I know some of my friends have served in the military, so much of what I am going to say will sound familiar. But this is my story, my recollections of the 13 years I spent serving in the United States Air Force.
I have never talked much about myself, or my history, with most of my posts being related to politically based issues. But since this is my blog, I guess I can post pretty much anything I want. And awhile back a memory from when I was in the Air Force popped back into my head from the cobwebs in the back of my mind. Suddenly a stream of old memories came forth and I decided that I should write about my time in the service.
I’m not a perfect man and some of the things I am gonna say you may find surprising, or shocking even, but they will be the truth. But all these things, these events, molded me into the person I am today. They taught me lessons, although some of those lessons took quite awhile to sink in. So let’s get to it, shall we?
I grew up from the 5th grade upwards in the small town of Oroville CA. After high school I thought I wanted to go to college, but I had no idea of what I wanted to do with life. So I mainly studied partying. I found guys who’d rather skip class and smoke weed than do anything. After two semesters of that I got bored and was forced to find a job. It’s not that I had never worked before, it’s just that I had never worked full time.
So I ended up getting on under a program where local government agencies hire young people and the state government funds their training. After a year if they like the way the person works they can put them on their payroll. I worked for the City of Oroville’s Public Works department. My boss was a guy named Doug French, whose daughter Susie I had gone to high school with. I did pretty good there and they were gonna pick me up permanently, but their budget got cut and I got set loose.
So there I was, no job, no direction, and no ambition. I finally decided to enlist in the Air Force. Maybe that would give me some direction. So I went in and saw the recruiter and he fed me his spiel and made it sound like such a grand adventure. So I signed the papers and went down to get my physical. I passed that and was given a date to report to the Oakland, CA, recruiting station to report for basic training.
They only way to get to Oakland from Oroville was by Greyhound Bus. So I took a bus down there and had to walk two or three blocks to the recruiting station. And guess what, on the way I got robbed. I was 5′ 7″ and 122 lbs soaking wet. I was unhurt, but these three hooligans, the biggest one could have been an NFL linebacker, took ALL my money.
When I got to the recruiting station I checked in and they had me wait, (my first of many experiences of hurry up and wait). After a few hours they rounded all the new recruits into a room, had us raise our right hands, and then repeat the oath of enlistment. We all did, and then were loaded onto a bus and taken to the airport for the flight to Lackland AFB Texas for basic training.
Suddenly I was no longer a civilian, I was an airman in the United States Air Force.
It’s funny, that flight to Lackland was my first time on an airplane but I don’t remember a thing about that flight. All I recall is when the plane finally came to rest and we unloaded onto the tarmac and this drill instructor was screaming GET IN LINE as loud as he could at everyone. We ran around like chickens with our heads cut off until we formed a rough group.
He then told us to put down our suitcases. We did. Then he told up to pick them up. We did. Then, put them down again…pick them up again. After a couple minutes of this he said, “You maggots aren’t going anywhere until you all pick them up and put them down at the same time!” After about 15 more minutes of picking them up and putting them down, he was apparently satisfied and had us march…(If you could consider it marching)! to our new home, Flight 050 of the 3711th Training Squadron. We were taken upstairs and told that since it was so late we could sleep in the next morning. The first of many lies they would tell me.
Bright and early the next morning this ungodly sound pierced my sleep…REVILE…If you have never heard it blaring from a loudspeaker when you were sound asleep it is the most awful sound you’ve ever heard. I’m serious, it could wake the dead!
Suddenly everyone, well almost everyone, was up out of bed rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. Suddenly this scrawny guy in an immaculate uniform comes out of his office banging on a garbage can with a broom handle screaming GET UP…GET UP. He stopped right next to me at some guy who was still sound asleep. I would later learn the guys name, Wayne Harris from Reno Nevada. But he stood there in front of this guys bunk and got an evil grin on his face. He put down his garbage can and flipped this guys bunk over…with him in it! He yelled GET UP YOU WORTHLESS PIECE OF SHIT! He then yelled, and I would soon find out D.I.’s, (Drill Instructors) love to yell, GET DRESSED AND BE DOWNSTAIRS IN 5 MINUTES, and marched quickly out of the barracks.
We made it downstairs and formed a sloppy formation and he told us to march behind him. We then got our first taste of Air Force food. Actually it wasn’t that bad, they had the usual breakfast stuff; bacon, eggs, toast, biscuits and gravy, and all kinds of juices. He gave us 30 minutes to eat and told us to fall out back outside. We were all pretty hungry by then so there wasn’t much talking. But we did notice the stares of everyone else in there, AND their shaved heads. It was at that moment that I realized I was in the Air Force, this was no longer something to take lightly.
After we finished chow we formed back up outside and our Drill Instructor introduced himself to us. His name was Sgt Wolford and he was to be God for the next 6 weeks of our lives. He then told us to ‘try’ and march behind him to our next destination…the barber shop.
We all then proceeded to have our hair cut off. When we got to one guy, who I would later learn was a skinny guy from Tennessee, Michael Moore, he had no hair, having cut it off a week or two before arriving. Sgt Wolford told the barber to get out the straight razor and shave him. So poor Mike Moore would end up being about a week behind the rest of us as far as hair growth went. We also learned how sneaky and evil drill instructors could be.
Our next stop was uniform issue where we were given our uniforms, field jackets, boots, socks, underwear and duffel bag. We were told to load everything into the duffel bags and follow Sgt Wolford…next stop…BX, (Base Exchange). Upon arriving we were instructed to buy a shaving kit, soap, shampoo, and shoe polish…BLACK.
After that things begin to mix together. I remember sitting in classrooms learning about the Uniform Code of Military Justice, about ranks and insignias, I remember learning drill; how to march, and formations, but none of it comes to me in any chronological order.
I do remember a few specific events, and upon those I will now discuss. I remember our first dorm inspection. I screwed something up in one of my drawers and Sgt Wolford tossed that drawer onto my bunk. He then went to toss my other drawer and saw a Bible and Book of Mormon in there. Suddenly he turned and yelled that I was as sharp as the leading edge of a tomato, then walked away. I later learned he was Mormon as well and maybe he cut me some slack because of that.
Then there was the day this real soft spoken, almost feminine guy just broke down into tears when the D.I. was screaming at him. I got used to the screaming pretty early on. I learned a trick; to stare into the pupils of his eyes and I wouldn’t see the expressions on his face. Just Yes Sir, No Sir, and that would be the end of it. But this guy couldn’t take it anymore, he broke down and started bawling like a baby. That really set the D.I. off. I think he called that guy every name in the book, and a few I hadn’t heard, all to no avail. Finally he walked into his office and closed the door. He came out a few minutes later and stood by the dorm door. A couple minutes later two medics came in and walked the guy out. That was the last we saw of him.
I forgot to mention, our D.I. had an assistant and his name was Sgt Manning. He was a sadistic son of a bitch too. We failed an inspection once and he told us to fall out. We waited outside forever it seemed. When he finally came down and told us to report back into the dorm, it was a freakin’ disaster. He had taken apart every bunk. The frames were stacked in one corner, the mattresses in another, the sheets in one more, and the pillows in the last. Then the showers were a mess. He had used bars of soap and put soap stains all across the tile, and even ground it into the grout. Then he’d taken an entire box of Tide and dumped it into the heads, the sinks, and all over the floor then poured water over everything. Then he’d marched up and down the hallway leaving scuff marks.
He then said, “Lights out is in four hours, I suggest you get busy cleaning this up.” I swear, to this day I think that if I ever saw that son of a bitch again I’d shank him.
But there was some fun as well. There was the confidence course. Now that was fun! It sure beat the hell out of laying on your backs doing leg lifts and pushups in the cold. You just didn’t want to fall into the water obstacles when it was as cold as it was.
There was also the day we had to qualify on M-16. I had never fired an automatic rifle before, but I grew up around guns and was a decent shot. So that day was fun as well. I qualified expert as did most of the guys who grew up in the country or had grown up around guns. Funny how those city boys couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a rifle.
And then there was Moorehead, I don’t know his first name, just Moorehead. Moorehead was a setback, someone who had failed a block in basic and was set back a week. It is kind of like flunking a grade I guess. Anyway Moorehead came into our Flight about two weeks before we were to graduate. He was the object of our taunts from day one. Hey, can you give me some More Head??? You get the picture. Come to find out there was a reason he was set back, the boy couldn’t do shit right. He constantly caused us to be late for formations, and he constantly screwed up inspections. He was just a loser from birth I guess.
Anyway, about a week before graduation we had one final inspection to go, and if we passed we would get a pass to go out on base on our own to see a movie or something. That doesn’t sound like much, but after 5 weeks of being stuck under a D.I. constant glare it was something special. So we told Moorehead to make sure he got his shit together for this one.
Well, day of the inspection came and we were doing well. Then the D.I. got to Moorehead’s bunk and stopped. He said, “Moorehead, where is your laundry bag?” You see, dirty laundry was kept in a bag and hung on the edge of your bunk rail. Moorehead had hung his in his locker. We failed the inspection, and needless to say, we were pissed.
At night the dorm is left unattended with only a dorm guard to open and close the door. They could however listen in via a speaker/microphone hung on the wall. So that night one of us crept up to the dorm guard and told him that whatever happened next he should keep his mouth shut unless he wanted an ass whipping. Luckily we got someone who was more than willing to comply.
So anyway, a bunch of us crept over to Moorehead’s bunk. A few of them held him down while they gagged him. They then unlaced his boots and tied his wrists to his bunk frame. The we gently flipped it over and left him dangling there…all damn night. The next morning Sgt. Wolford came in, saw what we’d done, but simply said, “Cut him loose and be downstairs for chow in 5.” Nothing was ever said of it again. I guess I’ll never know what happened to ole Moorehead, but I bet he’ll never forget that night.
I also remember the day the guys from CBPO, (Consolidated Base Personnel Office) came in and told us about picking and choosing assignments. They told us about the form nicknamed Dream Sheet, where you put down your preferences for assignment. They called it a Dream Sheet because they said you never got what you wanted. That being the case I wanted to go see the country, hell, the world. So I put down all California bases. Wouldn’t you know it that when assignments came out later I’d get assigned to Castle AFB CA, located near Merced CA. I learned to put down what I wanted and pray for the best.
Anyway, that’s about all I recall about Basic Training. Towards the end of our last week Sgt Wolford softened up some and we’d sit around the day room at night and he’d actually tell stories about his time in the Air Force before becoming a D.I. It was during one of those times that he called our names one by one and told us where we’d be heading off to for our technical training. I was to go to Sheppard AFB Texas to become a Power Production Specialist. I had no idea what that meant, but I just knew that phase I of my time in the Air Force was coming to an end.