Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Call Me Ishmael

Hercules and Cerberus - Peter Paul Rubens
From Fort Collins to San Antonio is a trip of roughly 1,000 miles. In order to mentally prepare myself for what was to come, I allowed myself three days for that trip. I spent two nights in motels along the way. The first was in northern New Mexico.

I had arrived there in the dead of night. It was bitter cold with lots of snow on the ground. When I awakened the next day I looked out the window. Flat, featureless, snow to the horizon. Oh boy. Minutes after leaving the motel, somewhere near Clayton, New Mexico, I crossed into the great state of Texas. I'd be there until April Fool's Day, nearly three months later.

It was my first time driving in Texas, lemme tell you, it's a BIG state. I thought crossing Kansas was mind-boggling, that was crossing the freaking street compared to Texas. After what felt like days,but was probably only about eight hours, I decided to hole up for the night. The next day I would report in to Hades Medina Annex.

Bright and early-ish I woke up, showered and shaved and donned my uniform. The uniform I'd worn every Thursday in college. Different from a regular Air Force uniform, this rig had black shoulder boards with two half-inch silver stripes running athwartships (to borrow a nautical term), i.e. side to side (to use a more mundane term). My orders said to report in uniform NLT (no later than) such and such an hour. It might have been 1300, I don't remember.

In the days of my youth...
Yes, I arrived at my destination at 1259 local. I had a minute to spare.
Cerberus was a vicious beast that guarded the entrance to Hades and kept the living from entering the world of the dead. According to Apollodorus, Cerberus was a strange mixture of creatures: he had three heads of wild dogs, a dragon or serpent for a tail, and heads of snakes all over his back. Hesiod, though, says that Cerberus had fifty heads and devoured raw flesh. (Source)
I walked up to a desk which sported two officer trainee types. They also had shoulder boards but there stripes were skinnier and ran fore-and-aft at a rakish diagonal.  So let me rephrase that last bit...
Cerberus was an asshole that guarded the entrance to OTS and kept the unwary from wandering into the world of the lost. According to Old AF Sarge, Cerberus was a strange mixture of creatures: he had two human heads, a noticeable lack of testosterone, and the spine of a jellyfish. Hesiod, though, says that Cerberus had fifty heads (with no brains in any of 'em) and devoured raw flesh.
But Hesiod wasn't there. I was...

"OT, why are you wearing a uniform?" barked one of the heads.

"I'm sorry, apparently you can't read, it says for me to report in uniform. Or did you miss that bit?" spake Your Humble Scribe. (And yes, I was very tired and in no mood for games from a couple of wannabe officers. My ID card indicated that I was a Staff Sergeant, a pox on their "OT" designation.)

"Oh. Yes, it does say in uniform. Sorry."

Blah, blah, blah. A boring welcome to Medina, yada-yada speech followed. After which I was given a room key and directions on how to get there and who to report to when I got there.

So off I went.

Other than that initial encounter, I don't remember much about that first day. Eventually I got a roommate and an introduction to our flight commander, an Air Force captain. The people who would be "guiding" us in our day to day activities were both OTs (Officer Trainees if you haven't figured that out yet). Two fairly decent chaps as I recall, one of whom's last name was Ney. Yes, I asked. The French marshal of Napoleonic fame was a great great uncle or something. I was surprised that he knew that.


My roommate was a decent enough kid, right out of college, a chemistry major who couldn't find a job outside of chemical engineering (which he hated), so he turned to Uncle Sam's Aerial Follies. He was, shall we say, rather unsuited for "the life." (No, we didn't call it that. I think that's a hooker term. Oh wait...)

Our flight captain was not a nice person. I will call her Ahab. She had no apparent use for men. She actually announced in class one day that marriage was an "outmoded" institution. She proved, to me anyway, that she was quite unsuited to have anything to do with training aspiring officers. More on that, later.

First day was a weigh in, if you didn't make weight, you were gone. Sent back to wherever you came from, except...

"OT Chunkydude, you are five pounds overweight, go see the airman out front to process out."

"OT Chunkygirl, you are three pounds overweight, you have a week to shed that weight!"

Uh, really, break the rules and you're gone? Not so fast buddy. I smelled a rat.

When this disparity was pointed out, Captain Ahab said, "You have to be five pounds or more over the limit."

"But, the book says..."

"I make the decisions here OT. Get used to it."

No, I did not.

And so it went.

The first two days were a weekend, remember it was Super Bowl weekend, not everyone's cup of tea I know, but, I used to care about that event. Expecting to in-process on Saturday and then, maybe, watch the game on Sunday, we were instead informed that the Officer Training School was on the cusp of a major inspection.

In the Air Force that means that if you're one of the peons, you will be mopping, waxing, and buffing for the immediate future. No Super Bowl for you!

So we cleaned everything in sight, all while being hectored by the staff, who were all captains, no lieutenants, no majors, all captains. How many sets of wings did I see on all those O-3 suits?

Not one. For the most part they were all freaking shoe clerks, and seemingly proud of the fact. I had one snarling Asian female captain bark at me, "OT, who the Hell taught you how to mop a floor?"

"Damned if I know captain, I used to fix Phantoms for a living."

"Who do you think you're talking to OT?!?!?"

"Dunno captain, never seen you before today."

Seriously, I thought she was going to stroke out right then and there. I had decided to see just how far I could push back against the chickenshit occurring all around me. Turns out that the opportunities were limitless.

As you might gather, I had "copped an attitude." Missed the Super Bowl so I could mop the same gorram floor three effing times? Seriously, three times.

"Okay, now strip it and do it again!"

The third time I just stood there, as did my flightmates. The O-3 (to differentiate them from the officer grade of "captain") was called away to go bother someone else. We eventually got to stand down.

I did catch a bit of the game on my small portable radio, until the nasty Asian lady told me to put it away.


"Because you're supposed to be cleaning stuff, not listening to the radio!"

"Hhmm, in the enlisted ranks we discovered that it was actually possible to do both."

Again, I thought she was going to stroke out. I was starting to enjoy myself.

Then one of our flight leads (students like us, only further along) asked me, "Don't you want to be an officer?"

"Like her, do you mean?"

"Well no, but..."

"See my point?"

Not sure that he did.

Eventually we actually started classes. For maybe three to four hours a day. The rest of the time was spent "studying," performing mindless duties, or in physical training. I cannot begin to tell you just how boring and mindless it all was.

Now there were three types of officer trainees there: one group were recent college grads who wanted to fly for the Air Force but didn't manage an ROTC scholarship during their college days, another group were similar, but they didn't wish to be pilots, they just couldn't find jobs with their college degrees (Yup, English, history, social sciences, sociology, etc. My roommate was an odd duck, turns out that he could find a job but had decided that he hated chemistry. Odd that.)

The third group were what the staff called "prior enlisted." A term I hated with a passion.

"Why do you keep calling me a "prior"?

"Because you used to be enlisted."

"Am I an officer now?"

"No, not yet."

"Am I a civilian?"

"No, you're an officer trainee."

"My ID card says I'm a staff sergeant."

"Well, everyone gets paid as a staff sergeant while here. Unless you came in at a higher grade, then you keep that pay."

"So I'm still a staff sergeant?"

"Officially, yes, but..."

"Call me OT, or call me staff sergeant, stop calling me prior enlisted."


I didn't win that argument, but certain of the staff would no longer speak to me unless they had to. Eventually Captain Ahab called me to her office.

"OT, I don't think you're smart enough to be an officer."

"What makes you say that, captain?"

"Call me ma'am."

"Which is short for madam."

"I don't like you OT."

"The feeling madam, is most assuredly mutual."

"I think you should quit."

"Fire me."

"I can't."

"So why am I in your office?"

"Get out, go back to the barracks."

We had a few conversations like that. I challenged her to tell me what I was doing wrong, well, wrong enough to get thrown out. She couldn't do it. I scored high marks on all of their tests. I knew more about drill and ceremonies than she did. The list of our disagreements was lengthy.

One day, on the drill pad, I had had quite enough.

As we fell in for practice, for we had an evaluation on drill the next day, Ahab showed up late, and in a panic.

"I understand some of you aren't ready for your drill eval."

I had to speak up, of course.

"The eval is tomorrow ma'am. After this practice, we should be good to go."

"No, the eval is today."

" I thought the eval was on the 10th." asked a fellow OT.

"It is, and today is the 10th."

"Uh, no ma'am. Today is the 9th."

Eventually we convinced her that she had the wrong day. It was bloody infuriating. Was she otherwise occupied for most of the day? Was training us her part time job? Who knew, she seemed less than connected on some days, incompetent on most days.

Egad how I despised her and her ilk.

As I have now worked myself into a right fury remembering those days, I think I'll pause for now.

So stay tuned, does Your Humble Scribe get kicked out? Or does he walk on his own terms?

We shall see, we shall see.

We all know by now that I didn't finish, it's only the manner of my departure which you have yet to learn.

All will be revealed, to everything there is a season, etc., etc.

Oh, and lest you think it was all Sturm und Drang down there, think again. I remember some pretty cool folks. One was the most intense fire trucker I have ever met. We called him "Karl." Yes, he hated it. Went on to fly the A-10, very well I might add.

But that's in the "more to come" category

That last bit, that's what ya call a teaser.


  1. Egads......those glasses..... had a pair like that I did.....never again I promised myself. Fashion fads are...... fads. Procure sensible button down oxford shirts with no spread collars that don't look like a vulture trying to take off. The suspense is building Sarge, good..... very good. I suspect Captain Ahab will meet the White Whale unveiled....... well... hope I do......

    1. Hey man, it was the '80s! All the cool kids were wearing those. (So my eye doctor claimed.)

      Button down collars, a must for dress shirts. Typically I wear polo shirts, which is odd as I've never actually played polo. ;)

  2. Sarge, if you can spread this out for say 3 more chapters, 1) you've got the start on a good book 2) Space-X can save a fortune in launch costs by strapping a satellite to Beans butt as he launches himself into low Earth orbit.

    1. Hhmm, three more chapters, I could probably do that. Be worth it just to see Beans' reaction.

      Quite an entertaining mental picture. I'm sure he'll be along shortly to chastise us.

    2. Hahahahah.........chuckle.......heh-heh heh-hehe......thanks Juvat........always a good thing to get a good laugh.Whooo....(wipes tear away).

    3. I am offended at your assumptions, sirs. Good thing for all of you old fogeys that dueling has been declared illegal as otherwise the opportunities to shoot yourselves in the foots would be legion.


    4. ANNNNNNND.....We have Liftoff!!!!

    5. Beans - uh oh, someone's offended!

      (Let the fireworks begin!)

    6. Juvat - when d'ya think Max Q will be achieved?

    7. Hahaha!

      We're back to - "You know what you did."

      Even your avatar looks guilty...

  3. Put out the bait, and..... Set the hook for the following installments! Love it.

    This all rings very familiar to me, having had to go to Newport RI for a summer of NROTC "catch up" between sophomore and junior year after I'd won a 2-year scholarship. I'd been in the Corps of Cadets and NROTC for my freshman year, and 2 years of JNROTC before that in high school, so the "break them down so we can build them up" stuff was soooo yesterday. There was a gent from the Citadel who was both a hard case and *ss hole, so I only got hit when there were spare rounds left, thankfully.


    1. Hahaha. So L.J. you've "been there, done that." Nice.

      Speaking of NAS Newport, that's where all the progeny went for INDOC their first year of NROTC. When we actually moved here, The Missus Herself would drive down and watch the kids being drilled, exercised, barked at, etc. She missed our son going through but both daughters were mortified to learn that their mother viewed INDOC as a spectator sport.

      Ah, the Citadel and hard cases. Every school and every class has a few of those. DAMHIK

    2. NSI? When were you there? As I recall I got there in 1981 and fell into the clutches of archfiend Staff Seargent Brooks.

    3. Hahaha, "archfiend" - love it. You have a way with words Cap'n.

  4. Thank you for provoking insight on events 50 years ago. Always wondered why mainly malcontents had to sit through the, "You should apply for OCS," meetings. What a perfect way to be permanently rid of us!

    1. That's one way indeed. (You never go back to where you came from, whether you pass through or not.)

  5. Question: Where’d you go for Basic Training?
    You might have told us once upon a time, but, you know, memory.

    1. Air Force basic training is at Lackland AFB. OTS used to be there, now it's at Maxwell AFB in Alabama.

    2. That’s what I thought.
      You said this was your first time in Texas, but maybe I misunderstood?

    3. Ah yes, I need to correct that to my first time driving in Texas.

      Thanks for spotting that Skip.

  6. Okay. What a horror, so I now understand that when one is a total incompetent at being an officer, one is assigned to OTS to teach others to be officers?

    Boy, you hit the stupid diversity jackpot right off the bat, didn't you? You didn't even need to stay in until the Obumer years.

    And the harridan that you dealt with, did you ever discover what bee was up her bonnet? Pure incompetence, Man-Hater, Jealous of your test and school scores, or a combo of all three?

    Excellent telling. This will be cathartic for you, as telling it seems to be stirring some long-standing trauma. Good thing you had experience with real officers before you met this witch and her evil coven, else it would have soured you completely on the military.

    Hope her sister inherited a pair of shoes after a tornado, if you get my drift.

    1. Beans - I do believe she was a shining example of what we might call the "Unholy Trinity of Diversity" these days. Back then diversity hadn't been invented yet. Well, not as it is pursued these days.

    2. Oh, trust me. Back in '97, during the middle of a very dangerous incident at the office I worked at, I was anointed as official scribe for a task force. I made the simple comment of asking who the chairman was, and got reamed and a letter put into my permanent file that I did not use the correctly diverse title, and the reaming occurred in front of about 10 people, many from various governmental agencies. Hmmm. Might be an interesting post in that cluster-trucking goat-roap of a bowl of dog's vomit.

      I should have started looking for a new job right there and then.

      The shrieker was a Captain of Detectives who refused to allow charges to be filed on any woman for filing false claims of abuse or harassment. She still thinks it is better to ruin 30 men's lives than to punish the falsehoods of one female.

      By 2010, I could see a move Federally to suppress certain inherited traits in crime statistics. I guess we can't handle the truth.

    3. Hhmm, might be a sister of Ahab. Sounds similar.

  7. Why do you suppose that the ones who are supposed to "instruct" are the ones who need the instruction most? Probably every service person (;-) has had a similar confrontative experience. Depending upon longevity one can know what's going on, or be broken by it.
    I was almost broken by my basic instructor (the Flight CO) in Class 62-FZ (the Z for experimental - we were the first USAF pilot trainees to fool with the Talon). Our instructors would fly with the tech rep pilots in the morning and then pass on to us brown bars what they had learned. It took extra time to get through basic because the T-38 wasn't supposed to fly through a cloud and you had to remember to do two immelmann turns or when you landed the ADI would be all screwed up. Anyway, my instructor was one of those where as soon as the canopy was closed you suddenly became a F--SOB, etc. I couldn't deal with it and he pinked me so often I got a stan evalcheck from the squadron CO. He thought I was just fine! I got an instructor change and viola! Oh, something of interest, my first flight instructor (Capt Potty Mouth) retired with four stars. Go figure.

    1. So Dave, this is my surprised face.

      MoH types retire as majors and lieutenant colonels. Peckerheads retire as four stars. Not saying you have to be a peckerhead to make four but, well, peacetime ya know.

      Damn, just damn.

  8. Any officer or NCO who misuse their authority in order to abuse lower ranking personnel is despicable to me. Training must be tough but the whole point is to train them, not demonstrate how to be a "fourth point of contact". The highest praise I ever received was when Soldiers described me as "Hard, but fair." It did my heart proud watching my former minions rising high in the NCO, Warrant Officer, and Officer ranks. - Barry

    1. "Hard but fair." It's all most of us enlisted types want.

      And when to let the troops off the leash every now and again. (Work hard, party hard - as one of my squadron COs in Korea said.)

  9. LOL! I was once sharing beer with some Air Guard airmen (at a time when arguably we shouldn't be doing so) when the Army Commander (an O6) came up unnoticed behind us and said, "If you pretend you're not drinking I'll pretend I didn't see it." She was one of the best Commanders I ever worked with. :-) -Barry

  10. Sarge,

    My experience at OTS was somewhat different,
    perhaps because it was 20 years earlier (1962).

    OTS at that time was on both Lackland and the dreaded
    Medina Annex. For some reason, Medina was to be avoided if at all possible
    (in otherwords, don’t do anything stupid).

    Most of the OTS folks were just regular college graduates, that were eventually
    pilots, maintainers, missile guys etc. We did have a “Doc” candidate that took care
    of everyone and everything in the barracks, even though he was only a podiatrist! Also It was all male,
    candidates and TO’s. While instilling the military into us in 90 days, it was not overbearing.

    Two fundamental things that helped make it through: Cooperate and graduate and
    don’t SIE (self inflicted elimination).

    After graduating went on to ICBM R&D (Systems Command) in California. A good first duty assignment.

    1. I've read that it's been changed a lot since I was there, not just moving it to Maxwell but the length of the program as well.

      I may have been there for the wrong reason.

    2. Well, I don’t know if it was for the wrong reason, but it might have been the wrong place and time. I'm positive you were a fine NCO, and any form of Fine whether NCO, WO or O was an asset in my book. And way too rare.


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

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