Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Vive l'Armée

The Army
Something my buddy Six said in a comment the other day sparked this post. Six said, "Just admit it. You're becoming a ground pounder. It's Ok, we are very tolerant of all those who once flew into the wild blue yonder or sailed the seven seas. Come to the dark side Sarge. We have MRE's."

The tempting offer of MREs (Meals, Ready to Eat, not Meals Rejected by Ethiopians) notwithstanding (never had them, I'm a C-Rations kind of guy), scratch the surface of the Old AF Sarge and underneath lies a frustrated fighter jock (bad eyes disqualified me for that). Scratch the surface just a bit more and you'll find a frustrated tank commander, a wannabe Panzerführer, a disappointed budding Rommel, a "damn it, why couldn't I be Patton" kind of guy.

For a short span of time in the early 1970s, Your Humble Scribe had a brief flirtation with the United States Army. And therein lies a tale.

When I was a little kid all I wanted to be when I grew up was a soldier.

My Grandfather (circa 1918)
After all, my grandfather had been a soldier. As a matter of fact, he was a tanker. He drove one of these -

My Dad had also been in the Army just after World War II. He had dropped out of high school to join the Army and go fight the Huns, but the war ended before he shipped out. His two older brothers, my Uncle Louis and Uncle Charlie, were both overseas. Uncle Louis in the Pacific with the Army Air Force and my Uncle Charlie in Europe with the 63rd Infantry Division.
My Dad (circa 1946)
On my Mom's side of the family, there was my Great Uncle John, who fought in World War II with the 4th Infantry Division. So there was no shortage of former soldiers around when I was growing up.

Then my grandmothers would also tell me tales of my Great-Great Uncle Robert, killed in action on the Western Front in World War I, less than a month before the war ended. Or my Great-Great Uncle Pliny who was with a New Hampshire regiment during the War Between the States. He "saw the elephant*" for the first time along the coast of South Carolina.

So the Army was celebrated and soldiers were honored in my home as a youth. I thought there could be nothing finer than to don the uniform of the United States Army and carry on the family tradition of being a soldier.

When it was time to go to college, I chose Norwich University, the nation's oldest private military college. I spent my freshman year there, in uniform as part of that school's Corp of Cadets. I didn't get an Army ROTC scholarship so I was on my Dad's dime. And let me tell you, I was wasting Dad's money. Big time.

My biggest problem in college was that I was immature and a bit of an incipient drunkard. I did study enough to maintain a low C average but my academic career was going nowhere at that point. So after a year there I dropped out. As I told my Dad, "it's a waste of my time and a waste of your money." I needed to do some serious growing up! But the training I received there made Air Force Basic Training look like a Boy Scout camp.

About three years later I started talking with the Army. I couldn't see myself working in a factory for the next forty years. I wanted, no, needed more from life. So my first thought was the Army.

The first recruiter I had was awesome. I took all the requisite tests and started looking at what I wanted to do in the Army. I wanted Armor. That's when the Army started playing games with me. Seems my test results came back and they were very good. The recruiter's boss paid us a visit. What did I think about being a helicopter pilot?

Uh, how is that Armor and how is that possible with my eyesight? No problem, the recruiter's boss told me, we can get you a waiver. I told him that I'd think about it.

Fortunately I had a buddy who's older brother had flown helicopters in Vietnam. When I mentioned the whole waiver thing he mentioned that the Army was probably desperate for helicopter pilots because they'd lost so many. That made my eyebrows go up. "Lost as in dead?" I asked.

"Nah, well yeah some. But mostly guys got out to fly privately." I guess he wasn't too high on the Army's aviation field. Probably was just him, but it was post-Vietnam and things were awfully squirrelly in the military at that time. A lot of people were looking to get as far away from the Army as they could.

That being said, I eventually did go back to the recruiting office, to discover there was a new recruiter. When I told him that I was ready to go Armor, he got my file and said, "You're too smart to be in combat arms. And right now the Army has a need for Shillelagh missile technicians."

"Um, thanks but no. I want to be a tanker."

"Now look here son, I can get any moron into Armor but you've got the brains to be a technician. Just think of the bucks you could make when you got out of the Army with all that electronics training we'd give you." the recruiter said.

"Um, if I was going to be a technician, I'd join the Air Force and work on jets." I said.

"Well, suit yourself son..."

With those words I headed out of the Army recruiter's office and straight to the Air Force recruiter's office. They didn't jerk me around, they didn't promise me anything, they asked me what I wanted.

"I want to work on fighters."

"Okay, let us look into that and we'll call you."

These guys weren't desperate. They weren't screwing around. I liked that. Not long afterwards they called me up. Seems I could go into the Air Force, delayed enlistment, and had a choice of working F-4 Phantoms or F-111s. As there were only two F-111 bases in the world at the time, I went with F-4s. Which were everywhere.

A couple of days later I raised my right hand and swore the oath. Five months later I was on a plane to Lackland AFB, Texas. Twenty-four years later, I retired from the Air Force.

Looking back on it, do I regret not going into the Army? I could have persisted with those cement heads and eventually gone into Armor. But they wanted to play games. The Air Force guys were straight up. So I got to work on fighter aircraft for almost eight years. Then the Air Force paid for my degree in Computer Science. Afterwards I had the chance to work on some awesome military software. Then in Germany they paid for most of my Masters Degree.

So no, I don't really regret going into the Air Force instead. The Big Blue Machine was very good to me. Very good to me indeed.

So while I like the Army, a lot, I love the Air Force.

But sometimes I do wonder what it would have been like to start out in these -

M-60 Patton

And then have transitioned to these -

M1A1 Abrams
That would have been kind of cool.

Kind of cool indeed.
* To "see the elephant" meant one had seen combat.


  1. "...Air Force Basic Training look like a Boy Scout camp..."

    I've heard that ;-)

    1. Actually Skip, Boy Scout camp was tougher. Just shorter.

  2. I chose the Navy, but my brother, with a wife and baby on the way, decided on the Army. He thought that with a family, an Army life would offer him a bit more time at home, back in garrison. Little did he know that they'd almost immediately send him to Korea for a year unaccompanied. After returning for 2 years to the motherland, they again sent him to Korea for a year unaccompanied. In the first 4 years of his career, he'd have done maybe 12 months at sea had he followed me into the sea service. Choose your rate, choose your fate. He's about to retire now though and he's happy with his choice.

    1. Different strokes like they say.

      Looking back at things, I'm not sure why I never even looked at the Navy. Probably because of the heavy Army influence in the family and both of my male cousins (older than me) had been in the Air Force. I knew no sailors back then. Now my whole family are sailors.

      Go figure.

  3. Dad would bring C and K rats home for me to take on Boy Scout camp outs.
    The Troop I was in had all WW2 and Korea Vets for Scoutmasters. We were run like an infantry platoon. We did close order in the street along side Messiah Lutheran Church, circa 1965-1966.
    Could have been a trigger for me to go to sea. Three hots per day plus midrats aboard a Bird Farm.

    1. Ah, close order drill. I loved it. Both in ROTC and in the Air Force.

      Life on a carrier is preferable to life in an infantry platoon. No mud for one thing. That I have experienced. But that's another story for another day.

  4. I never gave any other service a thought. Not one. I wanted to be Steve Frickin' CANYON. Or my father. I didn't come close to either one.

    Oh, well. Things turned out OK, considerin'. ;-)

    1. Seems to me ya done good Buck.

      As good NCOs we raised our kids in such a way that they would be good officers.

      Things turned out the way they were meant to.

  5. "Now look here son, I can get any moron into Armor" ....geez didnt that recruiter know you were a special kind of moron?... anyway I was not in the least surprised that you had been in the service for 20+ years (even though I hadnt seen you nor talked to 35 years. Anyone that knew you growing up would have assumed that. The Air Force was well blessed to have you and so was our country, thanks

    1. I am a special kind of moron!

      Oh, and thanks Greg. I'm blushing over here.

  6. I'll have to write my experience once I am back on my computer. On first ship the Air Boss was a LCDR with dozens of medals and he hated the Army. He was an Army helo pilot kicked to the curb after the war because he was not a college grad. I started air then went navy after I was told no flying for me at all. I enjoyed what I did in the navy. Interesting stories about


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