Monday, December 15, 2014

Customs, Courtesies and Beanies

So,  There I was……* Flying the F-15 at Kadena and a pinned on Major and Flight Commander.  I’ve spent the last 3 weeks deployed to Kwang Ju AB ROK to provide Air Defense for the Seoul Olympics.  I was in charge of 6 pilots, a flight surgeon and a maintenance detachment. Our mission was to ensure if the Kim family wanted to provide an airshow on international television, that there would be an F-15 in close formation and another one in trail with locked on missiles.  A future post will provide more details about that deployment. 

Not exactly  the formation we'd have flown.  the farside guy would have been directly astern, just outside min range for each missile. The near side guy would have been close enough that it would be difficult to get a TV shot without him in it
This post will be about a comment I’d made on one of Sarge’s posts which went “the only thing more dangerous than a 19 year old with a gun is a 19 year old with a gun, a badge and a beanie.”  There was good discussion on that post about peace officers vs police and good police officers vs “badge heavy” members of the police.  As Sarge says, go read it, I’ll wait. This post describes the incident where I came to realize the truth in my "gun, badge, beanie" statement.

It’s Sunday morning, 4 of the 5 Eagles had redeployed the day before, but one had a problem on start and had taken the rest of the day to fix.  We had gotten it fixed, but it was too late to deploy so we spent an additional day.  I stayed behind and will be flying the jet back.  It’s a beautiful day and I’m making good time.  Got the radar run out to max range, and as far as I can tell, I’m the only person airborne in the whole world at this time.  Ahhhh!  I’ve been handed off to Fukuoka control and diplomatically made contact.  After a Time, I’ve been handed off to Kadena’s Approach Control.  I can see the island and the runway from a long way away, so am intending to do an overhead and land.  I’m about 15 minutes out, so contact the tower and let them know I’m coming in and would they contact maintenance and customs to let them know, please?
A 67FS Eagle at Red Flag AK (Aim-9 on Left Outboard, AMRAAM on left inboard and an ACMI pod on right outboard)

Pitch out and land, through dearm and back in to the shelter.  Crew chief marshalls me in, and gives me the shutdown signal.  I cut the throttle and when the last engine winds down, turn everything off and climb down the ladder handing my A-3 bag down to the crew chief.  We discuss what had happened to the jet and what it’s status was for the flight down, and he starts to do whatever it is that crew chiefs do to get the airplane ready for what’s next.  I glance at my watch, it’s been about 10 minutes since shutdown.  No Customs.  Not unusual, though, they sometimes get busy with inbound MAC flights.  I hadn’t seen anything on Radar, or heard any radio, but…

The crew chief finishes putting the jet to bed, and the line chief comes by in the bread van to pick him up.  Offers me a lift, but I tell him I can’t, customs hasn’t come by.  Would he mind giving them a call when he gets in to the maintenance shack, please?  No problem.  Now been 30 minutes since shut down. 

I sit down on my A-3 bag and cool my heels for a bit, when I see a car drive up in the squadron parking lot and my wife and 4 year old son get out.  They walk up to the red line and ask what’s happening.  I respond with BTHOM, I’m waiting on customs.  It was not unheard of that customs would not show up.  It had happened a time or two.  I decide I’ll give them another 15 minutes to make it an even hour.
Where it all went down, at the cross intersection in front of the shelter.
Source: Google Maps

I ask her how everything’s going, she says little Juvat is running a fever, ear infection or something.  As the clock is ticking, one of Kadena’s famous torrential downbursts is headed our way, I tell the wife to get back in the car and then sprint back and climb under the jet.  It provides some protection, but I get wet. 

Well, it’s now an hour.  I grab my bag and walk off to the Squadron.  As I exit the flight line, a little blue truck comes speeding up and slams to a stop right in front of me and out jumps this spiffy A1C.  All shiny boots and beret creased to adhere to the side of his head.  He asks me where I think I’m going and why did I leave the secure area before being cleared by customs AKA himself?  How was he supposed to make sure I hadn’t brought back drugs or any other contraband?  He was afraid he was going to have to detain me. (In Well Seasoned Fool’s vernacular, he’s “badge heavy”.)

I think I smiled before responding.

I stated that if he detained me, that would raise questions about where customs had been for the last hour and ten minutes. Since he had stated that making sure Pilots didn’t bring back drugs or other contraband was their mission, didn’t that absence represent dereliction of duty on his part. Clearly had I wanted to smuggle drugs, his not being present to intercept them meant he had failed in his duty.  I then responded, if he wanted, he could inspect my A-3 bag, otherwise, I was proceeding to the squadron.

Walk in to the Squadron, hang up my flight gear and notice the Boss is in.  Knock on his door and ask if I can have a moment of his time.  I explain what had happened.  He tells me to go home and not worry about it.  Well…

I get home, and as we walk in, the phone is ringing.  It’s Sgt Schmuckatelli, the NCOIC of the customs detachment.  He requests that I report to the detachment for customs evasion. I call the Boss who’s now at home.  He tells me to come over while he makes some calls.  We share a back yard, it’s not far.  

His wife lets me in as he’s on the phone.  His side of the conversation goes like this “Bob, how long should my guys have to wait before customs shows up at the jet…..Yeah, I know they shouldn’t, but suppose a MAC flight had just landed?....10 minutes… would 15 minutes be out of line?.....How about 30 minutes?...It would?….How about 45?.....One of my guys just waited over an hour……”

The conversation devolved from there….

He hangs up and says “Listen Up…Report to the Customs Det.  Do NOT sign any papers.  Do not give them your ID or anything of yours.  Do not make any statements.  Do not answer any questions.  Do you have any questions about the directives I've given you?”

No sir!

I show up at the detachment, and the NCOIC says “Give me your ID!”  I look at him quizzically.  He says “What?”  I respond, “Last I checked, I’m an officer and you’re not.  I haven’t been charged with anything, so protocol would say you should amend that last statement to be “May I have your ID, please sir?” 

Well, if you’re going down, go down fighting.

He says, “May I have your ID, please…sir?”

I respond “Unfortunately, Sergeant, my Commander has expressly ordered me not to give you my ID or any other items.”

“Well, we’ll need you to sign this statement.”

“Unfortunately, Sergeant, my Commander has expressly ordered me not to sign any papers whatsoever.”

“We need to ask you some questions!”

“Unfortunately, Sergeant, my Commander has expressly ordered me not to answer any questions.”

“Would you please wait here while I get this straightened out, then?”

“Of Course”

I’m sitting there cooling my heels when I notice a gym bag by the desk with my favorite A1C’s name on it.  It’s open with some Gym clothes spread out, drying off.  Hmmm.  I also notice the Sunday Stars and Stripes beside it.  I grab it and start reading the comics.  

Finish them and begin the NY Times crossword puzzle.  In ink.  In walks the Airman.  He says, “What are you doing?”  “The crossword puzzle, how was your run this morning?”  His eyes flash to the bag and gym clothes.  Mumbles something under his breath and walks out.

 Shortly thereafter, the NCOIC comes in and says I can go, but “don’t do this again.”  I briefly consider asking what “this” was, but decide discretion is the better part of valor and wish them a good day.

It got very stupid from there.  A few weeks later, we deploy to the PI.  On RTB, I fly via MAC and go through customs at the terminal.  They squeezed the toothpaste out of the tube.  The next deployment, I fly back, they open up all the panels on my jet.  The following deployment, having had about all the fun I can stand and since I’m MAC’ing back, I pack all my laundry in to a box and mail it back to Kadena.  At the time, overseas APO to APO mail didn’t cost anything.  In fact, I recognized the box on a pallet in the back of the same 141 I was riding home.  I get off the jet at the terminal, and walk right up to the processing line.  An Airman says, “Sir, you can’t go through yet, the bags haven’t been unloaded.”  I respond, “I don’t have any bags.”  “How long were you gone?”  “2 weeks”  “Where’s your laundry?”  “In the mail”  “How are we supposed to inspect that?”  “Not my problem!”  and walked out the door.

I’m not the only guy getting the treatment, and the rumblings are starting to get loud.

 Again, we deploy to Cope Thunder.  Towards the end of the deployment, there’s a bit of a security hubbub.  Seems one of the classified avionics boxes is missing from the nose of one of the jets.  Nobody can seem to find it.  We redeploy the next day and my wingman is the one star Air Division commander.  No big deal, within the structure of a Major to Brigadier General relationship, he’s a pretty nice guy.  A good stick, he just wants to fly wing today.  
This is obviously not 24 Eagles, nor would they use this formation on Initial, Just thought it was a cool picture.

We bring the entire squadron down initial pitch out and land.  Dearm and instead of heading to the shelters, we’re directed to park in front of the tower.  


Lot’s of vehicles in the area.  We get the jets all shut down, unload our bags and are looking for the bread vans to take us to the squadron.  Instead we get told to form up with our bags, we’re going to get searched for the  missing equipment.  I’m standing next to the General, and look over at him, he gives me the stay quiet sign.  I nod.  

The Airman works his way down the line.  Opens my bag, he doesn't see the 4’ X 2’ X 1’ 125 lb box in amongst my dirty laundry and proceeds to start patting me down.  Strangely enough,  he doesn't find it on my person either.  
This is from an F-15 E, but the layout is similar to the C model.  The circle is a bit larger than 4' in diameter,  The missing box is from the bay behind it.  It is NOT going to be found in a flight suit pocket.

The General is standing right next to me, his bag on the other side, so the Airman begins patting down him down.  As he progresses up his leg, side, under side of his arm, top side of his arm to his shoulder where he notices a star and goes white as a sheet.  “Sir, you don’t have to be here.” 

“On the contrary, Son, there is nowhere on earth more important for me to be than right here, right now.”

“Would you do me the courtesy of passing a message to your Commander, your OIC, NCOIC, and the OSI Detachment Chief, inviting them to my office tomorrow morning at 0700, please?”

We never had a problem with Customs after that.

* War Stories begin this way, and while these events all happened, minor details may have been lost to memory.

**BTW to the US Postal Service.  Important note:  re: your current commercial. This is not Your Season! 
It belongs to a child born 2000+ years ago, who proclaimed "Love the Lord, Your God, with your whole heart, your whole mind and your whole soul, and love your neighbor as yourself."  It's a hard discipline, but would more people adhere to it (it's the second part that negates the first), the world would be a better place.


  1. Another superb "...there I was" juvat.

    It's a sobering and distressing experience to find people who abandon principle and do things because they've figured out a way to get away with it. I suspect most folks think there's a big difference between being "authority heavy" and herding Jews into a shower room or cutting off heads, but it's just the tiniest of steps.

    USPS message -- Shack.

    1. Thanks. And you're so right, the tiniest of steps.

  2. The First Sergeant of an adjacent unit drove his personal car to Rhein Main to pick up his replacement, who was rotating in, around 1966. He was in uniform. Young A1C at the gate learned quickly you don't call a First Sergeant, "Army Dogie".

    Other than standing for three hours in the open train platform, January, Bremerhaven for Customs, never had many encounters with Army MPs.

    1. As a Joint guy, I spent a lot of time on other services bases, to include Leavenworth. I've never had a problem with their police forces, just the APs (That was what they were called when I was a kid, in my mind that's what they'll always be.)

  3. Stories of AF Security Police insanity/stupidity are legion. I have many of my own, most of which would be hard to tell here in this semi-family friendly blog.

    That USPS commercial really frosted the Old Sarge's tail section. How dare they?

    But it's not as bad as a few years back where some special on TV with Jason Alexander made the media whores all breathless with Jason Alexander being "the reason for the season."

    There's only one reason for this season. Only one.

    1. Yeah, I think most of us have those stories.
      I don't think there was more than a millimeter between his cheek and the fold over in his beanie. Shoulda known I was in for a wild ride at that point.
      Never saw that Special, but don't watch that kind of TV (or much TV at all). Wouldn't have even seen that commercial since I tend to only watch the shows I want to watch and have recorded and fast forward through commercials. I was in the kitchen when it came on and listened to it, which was probably a good thing else I'd be down a TV.

  4. Marketing folks need to have their butts kicked.
    If they were to actually remember the reason (Chanukah or Christmas... pick one) for the season and promote it, civility just might prevail.

    My only run-ins with military police forces were with Marines on gate security.
    The first was on returning just a little tardy from liberty and I was delayed while I was told to square away my uniform... I'm certain it was pure harassment and entertaining to him.
    The second time backfired.
    I was leaving 32nd Street and the Pfc in question stopped me and queried aloud as to whether I might be, "...too young to be an E-5."
    The NCOIC heard him and let him know that information was well above his pay grade.
    When I returned about six hours later, the Pfc was still checking IDs at the gate.
    The rest of his shift had been relieved.

    1. I wonder if he learned from the experience? Given that most people would know better from the git go, I'm betting not.

    2. Now that I think about it, there are some folks at TSA who could be described as "badge heavy."
      Fortunately, the majority of those I have had dealings with have been friendly and courteous.

    3. Lucky you! My experience has not been so uplifting. So much so, that I would rather drive to Orlando from Texas than fly. And did!

  5. (I'm posting this again. Seemed to have lost the first one somewhere in the ether-world.)
    Have had run-ins, a time or two, with various Military Police organizations . . . Army, Air Force, USMC.
    All were over "macht nix" stuff . . . usually, it was just the locals throwing their weight around.
    There is one incident that still grinds my gears. Took place as I was leaving Vietnam on DEROS.
    This is an excerpt from a blog page of mine that tells the tale:
    "All these years later, I hold no rancor for the NVA or the VC.
    They were our enemies ... we were theirs.
    We fought, no holds barred.
    It was us who gave it up.
    The only recollection that still rankles is of the Customs MPs at Bien Hoa. They unceremoniously dumped out my carefully packed baggage, rummaged through it ... and seemed to enjoy themselves at my expense. They confiscated my K-Bar knife. It had been my step-father's, carried by him through the battle of Okinawa and given to me for luck. When I explained this, the MPs just gave me that flat cop-stare and said that if it was stamped USMC it was government property, then turned and tossed it into a bin full of contraband.
    An ignoble end for that sentiment and memory."

    1. I would say they were "Badge Heavy", and in your case, that's a darn shame!

  6. The Navy--at least during my service time--managed to mostly avoid the despicable gendarme attitude you so succinctly dissect. SP's were just sailors doing their duty--and temporarily at that; and would have to berth and live with the people they were policing the next day. I gather this has somewhat eroded nowadays, with the MAA rate. An error, IMO. Of course we did have Marines...;-).

    1. I think that was probably a very good idea (the temporary police duty) for exactly the reason stated.


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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