I learned this as a young boy, running the neighborhoods at night playing hide-and-go-seek, avoiding the occasional clothesline, garden hose, or hanging birdhouse or feeder. It all came back to me as I performed “night watchman” duties at Keesler AFB. The added night experienced also served me in
A patrol would drop me off on the border of my assigned grid of buildings, and I would walk away from any light and stand in the shadows until I got my night-vision. Dressed in my fatigues, carrying a flashlight, a night watchman’s clock, a two-way radio, and a clipboard with all sorts of information and area maps, I was almost invisible as I moved about my appointed rounds on the base.
There was a sense of power you felt in this stealthy situation, and of course, I had my 1911 as added confidence.
The clock at the right is a very modern model, but very similar in shape and configuration to the one I carried. Night watching began many years ago, and was a simple process of ensuring someone visited buildings, checked the doors and windows, and secure areas on a routine basis during off hours.
The processes involved securing a “numbered key” to a building, or to several points around the perimeter of a building or area, and having a “night watchman” check the building at specific times. The visit is confirmed by inserting the “coded key” into a clock and making it record the key number and the exact time of each visit. On a checklist, the guard verifies he has checked all entrances and that no one has entered.
The procedure was a good one, but not foolproof to the foot-patrol who was determined to goof off. If you could imagine your assigned area from an aerial view, you could determine the shortest routes between buildings going cross-country, rather than walking along the outside perimeter. Therefore, you could spend more time doing what you wanted to do, meet another foot-patrol for a BS session, or just duck in somewhere to catnap or get warm! There was also the use of a motor patrol buddy who would let you ride around until it was time to “click” a time clock, and then have them drive you quickly there. If a system can be beaten, then some desperate person will find a way!
I always made the complete circuit by foot at least twice a tour of duty, once the first hour, and then the hour before getting relieved. On one particular night, I was making my first round after assuming the foot-patrol at midnight. You would expect that everything would be buttoned up securely, or the guy before you would have found it. However, on this night I turned the key in my clock and started to walk on by a door when I tried the knob just for grins. It opened!
The facility was a Laundromat, full of washers and dryers, and all kinds of drink and food vending machines. My heart began pounding in my chest! It was the first time I had ever found a door unlocked, and I immediately conjured up all kinds of bad guys inside waiting for me to enter.
I immediately stepped away from the door, back to the shadows, and radioed for a patrol to assist me. After hearing my description of the situation, the Desk Sergeant dispatched two patrols.
Within minutes the patrols arrived, red lights flashing, headlights on bright and aimed at the now open door. A tall skinny black Airman First, later called a “Buck Sergeant,” came to where I was standing and asked me what I saw.
“Nothing…the door was just unlocked!” I explained. “Wonder why they didn’t find it on the evening shift?”
“Good question,” he said, “…or, there’s someone in there now.”
The Airman First motioned for the other patrol to stand at the door and for me to go inside to check things out, and that he would follow me. I swallowed a couple of times and proceeded. Just before clearing the door, I looked back at the Airman and caught him giving that “let’s watch the new guy get the crap scared out of him” grin to the other Patrolman! He quickly recovered and with a more serious face motioned for me to go on.
I made careful and deliberate steps into the dark building, shining my flashlight into every opening and around every corner. It was soon evident that there was nothing there and that there never had been, but there was one more closet to check before backing off and locking up.
I slowly made my way up to the door, sensing the Airman standing right behind me. As I reached for the doorknob, a Coke machine suddenly and loudly snapped on right behind the black Airman. He made a little girly squeak in his throat, whirled around, and came within ounces of squeezing off a round from his .45 into the machine!
All this was witnessed by the Patrolman at the door who was now belly laughing and bracing himself against the side of the building.
“Wh’cu laughin’ at asshole?”
“You asshole! Were you going to shoot the big bad of Coke machine?”
Long story short, I was sworn to secrecy, but I did not have to keep quiet long. At the next Guard Mount, my witness gave it up to Sgt. Webb and the whole Flight. They all laughed, including Sgt. Webb, long and hard.
It was a bonding time for me. I now had a story and something in common with the older troops on the Flight. It was a beginning for me. I now felt like I belonged to the group and that they belonged to me. It was another good thing that happened in the