Steve's Tidbits

Short stories about my life experiences.

Have Your Cake and Eat it Too


Not being a “yes sir, yes sir, three bags full” kind of guy, I often ruffled the feathers of fellow workers, supervisors and managers.  Following regulations was a lesson learned early on.  Knowing them and following them saved my bacon many times.  And sometimes, doing so just turned out to be “the icing on the cake”.

Some of the managers and supervisors at Anderson Air Base (AB) had no use for me.  Being lower on the “totem pole”, I found myself on the receiving end of considerable harassment.  They would ride me, I would stir the pot, they would ride me more, and I would just get a bigger spoon.    Their attempts at harassment included changing my shift and changing my work location.  Much to their dismay, I was down for that.  All that was left for them try was to interfere with my rest and recuperation (R&R) opportunities.  In short, I was denied R&R even after all other members of the shop had been on at least one, many of them on two such breaks.  These short breathers were to other parts of the orient; Japan, Saipan, Thailand, and the Philippines.  It was time for me to bring out my mega spoon!

Being an aircrew survival instructor, and being authorized to attend the different survival schools offered by the Air Force; Basic , Cold Weather, Jungle, Water, and Desert Survival, I pulled a few strings and got myself orders to go to the Jungle Survival School at Clark AB, Philippines.  The shop chief and some of the supervisors were not happy.  My knowledge of regulations and connections carried more weight than they could overcome. There was nothing they could do to cancel the orders.

The shop chief gave me a briefing prior to my departure.  His displeasure at my finagling this class was clearly evident; he had authorized no R&R time in conjunction with the school, and was talking to me as if I was a child, covering every possible contingency he could think of, finishing with the “ I would be in deep crap if I screwed anything up on the trip”.  I baited the trap asking if I could fly in civilian clothes since I would make the trip on a civilian airline.  This drew the expected reaction… NO!  I would have to fly in “fatigues”, the work uniform on both the departure and return flights.  In his haste to harass he neglected to check regulations covering flights in and out of Clark Air Base, as expected.  He even made sure those instructions were on my orders.  I had him!  His arrogance and dislike for me overruled his professional judgment.  Although you can fly into Clark AB in the fatigue uniform, you were not allowed to fly out of Clark AB in fatigues.  Pacific Air Command regulations required the wearing of the khaki (a tan color) uniform.  Do you see the hand-writing on the wall?

I left Anderson AB in my fatigues, arrived at Clark AB in the afternoon and signed in to the school.  Classes started the next day.  We had a day of classroom, followed by a few days in the field.  Field time consisted of instruction and demonstration of survival techniques, hands on experience in edible plants and water sources, building shelters, fire craft and cooking with bamboo, poisonous critters, and several other survival topics.  My return flight was to be the following day after the school ended.  Following the written orders, with bags packed, I showed up at the base terminal in fatigues for the return flight, and was promptly informed I would be refused boarding per a regulation forbidding departure from Clark AB on a civilian aircraft while wearing fatigues.  To make a good show of it, I show my orders with the instructions to fly in fatigues which made no difference… something I already knew

Smiling from ear to ear, I called back to my shop on Anderson AB to explain to the shop chief that I was going to be delayed four or five days as I did not have the proper uniform to fly out of Clark AB.  Much to my dismay I was going to have to buy a uniform, take it to a seamstress to have it altered, then have it laundered and pressed before I could leave.  I liked to lay it on thick.  He was furious, showering me with threats to my career; Article 15 action (reduction in rank and pay, a fine, and poor performance reports) if I was not back that afternoon.  In addition, shop management would take other actions as well.  Don’t you just love it when someone sticks their foot in their mouth so far you can see it sticking out their ass?  I did my paperwork, retrieving a copy of the regulation refusing the wearing of the fatigue uniform; and it was off on my four-day R&R!

Upon landing at Anderson AB, I went to see the shop chief.  After listening to him blow hot air for several minutes, I handed him a copy of my orders requiring me to wear fatigues, and a copy of the regulation denying boarding on civilian aircraft from Clark when wearing fatigues.  I didn’t feel he would take a lecture from me on reviewing travel regulations before trying to screw someone over, so I kept quiet.  The best he could do at that point was to put me back on the midnight to 8:00 a.m. shift… my favorite shift which I neglected to tell him.  As a matter of fact, I guess I may have laid it on a little thick about all the bad things about working the night shift.  I had never reeled in a fish so big!

When my six month tour of duty was up, and after being relieved of duty, I went to the shop chief to thank him for putting me on my favorite shift.  And… against my better judgment I thanked him for the vacation at Clark.  I told him I knew of the regulation about flying in fatigues when leaving Clark, but felt it was in my better interest not to irritate him with petty regulations when he seemed so sure of himself… wanting to keep hostilities to a minimum and all.

Yup… that was a mighty fine piece of cake!

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Free Ammo


Back in the early 1970’s, basic trainees in the Air Force were required to become familiar with, fire, and qualify with the M-16 assault rifle.  This firearm is similar to the AR-15 semi-automatic sporting rifle with the exception that the M-16 can fire three-round bursts with a single pull of the trigger, or can fire non-stop in full automatic mode until the magazine empties.  In those days we used the 5.56 x 45 millimeter rounds; very similar to the civilian .223 round.  In later years to save costs for ammunition, conversion kits were used to allow the firing of .22 long rifle ammunition instead.

All recruits were required to learn to dismantle and clean the M-16, as well as achieve a passing score during qualification shooting.  I was 18 years old when I entered the military and had already been firing rifles, handguns, and shotguns for the better part of 10 years.  The first competitive shooting matches I entered were at age 12.  Long before I entered the military I had become an expert marksman as well as being well-schooled in firearms safety and care.  In later years I would become a National Rifle Association (NRA) Firearms Safety Instructor, teaching adults and the “Eddie Eagle” firearms safety class to grade school aged children.

Due to the diverse differences in recruit’s familiarity and competency with firearms, instructors had to teach large classes to the lowest common denominator… people with no knowledge of, or experience with firearms.  Those who are accomplished shooters just had to grin and bear the repetitiveness.  Anyways, all of us had to start at ground zero at some point.  After hours of classroom, it was time to get out to the range and let some lead fly!  Targets were set at 100 yards.  Shooters were lined up side by side, while instructors walked the line scrutinizing every move we made.  With my 12 years of firearms experience and six years of competitive shooting I was running about one round per second and a half.  Evidently, this was much too fast for the instructor, as he let me know by giving me a foot in the ribs, and an earful to boot.  Then he screwed up by telling me if I didn’t qualify, I would have to shoot again.  More free ammo!  Say what?  More free ammo!  Oh yeah… I was scheming big time!

It was finally time to shoot for score and qualification.  I had noticed that the guy to my left wasn’t too handy with a shootin’ iron.  My plan…I’d fire about half my rounds onto the target to the left of mine… kind of help the guy out, and I would fail qualification.  After the scoring was done, the guy to my left had a score of over 100.  Mine… well, it was low.  Crap… I was going to have to shoot again.  Sometimes life is just too good!  This time around I scored 98 out of 100… the highest score in my group. I was sporting a big grin, and the instructor was not amused.  But, that’s what happens when you advertise free ammo to the wrong guy.

And the M-16?  Oh yeah…it was fun to shoot!

Run Withe the…Typhoon


Sometimes I wonder how I made it to this age…

The Viet Nam conflict required tens of thousands of Air Force members to be sent to various countries in the Orient to support the various operations.  People were sent to Viet Nam, Thailand, Guam, the Philippines, and other countries in those efforts.  The first deployment I went on was in 1972 to Kadena Air Base (AB), Okinawa.

When I arrived there were plenty of barracks rooms for everyone.  So many that it was difficult to find the one you were supposed to be in.  There were full barracks, empty barracks, those partly filled, and some under renovation.  When you did find the right one, the next trick was to get a good spot.  They were all open-bay barracks; with luck, yours would have a fan at one end to circulate air.  If you were really lucky there would be one at each end.  The closer to the fan, the more comfortably you could sleep.  Between to heat and humidity it was uncomfortable on the best day; so much so that I found it necessary to go to another barracks and “borrow” one.  These were the large industrial ones with three-foot cages and what seemed to be a turbo-charger.  When on high-speed, anything not tied down was history.

There were three things one was guaranteed of experiencing while there… work, work, and typhoons.  Did I mention typhoons?  A typhoon is equivalent to a hurricane… only crunchy.  Very heavy rain, winds well over 85 mph, and lots of flying debris.  So… when they were not around there were plenty of services available and things to do both on base and off base.  When one hit, it was time to hunker down in the barracks.  Entertainment was whatever you could come up with.

Typhoons were dangerous enough to warrant moving aircraft and support personnel to other bases when they were scheduled to hit.  Visibility could be reduced to mere feet.  Winds would knock you down.  Flying debris could easily injure someone.  What’s this?  All the makings of a game of challenge… “chicken”.

Take my word for it… after a day stuck in the barracks, one would get antsy, and anything would be a welcome change to the boredom.  Chicken… the challenge of running from one building to the next without being blown away; my brainchild, seemed innocuous enough.  I know… I know, not too smart, but when heavy-duty boredom would set in, you’d be surprised at what sounds reasonable.

The barracks were built side by side in multiple rows.   In non-typhoon weather, if you were to run out the end of your building, you would run into the end of the next one.  Chicken was the challenge of seeing who could make the run being blown down wind the shortest distance.  With the wind blowing between the rows of barracks, you could look out the end of your building and watch small trees, palm fronds, branches, as other matter of debris wiz by.  Being my idea, I gave it the first run.  The barracks were quite long, so with the proper head start it seemed logical that you would be able to reach the next one without too much difficulty.  Several fellow adventurers held the multiple sets of double doors open; and with a good head of steam up I ran from one end of the barracks to the other, watching trees and brush fly by the exit doors as I went.

About three-quarters of the way down the hall I got thinking about the soundness of this, but already committed, I continued on.  As soon as the wind caught me I was running sideways in a wall of debris.  This was a new experience to me, running full speed sideways.  Not being whacked by debris was not a matter of skill, but pure luck.  I made it to the next row of barracks only two buildings down wind.  Now… how do I get back?  I was going to have to go four buildings up wind through the side doors and make a similar run to get back to my barracks.  All remaining volunteers made the “run with the typhoon” with no injuries.

We Can Do This the Easy Way or the Hard Way


The more you do a particular thing, the better you become at it.  I had been teaching outdoor survival to pilots and aircrew-members off and on for several years, and so, I had become quite good at performing those skills I was teaching.

Pope AFB was surrounded by Fort Bragg, a huge Army installation near Fayetteville, North Carolina.  I was developing a comprehensive training program which would require a large outdoors area for hands-on training and real-life exercises.  After coordinating with Fort Bragg I was able to secure a pie shaped wooded area about ½ of a square mile a few miles from Pope.  It was a perfect area as it had woods, a dirt road, a wet swampy area, and some low-lying areas.  Once my assistant and I acquired a bus driver’s license, we had access to a 40 passenger for transporting students to and from the training site.

The practical part of the training would last one-half day in the woods with students building shelters, hiking to a specified point using a topographical map and a compass, building various types of fires, using signaling devices, and practicing camouflage techniques.  The day would end with an escape and evasion exercise in which students would apply learned skills while making their way from the tip of the pie to the bus which was parked back at the heel of the area.  Three instructors would actively search for and track them, critiquing their skills, some of which included concealment, crossing roads without leaving any signs of their doing so and moving silently through wooded areas.

Most of the aircrew-members took the training seriously.  Although the chance of an aircraft mishaps or being downed in some sort of military conflict in a C-130 Cargomaster aircraft was remote, the possibility was always present.  Most crew-members understood that, taking the training seriously.  Some just didn’t give a damn!  Those were the ones we really wanted to make an impression on.

There was one class with several “I’d rather be playing golf” students.  They weren’t interested in anything we had to say or show them.  And… they carried this attitude into the field exercise.  It was FUN TIME!  While the class was demonstrating map and compass skills, I slipped off and went ahead to the area where we taught camouflage and concealment, and put my skills to use.  I was camouflaged and concealed in a bush waiting for the class to arrive.  As luck would have it, the problem students parked themselves not four feet from where I had concealed myself; their backs to me.  I’ve always wondered how many sets of underwear had to be changed after I jumped out of the bush yelling and slapping them on the back before they knew what was happening.

For the practical escape and evasion exercise students were told to use the whole area, and not walk down the road which went directly back to where the bus was parked.  As usual, several aircrew-members decided to walk the road, ditching into the bushes whenever an instructor made his presence known.  We never got tired of grabbing a handful of gravel, throwing it into the air at the bushes, and yelling “SNAKE”!  Worked every time!

There was one crew-member that went so far out of his way to avoid the game area, he went clean out of it.  I guess he thought that skirting the area would prevent us from hearing him as he stepped on dried leaves, small sticks, and snapped branches as he made his way back to the main road.   We instructors would zig-zag the width of the area as we also worked our way back to the bus.  I think it was on a zig that I heard a lot of crunching in a low-lying area which was full of debris.  After working over towards the noise it was determined where he was and what direction he was moving in.  There was a small path leading up a small rise and out of the low-lying area, the most likely route he would choose to continue on.  I cut several small bushes, sat on the ground in the middle of the path, tied the bushes to my boots, and waited.  As figured, a few minutes later he was working his way up towards my position.  I’ll be damned if he didn’t hunker down on the other side of the branches I had tied to my boots.

Heart attack!  That was the first thing I thought after spreading the branches apart asking if I could help him.  I really thought I’d given him a heart attack.  His face was doing things I’d never seen a face do before; contorting, changing colors, he wasn’t breathing for a good 15 to 20 seconds.  Maybe that was a little overboard.

Evidently, aircrew members talk to each other.  That was the last time anyone tried that stunt!

Do You Have a General in Your Pocket?


I do not have a problem taking my “up-comings” when they are deserved.  On the other side of the coin… the feathers go up when someone tries to “nail” me for something I either did not do, or was prevented from doing.  So life was at Pope Air Force Base… a constant serving of underhanded actions in violation of regulations to discredit and damage those who were deemed “outsiders” from the “good ole boy” crowd.  Their basic game plan was to let one of the “chosen” run a section of the shop into the dirt; a month or so before a major inspection, reassign the water-walker to a section which had just been straightened out, and assign one of the unwashed to the messed up section.  The poor guy trying to straighten out the mess would get the nail in his coffin, so to speak.   As you have probably guessed, I was one of the unwashed.

Everything about the shop reeked of good ole boy business ethics.  One issue involved a supply account which was worth about $1 million.  The account custodian was a member of the club; so naturally, everything he did was perfect… so noted on his performance reports and medals he received.  My inventory and inspection of that account would prove otherwise.

I did not want to play politics, so I kept to myself and did my job.  In this arena, following regulations to the “T” meant survival.  Because I wouldn’t play, the shop chief did not like me, and so did everything humanly possible to damage my career or make my job more difficult.  After taking all the crap I was going to, I threw my wrench in the works.  I had documented all the management’s transgressions I was aware of; I took the package to the Base Inspector General’s Office and filed a formal complaint.  And we had change!

The supply accountant got very short notice orders for a permanent change of station.  Now the shop needed a new supply custodian.  And in usual fashion, management picked one of the unwashed to straighten out the mess, and according to plan take all the blame for the thousands of dollars of discrepancies in the account.  They waited two weeks after they had assigned me as custodian to advise me of that fact.  I was handed the paperwork and ordered to sign accepting all responsibility for it.  I guess they thought I had just fell off the turnip truck, or had a capital “L” tattooed on my forehead.  I refused to sign.

Air Force regulations are signed by a general, and can only be disobeyed by order of another general, a written order from an officer, or pure stupidity.  Regulations covering supply accounts dictate that before a new custodian signs for an account, that person must conduct a complete inventory of the assets on hand; compare those numbers for each item to the printout of assets which are supposed to be on hand, and submit a report of survey identifying all discrepancies.  The new account printout is adjusted to match the assets-on-hand count found in the inventory; the new custodian is released of all liability for any discrepancies and signs for the account.  Only in this fashion will the old custodian be held accountable for discrepancies, and the new custodian would be given a fresh start.

The shop chief kept directing me to sign immediately, and perform the inventory afterwards.  Naturally, I kept declined to sign telling him I would sign only after doing the inventory according to regulations.  And the clock kept ticking.  There is a window of 30 days to have the inventory completed, and have the new custodian on the account.  After that, the account is frozen, and no purchases of equipment items or supplies can be made.  Management had eaten up two weeks by withholding notice to me that I was to be the new custodian; and now refusing to allow me to conduct the inventory as required was chewing up more time.  The pressure was on to get the paperwork completed and processed.  Naturally, people up the chain of command were being told I refused to do an inventory.  No matter… everything always comes out in the end.

Knowing that there was at least $7,000.00 of equipment items missing from the account, and that I would be held accountable for them, I continued to refuse to sign for the account, and kept asking for permission to do the required inventory.  They kept refusing to let me do it.  I was protected… they were not.  I wasn’t worried… they were.  Truth is a beautiful thing.

A new tactic!  I was called to a meeting with the shop chief and the officer in charge.  The meeting was in a room where everyone in the shop could hear what was going on.  Maybe they thought they could scare or embarrass me into ruining my own career.  There I was… standing at attention getting my ass reamed for my jeopardizing the shop’s ability to perform its tasks.  They must have chewed for ten minutes.   Finally their jaws must have gotten tired from over-flapping, and they asked me what I had to say for myself… big mistake!

I took my hat out from under my belt, looking into it; then I turned my pockets inside out shaking those “rabbit ears”; and then bent over looking between my legs.  Finally the officer asked me what I thought I was doing.  I explained that since there was no written order for me to disregard the regulations, I was checking to make sure I hadn’t brought a general with me to countermand the regulations.  Once I had determined I hadn’t brought one, I was checking the room to see if they had stashed one in a corner.  To say they were pissed off would be an injustice… they were fuming!  I may have even seen a plume of steam shoot out of the shop chief’s ear…

In the end I did my inventory and made my report identifying over $27,000.00 in errors.  After all adjustments we ended up with a $9,000.00 shortage of assets.  I signed for the account.

I actually received a letter of counseling for following the regulations; another piece of evidence for me to use in a future complaint. Anyways, I was already as high in rank as I was going to get if I stayed in for 20 years.   It was also as high a rank as I was going to make if I stayed in for 27 years.   I had already decided to retire at 20 years.  The only way my career could be damaged to the point where I could be discharged before I had 20 years in the service, and retirement in the bank would be for me to do it to myself.  Fat chance!

 

Riding on His Coattails


My family and I were stationed in Germany when we got word that my mother-in-law was critically ill.  She had been stricken with bone cancer and was going to have surgery to remove her lower jaw bone, and rebuild it from rib bones.  I was granted emergency leave, however seating on flights from Germany to the Philippines allowed only my wife and two children to go immediately; I would have to follow a few days later.

Once in Manila I found a small apartment near the hospital.  We spent the next several days recuperating, making trips to the hospital, and visiting relatives.  After she was released from the hospital, the whole family decided to go down to her hometown, a village towards the south-eastern end of the main island…  It would be a 22 hour trip by train, bus, and boat.  The further along we traveled, the more obvious it became that very few Americans made it into this part of the country.

The train ride was “an experience”!  It was a very old system set on narrow tracks.  I never got the sensation that the train was stable; always rocking back and forth.  Between the train and people talking it was very noisy.  People were packed in like sardines, and the wooden seats just beat the tar out of my butt!  However, the further into the countryside we traveled, the more I started enjoying the trip.  With every stop there would be children waiting to see “the American”.  Many had never seen an American before.  They wanted to see me, touch me, and talk to me although I couldn’t understand them.  My wife interpreted for us all.  Then I would get off the train and play with them until the police officers would come and chase them away.  It was really a lot of fun.  I had transformed from a curiosity to a celebrity.  Evidently, people were getting the message down the line that an American was coming.  Every stop was the same, crowds of children waiting, and lots of touch, talk, and play.

As more of the older folks noticed me getting off and on the train, they too wanted to visit and shake my hand.  Many wanted to talk about the war… World War II and General MacArthur.  This was 34 years after the end of the War, and the Filipino people still remembered what General MacArthur and his forces did for them.  Many had fought in the war, or had otherwise suffered at the hands of the Japanese.  Their stories confirmed by the absence of an arm or leg, or evidenced by some other injury.

The several hour bus ride was also a unique experience.  I had seen this in movies, but never in person.  Baggage was thrown on top of the luggage rack; people were literally hanging on to the outside of the bus; half in and half out of a window.  Some had their feet in the window and were holding onto the luggage rack.  There were farm animals in the bus.  There was no room to move.  Everyone wanted to talk with me.  Josie had her hands full trying to keep up with all the translations.  With each stop, new people would get onboard, and it would start all over again.  They wanted to know where we came from, where we were going, why we were here.  Some were even repeating MacArthur’s words “I shall return”.

When we arrived at the boat dock for the last and shortest leg of the trip; from where we would travel up-river to her village, there were dozens of children and adults, just wanting to get a glimpse of me.  The children were pulling on my shirt sleeves, yelling from excitement.  It was quite an experience.  We had to wait for the boat to arrive and my wife wanted to shop, so we went into a market which had several very large windows along the dock side of the structure.  In the middle of our shopping we heard a crashing sound, turned to look, and saw children’s faces stacked like cord wood, completely filling in a large windows from left to right, and top to bottom.  Apparently some had fallen trying to climb over others.  I went out to play with them, but the elders didn’t want the children to be a “bother”.  I had my wife tell them that I wanted to play with them.  It was a ton-of-fun!!

The boat was a long, thin canoe styled vessel with a pontoon on one side, powered by a motor with a long shaft that stuck out the back several feet.  When I went to board, the operator was afraid I was going to fall in the water. He kept trying to grab my hand and help me which kept throwing me off-balance.   I had the misses tell him that I had lots of experience with boats, and promised I wouldn’t go overboard.  I don’t think he was convinced.  All the way up the river, people were lining the rivers sides yelling and waving as I went by.

It was absolutely incredible the way the Filipino people treated me.  The elders remembered, and youngsters had been taught what MacArthur had done.  Everyone wanted to show their appreciation for something someone else had done 34 years ago.  People came from other villages bringing me food.  Others came just to see me.  It was a very humbling experience.  I can’t fully comprehend what transpired during the War, but I do fully comprehend the love the Filipino people still had for the General.  It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to ride the coattails of such a man.

Shave and a Haircut


While serving in the United States Air Force I was promoted to Staff Sergeant, got married, had a permanent change of base, and went over four years in the military, all in a very short time frame.   Unfortunately, the military also changed to a new pay system.  The change of duty assignment was from Westover Air Force Base (AFB) in Massachusetts to Kincheloe  AFB, Michigan.  At the time I was leaving Westover it was in the process of being closed down.  By the time I was released to process out of the base, most of the people working in the base personnel office and finance were already gone.  As a result, my records had not been updated to show these recent changes.

The records not being properly updated created plenty of room for problems to develop.  For several months my pay was a complete mess!  I had not been given pay increases for the promotion, or for going over four years in the military.  Oh yeah… money was tight!  Out of necessity all the frills were eliminated; not only personal frills, but haircuts and starched uniforms were out too.  If we wanted to eat meat, I had to hunt it; we couldn’t even afford meat purchased at the base commissary.  The way I figured things was I had a contract with the government… I would put myself in their service, and they would pay me what they were supposed to.  With little money coming in, I purchased what was needed to keep my wife and me healthy, get the necessities, and everything else went by the wayside.

I was in a “Catch 22”.  Regulations required I maintain Air Force grooming standards, that I maintained myself in a good, healthy condition, and that I not run afoul of the banking system by bouncing checks.  The pay situation required I choose the lesser of the evils and go with those; stay healthy, and no bounced checks.

Kincheloe was in the Strategic Air Command (SAC).  As if I didn’t have enough problems already, the base was due an Inspector General (IG) Inspection by SAC.  The highest level of inspection the base would receive.  This was not going to be pretty.  I looked like a long-haired hippy; my uniform was wrinkly and unstarched.   My shop chief was really upset with me, as was my immediate supervisor.  Management was offering me loans to get cleaned up which I refused.  Then there were threats of disciplinary actions which I ignored.  I explained that if I didn’t have money to get a haircut, how was I going to pay back a loan to get a haircut?  It was only after I gave my word that when the inspectors nailed my butt I would acknowledge I was ordered to clean up my act that they finally got off my back.

It was time.  The IG Team arrived at the base, and everyone went into panic mode.  As the saying goes, “you could cut the tension with a knife”.  The team entered our shop, met with the shop managers, and then went out into the various shop sections to start their work.  One of the inspectors was a Colonel who had already seen me and had talked to management about me.  He approached me, and in a very pleasant tone inquired as to why I was so far out of Air Force grooming standards, and why my uniform was not presentable.  I explained my pay problem to him, as well as why I made the choices I did as far as maintaining good health , and choosing to let the grooming standards go.  Without judgment or threat the Colonel took my information and promised to look into it.  He went about his inspection, and I went back to work.  These inspections lasted several days, after which things would go back to normal, and problems found would be addressed.

I was very pleased when the next payday came around.  All my back pay was caught up, and all my pay and allowances had been brought up to date.  Needless to say, the very first things I did were to hit the barber shop, the base laundry, and the commissary for a big, thick steak!!

 

Mugging…What Mugging?


One of the things I liked doing in the Philippines as well as other countries in the Orient was bar hopping.  It was a chance to meet people, try local foods, and learn about local customs.  One of my favorite bars to visit while at Clark Air Base was the Red Velvet.  It was a short walk from the main gate of the base.

Passing the bar almost every time I would go off base, I made friends with a Filipino man whose job it was to guard American military member’s personal vehicles that were parked in front of the bar.  He was a very pleasant man.  We would talk about our travels, foods, customs; comparing our two countries.  We became good friends.

For those Filipinos who were less friendly and more interested in a quick buck, their scams usually relied on their belief that to Americans, all Filipinos looked the same.  Eventually it was my turn to be gamed.  I was leaving the base when a Filipino man approached me.  He was overly friendly, talking to me as if we were long-time friends.  He carried on about how his family missed me, how his mother had taken ill, that he did not have enough money to pay for the doctor bills.  He asked if I could give him some money to help out.  Try as he could, he was not going to convince me that we had a history.  I had never seen this man before plain and simple!

In his persistence, I pulled my pockets inside out to show all I had on me was a military identification and $2.00.  I had learned years earlier to carry my paper money in my sock leaving only a dollar or two in my pocket.  It was not unusual to have an experienced pick-pocket run a knife blade across your back pocket, and let your walking push your wallet out on the ground.  I didn’t even carry a wallet while in the Orient.  Unable to sway me, it was time for him to change tactics.

While still talking to me, I could see out of my peripheral vision he lowered his hand and gave a distinct hand signal to someone.  I was ready for round two.  A jeepney, their version of a taxi that looked similar to a World War II military jeep. pulled up beside me.   The driver and my “long lost friend” were trying to offer me a free ride to Manila.  They were even offering to pay for a hotel room for me and get free prostitutes for me.  So… this man says he’s broke, needs money, and now wants to pay for a round-trip, all frills included trip to Manila for me.  To an idiot this might sound like a great offer… I was having none of it.

There were three people in the jeepney, one driver, and two in the back seat.  One in the back seat had gotten out, motioning me to get in.  You would have to be brain-dead to not figure this out… so I picked him up, put him in the middle of the back seat, and then got in.  Not exactly what they were hoping for.  Their plan was to sandwich me in between the two in the back seat so I could not get out, then drive me to the jungle and mug me.  My plan was to have them give me a free ride down to my “watering hole”.

The street coming off the base ended at a “T” intersection; a turn left went to Manila, the Red Velvet bar was to the right.  Also to the right was the jungle… they turned right.  When we got as far as the Red Velvet, I got out and thanked them for the ride.  Oh my… they were not happy!  They were yelling at me that I owed them taxi fare, calling me names… not like Steve or Mike, but names with a little more bite to them.  I explained how I had saved them all that time, gas money to and from Manila, the cost of the room and prostitutes.  That didn’t seem to appease them at all.  My friend the Filipino guard grabbed me and told me to go into the bar, so I did.  A minute or two later, after my eyes adjusted to the dark, I realized he had not come into the bar with me so I went back outside.  He commenced to give me a proper ass-chewing!  Finally he calmed down, and asked me if I knew who those people were.  I told him I knew they wanted to take me to the jungle and mug me, but since they had offered me a free ride I wanted to accept and not be rude.  He was not impressed!  He finished his verbal lashing telling me how dangerous those people were, and telling me to pull my head out of my butt.

A few days later, I saw one of the would-be muggers on the other side of the street about 40 yards down the road.  When he saw me, he looked terrified and quickly disappeared down an alleyway.  I went over to the bar to see my friend to ask him what he had said to the muggers.  He explained that he had told them that if he, his family, or friends ever saw them in the same vicinity with me, they would be killed.

Friendship is a way of life in the Philippines.  When someone says they don’t like you, you can count on it.  Likewise, when someone says they are your friend, you can take that to the bank.  I was lucky to have many good Filipino friends while there.

Hang ‘Em High


One of my jobs while at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina was teaching outdoor survival training to aircrew members.  It was a fun job, and we tried to make it as enjoyable and useful to the pilots as possible.  Several shop people wanted to be instructors, but those positions were already filled, and we didn’t have the time to train new instructors.  Class was one-half day in the classroom, and one-half day hands on in the North Carolina woods.  There was one problem however; there was a Staff Sergeant (SSgt) who fancied himself an instructor, and he was going to be one come hell or high water!  He would listen to the classroom portion, and when he heard something he disagreed with or didn’t like the way the material had been presented, he would interrupt the class to make his correction.  These disruptions were unnecessary, embarrassing, and regular in their frequency.  Discussing the negative effect his disruptions had on the class did not deter him one iota!

By chance, several of us were talking about nothing in particular while on a break when it slipped out that this SSgt was afraid of heights.  Oh… my mind was working overtime!  There was real opportunity here for me to have some fun while teaching this man not to be such a jerk.  Within minutes I had the plan.  And it was a good one!

Fortunately for me most of the folks in the shop were always up for some excitement, so recruiting cohorts in crime was a breeze.  The fact that he had rubbed a few others the wrong way made it even easier.  With people picked, we discussed the plan, assigned parts for each player, got our materials ready, created the opportunity to exercise it; and we were off and running!

We gathered in the flight line section, a room from which anyone, anywhere else in the shop could hear what was being said.  I started in giving a class on how to use a restraining harness which loadmasters used on C-130 aircraft when dropping loads out the back of the aircraft while flying at very low altitudes.  When properly worn and hooked to the inside of the aircraft, it prevents the loadmaster from falling out the back of the aircraft.  I put a harness on and started explaining how to properly adjust the straps.  As part of the bait, I was giving incorrect information.  He turned out to be every bit reliable as “Big Ben”.  After making those few “well planned” mistakes our “nuisance” showed up.  Fidgety, he gave me several looks of disapproval, and when he could stand it no more he butted in challenging the information I was teaching.  It was like reeling in a fish.  So, I asked?  You think you can do better?  He almost couldn’t control himself as I took the harness off and handed it to him.

He put the harness to show the proper way to adjust it.  Chest strap, one leg strap, the other leg strap, pull all the straps tight… we had him!  This was too easy.  Two of us grabbed him while a dolly was brought in and wheeled up behind him.  Several of us had parachute cord which we used to lash him to the dolly.  Once his body was secured, we pulled his legs in and tied those to the dolly as well.   And it was off to the tower!  Tower?

The parachute shop had a tower complete with wire cables and manual controls for hauling canopies up to the top for airing which is what I figured the guy needed… a little airing.   A short trip across the parking lot, open up the metal doors, a few more steps and we were there, standing in the tower, a very tall tower, directly under the cable and hook.  The way that SSgt was wiggling, if he had been a fish he could have given a swordfish a run for its money!   And the words that were coming out of his mouth… Listerine would have a hard time disinfecting that pie hole.  We attached the hook to the strap on the back of the harness and started taking the slack out of the strap, then started hauling him up.  One foot; another foot; Oh yeah… he was “fit to be tied”!  All the while we were admonishing him about the negative effect of his behavior.  Three feet… we figured he’d gotten the message.

I finished up my pep talk then let him down.  That was the last time he wandered into the training environment.  I guess he got the message.

No Thanks


Arizona is known for its many gambling facilities scattered throughout the state.  Just counting the ones located within “The Valley of the Sun” (Phoenix and the surrounding cities), there are enough casinos to keep one broke for life.  If you fancy a bus ride to feed your habit, then Laughlin, Nevada is only a four-hour drive, and Las Vegas, Nevada is about five hours away.  If you like a loud, over-crowded venue with lights enough to give you a headache, then Las Vegas is for you.  Laughlin offers all that Las Vegas does except on a much smaller, more peaceful scale.

Over the years, my daughter organized several bus tours to both Las Vegas and Laughlin on civilian bus lines, both one day and overnight trips.  The casino incentives, good room rates, and inexpensive bus fares really made it hard not to take advantage of the packages.  To hit all the casinos in Las Vegas one would certainly have to bring a lunch.  At Laughlin you can walk from one end of the strip to the other along the river walk in 15 to 20 minutes.   Laughlin also offers other activities If you were to get tired of gambling, eating good food, and shows.  There are boat tours on the Colorado River, jet-ski rentals, or you could water ski.  Luke AFB also offered trips to Laughlin through the Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) section, but day trips only.  These trips were for military members and family members only.

We had wanted to take more advantage of the base shuttle to Laughlin, but the shuttle schedule was a problem.  I went to the MWR shop to ask why the schedule was so limited and was told there were not enough bus drivers.  So I applied to be a driver.  The pay was $50.00 per each 16 hour trip, so drivers relied on tips to make the effort worthwhile.  I got the job, and one week later I was making my first run.

The trip to Laughlin was about 210 miles.  The four-hour trip was broken up with a stop at the half-way mark in Wikieup, Arizona for a 30 minute rest and food stop.  Once in Laughlin, the driver would drop the passengers off at a pre-designated point.  They would have eight hours to gamble, then would be picked up at that same location for the trip back to Luke.  The driver had a motel room paid for across the river in Bullhead City, Arizona and was expected to sleep and not gamble.  The trip back was about three and a half hours without the stop in Wikieup.

This first trip was in the winter.  When I drove past the pick-up point on my way to MWR to get the bus, people were already standing in line.  When I arrived at the shop I was told the blower motor for the heater and defroster didn’t work, but it was the only bus available.  It was too late to reschedule the trip with people already standing in line…  I took the bus.  The trip up was good with no problems; all the passengers were in a good mood, there were no issues with the bus, and I had put some music on the intercom which they seemed to enjoy.

We arrived on time.   I headed back across the river to my motel room putting about six hours of sleep under my belt.  Eight hours later I picked the passengers up for the return trip.  It was much colder; it had snowed a few inches, and fog tried its best to hide the twisting, turning road from view.  With the broken windshield defroster, the colder temperatures and a shuttle bus full of people, it didn’t take long for the windshield to fog up.  The only method I had to try to keep the windshield clear was the fresh air vent powered by our forward movement.  In less than 20 minutes, visibility was cut to a view through a six-inch diameter spot on the windshield directly above the dashboard defroster vent which was low enough to cause me to have to lean forward to the point I was almost lying on the steering wheel with my head just inches above the dashboard… slumped over the wheel like I had suffered a heart attack.  Due to these restrictions, I could drive at a maximum speed of about 35 miles per hour.  At this slower speed I did not have sufficient air flow through the defroster to clear the windshield.

For decades, the memory of those killed in vehicular accidents along the route had been marked with iron crosses.  So many crosses dotted the roadside bearing witness to the many who had tested their skills on this twisting road.  Some in a hurry to get to Laughlin or Las Vegas, some in a hurry to get back home, some too drunk or too tired, and some unfamiliar with the road to make the trip complete.  The most hazardous section of the trip was a 35 mile stretch of Route 93 where most of the crosses mark fatal accident sites.  Route 93 took us from Kingman, Arizona all the way to Wickenberg, Arizona.  The middle section of that road was filled with blind corners, dips, hills, and a narrow lane.  In later years, the State of Arizona did a lot of road surgery widening and straightening out some of the most dangerous sections where the topography would lend itself to such alterations.  These changes did have a positive effect on reducing the number of fatal accidents.

Once we hit that dangerous section of road I starting hearing comments from the passengers asking each other if I was sick or asleep.  Yes… I was still slumped over the steering wheel.  Through every blind curve, every gorge, every bottom of a hill where you couldn’t see down the road until the headlights picked up again they would whisper among themselves.  It was odd that they were concerned, but not willing to check and see if I was actually okay.  I guess with each road hazard safely behind us they would be satisfied until the next one appeared.

The trip back took a little over five hours.  Although I had no control over the weather, apparently the passengers thought I did as I did not receive a single thank you or a single cent in tips.

The second trip was a few weeks later.  It was a cold morning.  Luckily the heater and defroster were working this time around.  The trip started out fine, however about 30 minutes before we arrived at Wikieup I was getting complaints from many of the passengers in the rear of the bus that there was no heat.  When we rolled into Wikieup I noticed the bus was starting to overheat.  Base policy was that if a bus went down, the driver was to make a call back to the base for a replacement bus, and wait until it showed up.  That would be at least several hours of waiting if they had a bus and driver immediately available.  Heck with that!

I crawled under the bus to check the heater hoses for the rear heater.  The hot water line to the blower was almost cut into two.  A check of the radiator confirmed that a considerable amount of radiator fluid had already leaked out.  Not wanting to spend the day in Wikieup, and the fact that there was a gas station nearby, I decided to repair the bus and continue on.  The hot water line had been routed through holes in the bus’s frame with no grommets to protect the line from rubbing on the metal edges.  Over time, the metal wore through the rubber.   I purchased a water hose coupler, two clamps, and a gallon of radiator fluid to fix the leak.  The leak was fixed, the heater working, and we were back on the road within the standard 30 minutes allowed for the stop.  I even gave my passengers an extra 30 minutes of gambling time before picking them up for the trip back.

For my efforts, I received no thanks, nor a single penny in tips.  And so… I told MWR no thanks and quit the next say.

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