Wednesday, August 15, 2007


The last two weeks moved on at a snail’s pace, or as I’ve described like being on a turtle’s back. However, these last two weeks were the most enjoyable, if you can find any joy in basic training.

The DI’s begin to treat us with a little respect and us them. There are quiet moments of rest, in our dayroom where they answered questions about their careers and about what we were to expect after leaving Lackland. I found that my anxiety level again rose, wondering where I would be stationed next and what I would be trained to do.

When I first took the test at the recruiter’s office in Harriman, I had every intention of being in the medical field, specifically “paramedics” – do not ask me why. I just thought I would like working in a hospital when I got out and drawing blood from patients and then performing all the required tests to determine their various illnesses.

After the test came back, the “General Field”, which included medics, cooks, and air police, came out slightly higher than the Electronics and Mechanical Fields. So, that is what I signed up for, not realizing that specifically getting a medical assignment was not a guaranteed thing!

The last weeks moved on with more M1, class, and obstacle course training, but all the time my next duty assignment was foremost on my mind.

I scored “expert” with the M1 and thoroughly enjoyed the classes on firing disciple and the mechanics of the weapon. The most fun was sitting beneath the targets downrange and listening the sonic pops the .30 caliber rounds made above my head before sinking themselves into the dirt breams, pulling the targets down, marking the hits, and pushing them back into view again. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed and I frequent a range in Oak Ridge, not as much as I would like, just for the experience. To me, it is almost as exciting as the actual live firing!

Then there was the obstacle course, which is nothing like the Army or Marines I’m sure, but tough nonetheless. There is the expected full-out run over logs, through creeks, under logs, through mud holes, and the tougher crawl over logs, swinging from ropes, climbing walls, jump off walls, and completely exhausting and pushing your body to the max as a DI screams insults in your ear and in your face!

I remember that we were all told to run into the “tear gas” shack, make a left, and straight out the other side. However, as my line approached the canvas flap that covered the doorway, I could see briefly inside and I saw daylight straight through and almost laughed as a guy a few steps in from of us make the instructed left and go down. You could hear him behind the canvas begin to cough and yell “I can’t see!”

The line I was in was halted as a DI near the door, wearing a gas mask, reached in and pulled the spitting and sputtering Airman outside and down on the ground. They then waved us forward and apparently the guys just in front of me saw the same thing I did. We all ran straight through the canvas and straight out the opposite side of the gas filled shack! We had no problems holding our breath that long and were soon on our way down the course to the finish.

With this last flurry of action, “Order Day” came soon enough and the DI’s called us into the dayroom. They began by telling us what a pleasure it had been to train us and that they wished us well. “Yeah, yeah, get on with the lottery,” we all thought!

We all sat on the floor, legs crossed with our feet in front of us, and our elbows propped upon our knees, and our hands on each side of our faces like kids waiting for the presents to be handed out. It was a sinking feeling to realize the military had your life in their hands and there was nothing you could do to change their decision.

Names were called and next duty assignments, or tech schools, were read with running plus and minus commentary from the DIs. “Oh, Dawson, you are going to freeze your ass off in Minot!” or “Johnson, you lucky bastard, you’re going to Florida!”

For the most part, as each Airman’s orders were read, there were happy sounds and smiles, but for some there was shock and disappointment.

Most of the orders began, “…first you will go home for 10 (some as much as 30) days leave, then you will report to such-and-such-airbase for 10 to 18 weeks job specific technical school training.” Wow, I don’t think I realized you got to go home before being trained. I couldn’t wait for my name to be called.


“Yes sir?”

“You will go home for 30 days leave, and then you’ll report to Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi where you will train for 18 weeks for ‘air traffic control’ duty.”

“Thank YOU sir,” Woody nearly shouted as he looked satisfied into my eyes thinking about home!

Some thought of Woody and I getting to enjoy circling The Beacon one more time together fluttered through mine. It was going to be too cool! We would be wearing our dress blues and looking fine!



“Oh hell,” he said without finishing, but instead addressed the group, “Mushy is going to be a damn sky cop!” Everyone looked at me with that “first day of school” look and then laughed.

My heart, hopes, and dignity all sank to the floor and tried to crawl up under the dayroom couch, but they were now all too bloody and bare to hide.

“Mushy (not his real name), you will stay here at Lackland, transfer over to the Air Police Training School, and complete a 6 week (now 13 weeks) training course, after which you will be reassigned to a permanent party station somewhere in the world.”

“I, I don’t get to go home sir?”

“Oh, not until after you receive your next orders, and before reporting to your next station, I’m sure you’ll get a 30 day leave then.” He looked around and closed the session with, “Any other questions from anyone?”

The excited buzz continued as I walked back, head down, to my bunk and thoroughly read my orders over and over looking for a loop hole. “Damn…I hate this place!”

Woody and Tom came by my bunk and said “tough break” but could not contain their excitement. Who could blame them – they were going home.

I did not see Tom Hall again until years after our tour of duty ended. However, I would see Woody again 8 to 10 weeks later at Keesler.

I sat and sulked for some time thinking, “No Pararescue for me now…I’m going to be a dumb cop…a cop…what the hell?”

As it turned out, with Vietnam in my future, and the life expectancy of a helicopter rescue crew and all, it was a blessing I did not fully understand until 3 years later.

Next, 6 more weeks of hell!


Debbie said...

I've heard horror stories of guys signing up for military service, being told they were SURE to get the assignment of their choice ... Only to end up with the LAST place or job they ever wanted. I guess that's the military. Maybe some reverse psychology is called for? Ask for the job you don't want and you will get the one you do want?

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Well, Woody made it then, and got a decent gig in the end. Of course, he could end up going to Danang too, so we'll wait for the future installments. Really enjoying this. With all that "fun" you had back then at Lackland, it's no wonder you're not interested in coming back to Texas. I should run down there and shoot some pictures for ya and see if anything looks the same. Probably not.

I've always thought that I would have enjoyed the shooting and the obstacle course too. Driving by those things later, the ones they had on the base in Ft. Worth, they always looked like fun.

Mushy said...

I'll probably not ever touch on this later, but neither Woody or Tom ever went to Vietnam. I was the only one privileged enough for that experience out of the Harriman boys.

However, everyone from AP School that went to Lackland with me were also at DaNang. I was in good company.

GUYK said...

I went through boot at Lackland in Oct.Nov 1960 and was sent to Amarillo Texas for POL school and the rest of boot training. I enjoyed this series about boot camp..brought back some memories and not all of them good ones..I did take part in a blanket party one night and also saw a squad leader get tripped and fall down the stairs one night. It didn't kill him but he did break a leg.

I avoided the leadership positions in boot camp but got 'drafted' into a flight leaders job in tech school..wore one of those red ropes for a couple of weeks and then one of the yellow ones for another month until school was finished..lot of headaches and no extra pay..

Ron Southern said...

You're lucky you can remember so much. I don't believe I would.

Nice procession of you's in your header.

Mushy said...

Thanks Ron...I appreciate that!

jan said...

I have really enjoyed your basic training stories. Would it sound too girly-girl to say that I'm glad women never had to go through that.

Shrink Wrapped Scream said...

Sheesh, how come you wound up with no leave? That must have hit hard, especially seeing as how all your buddies were heading home. Poor kid. Keep tapping away on that keyboard, bonny lad, I want to read over your shoulder!

BRUNO said...

I'm still followin'---you just keep on writin', I intend to be here to the end, bud!

I'm sure that it's hard for some to believe it was "fun" in the trench, at the range---but it really kinda was! After a while, it kind of became like a game of sorts---just don't break the rules, and you'll come out a winner! The sounds of the impacts---well, you can get used to them now, HERE, or then, THERE!

It's a shame we weren't welcomed THERE with pre-dug holes---I mean, after all, we WERE guests...!

You ain't gonna stop here, are you? At least give us a "Mushy's Epilogue"!

Lin said...

Funny how God sends blessings our way and we usually don't recognize the best of them at the time, isn't it? Better AP than RIP any day. I always had a respect and appreciation for the APs.

Hey, don't wander off on me so soon - I promise not to mention snakes again without warning you first and not even about the black widow I found in the sink tonight, okay? I'm not even telling Mark about that little jobby, nosirree.

david mcmahon said...

Great memoir, Mushy,

Funny how (echoing Lin) that we don;t recognise blessings until much, much later.

Speaking of choppers and Nam, there is a genuine Huey nearby that I must photograph for you ....

Scott from Oregon said...

You never wanted to be a jet fighter pilot?

Mushy said...

Was never smart enough Scott...didn't go to college until after my tour, but I did always fantasize about it.

Jose said...

It is obvious to me that God does work in misterious ways. Enjoy reading your memories.

JDP said...

My dad went through basic training at Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls TX during WWII in August. He said it was 110 degrees in the shade. He got caught in the tear gas shack. He said it was not a pleasant experience.