Thursday, September 4, 2008

Three Strikes; AFBMT pt. 2

Six Little Words (pt. 1)

"Who likes bowling?" asked our Air Force Basic Military Training Instructor (TI), Senior Airman Young.

It was the morning of day one, and we had been permitted a total of two hours or sleep - just enough to assure that even the most stressed out insomniac would have dropped from sheer exhaustion - only to rise to the 0400 wake-up call: "Geddupgeddupgeddup Get UP!" It was all calculated to keep our defenses down.

Which is why so many of us were dumb enough to raise our hands at his question.

Thus, I began my Air Force career in my underwear and on my knees, scrubbing the latrine with four other 18- to 24-year-old recruits. Heads freshly shaved, and smelling strongly of new uniforms, quivering after almost two days of mental anguish, we scrubbed the drab tiles and scoured toilets until they were as clean as the medical facilities. We went so far as to use Brasso polish on any exposed pipes we could reach, and to fold the torn edges of the toilet paper roll into neat triangles.

And yet, somehow, we still failed miserably. Each daily inspection would reveal some missed detail: a stray pubic hair stuck in a remote corner of the shower, a tiny gobbet of shaving cream clinging to the underside of the sink, and even a tiny, stray turd which had miraculously appeared in one of the urinals after we thought we had finished our cleaning for the day. Who poops in a urinal?

Our Latrine Squad was a roaring success compared to our "House Mouse," however. SrA Young, had reviewed our records and learned that Airman Speck and myself were the two "most educated" airmen in the flight, having both attended some college. Speck had a degree, though, and was made "Mouse" - a thankless job that added cleaning the TI's office and scheduling the 24-hour dorm guard watch to his other Basic duties. I silently offered a prayer of thanks that I had never finished that music degree! Speck seemed to take to the job, carrying a little notebook around to jot down SrA Young's instructions and requests from other recruits to swap dorm guard shifts with each other.

It was the Dorm Guard Monitor part of the job that brought him down. Part of the duty was "training" the rest of us in dorm guard policies and procedures: how to challenge visitors, what to say, whom to allow in, operating the door. Everything one needed to know was even printed on a large chart next to the door. If it sounds easy, that's because it was. Only, no one could get it right.

Strike one, day eight: 0330. Taylor was caught dozing at the dorm guard station by SrA Young's boss, Technical Sergeant Burns. TSgt Burns was a sour, angry man, aptly named as any shred of sympathy for us had long ago been charred out of him. He withered SrA Young with a blistering stream of invective over having incompetent dorm guards.

Strike two, day twelve: 1115. Reams (of course) allowed the squadron Superintendent into the building without checking his ID card. SrA Young, furious, warned Speck that the next mistake made by one of his guards would cost him his job as Mouse. Speck redoubled his efforts to "train" us, begging us to read the procedures in our manual every spare minute. There weren't many spare minutes, as we were also supposed to be learning everything in the manual for our final written exam: Customs & Courtesies, Air Force History, First Aid, Chain of Command, Code of Conduct, "Pillars of Service," and more. He would sidle up to people during "free time" and whisper cryptically, "Remember, call the dorm to attention for any officers that enter!" or "Announce 'Female in the dorm!' whenever a female comes in!"

The first of three Command inspections by the Major was scheduled for day 18. SrA Young savaged us at his daily inspection, and drilled us over every tiny mistake. Turning to Speck, he growled, "You better put somebody COMPETENT on dorm guard!" He was still smarting from the incident with the departed Reams, who had only the day before been forcibly ejected from our little ball game. We milled about, nervously fiddling with our gear, and trying to catch any last-minute errors before the Major arrived. That was when we heard Morgan start the door routine.

"Sir! Please present identification!" A brief pause, and then: "Dorm - Tench HUT!"

Fifty airmen snapped to attention, and the Major came striding in with his executive officer and TSgt Burns. They checked the latrines first (mercifully turd-free) and began working through the bunk and wall lockers in the East Bay. All went well, until...

"Sir! Please present identification!" A brief pause, and then: "Dorm - Tench HUT!"

SrA Young's face purpled as he watched the Major snap to. You don't call the Commander to attention, unless... Into the dorm came the Group and Wing commanders! The Colonel greeted the Major, and introduced the General, who was conducting a surprise visit, and had asked to see one of the inspections. The Major sent his XO, a jittery 2nd lieutenant, scurrying out to get the General a pad of inspection forms so he could join in. We were petrified, but things still seemed to be under control. Then, once again...

"Sir! Please present identification!" A brief pause, and then: "Dorm - Tench HUT!"

All eyes shifted to the sight of the General standing at attention, and then to SrA Young, who must have expected the President to walk through the door at that point - about the only reason to call a General to attention at all! Instead, the XO came nervously into the room. SrA Young's face went beyond purple, back around the spectrum to red again, and he ran, elbows pumping, down the center of the aisle between the bunks, his scream of rage building as he went: "No-o-o-o-o-o-oo-oo-ooo-ooo-oooo-ooOOOOOOOOO!!"

He slammed into the wall next to Morgan and screeched into his face: "TELL ME YOU DID NOT JUST CALL A GENERAL TO ATTENTION FOR A LITTLE STINKING LIEUTENANT!!!"

Morgan, already pale, turned green with horror, and - staying rigidly at attention - called over his shoulder. "General!" he squeaked, "At EASE!"

Thus, the job of House Mouse fell to me. Any hope I had to return to anonymity after shooting my mouth off the day before (when Reams made his ignominious exit) vanished as SrA Young's face split into a Grinch-like grin. "Oh, it's YOU!" he said. "Let's see if you're witty enough to train your flight to guard the stinking door!"

I hated the job from the start. I was struggling enough with my own duties; every inspection found some new deficiency in sock or underwear folding, and even with the help of my neighbors, element leader, squad leader, and the dorm chief (our student commander) some seemingly impeccable item would draw a demerit every time. Adding the TI's office only made it worse, as I had less time to devote to arranging my underwear according to regulations.

The Dorm Guard schedule didn't help, either. I quickly wearied of hearing people ask for specific shifts, and of keeping track of who had swapped with whom. After being awakened twice on my first night to settle disputes between remorseful swappers, I declared that there would be no more trades. Shift assignments would be final when I posted them on the bulletin board each week. My only consideration was to keep someone sharp on duty when we were likely to get visitors; which could be any time.

I struggled on, failing inspections, irritating my fellow airmen with the schedules I posted, and trying everything I could to get my duffel bag folded correctly. SrA Young seemed sympathetic, since I wasn't a discipline problem, and he could see I was trying as hard as I could. I made point of keeping my bearing - which mostly meant keeping my mouth shut - even when threatened with the dreaded Recycling. Strike one was my inability to pass an inspection; I couldn't afford any other problems.

"Hey, Mouse," came a voice from behind me. Startled, I whipped around to see Muncie, a skinny, black kid with a gigantic head that bobbled when he walked. He sneaked into the TI office through its rear door while I was sweeping under the bed. "Mouse, you gotta put me on dorm guard at night."

"I don't do requests," I snapped. I didn't trust him, either. He was supposed to become an SP, the Air Force's Security Police, but he hadn't shown any of the qualities typically associated with cops. For example, at the rifle range, he dropped his M-16 the first time he fired it as though it had turned into a snake, and wailed "I cain't DOOO it!" until they came and took him away.

"C'mon, man," he persisted. "You oughta put me on at night... you need me!"

"Why?"

"'Cause I like to creep," he said, a gleam in his eye.

The thought of this weird little man - like Golem with glasses - lurking near my bed while I slept gave me the cold shivers, and I kicked him out of the office. Before he left, though, he hissed at me, "You'll be sorry!" and slammed the door.

I heard something fall behind the desk and shatter.

I dove under the desk, only to pull out the remains of one of SrA Young's prized awards: a model of one of the missile's he had worked on before joining the Training Wing. Before I could decide what to do, the door opened, and there stood SrA Young, looking down on a cowering airman, sitting on the floor of his office in his underwear, and holding his broken missile.

Strike Two.

----------------------

We had all been warned: anyone failing this inspection would be sent to the Superintendent to be considered for Recycle. TSgt Burns had as much as promised that someone would go by the end of the week; we were SrA Young's first solo training flight, and TSgt Burns felt that our lackluster performance would only improve if he followed through on that ultimate of threats.

Three of us failed that inspection. We were told to line up at attention next to the door. TSgt Burns was called on the intercom, and the other two failures began to swoon and moan, tears welling up in their eyes. I was merely angry, and stood locked at attention, gritting my teeth.

On dorm guard was my friend, Jay. I had specially selected him for this shift so that someone I trusted would be on duty during the inspection. He had performed flawlessly... until TSgt Burns' face appeared mashed in the window and demanded to be let in. Jay did well, following the script on the door. Until, that is, TSgt Burns, the sadist, left the script.

"Sir! Please present identification!"

"You just called me! Lemme in, you piece of crap!" bellowed the Evil One.

Rattled, Jay managed to follow the directions on the board by the door, and said, "Please report to the orderly room for assistance, sir."

"I just CAME from there! You know who I am, now let me IN!" TSgt Burns himself had taught us the class on dorm guard procedure... especially stressing the policy against personal recognition. At this point, Jason was supposed to repeat the previous instruction, and then call downstairs for help. Instead, he said:

"NO!"

TSgt Burns blinked, and whispered, "What did you say?"

"I said, ‘NO, I can't do that, sir!" Jay shouted. You could safely say that he had lost it.

TSgt Burns went berserk, hurling himself against the door, screaming, and snarling like a pit bull after a rabbit in its hole. The thick, steel door shook in its concrete frame. Saliva dripped down the outside of the window. SrA Young strode to the door and let him in.

Crossing the threshold, TSgt Burns transformed into the picture of composure, and turned to Jay. "Who is your dorm guard monitor, airman?" Jay, standing at attention now, pointed at me. Me, against the wall with the other two blubbering on either side of me, an obvious trio of losers. My insides churning, I stood staring fixedly at a point about six inches in front of my face; precisely the space where TSgt Burns placed his face as he said:

"Pack your bags."

Strike Three.

*

To be continued...

4 comments:

Sparegum said...

The cliff hanger is killing me; did you graduate? Recycle? Separate? I'm sorry to ask if you continued this story else where. I was in BMT for almost three months and failed horribly. Recycled by the beginning of 2nd week and made it to 7th week in my new flight. Sadly enough I had fallen asleep during EC, for Entry Control (it's what they call dorm guard now, around 0200 the morning of the final exam. The fuck that was on EC with me decided to write a note to our SSgt and post it on his door. Thats what killed me. Everything else I had aced with high scores, including the final PT exam which I ran with a sprained knee. But it didn't matter. My last month on Lackland AFB was spent out processing in the 319th.

Tad said...

I can't believe I forgot to post the last part! I'm glad you enjoyed my sordid tale. :)

Part III.

Hammer said...

wait. you got recycled over that mickey mouse bullshit? that's ridiculous, and your "drill instructors" or whatever didn't do a good job of instruction.

Tad Callin said...

Don't I know it!