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Let’s Not Exercise (and Say We Did)

            As you would expect, the concept of exercise and the military go hand in hand, and as such the term has a number of applications in itself. I thought this post would be a nice way to move away from the unfolding drama of my personal life and concentrate a bit more on the various little tortures and inconveniences the Air Force liked to visit upon us. I’m sure you all have in mind a vision of fit young airmen rising at the crack of dawn to form up and run, chanting jody’s and similar drivel that tends to create a bit of a beat. Please, that is the Marines; those ground pounding jar heads need group participation to accomplish even a simple ass wipe!

            I’m going to begin with the most basic definition of the word since Aaron in his muscle head fanaticism will just skim this post anyway looking for any mention of gym rats sweating to the oldies. Popular rumor has it that the Air Force is the easiest of the branches in terms of pretty much everything and they are dead correct. If there was a way to make things pussified in any manner, the top brass in blue found a way to do it. While there were strict guidelines on to what level of fitness its members were expected to achieve and maintain, they somehow managed to find a manner to measure this alleged fitness in the most suspect and roundabout manner possible.

            There were no orders, guidelines, or other standing policies dictating that we run, do pushups, or even Jazzercise; simply that we remain “fit”. Whether one was the rippling powerhouse of health and strength or the laziest fat slob who drank melted cheese as a beverage there was but a single degree of difference between where one fell; ‘fit’, or ‘not quite fit enough’. The determination of said categorization was the well celebrated bike test. Once a year each airman was send to the health office and be placed upon a stationary bike. The bike would be ridden for duration, resistance and at a speed scientifically determined by what I suspected to be hair color, astrological sign and the whim of the tester. The last I verified to be true but more about that later.

            The heart rate would be monitored over the duration of the ride – anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes and a computer algorithm would make an incontestable verdict. As expected it was a common occurrence for an athlete with the physique of Michael Phelps to be declared a filthy lazy scum after having one too many cups of coffee that morning, or an Artie Lang clone celebrated as a bona fide iron man because he had the forethought to rub one out in his car before coming in. The machine was accurate to several orders of magnitude less than a home made polygraph or even one of those pre-pubescent folding paper thingies girls used to do to see who they were going to marry. It was easily defeated by coffee, hangovers, a cold, a deep sense of calm, gum, frequent masturbation, or an attractive female tester who keeps bending over.

            Despite being in fantastically good shape having come right from tech school, I failed my first test precisely because of the last of the reasons I gave. She was a voluptuous beauty in her dress blues, the pants of which were a bit too small in order to showcase her J-Lo style derrière with the subtlest hint of VPL. On top of this she was flirtatious and resorted to a significant amount of touching in order to install the heart rate monitor; more than one would expect given the sizable rock on her finger. As the test began my heart rate was already edging high and quickly transitioned into the red zone after she dropped her pen twice in full view of my gaze. I failed miserably, the results indicating I was in all likelihood going to drop dead simply trying to jog across the street and so given the grade of ‘not quite fit enough’.

            The results of this I had to bring back to my shop and report to the chief as well as my reporting official that I was truly an unfit dirtbag. I explained the situation and they confided that she was the ruin of many a poor boy, condemned for the next year to sign into the gym on a daily basis or face consequences dire. I was granted the right to retest and had the good fortune to find a disinterested male airman working that day in place of Miss Tightpants. I passed easily schemed to ensure the situation continued. As said, a deuce of a failure meant signing into the gym every day until the following years test pronounced you fit or worse, ‘not at all fit to be in the Air Force’. I did something I was loath to do and volunteered.

            It was announced in our shop that we were on the hook to provide a body to go though fitness tester training and perform this duty on a periodic basis. My hand went right up and I was packed off to a 2 day training course on how to give the bike test. What I found was interesting. The test program spit out digital instructions to the tester to adjust the speed and resistance of the bike as the rider went along to come up with its final ruling. It also gave a real time status of whether the person riding was currently in the ‘fit’ or ‘not fit enough’ category. What the program didn’t do was verify if the tester actually followed instructions. A tester then who might have some grave misgivings of the accuracy of the test had the means to affect the outcome. But for one, every single person who rode the bike for me in the next two years passed with flying colors. The one who didn’t, well, it has been conjectured that my particular loathing of this individual may have been enough to counter his obvious fitness and explain why he failed not once, but twice. I plead the fifth and Vaughn was never the wiser.

            The second meaning of the term ‘exercise’ that was bandied about in a manner well more negative than the aforementioned connotation was that having to do with the dreaded Phase exercises. Of the Phase Exercises, there were two types, Phase I and Phase II. The first consisted of a week or two period in which the whole base would actively pretend it had been called off to war and then pack everything up and schlep it over to the flight line. Phase IIs were a week or two during which the whole base would pretend it was a Scud’s throw from Bagdad and actively combating countless legions of Republican Guard (back when we still thought they were bad ass) with no compunction against lobbing a countless supply of chemical weapons our way (back when we somehow thought they actually had such things). Both flavors meant recalls, 12 hour days, and the cancellation of weekends all together.

            Like anything else, those in charge were paranoid about telling anyone when they actually planned to do something. Recalls then were a matter of surprise. We would know that say a Phase I was planned for October but never when the damn thing was actually going to begin. Out of nowhere the calling tree was activated and the phone would ring, usually at the most inopportune time, and everyone would have an hour to make it back to base. People would arrive in all manner of states depending on what they were doing at the time or how long it had been since they got off their shift.

            On once occasion I had just arrived home from my midshift work night and found that Bryan was still awake having been drinking all night with a bunch of his swing shift friends. He was just about to pack it in when the phone rang. He stumbled over, answered, froze for a second, looked down at near empty beer bottle in his hand and the mass of the same rising from the trash bin, and said “Uhhhh…. uh oh.” I ended up giving him a ride in and he spent the day keeping distanced from the higher ups with keen noses.

            Phase I’s were a bitch. The shop would be divided up between those who would keep working to crank out repairs and those who would be given over to pack everything up and haul it around. When I was a new airman I was of course assigned to the packing duty; rookie type of work if there ever had been. Unfortunately I proved very good at this and got boned with this detail every damn exercise since we were graded on performance. For the sake of keeping up production, our shop had warehoused versions of everything we used and as a function of the exercise we would haul it out and palletize it. Generally the weather would find a way to either be hot as blazes for a summertime exercise or 33 and raining for a winter one. No matter, it was 12 hours in the yard pulling cargo nets over towering pallets and pulling tight until our hands bled. In charge of the detail was McCarthy; about the crustiest old school sergeant the shop had and a zealot when it came to packing. He’d crack the whip hard, but at least after work he’d buy rounds a the Westgate, a heavily Air Force patronized bar right out side the west gate and a fine place to hang until the NASCAR infiltrators managed to burn it to the ground.

            The curious thing about these exercises was the little tricks that were used to make things both easier and dissimilar enough from reality so that if we ever did have to pack up on short notice, no one would know what to do. My favorite of these were the ‘simulated’ signs. Anything the Air Force didn’t really want to do, it simulated in a very realistic manner with a piece of paper and some tape. One could walk around the base during the exercises and find all manner of little signs up reading things like, ‘simulated locked door’, ‘simulated guard’, ‘simulated field hospital’, ‘simulated plane’, and always one to bring a chuckle ‘simulated loud warbling tone alarm going off’. Naturally I asked McCarthy why we couldn’t put up a shingle that read ‘simulated two airman packing shit up in the rain’, but that was just deemed ludicrous. After all, they had to be brought to the flight line to be ‘simulated weighed’, ‘simulated inspected’, and ‘simulated loaded into a simulated C-5’.

            Phase IIs were considerably worse; the promise of one coming up bringing forth all manner of bitching and whining from all but the most committed of the shop, of where there were few. There were a number of reasons why these were considered to be so onerous, the primary being the requirement of chem gear. Chem gear was standard issue once you arrived on station and was a constant occupant of your closet floor along side your ‘mo’ bag. While the ‘mo’ (for mobility) bag simply contained all items needed for rapid deployment: uniforms, shirts, socks, underwear, and toiletries (many of which were decoys), the chem bag was filled with those things intended to keep you alive once Saddam started slinging the mustard gas. Steel helmet, charcoal lined pants and shirt, thick rubber gloves, rubber over boots, and of course the dreaded mask.

            We were trained in the proper use of this gear on an annual basis. What was memorable about this was the movie they liked to show to put a bit of scare into the troops. The original film contained a portion in which cats would be exposed to various types of the chemicals used such as Sarin, VX, and Mustard gas. The results were fairly horrific. The film finally got yanked once PETA became aware of its existence and began a stink, which frankly we were all grateful for, even the cat haters amongst us. The rest of the training was simply practicing the obscenely complex set of maneuvers required to get the mask on quickly and correctly.

            During the Phase II it was required that everyone wear the charcoal shit over their regular uniform, as well as rubber gloves and steel helmet. The gloves and mask were kept at your side for quick donning when the sirens sounded. Needless to say, during the VA summer, wearing an entire extra layer sucked, and by the end of the day your inner uniform was both soaked and smeared with charcoal. What was many times worse was the surprise calling of ‘RED RED RED’, which was meant to indicate that the bombs were falling. We had 30 seconds to don our masks, gloves and dive under tables. Inspectors would then come around and inspect mask seals for air intrusion, uniform fittings, and total compliance. If it was determined that airborne chemicals had any access to your person, you were declared dead on the spot and forced to lay down and wait for a crew with a stretcher to take you to the morgue.

            We were fortunate enough to work in a classified area, which bought a little more time for the inspectors to be checked in, and as such, we had the opportunity to check each other out first and never suffered a casualty inside the shop. Outside it was a bit more treacherous, especially when ‘red’ was called during one of the frequent smoke breaks. On one occasion it was called while Tiff and I were out smoking and I couldn’t get a good seal on my mask. It was dark and we could see the inspectors coming from the hanger across the way and decided the better part of valor was to run away and hide and took refuge behind some garbage cans in back of the shop. Much better than being stuck with dumbass casualty clean up duty.

            Working right after the red conditions was no picnic. Performing test, calibration and troubleshooting of sophisticated electronics is difficult enough when not wearing clumsy gloves and a stifling hot mask that tends to fog up, not to mention tastes like ass. The movie ‘Jarhead’ features Marines in the same get up playing football in the Kuwaiti desert with masks on and everything and I have grave doubts that this actually happened. It could be anywhere from 20 minutes to 6 hours before ‘all clear’ clear was called. If you had to pee you could pretty much go fuck yourself, though the profuse sweating would help empty the contents of the bladder nicely. A half hour in the mask was enough to produce a whale of a headache, so those times it went to 5 or 6 was just murder.

            After being simulated killed and hauled away, the second worse duty was to be stuck on door guard. This necessitated dealing with the inspectors and probably the first to be declared meat if they found anything amiss. That and it was terrifically boring. During one of the last Phase IIs Travis had the misfortune of drawing the duty and in a moment of temptation succumbed to the urge to draw fangs on the picture of the Wing Commander hanging near the door. This was not unusual behavior for Travis who had also been involved in a solo clandestine action of stealing the mid shift supervisors coke each night from his lunch. The first time it was an accident, but seeing the over the top outrageous litany of curses and threats from the fellow, he took to stealing the guys pop any night he had the opportunity. I tempted him to also take a bite out of the guy’s sandwich but given the black rages the coke thing put him into, he declined.

            From the reaction of the shop over the discovery of the fangs one would think that someone had painted a humongous cock on the forehead of the Statue of Liberty. Travis didn’t know that Bowsher had pulled the same deal the day previous, though instead of fangs drew little hearts floating about the taciturn commanders head. Such defacement was not taking lightly and the whole shop was threatened with group discipline of an unfavorable type; the dreaded weekend duty. Travis owned up and he and Bowsher were sentenced to spend a day at the Army base playing corpses for their own exercise. It was apparently not at all pleasant.

            Though I made it though them all for the most part unscathed, the memory is still with me well enough that I know with certainty that I can go the rest of my life without any semblance of a repeat and die a happy man.


3 Responses

  1. Absolutely pathetic.

    Very good plan to infiltrate the fitness test circle and use it to your advantage. I assume all those who were certified to give the test would pass each other without question?

    Simulated suck my balls. Got the Air Force is a collection of lazy shirkers. No surprise there. They let you in.

    I had a new post almost complete, but I managed to lose half of it, and I am now to angry to re-write the remaining half just yet.

  2. Oh, absolutly we did! The Brotherhood of Bike-testing (BoB) was a tighter knit society than the Freemasons, Shriners and Mouseketeers combined.

    How did you lose half your post? If you wrote it out in Word ahead of time like I do, then just copy and paste into here that wouldn’t happen. I would prefer to see the angry style rewrite; it probably will add considerable panache to the tale.

  3. I normally write my posts in a text editor and paste it in. This time I was using some beta software and I lost it by my own cut-n-paste mishap, but the beta software did not have a backup when it should have. You will get your wish to see the angry writing within the week.

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