Last Sunday's newspaper included a special section on the Army-Navy
football game coming up, and it recounted some of the stories told by stars of yesteryear.
One in particular sparked a memory of my own experience in the USAF.
story, a US Naval Academy football player was visiting a friend at his uncle's home
in Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving. While in the Academy, dress uniforms must be worn
any time a Midshipman is off base, so of course that was worn to dinner. Well, the Midshipman
needed to get back to the bus station to return in time for the football game. In his
haste, he left behind his black gloves. To be without them is considered to be "out
of uniform," even if all the other components were in place. As you might imagine, there
would be a severe price to pay if his commanding officer discovered the omission. Realizing
the potential for a dire outcome of his honored dinner guest, the uncle hurried to the
bus station to return the gloves. When he arrived, he found the Midshipman standing
in formation, apparently in full uniform. Upon approaching the gentleman when formation
broke so the football players could board the bus, he observed that the clever Midshipman
had avoided detection by having removed his black socks from his feet and putting them
on his hands. Of course, getting caught at the deception might have caused a worse punishment
than reporting without gloves, but the guy deserves credit for his skill at improvising
and avoiding detection.
My experience is not quite as eloquent, but was a matter
of life and death to me at the time. While in USAF Basic Training, at Lackland AFB,
TX, utility uniforms (fatigues) are issued on Day 1, and if you last through the first
five weeks, you get fitted for wearing the dress uniform ("blues" - the bus driver uniform
with the multi-faceted stiff top). About that time, you also start being granted Base
Liberty, where you could roam just about anywhere on base while having time off from
training. Somehow, I ended up at the roller skating rink. I have never been a star skater,
but it provided a relief from the trauma of Basic Training. After rolling along on the
wooden floor for an hour or so, my confidence level built to where I began skating backwards,
doing a little high speed racing with buddies, and generally being reckless. Without
warning, I got nudged by someone from the back, and I ended up falling. To my horror,
I saw that a hole had burned into the knee area. Immediately, I was forced to decide
whether it would be more honorable to just kill myself out behind the rink, or let the
TI (Training Instructor) kill me in front of the rest of the squadron as he made an
example of me.
I decided to postpone death a while and attempt to make my way
back to the barracks to change into other uniform pants. All the time, I wondered how
my obituary might read in the hometown newspaper. Even with having an unmarred pair
of pants on, surely my disgraced pair would be discovered during locker inspection.
Monday morning would be the death knell. If you have never had the pleasure of being
in Basic Training, then you cannot fully appreciate the responsibility of keeping everything
in a state of utter perfection. It is no exaggeration to tell you that we actually starched
and ironed underwear and measured its width and length with a ruler prior to placing
it in the drawer. Uniforms were hung in the wall locker, and the distance between the
hangers was set with the same ruler (we were required to buy one at the BX). TI's lives
revolved around discovering irregularly spaces clothes hangers or t-shirts that were
not properly "grounded" to the right front corner of the lower drawer. My fate was sealed.
That fact that I am writing this recollection is evidence that I managed to
successfully hide my military faux pas. Somehow - and I'll never understand how - I
managed to hide the holey pants from everybody. I believe the keyword here is "everybody,"
because I never even let the guys I was at the roller skating rink with know about it.
The old Navy wartime adage , "Loose lips sink ships," was adopted. We were required
to travel in groups of no less that two whenever on base liberty, so it was fortunate
that none of them knew about the hole (or at least never mentioned it). It was with
great relief that I pushed those pants into the clothes bag in preparation for departing
the base. Immediately upon arriving at my electronics training school at Keesler AFB,
MS, I went and purchased another pair of pants. Crisis avoided.
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