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Basic Blues Part Fore!

           By the fifth week we finally got around to doing some more fun stuff. Not that standing about for hours waiting to receive dozens of shots all at once wasn’t a hoot, but a change up here and there was a decent thing. The first knock in the old routine was the introduction of additional duties. The worst of this of course was KP for kitchen something. While it is true that that bit of fun was not quite so bad as pulling out the dump bucket from the bottom of shitters (a duty main characters in military movies inevitably get stuck with), but not a whole load of hilarity either. The lucky ones got sent into the kitchen to not peel potatoes (they used instant) and other tasty things, and of course I got stuck in the dish room.

            Despite my extensive dishwashing experience from my teenage stint at Denny’s, plus my advanced dishwashing course in the hallowed back room of Norton cafeteria at UB, my technique was not up to muster and I was forced to endure several bouts of screaming from a fellow who had the prestigious duty of doing it himself when basic training slave labor was unavailable. On the upside, we got a full half hour to eat and were allowed coffee and caffeinated pop. On the downside, they woke us at 0230 to begin a day that would end at 2300. I used military time to accentuate the duration for the mathematically challenged oafs who no doubt read this sanctimonious crap. The other downside was the discovery that ingestion of massive amounts of caffeine after weeks of deprivation irritates the colon to an alarming degree, forcing me to endure a long bout of toilet riding while the douche bag in charge of the dish room screamed at me outside the door. I made sure to pull a good dose of odor out with me upon my exit for his edification.

            A far better extra duty was landscaping and lawn mowing; a sparse activity on account of the time of year. Again, my college landscaping experience was of no use and despite having survived it with nary a missing limb, they insisted in dressing me and the others in a veritable Robocop get up. Metal shin guards, foot guards, gauntlets, goggles and I believe even helmets; all sound protection against the deadly nylon cord of the weed whacker and flying grass gently wafting from the mowers. Given the insane level of safety precautions I wondered if in wartime we would be encased in enormous lead lined blocks of concrete and buried deep beneath the ocean floor; kept as pristine as the unopened action figures lining Mooney’s shelves.

            The day finally came when we were all put on a bus and driven out to the rifle range for M16 training. Hopkus declined to come with us on this venture as it had been decided, probably the hard way that it might not be terribly advisable to arm those you have browbeaten into submission, and then lollygag about as a convenient target. The Marines and Army somehow manage to do it, reinforcing the impression of their expendability. The instructors to whose care we were given were also amazingly nice in comparison to everyone else we had encountered including the mammoth breasted chow hall matrons. Once the weapons were distributed after a lengthy training seminar, it became incumbent on each to render their best ‘Full Metal Jacket’ “Hiya, Joker” impression of Private Pyle. Mine was sensational.

            I fully expected to receive my marksman ribbon for my shooting ability as I had been bragging to no end about my keen eyesight and steady hand. I sighted my rifle well and felt my first few shots went true. A few moments into it however, it was pointed out to me with a great deal of politeness that I was actually aiming at my neighbors target and not my own. My request for a do- over was pleasantly declined. 35 of 40 were needed to receive the marksman distinction and I fell short by 3, although ironically my four eyed neighbor somehow managed to squeak into the distinction. Passing, by the way, is 35 of 40 in the roughneck services, while in the AF it’s a measly 15. It was well thought that if times were such that the airmen were being armed, one bullet and a target range of 3 inches were all that was really needed.

            It was also around this time that the other airmen excitedly examined themselves in the mirror, jubilant at the sight of their hair growing back. Mine, mysteriously, was not except on the sides and back. Now prior to the ritualistic shaving a few weeks prior I sported a poorly maintained mop atop my skull and could not understand the poor performance of my follicles. It was seriously dismaying and the rest of the flight was all too happy to invent all manner of lame jokes that would be bounced about, following me from place to place until my discharge 4 years later.

            At the start of the sixth week, we were finally considered ready to face the greatest physical challenge the Air Force had to offer its new recruits; the fabled Confidence Course. The course was meant to inspire the ready and willing with the most enormous series of strength, stamina and agility based obstacles anyone could think of, stopping just short of anything that might give someone a boo-boo. We woke up excited that day and set forth to march to the proving grounds right after morning chow. The weather that day was somewhat less exciting giving us overcast skies and the coldest day San Antonio had experienced all winter; hovering just above freezing. Rounding the bend into the grounds we were all the more jubilant in seeing the first challenge involved navigating a precarious rope set up over a large body of water. Several other flights were also present; include a few female ones to make things more interesting.

            Unlike the obstacle courses of the more rugged armed services, we weren’t being timed or really even tested, although to maintain the illusion of it, TI’s were strategically placed about the course to provide motivation though destructive criticism. While I don’t recall all of the challenges, a few come to mind as being especially interesting or difficult. Most involved some sort of climbing, swinging on ropes, or feats of strength and endurance. It was required that each was completed or the failing airman was faced with being set back a week (known as ‘recycling’) and having to march back out and do it again. I came dangerously close a few times.

            One of the first challenges was to grab a rope and swing across a patch of sand and land on a large log. Having not swung on a rope for many years, my judgment of distance was off and I smacked my chest right into the landing log and fell off; a performance fitting Wile E Coyote. With bruised ribs, I was forced to try again until I finally managed to do it. I think, however, that the practice was worth it as I was to encounter a similar event later on. The next one to give me trouble was the old climb over the wall shtick. Running up to the challenge area I naturally picked the shorter of the two walls and went over it with only a little difficulty. “Well just look at little Sally Jane over here! He thinks he’s a girl!” I should have gleaned that the only reason for two different sized walls was to accommodate the women and of course was the only one to make this mistake. Red faced, I tackled the much taller men’s wall while the sadistic TI pranced around in apparent imitation of my femininity. To make matters worse, I couldn’t get over the right one and was starting to panic. Fortune smiled on me that day as he got distracted by weaker prey and I used the opportunity to simply walk around the wall and bolt the hell out of there in hopes he wouldn’t follow.

            On two occasions I was the object of frankly undeserved bitching out due to being stuck behind one of the females. The first instance was the long crawl; a 200 yard stretch of wet mud and sand with a 3’ x 3’ tunnel of barbed wire across it. The object was to crawl the 200 yards though the tunnel on your knees and elbows. I was good at this for about the first 20 yards until I practically rammed my head directly up the ass of the female airman in front of me. She was not finding the crawl so easy and was moving at a snails pace. Given the dimensions there was no way of getting by her even if she consented to the most intimate of contortions. Despite the enjoyable view, the half hour it took to reach the end was tortuous as the TI at this challenge decided to pepper us with insults and ominous threats the whole way. At one point she started crying and stopped all together, enraging the beastly man all the more to my frustration. By the end my fascination with her posterior undulations was considerably dulled by the overall unpleasantness.

            Shortly after I found myself in a similar situation though with a different female airman. The object this time was to navigate a set parallel beams ramping on ones back by hauling yourself over the first, under the second, over the third, etc.. Again, I was a short way into it when I caught up with the woman in front of me and was forced to hang under for some time. By the time she finally moved forward enough for me to take action, I found my arms had turned to rubber after hanging for so long. Worse, Hopkus was the TI at this particular site and took great exception to my performance. He delighted in shouting out to the world and the rest of the airmen present about my pitiful weakness on this challenge as well as recounting the rest of my personal failings from the first day onward. Pure spite played a large role in my successful completion.

            The worst of all were the water based challenges. I feel I am in the majority when I say that I hate to get my clothes wet when I’m in them and when I condition the statement with 30 degree weather and a 45 minute march to a fresh dry uniform agreement is universal. The course had 3 water events and if nothing else, I was strongly determined to navigate them without making a splash. The first was easy and consisted of side sliding along a three rope bridge over a shallow lake. As long as you held on to the guide ropes it was pretty easy and I only saw one idiot take a plunge. A tragedy as it was the first task; the remaining 31 to be completed wet and cold.

The second was a virtual repeat of the rope swing only this time it was over a pit of water. The ropes hung above the middle of the pool and the task was designed to take advantage of the person in front of you. One would swing across, presumably land dry and push the rope back to the next person. There was no waiting; you were up the second after the person in front of you landed. The fuck nut in front of me barely made it and swung the rope back in a most half assed fashion. With no choice but to go, I made a mighty leap at the rope slowly swaying toward me in a lackadaisical fashion. My hands found purchase and I propelled myself forward while sliding down the wet piece of hemp that my toes skimmed the surface of the icy pool. Hefting myself off at the other side I wind milled frantically for a few moments and caught my balance.

The final water challenge and challenge in general was the old horizontal ladder, again over a long deep pool. It was metal, slippery, a good 100 feet long, and naturally there was a female airman dangling helplessly about 30 feet in. Fuck this! I stood there waiting for her to get a move on or drop before even making movement to start. The TI started the usual litany of threats but there was no way in hell I was hurting my chances of success. Before he could fail me on the spot (as they had the power to do), she dropped, screaming at the instant chill. While never in my life, even as a child, had I managed to monkey my way across one of these, that day the force was strong within me. I powered across it grabbing every other bar and even passed over the poor sopping woman struggling to free herself from the muddy water.

I did it; I passed the greatest physical challenge the Air Force had to offer and did so dry. I felt my prowess to be magnificent and that night we boasted loudly of our Herculean accomplishments on the various tasks. Several months later when in tech school, also at Lackland, I along with a few others were volunteered to help supervise a group of 4H children on their monthly outing, this time to the fabled Confidence Course. Any residual ego boost from my own go around was dashed when watching 8 to 10 year olds scamper though the course, completing most challenges quicker than I did.

The feelings of elation from the course were dashed that very same day when we arrived back at the barracks and found that stand team had been by and left a representative to await us. Airman Brown was called forward and charged with leaving several dollars unsecured; cleverly hidden in the springs beneath his bed for quick retrieval in the event of a patio break. The violation was an instant 2 week recycle, meaning he would join another flight that was only in their 3rd week instead of 5th. In silence he packed up his belongings and was escorted out, not to be seen again. The collective mood was sullen for days after as this was our first fallen member since the typical first week infant mortality. The last had been Baker, who bruised his ankle running and decided to parlay that into an early out by repeatedly banging the injury into the shower wall until it bled. He was removed to medical where he finally declared he was gay to eliminate any chance of reinstatement upon healing.

My own danger of recycle loomed in the final physical test – run 2 miles in under 18 minutes, do 75 sit ups in under two minutes and 50 push ups in the same. The run and the sit ups I had nailed since the 3rd week review, at which time I did 18 push ups. I struggled to improve and during a test run a couple days prior to the final test found I could do about 35. Not at all promising. The loss of Brown, however, saved me as the bitterness of it solidified an agreement between us all that everyone shall pass. As the TI kept time, 4 airmen would spot another 4 taking the test. That day a miracle occurred as I did an astounding 68 push ups according to Kasparek; a good 30 in excess of my own internal count. Everyone exceeded expectations that day, much to Hopkus’s deep suspicions, but our indoctrination of integrity made our words above reproach.

            The sixth week finally came and went and the two most anticipated events finally came to pass. The first was liberty. While we enjoyed some degree of base liberty (being allowed to walk around without Hopkus here and there) since the start of the week, the day before graduation we were finally treated to a day on the town; sort of. The idea was that you would spend some quality time with your family who naturally make their way down to Texas for the big graduation. Those few, whose families didn’t come down, like mine, were allowed to board a bus and spend the day schlepping around old San Antonio. There were a few catches. First, full dress blues were the required uniform. Second, absolutely no smoking, drinking, going to bars, Hooters, or anywhere fun. We were informed that TI’s and other AF personnel would be patrolling the streets on the lookout for conspicuously dressed airmen in violation. Violation meant full recycle back to week 1.

            Despite the caution, I likely would have tried my luck with some illicit activity. Unfortunately, the two other airmen with non-traveling relatives who I traveled around with were about as white bread as one gets. Upon reaching downtown San An, the first thing these two wet rags wanted to do was go to church. I somehow managed to talk them out of it and instead spent the first of many Saturdays bouncing around the Riverwalk, checking out women not wearing fatigues for the first time in over a month, and eating at the fabulous TGI Friday’s. I think we also hung out at the mall as well to round out the typical weekend day of a 14 year old Mormon. A far cry indeed from the old Comstock era exploits, but such would return in good time, sooner rather than later.

            Graduation day was finally upon us and the sense of exhilaration was palpable! We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, finally immune from the indignity of the snake pit and draconian rules. Allowed to converse while eating for the first time we made ample fun of the younger airmen so fearfully chewing in silence and delighted each time one was captured by the dreaded pit. We groomed ourselves up in out full dress blues, taking out time to get things just right. Hopkus, no longer the foul tyrant of deepest abaddon, was jovial, waltzing about and joking with those whose neck he would have snapped for no more than a prolonged look just days before. Under blue skies and the warm Texas sun we marched to the parade grounds.

            Unlike academic graduations there was no outside speaker, individual recognition, or diploma of any kind. We simply marched past the base General who nodded his assent and received a canned speech from the same. In his defense, he spends every Sunday doing the same thing, thus reducing the specialness of the event to some degree. Be that as it may, it was still a far sight better than anything else we had done so far and came with the BMT medal which everyone in the military gets upon completion.

            That night we received back all the belongings we came with and packed up our gear. In the morning we would all go to our respective technical schools; mainly in north Texas, Biloxi, Denver, California, and of course right there at Lackland. I, of course, fell into the last group and would be simply bussed across base in the morning. It was a sucky deal but at least I thought I would once again be a free man; not knowing the 9 months of intimidation and poor treatment that awaited me.


2 Responses

  1. Did you ever run into any of the guys from basic ever again? When did you learn to kill a man with a spoon?

  2. Yeah, what was that threat you had dished ut to Matt? And what happened at Technical School? You bastard!

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