Last Sunday's newspaper included a special section on the Army-Navy football game coming up, and it recounted some of the stories told by stars of yesteryear. One in particular sparked a memory of my own experience in the USAF.
In the story, a US Naval Academy football player was visiting a friend at his uncle's home in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving. While in the Academy, dress uniforms must be worn any time a Midshipman is off base, so of course that was worn to dinner. Well, the Midshipman needed to get back to the bus station to return in time for the football game. In his haste, he left behind his black gloves. To be without them is considered to be "out of uniform," even if all the other components were in place. As you might imagine, there would be a severe price to pay if his commanding officer discovered the omission. Realizing the potential for a dire outcome of his honored dinner guest, the uncle hurried to the bus station to return the gloves. When he arrived, he found the Midshipman standing in formation, apparently in full uniform. Upon approaching the gentleman when formation broke so the football players could board the bus, he observed that the clever Midshipman had avoided detection by having removed his black socks from his feet and putting them on his hands. Of course, getting caught at the deception might have caused a worse punishment than reporting without gloves, but the guy deserves credit for his skill at improvising and avoiding detection.
My experience is not quite as eloquent, but was a matter of life and death to me at the time. While in USAF Basic Training, at Lackland AFB, TX, utility uniforms (fatigues) are issued on Day 1, and if you last through the first five weeks, you get fitted for wearing the dress uniform ("blues" - the bus driver uniform with the multi-faceted stiff top). About that time, you also start being granted Base Liberty, where you could roam just about anywhere on base while having time off from training. Somehow, I ended up at the roller skating rink. I have never been a star skater, but it provided a relief from the trauma of Basic Training. After rolling along on the wooden floor for an hour or so, my confidence level built to where I began skating backwards, doing a little high speed racing with buddies, and generally being reckless. Without warning, I got nudged by someone from the back, and I ended up falling. To my horror, I saw that a hole had burned into the knee area. Immediately, I was forced to decide whether it would be more honorable to just kill myself out behind the rink, or let the TI (Training Instructor) kill me in front of the rest of the squadron as he made an example of me.
I decided to postpone death a while and attempt to make my way back to the barracks to change into other uniform pants. All the time, I wondered how my obituary might read in the hometown newspaper. Even with having an unmarred pair of pants on, surely my disgraced pair would be discovered during locker inspection. Monday morning would be the death knell. If you have never had the pleasure of being in Basic Training, then you cannot fully appreciate the responsibility of keeping everything in a state of utter perfection. It is no exaggeration to tell you that we actually starched and ironed underwear and measured its width and length with a ruler prior to placing it in the drawer. Uniforms were hung in the wall locker, and the distance between the hangers was set with the same ruler (we were required to buy one at the BX). TI's lives revolved around discovering irregularly spaces clothes hangers or t-shirts that were not properly "grounded" to the right front corner of the lower drawer. My fate was sealed.
That fact that I am writing this recollection is evidence that I managed to successfully hide my military faux pas. Somehow - and I'll never understand how - I managed to hide the holey pants from everybody. I believe the keyword here is "everybody," because I never even let the guys I was at the roller skating rink with know about it. The old Navy wartime adage , "Loose lips sink ships," was adopted. We were required to travel in groups of no less that two whenever on base liberty, so it was fortunate that none of them knew about the hole (or at least never mentioned it). It was with great relief that I pushed those pants into the clothes bag in preparation for departing the base. Immediately upon arriving at my electronics training school at Keesler AFB, MS, I went and purchased another pair of pants. Crisis avoided.
Have you got a similar story?
- Kirt Blattenberger
RF Cafe Progenitor & Webmaster