Départ a day, I feel good about it. As long as I remain entertaining I guess someone is willing to read my (sometimes) nonsensical ramblings.

So with that, time to bore you with some statistics. I get a kick out of seeing who my audience is. And I'm here to tell you, the Old AF Sarge seems to be a global phenomenon. On a very small scale granted. But still, I have a global audience. Here's the stats to support that.

All Time as of 24 June 2012
United States 2,493
United Kingdom 135
Russia 80
Canada 35
Germany 23
France 18
Mexico 14
Spain 11
Indonesia 10
Austria 9

Month as of 24 June 2012
United States 620
United Kingdom 79
Canada 11
Germany 10
Russia 10
Mexico 8
Netherlands 8
France 7
Indonesia 7
Costa Rica 6

Week as of 24 June 2012
United States 143
United Kingdom 26
Venezuela 5
Bahrain 4
Canada 3
Indonesia 3
Mexico 3
Austria 2
Germany 2
Russia 2

I kind of wonder if those four Bahrain hits came from Tuna while he was out that way.

Note that my audience seems primarily an English-speaking audience. the US and the UK show the most hits. Though in the "All Time" category, Russia is right up there at number 3. Apparently I have a few fans in the Rodina. (After all, I am a big fan of 
 Пётр Вели́кий. That's "Peter the Great" to you Anglophones.) I do have friends in both Canada and Germany, perhaps they're spreading the word.

The hits from France? I picture people doing a search on "
Chant du Départ" and upon reaching my blog saying, "Zut alors! Again I try to find the words to this song and I keep getting this stupid website en Anglais. Nom du chien! Sacré bleu!" Or maybe they recognize a kindred spirit whose French blood will sometimes bubble to the surface. Doesn't matter, "Je vous remercie mes amis".

So that's it. Another rambling semi-organized post but it's all I've got.

Oh, one more thing. Apparently my readers' all time favorite post is "Uncle Smitty's Hamsters. The number of hits on that one surpasses all others. Now I admit, I liked it a lot. But really, that's the favorite?

The WSO's theory: "Hey Dad, maybe people are googling 'hamster reproduction' and that post comes up!"

Hhhmm, could be. Who am I to question the success of "Uncle Smitty's Hamsters"?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Ma Vie Militaire (Part III)

Through the magic of the internet I actually found this photo of my flight at Basic Training. I am in the front row, second from the left. Seems the Air Force is trying to build up a collection of photos of all of the Basic Training flights since the Air Force's inception/birth/creation in 1947.

Now I had heard about this project a number of years ago from a buddy of mine. So of course I went to the website to check it out. With great disappointment I discovered that my outfit, 3708 Squadron Flight 512, was not there. The project was in its early stages so I shouldn't have been surprised. However, to me that's like "What? No paintings of the Emperor when he was a child? What nonsense is this?" You see I hold myself in great esteem. (Yes, I have an over-inflated view of my own importance in the grand scheme of things.)

But as I sat down to put together Part III of "Ma Vie Militaire" I decided to search out this photo once more, and 'lo and behold there it was. So here it is.

For those who know me, they'll instantly note that I was a lot more "sleek" in those days. Not that you can really tell from those baggy fatigue uniforms but I was carrying a great deal less ballast in those days. Still had most of my own hair (I started going bald when I was 19, started going really bald when the progeny reached their teen years) and my hair had nary a speck of gray. Yes indeed, I was young.

My best friend in Basic, the "Boss" is the guy first from the left. He is also the second 
black person I had met in my entire life up to that point. Two other guys from whom I was inseparable were Mike K. (the tallest guy in the front row, standing next to the (ahem) "TI". And a couple of rows directly behind Mike is Manuel G. (the Hispanic guy with the big glasses and the even bigger grin).

Now Mike was one of "The Four" who made it all the way from Manchester to Lackland without getting lost in Houston. That is, Mike was most definitely not one of the knuckleheads. In fact Mike was an extraordinarily intelligent guy. I know this because we both went on to work Weapon Control Systems (WCS) on the F-4 Phantom. I on the C and D models, Mike on the E model. Manuel was also very smart, he too became a WCS troop, also on E models. You may note the distinction in my grading of these two guys' intelligence. Mike seems to get the higher grade. That's because when we got to Tech School (in Denver, yeah, I know "rough duty"), Manuel decided that he would have himself circumcised. Why anyone would choose to do that is beyond me. Prior to having the procedure done, we all thought he was out of his mind. After the procedure, even Manuel was questioning his own intelligence. Just sayin'.

So on with this epic tale of my Air Force career. (Epic! Are you insane, it's not like this is a tale of derring-do or anything! Really? Epic? Shaddup, it's my story and I'll call it epic if I wish!) Yes, I occasionally argue with myself. The Doc says not to worry, I'm essentially otherwise harmless.

My how one tends to drift in one's dotage.

Yes, back to the story.

The first week of Basic Training was something of a blur. We were in civilian clothes the first few days and we were referred to as a "Rainbow Flight". Due to the multi-colored civilian attire. Looked even worse once we got our first haircut. Well, actually once we had our heads shaved. Rainbow Flights were much looked down upon by those salty veterans who'd already been in Basic more than a week.

Finally we were issued our uniforms. And unlike all of those Hollywood movies, the guys issuing the uniforms actually tried to issue stuff that fit. More or less.

So the days were now a blur of PT, class room training and marching. Lots of marching. Fortunately I enjoy marching and am not too bad at it. There were many for whom marching was the most daunting experience of those early days. Until we were issued those aforementioned uniforms.

Now when I left for the Air Force I had a small gym bag (the old fashioned blue canvas type, not your fancy-dan modern gym bag) which contained two changes of underwear, shaving kit, toothpaste and toothbrush. I went to an Army-Navy Surplus store a few weeks prior to my departure to purchase some simple, yet rugged clothing for those first days in Basic. What I had was a pair of combat boots, some Navy jeans and the old Navy-style chambray shirt.

The clothing was simple, robust and designed for military use. That was my master plan and it worked out rather well. I was nowhere near as colorful as some of my flight mates during our Rainbow days. A couple of guys actually were wearing what we termed "hippie clothes" back in 1975. The training sergeants rode them most unmercifully. In effect, my intent was to camouflage myself and try not to gain the attention of the training instructors.

At some point in time during those early days, our TI assigned four of us as squad leaders and one guy was assigned to be the "Dorm Chief". (I know, I know but the Air Force liked to call the big buildings we lived in "dormitories", we always called it "the barracks".)

The process for determining who got to be one of these recruit leaders was one of the great mysteries of Basic Training. Primarily because of "McK". He was the individual who was initially assigned to be the leader of the 1st Squad, that is, my squad.

Shortly after being assigned the position, McK decided to begin acting like a raving lunatic. He actually came out of the sergeant's office and made a speech to us. You know the standard, "Men this is going to be a tough time, but if we all work together", blah, blah, blah. Kid had obviously seen too many war movies growing up.

But what really blew things up is that the kid would go through people's lockers and intentionally mess things up. And one day, my buddy Cookie, who had a great deal of trouble squaring away his locker and whom I gave a few tips to, (which helped a lot, so he said) came running to get me and said, "McK inspected your locker and found lots of stuff wrong."

Now I'm not perfect. I once had to hang my head in shame when our First Sergeant inspected the barracks and found my duffel bag improperly folded. All he did was shake his head and say, "I expected more from you Airman." And walked away.

One thing you've got to know, is that in the mid-'70s, AF Basic Training was essentially learning how to do things "the Air Force" way. As it was not practical to give us actual equipment to work on, our lockers and their contents became the end-all be-all of our Basic Training experience. Particularly our underwear. It had to be folded just so and placed just so. Any deviations and you were rewarded with unshirted hell.

So, there I was, headed to my locker to confront the Great Screwball, Airman McK. He was standing in front of my locker with his pimply-faced George Patton glare, asking me, "Can you explain this?"

Seems my overcoat was unbuttoned. Not just one button loose, that would have been clever. But ALL of the buttons were undone. McK had out-witted himself. Did I mention that he was not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He was definitely a couple nuggets short of a Happy Meal.

Seems at this point I went off on McK. Not physically, but I began to bellow at him in my very best command voice (something I'm inordinately proud of, but that's for a later installment). At this point, one of the other guys ran to get the sergeant because I think they thought I was going to physically dismantle McK.

The sergeant heard this, "Sir, sir come quick, I think the Sarge is going to kill McK!"

The training instructor, thinking that perhaps the guy was talking about the other member of our instructor team, ran ahead to see what the heck was going on. To find me in McK's face bellowing like a gored rhino. And about in the same mood. Once the TI had separated us, he turned to the guy who fetched him and said, "Who the hell is the Sarge? What sergeant are you talking about?"

Now, most of the flight pointed at me. The TI went (pardon the expression) ape-shit at this point. Now I was getting yelled at. "Why the hell do they call you Sarge? You're not a damned sergeant, you're just a little piss-ant airman!" All I could say is that he'd have to ask the other guys. They called me Sarge, 'twas not a name I gave myself.

Long story short. The guy who kept me from killing McK was our junior training instructor. He hauled me and the Dorm Chief into the senior instructor's office. (Note: whenever something goes wrong when the instructors aren't around, the Dorm Chief is responsible. Not a much sought after job.)

Well, both instructors were livid, there was much screaming and hollering and usage of less than genteel language. The Dorm Chief and I stood there silently, absorbing the abuse. Exactly as we'd been trained to do. Eventually the Dorm Chief had to explain why everyone (except McK of course) called me Sarge. I nearly burst out laughing when his answer was "Well, he acts like a Sarge. He knows his stuff and helps the rest of the flight learn how to do things."

The junior instructor at this point bellowed at me to "stop bouncing around". Seems I was bursting with the need to inform our instructors of something. The senior man then looked at me and said, "So Airman. What  do you have to say for yourself?" It seemed that my Air Force career was to die a flaming death at that very moment. My only thought was, "What the hell. If I'm screwed I may as well go out in a blaze of glory."

So I related the story of Screwloose McK. Indicated that most of the flight assumed that he was a raving lunatic planted in our flight for some sort of training objective. Said that he was a detriment to the flight's morale and ability to function as a team. Etc, etc.

Waiting for the boom to be lowered I ceased to speak.

The senior man just looked at me, the junior guy said, "So what the hell are we supposed to do?"

All I said was, "Fire McK. Get rid of him."

At this point the senior guy indicated that the solution was perhaps not that simple. Turns out it was.

A few moments later McK was led out of the squad bay and taken down to the administrative offices of the squadron by the senior instructor. McK was transferred to our "sister" flight (the guys across the hall from us). He did not do well there. I think there were members of our sister flight who actually wanted to kill him. Not sure whatever happened to McK. Rumor had it that he was tossed out of the AF. Probably with a psych-discharge. Guy was crazier than a bedbug.

After McK's abrupt departure, the junior instructor bellowed at me to get "my nasty ass into the office". I turned to my flight mates and bid them farewell, figuring I would be getting the old heave-ho. (And wondering if I could get my old job back!)

As I closed the door to the instructor's office I was almost immediately scrambling to catch the squad leader badge that the instructor threw at me. With the words, "Do. Not. Fuck. This. Up. Understood?"

I was a bit speechless as was the instructor a few moments later when I returned to the squad bay. When my flight mates saw the squad leader badge, they all burst into cheers. It was a fine moment for yours truly.

A few weeks later I graduated Basic Training as the Flight's Honor Graduate (#1 in the Flight) and went on to Air Force Technical Training at Lowry AFB, Colorado.

Needless to say. I had not fucked it up.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ma Vie Militaire (Part II)

So I had enlisted in the Air Force, on the delayed entry plan. That was in January of '75. Now it was April of '75 and the time was rapidly approaching when I would have to depart for basic training at Lackland AFB, Texas. I was scheduled to report on the 13th of May.

Now as my reporting date approached I had a decision to make. Should I work at my current job up to the last minute, or should I take some time off to, shall we say, enjoy my last few days of freedom? Before entering the "big blue machine". I decided t
o take some time off. It's worth noting at this point that I was once again living at home with my parents.

Shortly after I had enlisted, delayed entry, my parents had suggested that I move back into the ancestral home in order to save some 
money. After much thought (approximately 2 minutes) I said, "Sure, why not?"

Now my Dad and I partitioned a spot in the basement of the manor to provide lodgings for myself. A bit of drywall, some paint and 
baseboards and voilà, I had my own pad. In the basement. Of my parents' house. How very "failure to launch".

Before I had set off on my own after my departure from a single year of college, I did have my own room. My two younger 
brothers shared a room. So at this point in time, both of the kid brothers had their own room. No sharing of sleeping facilities. Both brothers had panicked somewhat upon hearing that the heir was moving back onto the ancestral estate. Hence my Dad's idea to do that whole partitioning of the basement thing.

In a way it was very nice. I had my own room, apart from the rest of the clan. On the other hand, it was winter. In Vermont. One 
part of the scheme which had not been considered in the partitioning was heat. Or the lack thereof. In Vermont. In winter.

Dad's solution? He bought a portable electric heater. Egads what trouble we would be in now-a-days with all the bureaucratic 
nanny-types prevalent in modern society. Back then? Be careful. Don't put the heater next to anything flammable. And for Heaven's sake don't knock the bloody thing over. You know, apply common sense.

But back to the decision to take some time off prior to heading off to basic. I went and told my boss that I wished to depart the 
company approximately one month prior to going into the Air Force. First, as he was a veteran, he thought it was awesome that I was going into the service, second, he didn't want me to quit. I was rather surprised. After all, it's not as if I was the most valuable worker in my department. Biggest pain-in-the-ass? Yes. Most valuable? No.

Before I could protest, he said, "Don't quit. We'll lay you off. That way you can collect unemployment." Hhmm, thinks I, not have 
to work for a month and have a little spending money. So upon that note the company and I parted ways. Me to collect unemployment and party as much as possible for four weeks. The company to eventually go the way of many manufacturing concerns in the United States. To eventual closure. (Yes, why build things in this country when we can have them built cheaper and with lower quality somewhere else? I felt at the time that this was not a very smart thing to do. Subsequent events have proved me right.)

But the lazy days of late April and early May of '75 eventually ran out and I was off to see the world.

The first step in the trip was being transported to Manchester, NH the night before I was to travel to Lackland. Parents dropped me 
off at a hotel with much wailing and gnashing of teeth, though no rending of garments. Those cost money to replace. We always were a parsimonious bunch. Probably all that Scots blood in our background.

The next day a bus took me to the Armed Forces processing center, not sure what it was officially called back then. I do know that 
the places are called by a different name now. Didn't care what it was called back then, don't care now. Probably some boring name in bureaucratese which makes a silly acronym. We shall speak much of acronyms in this series. All I'll say now is that there are acronyms I like, there are those I don't. The latter generally out-number the former.

Eventually I was all processed and prepared for the flight to Texas. Myself and five other New Englanders. For some reason, a 
rather stern sergeant handed me all of the paperwork for the six of us and announced that it was my mission to ensure that these six packets of official paperwork, sealed in manila envelopes, arrived, seals-unbroken and intact, at Lackland AFB. There to be turned over to the duly constituted authorities. "How will I know who those authorities are?" I queried. "Trust me, you'll know." saith the sergeant of many stripes and no doubt very long service.

And off we went. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. Well, not yet, but we would be fairly soon. (And no Shakespeare 
fans, it was not St Crispin's Day.)

Due to rather heavy storms in the vicinity of San Antonio, our flight was diverted to Houston. There to wait until the atmospheric 
disturbances had moved on. And there we lost two of our little band. Apparently they had decided to break away from the main body and go exploring on their own. And, of course, they missed the flight. Not an auspicious start to one's military career, I remember thinking at the time.

Later I learned that those two were true knuckleheads. They proved it again and again in basic training. I don't recall either actually 
graduating with the rest of our basic training flight. I still wonder if they ever made it out of basic training. Perhaps they are still there, two aging n'er-do-wells in ancient fatigue uniforms, with no stripes on their tattered sleeves, doomed to march about the base doing PT in the mornings and attending boring classes the rest of the day. Perhaps the Air Force isn't even aware of their existence? (Nah, they either graduated with a later flight or they got booted out. Not really important to the story. But they were knuckleheads of the highest order.)

Eventually we landed in San Antonio, literally in the middle of the night. There to be transported by a US Air Force bus to our basic 
training squadron. Now these buses, Back In The Day (BITD), were nothing more than your traditional school bus painted in "Air Force Blue". Which is a rather nice dark blue, not dark blue like "Navy Blue" (which to the untrained eye looks black) but an actual blue. And BITD, a bus of this type was uniformly referred to as a "blue goose". I have no idea why. They bear no resemblance what-so-ever to an aquatic water fowl. Perhaps one of my more enlightened readers can provide the provenance of the term "blue goose". (Note the introduction of the acronym for "back in the day". Spelled out upon first time usage with the acronym for the term in parentheses following its introduction. This is the correct military way to introduce an acronym. Just to whet your appetite for the acronyms to come.)

Upon arrival at the 3708 Basic Military Training Squadron (BMTS) we were greeted quite pleasantly by "the cadre". These are the 
chaps who are assigned to Lackland full-time and whose job in life is to take civilians and convert them to useful members of society, i.e. members of the Armed Forces. (By the way, I have always got a kick out of the term "Armed Forces". Does the USA maintain any "Unarmed Forces"? Food for thought.)

When I say "pleasantly" it's because I don't recall hearing the cadre use that fabled Anglo-Saxon epithet which begins with the letter 
"F". And rhymes with "truck". Though there was much screaming, bellowing and commenting on the ancestry and upbringing of us new recruits. I don't recall if there were yellow footprints painted on the cement for us to place our feet in but there may have been.

Or perhaps I have seen too many Marine Corps movies since that day which involved arrival at either the Parris Island or San Diego 
Marines Corps Recruit Depots (MCRD). (Tangent Alert: MCRD is pronounced M-Crud. Really good acronyms are readily pronounceable. A bad acronym is one which can neither be readily pronounced or which can be readily mis-pronounced, usually by a civilian. End Tangent)

Now, as you may recall, the Old AF Sarge was carrying all of that paperwork. (Back then I was neither "old" nor a "sarge", and as I 
had not yet completed basic training I was technically not in the Air Force. So BITD I probably would have blogged as "Young Civilian Civilian", if that makes any sense. But of course, back then, Al Gore had not yet "invented" the internet.)

Upon being allowed into the building for processing, having spent some long moments being yelled at and forced to stand in 
something of a line (all four of us, yes we were still only four in number) it was time for yours truly to hand over his paperwork burden to the duly constituted authorities and complete my first official mission for the US Government.

The individual seated behind the counter indicated that the "stupid, sloppy civilian idiot with the paperwork" step forward and 
present it (in a proper military manner) to him. That being me, I stepped up to the counter and rendered the paperwork to His Lordship. In a most correct military manner, I might add. Having had a year of ROTC, I was no stranger to that kind of thing.

Apparently my demeanor and bearing passed muster because I didn't get screamed at. At least until His Highness noted that there 
were six manila folders in his hands and only four bodies standing before him.

"Idiot! I have six folders and I see four idiots standing here! Where in Hell are the other two bodies?"

"They didn't make it." I replied honestly and succinctly.

"Didn't make it! What the Hell d'you mean they didn't make it?"

"The other two guys wandered off in Houston. I told them to stay with the group. They decided not to. So they missed the flight."

"You idiot! Didn't they tell you at the processing station that you were responsible for getting the paperwork and ALL of the bodies 
here?" The gentleman was, you may imagine, apoplectic at this point. I was sure the poor man was about to have a stroke.

"Sir," I said in my most humble, yet military, voice, "the sergeant at the processing station told me to bring all of this paperwork 
here. Nobody said anything about accounting for all six bodies. You have the paperwork. I'm sure that those two morons will show up eventually."

I was quite sure that this lofty individual was going to come down on me with great wrath at this point. But one of the cadre 
"rescued" me at this point by saying, "Dumb-ass. Go sit down with the other dumb-asses." Then proceeded to quietly read the riot act to the guy behind the counter. Turns out that this individual was not a sergeant, had nothing to do with recruit training and was simply a clerk-type whose job was to process the paperwork.

This was my first real learning experience in the Air Force. There are those who have rightful authority over you and there are those 
who will attempt to assert some form of authority over you. The former you must obey to the letter, the latter you can quite safely ignore. This lesson served me well throughout my career.

So four of the six had arrived. (The other two did arrive about four hours later, they experienced much ass-chewing and questioning 
of character and intelligence.) What was our first task as basic trainees? We were to stand at the foot of our bunks and memorize these little booklets we had been issued. And god-help-you-don't-even-think-about-talking-or-sitting-or-lying-on-my-racks. So our Training Instructor (TI) informed us.

Now as I recall, the Army and the Marine Corps have the "DI", the Drill Instructor. These individuals are much celebrated in military 
lore. The Air Force, on the other hand, has the "TI", or Training Instructor. I was sore disappointed. I don't get a "DI", I get a "TI". Both wear the Smokey Bear hat, but there is a wide gulf between the two. A very wide gulf. Probably why the Army and the Marines don't really consider the Air Force as being part of the military. I have many examples to prove that theory correct.

Now during my time in service, I always tried to carry myself as a warrior should, one of those whose mission in life is to "blow 
things up and kill people". (Not just any people mind you, only those people whom the US Government has directed to be killed.) Those who worked for me understood this. There was no wimpy behavior in my outfit!

But yeah, I understand what the soldiers 
and Marines are talking about. It's all those damn golf courses! The whole nine-to-five attitude which hovers about my service. But I will say this for those on the pointy end of the Air Force spear, that is, those who fly the bombers and fighters and those who maintain them, we knew we were warriors of a sort. We knew that the pretty camouflaged aircraft were meant to go out and "blow things up and kill people". It's all those personnel types and non-flyers that give the Air Force a bad name within the Armed Forces of the United States. But enough of that.

So there I was, standing at Parade Rest at the foot of my rack, reading my little booklet (which contained much information needed 
to begin my transition into the Air Force). After about thirty minutes, and quite comfortable that I had had enough of the little booklet and of standing at the foot of my rack. I carefully looked around. It was just the four of us. The TI had left to await the arrival of the remainder of our flight (36 more were due in at any moment). No one was watching us and I was dead tired. It was round about 3:00 in the morning at that point. So I sat down in the chair next to my locker. The other three guys looked at me as if I'd just committed some horrible crime. I gestured at them to remain silent and to look around. Do you see anyone watching?

The other guys did look around. No one was watching. So they too sat down.

Now much later in my career, the Senior Enlisted Advisor of the United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) had a little 
saying he liked to share with us on the Armed Forces Network (AFN - our own little English-language TV and radio station). Seems that, to him, integrity was "doing the right thing, even when no one is looking". Now I definitely agree with that concept. Seems like I violated that early on in my career, doesn't it? But, as I said, we were all exhausted and not quite ready to begin playing the Air Force game. I think bringing us in in the middle of the night was done intentionally to put us at a psychological disadvantage. That might work with 17 and 18 year olds. I was 22, didn't work with me. Probably why the military likes their recruits young and impressionable. Makes those recruits easier to train, fewer bad habits to break them of. But I digress.

Eventually the remainder of the herd arrived in the barracks. Names were shouted and answered to, bunks were assigned and we 
were allowed to lie down and get some sleep. I do believe said sleep lasted about one hour before the TIs (there were two) slammed the door open and began bellowing "get your asses out of those racks you lazy bastards!" This was before the days of political correctness. I long for those days.

So we were all present and accounted for. Our training was about to commence. We were excited and intimidated all at once. What 
would happen next?

We shall see that shortly.

In Part III of "Ma Vie Militaire".

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Happy Father's Day Dad

My Dad
This is my third Father's Day since my Dad passed away. It still hurts.

For those of you whose Dad is still with you, cherish your time together. It can end when you least expect it.

My Dad and I had a great relationship. I have so many fond memories of our times together and that helps ease the pain of losing him.

So cherish your parents, loved ones and friends. To those of you who are Dads, be the kind of Dad that your kids will always remember with a smile.

Best wishes to all of you and enjoy Father's Day. Though my kids are scattered across the country, I know they love me. And they know that I love them.

Because that's what it's really all about.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Waterloo (Ma Vie Militaire - Road Trip Category)

Salut à l'Empereur
Napoléon, Wellington and von Blücher
197 years ago this weekend, the French Armée du Nord moved north in an attempt to maintain Napoléon Bonaparte on the throne of France. It was the Emperor's last campaign.

Now the Old Air Force Sarge is not going to attempt to wax eloquent upon the history of the battle. People way more talented than I have already done so. For those seeking historical edification, look up "Battle of Waterloo" on Wikipedia. Their article is a very nice synopsis of the affair. It even has pictures!

As a side note (and remember, I'm all about side notes and tangents) the battle is not known universally as "Waterloo". That's the moniker that the Duke of Wellington hung on the battle. After all, he was on the winning side and he sent out the first dispatches reporting on the battle to be reported in the press. Waterloo is a lot closer to London than it is to Berlin. That being said, Napoléon referred to the battle as "La Bataille de Mont-Saint-Jean", Mont-St-Jean being where the battle actually occurred, for the most part. Waterloo is further north and is where Wellington's headquarters was. General von Blücher (the Prussian commander) suggested the name "La Belle-Alliance". This was a small inn sitting atop the ridge where the French army had started the day. It's also where Wellington and von Blücher met up at the conclusion of the fight. So in German, the battle would be "Die Schlacht bei La Belle-Alliance".

At any rate, we in the West call it Waterloo. End tangent.

While stationed in Germany, I had the opportunity to visit the field of Waterloo numerous times. As an amateur military historian how could I not make this trip. It's roughly 95 miles from where we lived, perhaps an hour and a half drive as I recall.

As part of my series concerning my military life/adventures/escapades/what-have-you, I will, from time to time, go off on tangents like this. Not so much about my career in the Air Force, per se, but about some of the side trips the family and I made while in the military. This falls into what I call the "Road Trip Category".

Now as I mentioned above, this is a trip I made a number of times. As a matter of fact, I think for the 7 years I was stationed in Germany, there were two years I didn't go to Waterloo. The first time we went, the Missus and the progeny found it interesting, the second time was, "Okay, there were a couple of things we missed the first time...". The third time was, "Really? You want to go to Waterloo again? What is this, some kind of pilgrimage? This is it, this is the last time!" This was in 1995.

"Uh, honey, there is going to be a reenactment of the battle this weekend. It might be fun."

Yes, there was a great deal of eye-rolling involved I can tell you. But at dinner at friends of ours the next night, the Missus mentioned that we were going to Waterloo that Sunday. Again.

When told that there was going to be a reenactment of the battle, my buddy (I'll call him "the Chief") said that maybe he and his wife would go too. We could bring food and have a cook-out AND watch the reenactment. (At this point my son - the Naviguesser - and I were rolling our eyes. Really? A cook-out at a battle reenactment? Perish the thought!)

But it was decreed from on high, that is the wives decided that this was what was going to happen. So plans were made, cook-out stuff was purchased, rendezvous places and times were agreed upon and we were ready to set forth.

Now (time for another tangent) the actual battle was fought on the 18th of June, 1815, a Sunday. The reenactment was (queue Twilight Zone music) set for the 18th of June, also a Sunday. The Naviguesser and I thought this was really cool. But it got (to our minds anyway) even cooler.

You see, the weather that Friday was hot and humid. During the night the storm clouds began to move in and on Saturday the rain came pouring down, much thunder, much lightning. The cool thing was that this was nearly the same weather as experienced in the area in 1815.

Of course the Missus was concerned that the weather would be terrible that Sunday and by all that was Holy, we would NOT be going to a battle reenactment in the rain. I indicated that by all accounts the weather was supposed to clear up Sunday and we should be fine. Of course the Naviguesser chimed in at this point saying "But Dad, it'll be too wet to move the guns forward!"

"Yes my son. But it's not our problem, we're just going to watch the battle. We have no need to move the guns." Of course, the Missus was looking at the two of us like we had a number of screws loose. My son didn't, but I most definitely did (and still do!)

The point of all that is that at the actual battle, the ground was far too wet for the French to bring their cannon into action first thing in the morning. They had to wait for the ground to dry out before beginning their attack. A fatal delay, for the French that is. Damn fine news for the Duke.

So Sunday, the 18th of June 1995 dawned and we loaded up the car. It was a bit damp and cloudy, the Missus was grumbling "I don't know, weather looks bad". But we pressed on. Rendezvoused with the Chief and his Missus and drove to the battlefield.

There to discover that this was no small affair. There were literally thousands of people out and about, anticipating the start of the battle. Parking was a bit of an issue. We did find a side street in a residential area not too far from the battlefield. The Chief pronounced it a fine spot for our subsequent cook-out. So we parked and dismounted.

Proceeding on foot we discovered that the organizers of the event had actually built bleachers all around the field. There were even nicer seats for the hoi polloi. These were filling up quickly, you had to buy a ticket to sit there and I was told, "Non Monsieur, everything is sold out. C'est dommage, pardonnez moi!" etc, etc.

"Now what?", the two wives inquired. The Chief and I huddled and decided that we would go stand by the fence surrounding the field in an area which was not occupied by bleachers. I guess this area was intended for us peasants who were too cheap to purchase tickets in advance. (Or were unaware of the need to do so.)

So we went to the fence. It was pretty cool. It was on the French side of the field,near a "battery" of French artillery. (I have battery in quotes because it consisted of only three cannon. The artillerymen among you will understand.)

It was at this point that the wives began commenting on the mud. And oh boy, it was muddier than "all get out". A solid day of pouring rain will do that to a farm field. And, like the real battle, the reenactment was in a farmer's field. No doubt the Belgian government had paid the farmer not to grow crops that year. And as they do this reenactment every five years, no doubt it's a good deal for the farmer.

It was also a good spot to stand because all of the French units had to march past us to get onto the battlefield. So we got to see a great deal more than the folks in the bleachers. On the other hand, they weren't covered in mud up to their knees.

Eventually some guy on a white horse, dressed like the Emperor, rode up and we heard a lot of "Vive l'Empereur" coming from les troupes françaises. Most of whom seemed to be hung over. Now as an old reenactor myself, I recall the habit of imbibing strong drink the night before a reenactment. Guess the European reenactors had similar customs. The whole effect of being transported back to the early 19th century was somewhat spoiled by the ambulance rolling up to take one extremely inebriated French grognard away to the hospital when he passed out in mid-Vive.

Then my son and I noticed something rather odd. A unit of what appeared to be Italian admirals marched onto the field armed only with swords. Their uniforms were like nothing I had ever seen. The Chief asked if they were perhaps a dismounted cavalry unit. My response was, "No. I have no idea what the heck they're supposed to be. All I know is that no such unit was at Waterloo." I later discovered that these guys were some kind of Italian social club. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth in reenactment circles over their presence on the field. Bottom line from the Belgian organizers, "Hey, they paid to be here." Sounds familiar, if you've got the dough, you can be in the show.

Another anachronism I immediately pointed out, is that the participants were all carrying percussion cap muskets and not flintlock muskets. Oh my word, what were they thinking?

The Naviguesser pointed out that flintlocks are damnably inconsistent when it comes to firing them. Would the crowd be content with many "whooshes" when only the powder in the pan went off, or would they prefer loud bangs every time a trigger was pulled? "Hey Dad, it's all about the show. Hell they let the Italian navy in, why not percussion cap muskets as well?" I had to reluctantly agree.

Then, when I started to point out that there were far too many Imperial Guard units present, the Missus told me, in no uncertain terms, to shut up and watch the battle. Shut up I did, but as the French artillery had commenced firing, it was a bit loud for conversation anyway.

It was loud, it was awesome. Much yelling, many loud bangs from those percussion cap muskets mixed in with the occasional basso profundo boom from the cannon. (Like I mentioned before, there weren't that many cannon present. Of course, those suckers ARE expensive.)

Another thing was the smoke. Black powder generates a LOT of smoke. Before long we could barely see anything. The womenfolk were starting to wonder what was the point of standing there watching clouds of smoke drift about the field. We did see a French cavalry charge go up the hill, into the smoke. And come charging back down again, one horse sans rider. Said rider coming down, chasing the horse, swearing vociferously. Loud enough to be heard even over the "mournful mutter of musketry". Awesome!

Due to the smoke, the mud and the growing feelings of ennui amongst the ladies, the Chief announced that perhaps we should retire to the vehicles and commence grilling and eating. The Naviguesser protested, "Mom, the Imperial Guard hasn't launched their attack yet, the Prussians aren't here yet. Mom!" As I started to protest as well, the Chief just kind of winked and pointed towards where we'd parked. Dude had far more sense than I. Probably why I retired as an E-7 and he retired as an E-9.

So we returned to our cars, broke out the BBQ stuff and commenced to grillin' and stuffin' our faces. I would occasionally look at the surrounding homes and see glimpses of the locals peering at us from behind their curtains. No doubt they're used to these strange occurrences every five years. But we were well-behaved, quiet and picked up our trash. So they let us be.

Though we could still hear the guns in the background, we decided that, having feasted, perhaps we should head back to Germany. Before the many thousands of other spectators decided to hit the roads as well. (I later heard that their were 10,000 participants in the reenactment and roughly 100,000+ spectators. It was a pretty big deal. The numbers on that small part of the battlefield came close to how many people fought in the actual battle!)

So to the East we went, returning to Germany. On the way we just had to stop at the Commissary (no military Missus that I know of will ever pass up a chance to stock up at the Commissary if they're near one). Inside the Commissary my wife and I noticed another couple who, like us, were covered in mud to above the knees. Before we could say anything, the lady looked at us and proclaimed, "Hey, you guys were at Waterloo too!"

Oh yes we were. And we had the muddy clothes to prove it. Not to mention carrying the smell of BBQ smoke mixed with the smell of rotten eggs. For doncha know, burnt black powder smells much like rotten eggs.

The Missus never went back to Waterloo with me.

I wonder why.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Romans Take Virginia Beach!

Nah, just kidding. But I wanted to share some great VFA-106 photos the WSO gave me the link to. Gigantic hat tip to "Judy", VFA-106 Training Officer. Pics were taken during the recent Patriotic Festival in Virginia Beach. Enjoy!

Now that's what I call fun!

Dedicated to the men and women of Naval Aviation and particularly the men and women of VFA-106, the "Gladiators"...

May God watch over you all.
Thank You!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

New Month, New Look

VFA-154 Rhino Landing on USS Stennis
Yes, it's a new month (sort of, June is ten days old at this point) so I decided it was time for a new look for the Old AF Sarge's little ol' blog. Actually my pal Tuna suggested that my old lead-in to the blog was too big. The casual reader may not be able to tell that there's new content without having to scroll down a bit. Heavens to Betsy, let's not make anybody scroll when they don't have to. (Hhhmm, that was a bit snarky wasn't it? And I'm not even really feeling all that crabby today. Must be the curmudgeon in me kicking in. Or the Buffalo chicken I had for lunch. Who knows?)

At any rate, the new look features the Big E with two of her consorts, a couple of Arleigh Burke class destroyers. In the lead (off the port side) is DDG-78, USS Porter. Can't tell who is aft of the Porter. Tried searching for where I got the photo from, no joy. I should write this stuff down at the time and not do the whole "Now where the heck did I get that picture from?" thang.

"So why Enterprise?", you ask. Well, because my son-in-law Big Time is part of the Big E's air wing, CVW-1. And I just like the picture. So there.

Just got off the phone with the WSO. I was over at the Lexicans while we were chatting and mentioned how ORPO1 had posted that the 11th of June is his and his Missus's 29th wedding anniversary. Now I'll be the first to admit that I'm not always on top of things, seems that WSO's and Big Time's anniversary (2nd) is also the 11th of June.

Of course, I acted like I knew that. But that's not the point of this little tangent. For their first anniversary, Big Time was at sea. For their second, yup Big Time is once again deployed. Point is, WSO laughed and said "Oh well, another wedding anniversary and I have no idea where the hell my husband is." The needs of the Service and all that. Alright, time to get back on course.

Now the Black Knights jet coming aboard, what's all that about? Cool picture but what's it got to do with today's post?

While wrestling with the concept of a new lead-in for the blog, Tuna sent me some links to pictures of Lemoore squadrons. As WSO and Big Time seem to be heading out that way, I figured it was time to give the West Coast squadrons a little love. So you'll be seeing more Lemoore plane pr0n round these parts in the future. There will be stories coming out of the Central Valley as well, as the kids make that transition in the near future.

Now another preview of things to come. The WSO just got back from Strike Det out at El Centro and tells me she has a number of stories from that adventure. I told her to write'em down and send them to me so I could regale y'all with her adventures.

There was mention of a "Pigs in Space" night at the O-Club at El Centro. From what I could tell, there's a couple of amusing tidbits from that evening. We shall see. Had something to do with a WSO at the gym (not "the" WSO mind you, but a different WSO) calling his comrades wanting to know what to wear to the Club that night. Seems the answer was "hooker shoes, everyone's wearing hooker shoes." Other WSO's response? "I'll stop at the NEX, see if they have any of those."

Hhhmm, now that sounds like a story.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Ma Vie Militaire (Part I)

Old AF Sarge in Rome
When I was a little kid, we did three things in our neighborhood. We played baseball in the spring and summer, we played football in the fall and winter. Year round, we played army.

Growing up in a small town in Vermont, we had lots of woods to play in. Back in those days our parents would boot us out of the house shortly after breakfast and we had to be home when the streetlights came on. No video games, no lying about the house watching TV. We played outdoors, all the time. Usually with toy guns, maneuvering around the hills and woods as if we were real soldiers.

Side note: I caught unshirted hell once from my Mom when I took one of her white sheets and kinda modified it to make myself some winter camouflage. I figured she could just wash it and it would be "good as new". You may well imagine what that sheet looked like after running around in the woods all day! Washing that sheet would have been a sheer waste of time and effort. Seems it was a bit torn and stained. Hey, I was a kid! What did I know about washing clothes?

So as you may gather, from a very early age I was interested in all things military.

My Dad had served in the Army just after the end of World War II (quit high school to join up when he was seventeen, war ended before he got there). My Dad's two brothers both served during World War II. Uncle Charlie was an infantryman (63rd Infantry Division), Uncle Louis was in the Army Air Corps. My paternal grandfather had also done a hitch on active duty during World War I and then stayed in the National Guard until he retired.

On my Mom's side of the family, my Great-Uncle John had also served in World War II as an infantryman (4th  Infantry Division). So there were a lot of military stories floating around when I was a kid. Nothing wild or crazy, the two infantry uncles would talk about the funny parts of their military experiences, would never talk about combat. Both were combat veterans, both had been wounded in action. As I got older I realized that both were the "real deal", as real combat veterans rarely talk about combat, if ever.

My Dad served as part of the occupation of Berlin. From his stories, my brothers and I got the impression that my Dad's military experience was three years of partying, wild hijinks and generally having a fun time. Of course, that may have contributed somewhat to my Dad making sergeant twice. Yes, twice.

The last time I saw my Uncle Charlie was just before we left for Germany and my NATO assignment. My Mom thought it would be cool if I wore my uniform on Christmas Day. No problem. At any rate, Uncle Charlie was looking over my ribbons and I was explaining to him what each one was.

When I got to my Air Force Good Conduct medal, Uncle Charlie yelled to my Dad in the kitchen, "Hey Bob, want to see what a Good Conduct ribbon looks like?" Yup, seems like Dad never got one of those. Too bad they didn't have a "I Had a Great Time in Berlin" medal. I'll bet he'd have a chest full of those.

Back to the topic at hand (I just had to tell the Good Conduct ribbon story). I have two male cousins and two female cousins. When the boys were of age, they both joined the Air Force. Bear in mind this was during the Vietnam War and the draft was still active. I'm sure Uncle Louis and Uncle Charlie (the boys were their sons), having both "seen the elephant" advised the boys that they would be out of their minds to allow themselves to be scooped up by the draft. So Air Force they went.

So now we've kind of established a military tradition in my family. My Grandfather's generation was Army, as was my Dad's. My generation was Air Force. (The kids are all Navy. Will my grand-kids be Marines? Who knows...)

After graduating from high school in 1971, I was off to Norwich University. Back then it was completely a military school, everyone wore a uniform, no civvies on campus except for the ladies who ran the library and did the administrative work. Everyone else wore a uniform.

Now the faculty on the ROTC side of things were all active duty. The rest of the faculty were all members of the "Vermont Militia", which I believe consisted entirely of the civilian faculty at Norwich University. This was odd in many ways. My faculty adviser was about a billion years old, but as a senior faculty member he was a full colonel. In the Vermont Militia. If the redcoats had shown up, the "colonel" would've been hard-pressed to make it out of his office, let alone fight.

Another of my professors was British. He taught French. One day I discovered that he also spoke German. Primarily because after he'd given out a homework assignment to be done over a three day weekend, I made a rather insulting comment about him, auf Deustch. He turned around and gave it right back to me auf Deutsch. The rest of the class (who had no German, and very little French) were scrambling through their books, trying to discover what page the Prof and I were on. That aside, he was a Captain in the Vermont Militia. He used to laugh about it and one day said, "If the Canadians ever come across that border, look for me to the south. I'll be the one running away, shedding my Vermont Militia uniform as I go."

Now that I think about it, they really were classic militia types. Not very military at all. Though they were a bit officer-heavy.

I did my freshman year at Norwich. At the end of that year, I had a decision to make. Should I continue at Norwich, pursuing my degree in Modern Languages? (Norwich at the time was very engineering-oriented.)

I had to ask myself a couple of questions. What would be the quality of the Modern Language degree I was going to get at a school which offered classes in only three, count them, three languages (German, French and Spanish)? Exactly what kind of job could I get with said degree?

When the time came to think about heading back to school, I told my Dad that I would not be returning to Norwich. My Dad, of course, said, "The hell you're not!" At that point I think I made my first adult comment ever. "Dad, my going back to school will be a waste of my time. And a waste of your money."

He appreciated that. So the argument was really rather pro forma. After perhaps five minutes of semi-heated "discussion", he asked me what did I plan to do, if I did not go back to school. I told him that I would get a job, get an apartment and try and make my own way in life. He appreciated that as well.

Though hesitant, he agreed that my going back to college was perhaps in neither of our best interests.

So I got a job. Got my own apartment. After about a year, I realized that working in a machine shop for the rest of my life was probably not a great career move. My Mom pointed out that I should've stayed in college and got my degree. I pointed out to her that the guy on the machine next to mine had his bachelor's degree. In Political Science. I'm thinking at this point that maybe the type of degree one gets has a bearing on one's future employment opportunities. Perhaps if I had gotten that degree in Modern Languages I would at least be able to swear at the PoliSci major on the next machine in multiple languages. But I'd still be working in a factory.

Around that time, I began what I call my "flirtation" with the United States Army. I was going to enlist, I would go into Armor and would get my degree while in the Army.

Went to the recruiter, took all the tests and scored very well. When the recruiter asked me what I'd like to do in the Army, I asked him what my test scores indicated I would be best at. He immediately answered, "Combat Arms". Cool, so I can go into Armor. Sure you can, he answered. Alright, I said, give me a couple of days to think about it.

Back I went the next week. Asked for the sergeant I'd been dealing with. And was told that he had moved on. Back to his old specialty. Hhhmm, so who is my new recruiter? I wanted to know.

That's when things started to go south with me and the US Army. New guy said I was too smart to be in Armor. I should be a Shillelagh missile system technician. Ah, no thanks. I want Armor.

"But you're too smart!"

"Sarge, if I want to work on missiles and stuff, I'll go into the Air Force. The Army has tanks, I want tanks."

"But, but, but..."

"I'll think about it." I mumbled as I left the recruiter's office.

Now in our area, the recruiters offices were all co-located. Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force. As I left the Army recruiter's office, I heard a voice down the hallway, "So son, what's that about the Air Force?"

I turned to see a fellow in Air Force blue, with a crap-ton of stripes. I explained the situation to him and I guess I hinted that the I felt the Army was jerking me around. He explained things to me and I felt he was much more open and honest about the Air Force than the Army guy had been.

A half hour later, I left the Air Force recruiter's office. As I headed towards the door, I heard the Marine recruiter's voice boom out at me, "Ever think about joining the Marines?"

I stopped and told him, "Sure did Corporal. But then I sobered up." I do not have what it takes to be a Marine. Knew it back then, know it now. (The good corporal did get a chuckle from my response.)

Long story short. About a month later I joined up "delayed enlistment", five months after that I was on my way to Lackland AFB, Texas.

And the rest, you might say, is history. We'll pick this up in Part II of, "Ma Vie Militaire".