Well, I had made it through basic training, or boot camp as my father used to call it. Now I was being sent to Sheppard AFB Texas to become a Power Production Specialist, whatever that was…I honestly had no idea as I had came in to the Air Force without any choice as to which career field I wanted, I simply let them choose for me.
I had no idea where Sheppard AFB was, other than that it was another base in Texas. I soon found out it is located outside of Wichita Falls TX, just south of the Oklahoma border. I don’t remember much about getting from Lackland to Sheppard, only that it was a long ride on what Air Force personnel called a Blue Goose…simply an old school bus painted blue.
I don’t remember checking in, I don’t remember getting assigned a dorm room, the ONLY thing I remember was that it was FREEZING COLD, and I had no jacket! I remember walking from my dorm to the Base Exchange trying to find a jacket shivering like a little bitch. That was my first, and most poignant memory from Sheppard AFB. It’s funny though, I clearly remember the T-shirt I was wearing at the time. It was an Aerosmith T-shirt from the album Night in the Ruts. On the front is had the Aerosmith logo and the album title, then on the back it transposed the N and the R to read Right in the Nuts.
The only thing I remember about my first few days/weeks, at Sheppard is that we lived in dorm rooms instead of an open bay with 50 guys sleeping in bunks. We still had inspections, but they weren’t nearly as strict as the ones from basic. I remember also that we were free to come and go as we pleased during our free time, as long as you made mandatory formations and kept your grades up in your training.
I honestly don’t remember the first marches from the barracks to our training center; which was probably a good half, to three quarters mile away. I don’t remember when I learned that a Power Production Specialist is one who operates and maintains generators; all the way from small mobile ones to large power plant generators. All of that draws a large blank from me as if it has been erased from my memory.
In fact, I have only two vivid memories from the time I spent at Sheppard AFB. The first occurred on April 10, 1979. I remember once in basic that they had a tornado warning and all of us had to stay inside. But nothing ever came of it. Well on this day in April something did. An F$ tornado came through the area, wreaking havoc upon Wichita Falls.
I remember that the day after the tornado passed they announced that, for the time being, all training was being suspended so that we could go into town and assist in the cleanup. I’d never been through a tornado before so the long bus ride into town was quite an eye opener. I saw shit that I couldn’t believe possible. I saw houses with their roofs missing, but the house would be perfectly intact, but their roof was sitting atop someone else’s house. I saw cars wrapped around telephone poles like they were made of aluminum foil. I saw vehicles sitting in trees, but my most vivid memory was of a liquor store. The building was gone…totally…but the shelves remained, and all the booze was still standing upright upon them. It was as if someone had lifted the building away with a crane then drove off. Other than that all I remember is the devastation; houses were flattened and there was rubble strewn everywhere. I’d never seen anything like that before, and I truly hope I never have to again.
The only other thing about my time at Sheppard that stands out happened during my last week there. I remember that I had spent quite a bit of my free time at the Airman’s Club, a club for the lower ranking airmen. There was this band that would play there a lot called the American Peddlers. (Funny how I remember that after all these years.) But they were pretty good and they played some mean Lynyrd Skynyrd.
During my last week there me and two other guys decided to go to the Airman’s Club. So me, Tony Rhonelli, and some guy named Poe went to the Airman’s club to watch the band. I later found out that Rhonelli, (and pardon me if I’m spelling it wrong), wanted to go meet this girl who had promised to meet him there. Well she didn’t show and Rhonelli decided to get drunk. Poe and I tried to talk him out of it as we had our final exam for class the very next day. He wouldn’t listen. But we stayed and tried to keep him under control as best we could.
We finally got him home sometime in the wee hours of the morning and put him to bed. Well we had a 5 a.m. formation to march to school. So Poe and I had to wake Rhonelli and get him ready. He was still drunk…he’d probably have blown a .25 on a breathalyzer had they tested him. Anyway, somehow he managed to make the march to class. But once he got inside he just turned to melted jello and fell asleep on his desk.
During our first break the instructor came up and asked what’s wrong with Rhonelli? We couldn’t lie because you could smell the booze coming off him. He told us to take him outside and get him to get his act together or he was going to call the MP’s, (military police). We took Rhonelli outside and pleaded with him to get his shit together or he was gonna end up in jail. I don’t know how he did it, but he came back a lot more composed and actually managed to get a 98% on his final test. That was amazing seeing as how he’d squeaked through all the others with mid to low 70’s.
Those are my only memories from Sheppard. I do know that I made honor grad with a 96% score or higher on all my tests. I remember some of the people from our class; Scachetti, who was a funny guy; Kruger, who was a real prick. But it was the tornado and that night at the Airman’s Club that really stand out.
I don’t even remember the day that they came in and gave us all our next assignment. I just knew that I was going to Castle AFB, CA…wherever that was.