Funky Old Medina

           I cannot describe the elation I felt when boarding that bus off to technical school and away from the basic training barracks. While disappointed I was not being sent off to one of the other schools and as far away from Lackland as possible, at least I would once again enjoy the honor and privileges of being treated as an adult male. For all intents and purposes, the previous 7 weeks had been fairly analogous to prison, but with much meaner guards and a lesser likelihood of being sodomized. I tilted my head back and dreamed of beer, cigarettes, and unrestrained raucous behavior. My recruiter likened tech school to be much like college where we would have free reign to get up to our shenanigans. Although I felt I had outgrown such behavior, a brief dip back in the pool of asinine capers could be fun.

            The ride lasted a whole 10 minutes as we were shuttled out the gate of the main base and on to the Medina annex. Medina had been conceived as the officer training grounds back in the day when the graduates would hop into bi-planes and chase down Von Richtoffen for punching holes in cum laude alumni Snoopy’s Sopwith Camel. While at the time the dorms were considered top notch, the budget for maintenance and repair had been systematically reduced down to zero after the officer school was moved in the 70’s; presumably to further distance themselves from the scum we were considered to be. Aside from the electronics students, Medina also served as training grounds for one portion of the Special Forces schools. We would catch glimpses of them occasionally sneaking though the woods like silent wraiths; learning to pounce and kill. We stayed the hell out of there.

            My hopes of freedom were immediately dashed upon arrival. The bus was boarded by Senior Airman Bitch on Wheels Sisk, who immediately began barking orders and resembling a Ferengi, even more so than the seldom mentioned Ferengi Carrie. Where our plans had been to stash our gear at whatever dorm room we were assigned, then go exploring and maybe grab a beer, instead we were formed up and herded into a stuffy basement room. I was lucky enough to have a few friends there from Basic – Eric Wells and Robert Mock (given the original moniker of ‘Forest’ for his Alabama twang), and we were quickly castigated for the brief, but quiet, ‘what the fuck’ conversation we started in the back.

            The rules of the game were quickly explained. Rather than entrust us to full privilege release after the confining rigors of basic, instead we would earn phased freedom, displayed on a Phase Card to be carried at all times. Coming from basic, we were Phase I, which meant we enjoyed all the rights and freedoms of basic trainees – uniform to be worn at all times, not allowed to walk about except in marching formation, permission to go off base denied, and of course no smoking, drinking, talking out of turn, giggling, snickering, or coughing in a suggestive manner. Men and women were to be segregated in separate living quarters and sex was completely disallowed under any circumstances; a condition that applied to all Phases. In short, we were parolee’s at a half way house, but trusted much less by our parole officers.

            It was explained that in Phase II, we would be allowed to drink, but only at approved establishments on base and would still be required to wear our uniforms everywhere. Not much different than Phase I, although we could travel around the base and go bowling and such. Phase II was earned two weeks after arrival if nothing went wrong. Phase III meant we were allowed to wear civilian clothes and go into San Antonio on the weekends provided we make bed time role call at 10 PM Sat night. The rarely attained Phase IV came 4 months later and meant being able to stay out all weekend. Phase V (unattainable at Medina) was virtually come and go as you please.

            The rules understood, we were assigned rooms and taken too them. I opened the door to mine to find that I already had a roommate who occupied the bottom bunk and that the room for both of us was the same size as Aaron’s at Princeton. Steel frame bunk beds, wall lockers, and desks. Nothing more. The condition of the room was atrocious – tiles missing from the floor and a very conspicuous crack in the outside wall that would become a waterfall in times of rain. My roommate, I came to find, was at school during the day on A shift while I was assigned to B shift school in the afternoon and evening; my first lucky break the whole time! Shortly after I finished moving my meager possessions into the wall locker, a loud call could be heard though the hall, “Fall out for GI party!!” For those who don’t know, a GI party is where everyone gathers to scrub the place down to inspection order. Once again, the place had to look like no one every lived there aside from the obvious lack of repair. My thought process was that none of these fucks know who the hell I was yet, so I opted not to fall out and would plead ignorance if caught. This became a tradition I actually got away with for 3 of my 4 months there until someone finally noticed and I was stuck dumping pine oil into the toilets like the rest of the schmucks.

            The first few days were wretched for several reasons. The first was that I came down with a case of bronchitis at the time I was finishing basic. My incessant coughing irritated those in charge so they sent me to Sick Call – basically the emergency room anyone who had a medical complaint went. Since it was common practice for airmen to try to shirk duty by making up some malady, it was also common practice to have the doctors completely dismiss your claim out of hand if there was any way it could be faked. I was sent back with a weak bottle cough syrup. A week later when I collapsed on the running “track” (more on that later), they sent me back and this time the claim was taken more seriously and antibiotics were reluctantly and effectively dispensed. My roommate was terribly grateful.

            The second reason was the incessant marching around all over the place for in processing appointments. The military is famous for having a cumbersome process for any possible activity and this was no exception. That, however, was not the bad part. My group (basically everyone who’s first week it was) were put in the care of this punk Dahlheimer. Dahlheimer was a Rope; student “leaders” who were empowered to act in place of the Military Training Managers (MTMs, the tech school version of TIs) who preferred to sit in the air conditioning. Glorified hall monitors only with more authority to jack you up who we were under orders to obey as if they were the Generals of the Air Force. The primary qualification to become a Rope was to volunteer. The Ropes also had internal rankings with greens being the lowest with yellows over them and 1 red rope over all for each shift. Dahlheimer was a green Rope, all of 18, and we were forced to obey his sadistic commands.

            Dahlheimer was a fan of the marching jodies; little sing song chants used to help people marching in formation keep cadence and entertain themselves as the view consisted of the back of the person’s head in front of you. The little bastard found it amusing to teach us these literary masterpieces and sing them as we marched around all over the damn place. Unfortunately, there were others in the group who apparently liked doing this and encouraged him by both volunteering jodies they happened to know and by singing them loud and clear. Dahlheimer, pleased at having created a source of amusement in “The Singing Airmen”, showed us off at every opportunity with great glee to his foul MTM masters who looked on bemused as we ground pounded about like assholes in the Texas sun. Our time with him was short, lasting only though the first week of in processing before he was turned loose on the newest batch of newbies.

            We came to find right away that no aspect of the Air force moves at our schedule. What this meant is that my class of electronics students only had a semester start once every month since it was the most intensive training and only one or two people selected for it would arrive to Medina each week. Our class then would not reach capacity for 3 more weeks. A life of leisure in the mean time? Not a chance! We became ‘detail’ airmen. Each morning we would rise at 0500, breakfast, and report for duty at 0700. Once reported, we would be assigned to a crew selected to do maintenance, clean up, or get farmed out to other parts of base to be used as slave labor until 1700. A red Rope by the name of Thomas was in charge of this detail and was annoying as Dahlheimer, not for his silly chants but for the self perception that the bit of string around his arm was a force of power shadowing Green Lantern’s ring.

            Duties consisted of a whole range of things and we were not encouraged to finish early if inclined to do so. You see if they couldn’t think of anything else for you to do, you would by default be assigned to the crew perpetually working on a series of absolutely disgusting old bathrooms that mildew, mold, and multitudinous strains of toxic vermin took over. The end goal was to make them look like new. To avoid this horrendous fate I once found myself spending a full 10 hours sweeping a single two story staircase; the inefficiency apparently not bothering the several people of rank who traversed it a dozen times over the day.

            Although I refused to request a Rope, I was occasional put in charge of work details due to my age and rank in respect to the other new airmen. I touted my considerable landscaping skills and was once put in charge of the grounds crew. This turned out to be ill advised due to the caliber of individuals I received; a far cry from the paragons I knew amongst the Kenmore DPW summer scum. I assigned Jay Bell, later to become a good friend, the task of mowing the grounds in the riding lawn mower. Not long after he set off, he came back to me and said there was a problem. He was correct. As evidenced by the swath of cut grass, he rode the thing out of the shed, 10 feet down the path, then bee-lined straight for a water filled ditch in which the mower was still half submerged. After taking diverting all efforts to dredging it out and cleaning it enough to where there was plausible deniability that we even touched it, I had the crew use the hand pushed mowers.

            These too proved to be more challenging then these airmen could handle effectively. I was mowing a patch behind a building when an enraged Thomas sought me out. As it turned out, the other dipshits found that by hitting the fire ant mounds dotting the property and angling the outflow right, they could spray people walking down paths with showers of dirt and extremely pissed off fire ants. For those who have never had the pleasure, being bitten by a fire ant is equivalent to being jabbed with a lit cigarette, although the pain of the ant bite lasts a lot longer. The antics of my crew left a lot of people severely agitated and effectively ended our assignment to the non-undesirable tasks.

            The first date circled on everyone’s calender was the day we were to move up to Phase II and we had already formed a fabulous plan to get drunk at the bowling alley as there and the BX food vendors were the only places we could get a beer in uniform. Two days prior to this momentous event disaster struck in the form of the bad Lieutenant who ran the place. Lt. G, a new arrival, decided to make his presence known though the wonder of negative reinforcement. He took a tour one day of the bathrooms we (yes now I as well) were attempting to salvage and decided to not focus on the enormous progress we were making, but the fact that they shouldn’t have gotten that way to begin with despite the fact they were in wings of buildings uninhabited since the officers left in the 70’s. The punishment for our negligence was the immediate imposing of Remedial Training.

            What RT meant was: regression to basic training standards, extra duty (14 hour detail duty for detail airmen and school plus 4 hours of detail duty for those who started class, every day including weekends), basic training dining (no talking, 5 minutes to eat), and worst of all, a freeze on promotions to the next Phase. The conditions for removal of RT were to bring the bathrooms to the state where Garza would condescend to park his lip shined ass on one of dilapidated thrones without so much as a square of protection. For the next 10 days I and the others lived in those windowless septic dungeons polishing Satan’s piss pots while the bad Lt came by sporadically to shake his head and express hopes we were learning a thing or two. I cannot remember a time when I was in such a state of restrained murderous rage for such a long period. It was fortunate for so many reasons that access to weaponry was so well restricted.

            Although I had initially made some internal pledge to abstain from unhealthy types of behavior as it had been 8 weeks since I had sipped a beer or puffed a smoke, my rage at the situation drove me to seek out the speakeasy. Rumor had it that there was a place on Medina on the covered porch of an old unused building shielded from the road where the cool cats would gather at night and enjoy contraband cigarettes and beer. I made it my mission to find this joint and succeeded! A few dozen airmen were gathered and by slipping a couple of bucks to one I found myself with a Bud in one hand and a lit camel in another. It was pure heaven and I felt my anger drift away. Even that prick Thomas was present; wisely having left his red rope at home.

            Despite the reintroduction to familiar old vices, I couldn’t quite relax completely. My Spidy sense tingled and I grew increasingly more uncomfortable. I decided to call it a night and made my way back though the darkness to the dorm. The next day I found I had been right. Not long after I made my departure one of the MTMs came down and busted everyone present. Those who were caught were given additional duties and reduced to Phase I for a full month starting after RT was lifted. Because there was an impression that airmen other than those who were caught knew of the speakeasy and didn’t rat them out, RT was also extended a full week after his majesty approved the bathrooms. My rage returned in spades, and the ordeal dragged on even as we finally started class. My only consolation was that Thomas found himself rope-less and at the mercy of all who suffered his tyrannical rule.

            Though it finally lifted, RT turned out to be the bad Lt’s undoing. As we came to learn, despite being married and the officer in charge, this douche took up a relationship with a newly minted female airman who coincidentally arrive the same day I did. She resembled Paris Hilton to a degree, though much sweeter, but it was well know she was forbidden fruit. People, you see, can enlist in the military with their parent’s permission at 17 if they completed high school. She was one of these and was still months shy of the magic birthday upon arrival. That didn’t stop the Lt, however, and she was often seen exiting his office or being dropped off in front of the dorms laden with shopping bags. Normally people would not be so motivated to make issue, but after weeks of torturous RT, Garza had a target on his back. One day OSI (the AF version of the FBI) swept in, him away, along with his computer and the full contents of his office. He was never seen again and we could not have been happier.

            The day finally came though when the worst was over and we stood in line to have our cards stamped as Phase II by a disinterested MTM. The world was opening up to us again after a long several months and it was time for ill conceived adventures to begin again, but more on that next time.

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4 Responses

  1. For reference my Princeton room size was 1/3 the size of Mike’s. I could open my bottom dresser drawer from my bed (still just a mattress at the time, but I had bought a new one, upgrading from couch cushion I used at Comstock) without rolling over. It never occurred to me that I should pay less rent than my half. I got my value back during the Paula era.

    Kudos for playing ignorant successfully for 3/4 of the time. No one ratted you out. I guess the Air Force bureaucracy is not that efficient.

    With a name like Dahlheimer he was born to be a cock. Nice metaphor “for the self perception that the bit of string around his arm was a force of power shadowing Green Lantern’s ring.”

    Some real winner in ground crew with the fire ant spray attack. What the hell kind of Air Force higher education were these dimrods there for?

  2. Sadly, many of them were considered to be the creme’ d’ la creme’ as those of us put through all 19 blocks of electonics were known as “the smart kids”. Indeed. I unfortunatly must report that this was not even a particularly potent example of the bad ideas I have seen.

    As for your room, I seem to remember you voluntarily taking the small room because, “I had more stuff”.

  3. I still deserved to pay less rent.

  4. A good read. I was at Medina Aug-Oct 85 (a “90 day wonder”). OTS was moved in the late 80’s to Maxwell–who knows why other than to save money.

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