Saturday, January 24, 2009

Air Force Blue

Note: This is a repost from the old Rocket Jones. The original appeared in November, 2003.

Basic Training at Lackland AFB, Texas. San Antonio in August. Hell with an accent.

For some strange reason, our 'flight' of recruits was almost evenly divided between New Yorkers and Californians. There may have been a few other states in there, but not many. The Californians (including yours truly) took one bay of the barracks, and the Noo Yawkahs took the other.

We had arrived on a friday, and official training didn't start until monday, which meant that our TI (training instructor, as opposed to drill instructor) had the whole weekend to fuck with us to his hearts content. And he did.

He began by running our asses ragged all day long. Mostly by announcing fire drills one after another which caused us to hustle down three flights of steps and across the street into a field where we tried to get into some sort of formation, and then we'd take verbal abuse until the TI and his assistants got thirsty from yelling. Then we'd return to our barracks ("Double-time Hollywood! Hup hup!") and do it all over again in 10 minutes. We were hot, sticky, tired and generally pissed off. A little scared too because this neckless dude with the big voice and little smokey-the-bear hat suddenly had supreme power over our lives.

Finally we were told to grab showers before evening chow. As seventy teenagers gratefully (and wearily) stripped down, we heard the TI's voice ring out, making our blood run cold.

"Holy Shit!!! Will you take a look at this?"

Most of us knew better than to look at him, not wanting to draw attention to ourselves. We'd learned that much already.

"All of you, strip to your skivvies! Then get to attention at your bunks."

Oh crap, this couldn't be good. He walked over to the other bay to give them the same directions, the east coast boys were being watched over by the assistant TI. We could here whoops and hollers from the two sergeants. We finished undressing and stood there at something resembling attention, wondering what the hell was going to happen next.

I feared another fire drill.

Then the bay was filled with the rest of the flight as the guys from the other bay hurried in, being verbally herded by the TI's. They fell in between us, filling the ranks.

The kid directly across from me was buck naked. The TI called for everyone without underwear to take a step forward (I have no idea how many there were), and he read them the riot act for free-balling it. Many dire warnings about what constituted proper and complete military uniforms were issued, along with a promise of random, frequent checks to ensure compliance.

Next the TI walked down the line and pointed at various people as they walked by. "You... you... no... you... no..." We held our breath and prayed that we weren't singled out. Those selected were told to take a step forward.

Suddenly there were more smokey-the-bear hats in the room. I'm guessing that the assistant TI called the other sergeants up for the fun and games. Six or eight of them I think.

It was a fashion show. Many of the California boys were wearing, uh... unusual underwear. Various bikini styles. We were all reminded that Uncle Sam issued us six pairs of white boxers or briefs, and that's all we'd better be wearing during Basic Training.

As the troops marched up and down the aisle of the barracks, the TI's made comments. Nobody else laughed or even smirked, that was a sure way to catch personalized hell.

Afterwards, assignments were handed out for Flight Leader, Squad Leaders, Guide-on, road guards and so on. These were temporary, and could (and would) be pulled immediately upon screwup. The TI's voted and gave the jobs out based on the best underwear.

I became (temporarily) a squad leader.