(get yourself something to drink, there ain’t no short version of this story 🙂
Just as I was laying my head on the pillow and falling asleep last night, I heard a feint voice whisper, “Today was July 10th.” In my life, there’s only been one July 10th and it occurred back in 1971.
July 10, 1971 was the day that our high school friend, Rich, dropped off Tommy and me at the AFEEs (Armed Forces Examination and Entrance Station) to be sworn in to the US Air Force. Yup, we were gonna be zoomies and, in the process, avoid being drafted and sent to ‘Nam. Not quite the same as going to Stanford, Yale or Harvard, but hey – better than hanging out at McCain’s Chevron in Concord pumping gas for the rest of our lives… and although it wasn’t Stanford, Yale or Harvard, they did promise me I was going to be in the AF’s equivalent of Broadcasting. (It’s gonna be great!)
Ah, they’re gonna give me 3 square meals a day, a place to sleep, nice uniforms and they’re gonna pay me to talk to strangers! Man, is America a great country or what?!
So at about 7AM the three of us pile into Rich’s bird-doody green Maverick and off we go to Oakland. In no time at all, we’re in front of the place and Rich is wishing us good luck and shaking our hands… kinda sweating like a pig at a bbq – come to think of it – because he had a low draft number and was afraid of being sucked into the leading edge of the military-industrial complex, I’m sure.
Tommy and I practically vaulted up the stairs for our 0830 (yup, we’re GI’s now, so it’s important to speak the lingo 🙂 swearing in. Pretty small room, a boatload of flags and some not-to-bright young guys standing around with their hands in their pockets wondering exactly what they’d gotten themselves into. They soon found out.
Coupla old guys (in their 30’s at least) in uniforms came in the room, told everyone to “form up, quit talking and face the front of the room so we can administer the oath.”. (Dang, this sounded an awful lot like PE class lineup and I wasn’t very good at that) If I recall correctly, the oath took about 15 seconds and by the time the last words were out of the Lt’s mouth, any hint of warm-and-fuzzy, we’re-all-in-this-together was nowhere to be found in any of the old guys standing in front of us.
In the next hour, we were shuttled off to Oakland Airport and loaded on the plane, heading off to beautiful Lackland AFB, located in picturesque San Antonio Texas. Wow, sounds far away. I would find out just how far away it was when I got there… in fact, much farther away than I could have imagined in more than distance: climate – ~100 degrees F, 90%+ humidity and environment – mosquitos roughly the size of Rufus Hummingbirds, a lot of nicely uniformed GI’s who seemed to be really angry about being there, too – they yelled everything they said 100% of the time!
We landed in San Antonio at about 11:30 that night and after being bused through Lackland’s main gates, we were unloaded from the bus and directed to head in to the processing hall. Once inside, they yelled at us for what seemed like hours – though it was probably only one – in a dialect I’d only heard on Gomer Pyle, USMC.
I think the dialect was called Drill Sergeant.
It was during this time they informed us we’d be divided in to units called Flights (hey, that’s got a nice AF ring to it, I like it :), so “Listen up for your name and head over to your flight’s area when you hear it called – your Training Instructor will meet you and take you to your new dorm.“
Then they began calling our names outloud.
Anderson. (here!) What, boy – I can’t hear you!!! “HERE, SIR?!”
Braxton. “HERE SIR”
Carroll. (cricket sounds)
CARROLL – WHICH ONE OF YOU MORONS DOESN’T KNOW HIS NAME?
(um, that would be me., but I can explain!)
See, through a series of unfortunate family circumstances, I had been living under an assumed name for the past 6 years. Nothing illegal, just family squabbles and – in today’s world – what would be considered child kidnapping… in plain view. So for the previous six years, I’d had another full and complete name. First, middle and last, all bright and shiny like a new car. But entering the AF, the non-legal name had to go and I was back to being me as the government knew me – by my legal name.
The old guy standing up front and sputtering my previous / new last name finally yelled out a social security number.
uh oh. that’s my SSAN. Gotta remember my last name is now Carroll. (Great. Now I’ve gotta learn how to march, salute, identify rank by insignia AND remember my last name is Carroll. Might as well shoot me now, I’m roadkill.)
I raised my hand, got my first AF Ass-Chewing (nothing compared to the Marines, so they say) and headed off to my flight and my first group-hug with Staff Sergeant Melvin T. Carr. (Not) Turns out Tommy was going to be in the same flight – hey, this buddy-thing’s all right, isn’t it? They told us to fall out (we’d fallen out but were still standing – what’s up with that, anyway?) and were moving in something of a cluster-fu*k-group fashion to our dorm. Ah, bed. We ladies were reminded how important it was to start our career with a good night’s sleep, so Carr left and returned in about 2 hrs to kick the garbage cans, flicker the lights and wake us up for our first full day as Zoomies.
Ah, it’s gonna be great… Off we go, into the wild blue yonder…
After telling us what not to do for the next 6 weeks while we’re in his delicate care, SSGT Carr tells us to fall out, we’re heading to chow. I’d never seen so much food! Man, it’s gonna be great! (Not.) Next, we’re going to get our hair cuts. Buzz. As-in, how hard can they bang those clippers down on our skulls to make sure they get every tiny l-i-t-t-l-e hair. (they got ’em all.) And then after shearing, we all – you guessed it – fell out – formed up outside and tried to recognize one another… if only a little. Tommy was the funniest looking doofus I’d ever seen… until I saw my reflection in the mirror. It’ll grow out.
Ok, we’ve been fed, sheared and now… what? Ah, clothing. (hey, careful how you measure the inseam fella!) With our clothes stuffed in our handy-dandy duffle bags, we marched, er, shuffled, back to our dorm to begin stenciling our identification on them. Back then we used the first letter of our last name + the last 4 of our SSAN. Easy Peasy.
Being the warm-and-fuzzy, c’mere-and-let-me-help-you kinda TI, SSGT Carr showed us how to make the rubber stamp with our ID’s, then how to apply the ink to the stamp and then – in perfect alignment with the universe – press the stamp on the inside of our T-shirts / pants / underwear, etc right-side up. Outtamyway, I got this knocked.
SSGT Carr said, “do your first one, then show it to me and if it’s right, you can finish the rest of your things.” Puhleeze – how hard can this be, I’m a high school graduate! “All right, Ladies, get to it – you’ve got 30 minutes to get ’em done. Anybody not done by then spit-shines the latrine garbage cans tonight.”
Lots of activity, hustling and bustling… lotta lips moving while people were building their stamps, inking, then applying and showing our new best friend, SSGT Melvin T. Carr.
Tommy had been an athlete in school, a great runner and very competitive. I’d been president of my senior class and had a little bit of competitive nature in me, too. So we were competing against one another to get our things stamped and tucked away. Tommy got his first shirt done before me and headed off for Carr’s approval.
Next thing I heard was, “What’s your name, Airman?”
Tommy D. XXX, sir.
“Well, Tommy D XXX, take a look at your shirt – you’ve marked your name in it upside down. I want you to take this shirt, hold it stretched out in front of you by each of the arms and yell at the top of your voice, “I AM A DUMB ASS, I MARKED MY SHIRT UPSIDE DOWN” while you run 10 laps around the dorm. GOT THAT, AIRMAN?”
As you might imagine, with his ears beet-red, Tommy headed past me and out the door to do his laps, all the while yelling in his big BOOMING voice, “I AM A DUMB ASS, I MARKED MY SHIRT UPSIDE DOWN.”
Needless to say, I was snickering and calling him a dumb ass as he walked by.
I finished my first shirt and headed off to Carr, all bright’n’shiny… until I heard him say,
“What’s your name, Airman?”
“Well, Carroll, take a look at your shirt – you’ve marked your name in it upside down. I want you to take this shirt, hold it stretched out in front of you by each of the arms and yell at the top of your voice, “I AM A DUMB ASS, I MARKED MY SHIRT UPSIDE DOWN” while you run 10 laps around the dorm. GOT THAT, AIRMAN?“
And with that, I headed out the door and joined Tommy and we ran laps around the dorm yelling (at the top of our lungs – competing with each other), “I AM A DUMB ASS, I MARKED MY SHIRT UPSIDE DOWN.“
Tommy and I managed to graduate from Basic on time and head off in our own directions. Turns out the AF needed Security Policeman more than they needed Broadcasters, so Tommy and I were both made Security Policemen. Tommy served in the US, then Germany, then back home to Sacramento where he joined- and (I believe) retired from – the Prison System. I served in the States, then Southeast Asia, then back to the States where I exited the AF in August of ’75.
Tommy and I last saw one another 3 years ago at the funeral of a high school friend we were close to all those years ago. We both still remembered the Dumb Ass incident 😉