My decision to join the Air Force was a stroke of luck, shaded with a bit of cowardice. I beat induction into the Army by one day. It cost me an extra two years of service, but it kept me alive. My military career had it’s painful moments, but certainly nothing to complain about.
I took basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. It gets pretty hot there normally, and I was there for all of July and the first two weeks of August. I was in one of the first flights of recruits to occupy brand new, air-conditioned barracks. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that many days it got over 100 degrees outside. On those “black flag” days – we got to stay inside to avoid catching heat stroke outside. Of course most of of caught colds from the constant swing in the temperature. We were scheduled for the obstacle course twice, but never made it because it rained the day before and didn’t want us out in the mud. Mention this to a Marine and he’ll puke on you.
For well over forty years, I have a pain in my right knee that “flares” up when the weather changes and at it’s worst, provides a dull ache that screams for tylenol relief. How did that happen? Tripping over a drainage ditch while stationed at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. They gave me a weeks supply of Darvon and a set of crutches. I limped for awhile, but when it stopped hurting and seemed normal again, I had no idea that I would pay so dearly for not watching where I was walking.
While stationed at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines, I once spent almost 5 hours on the golf course. It was a very windy day and due to the raging elements beating down on me, suffered sun poisoning on the back of my neck. I now have a ringlet of permanent freckles on the back of my neck to remind me. As a veteran of the Vietnam conflict, obviously, things could have been a lot worse.
My technical school training at Goodfellow was broken into two phases. We were all in the Air Force Security Service (Intelligence) and primed for overseas deployment. Phase one was a snap. An eleven week class that was fairly basic in nature. The hard part was waiting in casual status until phase two began. Phase two training would tell us what kind of “spy” we were to become and gave a pretty good indication where we would be stationed.
I didn’t know at that time, but the reason we all languished in mundane occupations while awaiting our future schools was due to the outcome of the security clearance being conducted on each of us by the F.B.I. back home. My temporary sentence lasted 13 weeks. I then still had another 12 weeks class to complete before I deployed, so I wound up staying at the smallest Air Force Base in the world for over nine months. I then had a 30 day leave and was deployed to Clark for a year and a half.
Fresh out of basic training, my arrival prompted some “casual” time before that first week of class began, and I pulled the first KP (kitchen patrol) duty of my young career. You had to report at 4:00am and we worked 12 hour shifts (longer if you were on cleanup duty). One morning for almost four hours, all I did was crack eggs. The afternoon, was on the serving line, and then for another four hours, all I did was peel potatoes. I was admonished several times for trying to retrieve shells that had fallen into the huge pot I was filling. The first thing I determined was to never order eggs for breakfast. The second was to figure out a way to get out of pulling KP two days on and two days off for any length of time.
I was the President of the Marching Band in High School. I was a pretty good baritone (horn) player and actually played a solo in the final concert of my academic career. I hadn’t picked up a horn since however, but that didn’t stop me from doing a little research to find the base had a drum and bugle corps.
While still in phase one training, I volunteered to became the assistant to the corps leader and spent Saturdays polishing helmets, and transposing music while everyone else in my training path enjoyed a full weekend. Immediately upon completion of phase one classes, everyone was assigned to the dreaded KP schedule – two (very long) days on, and two days off until phase two training began. Everyone but me of course. I reported each day to the corps building. After about a month passed, the leader got his orders and left and I was elevated to become the new corps leader. I now had full control of my work day. To say that most of my friends hated me was an understatement.
I was the last one up and out of the barracks each morning. My morning ritual included coffee and a doughnut, picking up my three day old copy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer at the post office and then off to the corps building. I brought my record player there and listened to my PX purchased albums while reading my paper and leisurely finishing my coffee. Then, before you knew it, it was time for lunch. After lunch, and a quick stroll back to the corps building (it was usually about 95 degrees at least by then) my afternoon of doing not a whole lot took place until about 2:45 or so when I knocked off and went home.
All I had to do was keep things “in ready” just in case a parade was scheduled. If so, I had to pick music, arrange for practices and be competent enough to just keep the job. That was my routine for the 13 weeks it took for my clearance to come in. Shortly after my phase two training began, I quit the drum and bugle corps. Why muddy up my Saturdays? It took many months after deployment to Clark for most guys to forget about all the KP they pulled and how little I had suffered compared to them. Some however, never forgave me and I’m confident if I ran into them today, they would still complain mightily about the injustice. But I had the courage of my convictions to go against the norm. I volunteered while in the military and actually came out ahead.