As if it weren't bad enough that the recruiter was *ahem* less than honest with me about what career field(s) I could get into in the Air Force, it was somehow arranged that I had to depart for Basic Training on 10 October. Actually, I travelled from Provo up to Salt Lake on the afternoon of the 9th so I could be at the processing station bright and early on the 10th. The really bad part about that was that this particular weekend marked the Centennial of the founding of Brigham Young University. The whole weekend was to be one big celebration. And I missed it. Never did really get over that one.
The morning's events are a blur, as I couldn't eat until they were done with me and I was tired anyway. The one thing I do remember was the doctor lining us up, telling us to drop our shorts, and then walking down the line behind us with a light, no doubt checking for hemorrhoids. When he got to the end, he said "OK, your class pictures will be ready in a week". That was the only laugh I had that day.
The flight was pretty uneventful. The only part I really remember was a stop-over in Albuquerque. The flight attendant allowed me to walk down the stairs to the tarmac and back up again so I could say I had "boots on the ground" in New Mexico. The view of the Sandias and Manzanos was breath-taking. Even better than Utah.
We got to San Antonio late in the evening and didn't get out to Lackland AFB until somewhere around 10:00pm. By then, I was exhausted. The arrival was one of those unforgettable events. The bus pulled up in front of the "Jolly Green Giant" -- a.k.a. the reception center, which was painted a hideous shade of green. We were all just sitting there, chatting. Then the door opened, and a large round hat with a mouth under it got on and bellowed "SHUT UP!!!". I thought to myself "And a very good evening to you, too, sir". Great way to start Basic Training.
One of the misunderstandings about AF Basic Training is that it's "six weeks" long. Fortunately, the recruiter had at least explained the truth to me. AF Basic Training consists of 30 "training days", excluding weekends and holidays. Great. So here we are at Lackland on Friday night before a 3-day weekend. I lose my whole weekend in Utah and it doesn't even count. Why couldn't I have started on Tuesday? Yeah, I was really happy.
Lovely, boring weekend. The only bright spot was going to Church. At least that got me back on familiar territory. The one memorable moment was that the open song was "We Are All Enlisted ('Til The Conflict Is O'er)". Someone certainly has a sense of humor.
Anyway, Monday passed in the same boring way. So boring that I can't even remember any of it. On Tuesday, though, things began in earnest. First came the haircut. Mind you, I have nothing against short hair. I've worn my hair short all my life. But taking away what little I had was rubbing salt in the wounds. It was worse for other guys, though. Some of these guys had pretty long hair. To this day, I don't understand why a guy headed for Basic Training wouldn't spend a couple of bucks to get a decent haircut so he doesn't show up looking like a hippie. I mean, why antagonize the guys who are already set to make your life miserable for the next six weeks? One tall black guy even had a huge Afro. The barber got particularly mean with him. Managed to take the whole thing off in one piece and set it down in his lap. Looked like a motorcycle helmet. The guy almost cried. Serves him right.
After the haircuts came the uniforms. Having spent 12 years in Catholic schools, I have mixed feelings about wearing a uniform. But, what the heck? The stupid thing was that they had a guy there who would look us over and tell us what size shirt to get. Then we were to put it on and button the collar and the right cuff. Why we couldn't just go and get whatever size we normally wear is beyond me, especially when I used to work in the Men's Department at Stewart's. Anyway, this little airman no-class tells me to get a size 15x33. I'm thinking to myself "What's this guy been smoking?". But I went and got one and buttoned the cuff. As he came down the line to check us out, he looked at me and said "I told you to button the collar". "I can't", I replied, "I'll choke." Then he asked me what size the shirt was, and I told him. "What size do you think you wear?", he asked (notice the snide wording). So I say "I wear a 16«x34". And he tells me to go get one, which -- wonder of wonders! -- actually fits. I don't think I made his Christmas card list.
Then came the shots. Oh, yeah, that's a load of fun. Been on the go all morning, it's getting close to lunch, we're exhausted, and they want to inject us with germs. Really smart. Fortunately, no one passed out. Why they couldn't give us the shots at the processing station before ever even departing for Basic, is beyond me.
The the only good thing happened. I wish I could remember this guy's name, although I'd probably recognize him if he passed me on the street, even after all these years. He was soliciting volunteers for the Drum & Bugle Corps, which provides music for all the Basic Training parades, including graduation. The hook is that it gets you out of all Base details, as it itself is considered a detail. That means no KP, no CQ, no nothing. The only possible downside is that they recruit for three days and the people recruited during the first two days lose one or two days of training, as the entire flight has to be on the same day of training. He was on Day 3 of recruitment. I couldn't sign up fast enough. That was probably the first smart thing I did.
Over the weekend, we had had plenty of time to compare notes, and found out that 48 or 49 of the 50-man flight had been recruited as SPs (Security Police). And almost all of us had heard something slightly less than the truth about the situation. Several people decided to raise a fuss, but nothing came of it for them. I bided my time and waited for a more opportune moment.
One one of the first few days -- before I reported to the D&B -- we were out on the Physical Training pad. The Training Instructors (TIs) never passed up a chance to harass us, so ours took the opportunity to tell us "You people do not think. I will do your thinking for you.". This didn't sit too well with me, and I vividly remember standing there thinking "No, I've been doing my own thinking for most of the last 23« years, and I think I'll keep on doing it. Just tell me what you want done, and I'll do my best to comply." Discretion being the better part of valor, though, I kept my mouth shut. It was nice to get away from him.
D&B was not as bad as a "regular" flight would have been. We were billeted in one of the old WWII barracks, which probably isn't still standing, although I do have a picture somewhere that I should scan in and post. The one major problem was that the nights were getting cold and they had not yet turned the heat on. The first couple of nights, I slept in my field jacket under both blankets. Not good. I started developing bronchitis. For this, they gave me a pharmacy full of drugs, including codeine, which kind of took the pain out of Basic. Unfortunately, they took me off of it cold turkey, and I went into an almost suicidal depression. I had never been homesick in my life. Until they took away the codeine. Fortunately, the doctor told me that the effect would only last a day or two, and that's all it lasted.
The nice part about being in those old WWII barracks is that you're totally in touch with your environment. Whatever it is outside, it's not much different inside. It was a two-story affair, and I was assigned upstairs. At least it was a degree or two warmer up there at night.
After a few days of training, the TIs figure out who they need to hassle and who they don't. Mostly, it's the older ones they don't have to hassle, as we already have some discipline. I say "we" because I was the second-oldest person in the flight. I even got on quite well with the TIs after a while. In fact, I'd love to meet both of them and see how their careers turned out.
On the day after the last day of Basic, we depart for our assignments or to tech school. Once again, we wound up over at the "Jolly Green Giant" to pick up our orders and board the bus. My original flight was there, but we couldn't communicate with each other. Still, it was nice to see them. One guy left his portfolio on the ground when he went in to pick up his orders. The TI picked it up, looked at it, and called out the guy's name. He came back with a very sheepish look on his face and retrieved it from the TI, who said "Say 'Thank You', dummy". My heart stopped beating while I waited for him to say "Thank you, dummy", but he didn't have the guts. I wonder if I would have?
The Security Police tech school is right there at Lackland, so I didn't really have to go anywhere. I don't even remember how I got over there. There's something about that kind of career field that makes people go insane. It's hard to describe, but they act like they think they're Really Something. One of the more hilarious things was that they march like the British. At that time, there were a lot of Middle Eastern troops at Lackland for training (we never did find out exactly what the deal was with that, though). Having been ruled by the British for so long, they also march like the British. But the moron who was giving us our orientation either didn't know that, or chose to overlook it. As he explained our "unique" way of marching (stomping on the left foot for the first two steps), he remarked that the "camel jocks" did the same thing, but that "we didn't get that from them, they got it from us". Yeah, right. The hardest training I did at Lackland was training myself to keep a straight face at such moments.
After a while, things came to a head. My sinus infection really got to me during the first week of SP training, since we were outside from around 0500 until early afternoon. I'd last a couple of days, then be so sick that they'd put me in the "Intermediate Care Facility" (ICF), which was for people too sick to be around other trainees, but not sick enough to be in the hospital. It was there that I read the books by James Herriott, a British veterinarian who got drafted during WWII.
When I got out and went back to my squadron, it was a few days before Christmas and they asked me if I wanted to go on leave since there was nothing going on over the holidays. I jumped at the chance to get away from Lackland, even if for only a few days. There was a plane leaving Kelly for Peterson (Colorado), and I could catch a flight from there to Salt Lake and then ride the bus down to Provo.
Anyway, after a very long flight and a bus ride that I don't even remember, I arrived at the bus station, which is located around Second or Third South and about Second or Third West in Provo. The apartment where I had been living is at Seventh North and Fourth East. At seven blocks to the mile, you can see I had a ways to walk. It was around 2:00 in the morning and nothing was moving, and I had no money for a cab. (Starting to sound familiar?)
At any rate, while I was pondering my situation, I remembered a similary situation that Dr Herriot recounted in his book. Although the Air Force hadn't taught me to march (the Boy Scouts had done that years before), they had given me a lot of practice. So, I set off at a good pace and in no time I was standing in front of my old apartment. As early as it was, I dared not wake anyone, so I crashed on a sofa in the day room until people started waking up.
While I was on leave, the recruiter contacted me (I don't know how) and took me up to Salt Lake to meet his boss, who was investigating my charge of recruiter malpractice. They got me to write up a statement, then turned everything inside out and used it against me. My first experience with a whitewash.
When I got back to Lackland, things finally came to a head. I had an interview with the Squadron Commander, who listened to my story and then placed me on Admin Hold, meaning I didn't have to participate in training until the matter was resolved. Finally, thanks to the Commandant of the SP school, I was removed from the career field and reassigned to the one I had wanted to enter -- Management Analysis (which no longer existst). I still had to stay at Lackland until my slot in the tech school at Sheppard came open, but it was all different.
For one thing, I was reassigned to a "holding" squadron referred to as "Casual". It got that name from the fact that we were used as casual labor around the base. We had a regular rotation of CQ (Charge of Quarters), which was nothing more than being a glorified babysitter. There were other details we were sent on, but I only remember one.
One morning, I was sent over to another building and told to report to a Chief Bean, who had some work for me to do, after which I was dismissed for the day and could go where I wanted and do what I wanted. I arrived at Chief Bean's office and all he really needed was the trash cans emptied and the floor swept and mopped, after which I would be free to go.
As I was working, he got a phone call. I could only hear his part of the conversation, but he told me about it when he hung up. It seems that Pres. and Mrs. Ford had traveled to some AF base, where they were met by General David C. Jones, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As the First Couple came down the stairs from the plane, Gen. Jones saluted the Commander in Chief and then turned to Mrs. Ford and greeted her, tipping his hat in the process. Someone with way too much time on his/her hands noticed that and decided to make a fuss. Since Chief Bean's office is the Office of Primary Responsibility (OPR) for the manual on customs and courtesies, he's the one who got the call.
He looked it up in the manual and sure enough, the manual says that a man in uniform does not tip his hat to a woman. Reaching into a drawer, the Chief pulled out a red pen, made a big X thru the paragraph and said "It won't be there in the next edition". Nice to watch history in the making.
One evening, I got the bright idea that I ought to get myself in better shape, since I had finally pretty much gotten over the sinus problems. I had Dorm Guard one night from 10 to midnight, and had hired out for another guy's shift from midnight to 2:00. Bored out of my gourd, I tried to keep myself awake. Finally, I figured that if I did 10 push-ups every half-hour, I could do about 70 before my shift ended. So I did. By the time my shift ended, my arms were so tired, I could barely get up into my top bunk. The next morning.... let's just say I explored some whole new frontiers in pain. Stupidity should be painful.
Once a week, we had a squadron "gripe session" with whoever was available. The commander or the executive officer was always on hand, as well as a couple of NCOs. This one particular evening, one of the airmen was griping about how the TIs were forever getting in our business and ragging on use for things that would be
infractions if done by Basic Trainees, but not the rest of us.
One of the things I've learned in life is that when a person begins by saying "Well, you know....", whatever comes next is going to be pretty much worthless. Sure enough, this tired-a** NCO starts off "Well, you know... Lackland is a different kind of base. We don't even have a runway. But we do have these TIs." From the back of the room, a voice said "We'd rather have a runway."
Shortly after that, I shipped out to Sheppard AFB, near Wichita Falls, for my Management Analysis tech school. And haven't been back to Lackland since. Although I wouldn't mind going back to have a look at the place.