Sunday, August 5, 2018


The Oval at Colorado State University
Picking up from where I left off before they dilated my eyes and made me feel like a vampire exposed to the rays of the sun...

We were here, Kunsan Air Base in the Republic of Korea, home of the mighty Wolf Pack, the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, home to two squadrons of the mighty F-4D Phantom II. Juvat would be along in a year or so, I didn't know him then, I knew very few officers when I was a maintenance guy.

At any rate, the 8th was a Sierra Hotel outfit who knew what the heck they were doing. That included the folks at CBPO, thorough-going pros as I remember them. They hooked me up with what I needed to do to get into the Airman Education and Commissioning Program, AECP as I mentioned before.

Seems that all that was really lacking in my education so far was a calculus class. Oh boy, says I, math, says I, one of my favorite subjects, NOT. But the beauty of the University of Maryland overseas program was that they used local talent to teach their classes. As not many professorial types gravitated to a small base in Korea, the classes were taught by officers for the most part.

My calculus class was taught by a captain, a member of the Civil Engineering squadron and a right smart fellow who seemed to love mathematics and it showed in his teaching. While I found the subject matter pretty heavy going at times, he explained things well, taught us some of the tricks of the trade, and I actually made a good grade in the course.

My one year at Norwich, a few credits from the Community College of the Air Force, and the calculus class had me qualified to apply for AECP.

Mind you, this is not something I jumped on when I first got to Korea in August of 1978 (yeah, I know, forty freaking years ago). No, I was a newlywed (though I had met The Missus Herself in Korea, I was stationed on Okinawa, the first eight months of our married life were spent with her in Korea and Yours Truly on Okinawa, we'd spent time together on my frequent trips to Korea, but nothing like being together full time) and wasn't quite ready to go back to school just yet.

So yeah, in four years in Korea I took a couple of college classes and planned on applying for AECP when I got back to the States. I wasn't really on the fast track on this plan! Eventually I returned to a country I hadn't seen since the spring of '76 (one brief leave back home from Okinawa as my grandfather had died, left in February of 1976, came back in June of 1982).

I'd gone overseas all by my lonesome, I returned with a wife, a son, and one on the way (that would be The Nuke, made in Korea she was). After a month in Vermont it was off to the Mile High City, Denver, Colorado, where I had been trained in the care and feeding of the F-4D Phantom Weapon Control System and was returning to maintain the very equipment upon which I had been trained.

But it was rather a short assignment. I applied for AECP while there and was accepted in the late winter/early spring of 1983. Although I had been told that I could apply to any school I wanted, the Air Force strongly suggested that college in Colorado would save my sweet Uncle Sam a few bucks. Yes, I was irked about that, but hey I was in Colorado, there are many, many places far worse to be "stuck" in. So I applied to the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs and to Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins.

Accepted at both but again the Air Force said that CSU was a better choice. Sigh, who am I to argue with the people who were going to pay for college while continuing to pay me my full salary as a Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force.

I was to be a professional student!

Yup, pretty amazing.

I started school in September of 1983, graduated in December of 1986. It took me approximately two and a half years to figure out college. My partying days were behind me, The Missus Herself and the three bairns saw to that. (The WSO was born while I was a student at CSU.) No time for nonsense, I had a family to support.

But college was freaking hard (well, except for the history courses, my major was computer science, my minor was history). The Air Force needed technical type officers, especially in the computer field back then. While I would have loved to be a maintenance officer, those positions were being saved for people who paid their own way through college. Fair enough.

My grades were not terrible, nor were they spectacular. I struggled mightily. Oh, I knew the material pretty well, programming a computer and figuring out how they worked was pretty straightforward. While three of my professors in the Computer Science were very good, the others all sucked. Grad students with thick accents who could not teach to save their lives, and one American instructor (not a professor) who was just plain terrible at his job. In addition, I was not a great test taker.

But like I said, after two and a half years the light came on. I went to class and everything was just easy. Barely had to study, started getting high marks without much effort. I guess I'm a slow learner. But once I get it, damn it, I get it.

College came to an end. The only contact I had with the Air Force during the whole time at CSU was via the AFROTC detachment on campus. We didn't do ROTC, in fact we weren't allowed to participate at all with them. But every semester we had to do a one on one with the head of AFROTC, a full colonel (usually a guy on his last assignment) who the college referred to as the "Professor of Aerospace Science." At least that's how I remember it.

Two separate colonels were there during my stint, both fighter pilots with whom I got along really, really well. My last visit with the colonel was illuminating. He said to me, "Chris, the whole time you've been here at CSU, the job was to get you through college so as to benefit the United States Air Force. When you get to OTS (Officer Training School), it's going to be very different. They think it's their job to get you out of the Air Force. Stay on your toes down there."

Sir, yes sir.

When I reported in at the Medina Annex of Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, I immediately realized the good colonel had spoken the truth. I was in for an interesting time.

No, it didn't end well.

But I'll save that for next time.

I mean, I have to give Beans something to complain about, right?


  1. Computer science and history departments, that would have exposed you to two different groups of people at university......sheeesh. History and geography were double majors for me along with drivers ed (wanted to teach at secondary level) so I decided to pick up a coaching minor. That was an eye opener being among the JOCKS since I had never been involved with athletics at all during high school. Patiently awaiting completion of this tale of your Long March......;)

    1. I felt much more at home in the history department.

      One of my professors had been an MP captain (I think) at Nuremberg. He saw Goering face to face, he tried to impress upon us that evil truly does exist in this world. He looked into its eyes at Nuremberg.

  2. My recruiter was a pretty straight shooter. I did very well on my "entrance exam" for OTS. He said I scored higher than some of my brainy engineering student buddies. He was very clear on what the first 10 years of life would be like in Uncle Sugar's Air Follies. At least one year in Korea, which could equal 5 years for my family at one base (stability?) back home. My wife and I really talked about that hard. After four years of multiple part time jobs at once, and hitting the books at a private college that is EXTREMELY tough for all the right reasons, I decided to pass on the chance, fully knowing my dream would die with the decision. We weren't in the best shape marriage-wise, and when I promised God in front of all those witnesses, I meant it (first priority). So my AF wild blue yonder dreams had to go on the shelf.

    I heard more than a few say the Academy guys could really screw up and not get sacked, but OTS officers were always one "oops" away from getting let go.

    Bittersweet memories, Sarge.

    1. I can imagine! You made the right call STxAR, family always has to come first.

    2. 36 years next month. And she is prettier now than she ever was. We are both obstinate with a flinty streak. We've worn each other pretty smooth over the marriage....

      Thanks for words of encouragement Sarge!! I always wonder "what if" on my unmet goals. I appreciate you... Much-ly.

  3. Lackland, my old hometown. My Dad was a drill sergeant and Mom worked in the legal office ~ I was a scruffy 9 year old who didn't have a clue what life would be like. Good times.....

  4. So if it has taken this long to come to a simple point in a story, how did you ever get around to asking your wife to marry you. Unless she just got tired of the dithering around and cut you off at the long, extended, overblown pass and finally asked you herself. Ha!

    Other than that, good story and all, can wait for the ending (yawn) and will anticipate some high-quality keyboarding to finish off what looks like will be at least 5, maybe 6 more posts. :)

    Calculus and it's buddy Physics were the two classes that told me I was wasted as an Engineering Major. I muddled through most of Calc, and Intermediate Calc, but I tripped on the front step of Differential Equations and broke my brain on the door. And Physics was just, hey here's the first test and it's in an ancient evil language that only freaks and HP Lovecraft could decipher. Seriously, the words were English but made no sense at all to me. Chemistry, and Organic Chemistry (the classroom portions) were great (the labs though, well, there's a difference between theoretical and practical, nuff said.)

    It took me several more years of trying to climb out of the hole my initial GPA made to teach me that College (at the time, maybe forever) was not in my future. I love learning, just it sometimes takes me years for the concept to percolate down to someplace useful.

    Oh, well, deep subject and all that. Looking forward to the next, and the next, and the next, and the.... installments of your quest for officerhoodship.

    1. One more maybe two posts should see the end of this tale. It ain't easy to write about, get that close to the brass ring and not miss it, mind you, but decline to reach for it.

    2. Physics is the language of the universe. I really thought about majoring in it... We had 3 semesters of "The Calculus", and brother, that last one was a brain spank. I figured if I kept going, I'd be educated beyond my intelligence and be dangerous (Probably would've wound up a politician!!).

    3. Two semesters of calculus was enough for me, differential equations made me swear off higher mathematics for good.

      Didn't help that my last math prof was a wack job, totally out there.

    4. What was bad was I went back to the Calc track in order to see if it made sense. Nope, I definitely broke my maf brain on DiffyQ.

      Having that ring dangled in front of you by cruel and merciless demons is a hard thing. And I know it's difficult to tell. But sometimes exorcizing the demons will help you move to a better place.

      Heck, you survived, your wife and family survived, and you (probably) are better for it. It was all a test, and being true to yourself is a test that many fail. You succeeded.

      At least the Air Force paid for your future retirement plans. :)

    5. Beans.
      Even today when I hear the words, "the first derivative...." my mind goes blank.
      I knew I wasn't going to be an engineer.
      I tried some other courses, but still dropped out of college a bit later.

    6. I seriously thought about majoring in physics, then decided molecular biology would be a better bet. That lasted about as long as any of Slick Willie's swearing off of other women. Computer science it would be, since that seemed easiest. 30+ years later and I'm still working on that damned Associates Degree (not least because I'd become so gun-shy that I'd had to start over). I'm not sure I will ever make it, even though I've been gainfully employed in the field and am a "Sr. Software Engineer". I'm a technician and enlisted, at heart, as was my father. You gotta know your limits. Outside action, my attention span is measured in NY seconds, unless I'm studying history. If only there was a career in that: not writing or teaching, just studying and trying to understand... Yes, I know how useless that is in The Real World.

    7. Beans - You're reading too much into what I haven't written yet. No demons were involved, not really.

    8. Larry - We are very much kindred spirits.

    9. John - That's odd, but your comment has this blurred text in the middle, "the first something or other..."

      Might be a mental block on my part. (If I need mathematics done, I hire a mathematician. Fortunately we have a couple on staff where I work. Couple, Hell, there are droves of 'em, not many of 'em have the sense God gave a goose.

  5. Great story! My experience was similar, Joined straight out of High School because I couldn't afford school. Lots of promises of GI bill which dried up shortly after I joined. I stayed in and made it my career. Luckily was stationed at a BRAC effected base and was able to retire early (16 years) right after first Gulf War as a MSgt. I went back to school at age 34 with my wife and a 4 year old son. I somehow managed to graduate with a degree in Computer Engineering. Calc was my nemesis but I made it through some how. I remember the first two semesters and wondering how I had gotten myself into this situation, sure I was going to flunk out. I enjoyed my service immensely, glad I got out when I did. Just about to retire from my second career after 21 years.

    Looking forward to the rest of your story

    1. Strange times right after the Gulf War, seems that we were trying to offload people left and right, only to have that "peace dividend" bite us in the ass down the road.

      Sounds like you did well. I'm on the 19th year of career #2. 20 will probably be the limit. But who knows, the work is still interesting.

  6. Twice I was approached, while in the Navy, about going to college on the Navy's nickel.
    The first time, while I was in basic training, I was pulled aside and told, as Gold Star Orphan, I could attend Annapolis after attending the Naval Preparatory School.
    Later, at Fleet Training Group Pearl Harbor, I was recommended for the NESEP (Naval Enlisted Scientific Program).
    Neither of those offers appealed at the time.
    Hindsight tells me it would've been interesting times.

    1. Hindsight is rosy looking but...

      One never knows, did we take the path we were fated to? Or did we somehow misstep? I like to think that everything happens for a reason.

      But sometimes you have to wonder, would I be somewhere else had I done it differently? Would I be someone else?

      If you're happy where you're at, count your blessings and figure that you are where you're supposed to be.

      At least that's how I roll.

    2. Well, I'm glad Dad didn't take that route (as was offered twice in the Navy). Otherwise, I wouldn't be here. There've been times I actually wished that was the case, but I never acted upon them. There hasn't been a day gone by in the last 23 years that I haven't been happy that I didn't, even if there were a (very) few days I wondered if it wouldn't have been better for everyone. I actually had an AFROTC scholarship and screwed that pooch like Marmaduke. Too young, too stupid, too unaware. Then again, had anti-depressants been as widely known in the late 70's, maybe I'd have made a better go of it, but I doubt it. I couldn't have gone worse by enlisting straight out of high school to become a CT or something equivalent (any kind of pilot being ruled out by my left eye being 20/200). Ehh, drinking would've become my bane, anyway, so it's all moot. I wouldn't change a thing to get to where I'm at, so all's good. Miracles abound, though I know not how.

    3. Re: Too young, too stupid, too unaware.

      Had I had a coat of arms back then, that would have been my motto in the late '60s, early '70s.

  7. Did you attend while it was Colorado A&I? They took a look at me senior high school year for a football scholarship. Went with Denver University who suddenly dropped all athletic scholarships except hockey.

  8. I thought VF-1 was the Wolfpack? Since VF-1 was established in OCT 1972, I suspect the 8th TFW has right to the name by date. Ahwell, VF-1 was disestablished in 1993, so it doesn't really matter.

    1. Check the spelling. They're different.

    2. And VF-1 has come and gone multiple times. The original was established in 1922.

  9. I wasn't cut out for college, either, and dropped out after my junior year.

    Did really well in math and science, especially Physics since it "explains everything".

    BUT.....two years of my local Junior College, basically an extension of high-school, ill prepared me for what I faced when I went to University. I could have taken different classes, but never availed myself of the guidance counselors who knew what I'd need for whatever college I chose to attend.

    Oh, well, H2O under the structure. Got two associate degrees and have had the job position of "Engineer" numerous times and had a fabulous career.

    And I would have made a far better enlisted guy than officer.


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