The Day I Joined the Air Force – Part Three, The End

In 1968, four years after I joined the Air Force, I received an Honorable Discharge and rejoined civilian life.  I had spent four years as a 30352 Aircraft Control & Warning Radar Technician.  It was my job to keep the radar running that was scanning the skies for any potential enemy aircraft.  In the sixties, with the Cold War raging this meant Russkies.  I had learned how to repair computerized surveillance systems, servo systems, power supplies, radar scopes, ECCM and ECM (Electronic Counter Measure and Electronic Counter Counter Measure) equipment.  It was technical work and in addition to 42 weeks technical school training, I had completed several correspondence courses to advance my knowledge while in the military.

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During my Air Force career, I had received each of my stripes with minimum time in grade and was eligible for a P-4 reenlistment bonus which I declined.  I had earned a career as an electronic technician that enabled me to have numerous job offers with computer firms, telecommunication firms and other high tech companies.  I had more job offers than I knew what to do with.  I owed it all the third of my three life changing decisions.  Here is how the third decision transpired.

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After I completed my basic training at Lackland AFB, I was assigned to a technical training facility that was at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi.  I found the base to be everything I could want in terms housing, bars, night clubs, women and most importantly the ocean.  When I was not in training class, I would go to the beach, swim and try to meet young women.  I developed a tan that would be the envy of anyone.  Many of the local girls seemed to prefer going out with guys from the north much to the dismay and hostility of the local guys.  We were given cards that advised us on which clubs and bars to avoid.  Of course, these were the ones I preferred to go to.  I soon developed a bad drinking habit and spent too many weekends recovering from a hangover.  I was living the good life except for one “minor” hiccup.

I was a notoriously bad student in high school, and I continued to be the same at the airbase.  I hated school and did not want to be in training class.  I continually disrupted class, did not pay attention and gave the training instructor a hard time.  Somehow, rather stupidly I would later realize, I thought the Air Force would have some type of fighting unit.  I still wanted to fight in the ongoing Vietnam war and whether I died or not did not matter to me.  I wanted adventure and excitement and not a classroom with books, assignments, tests and studying.  Everything I hated about high school had now come back to inflict misery on my days.  Perhaps that is why I drank so heavily on the weekends.

Then one day, I received a notice from my training instructor.  He told me that I needed to report to the base commander.  He did not say why.  But I was told to go ASAP.  Now the airbase had almost 20,000 officers and enlisted men stationed there, and it was not every day that an Airman 3rd Class was told to report to the base commander.

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I found my way to the base commander’s office and met his secretary.  She told me to take a seat and that Major General Romulus W. Puryear would see me shortly.  Apparently, he was expecting me.  After a brief wait, I was called in General Puryear’s office.  He was working at a large desk and without looking up, he told me to take a seat in front of him.  He had his back to a large window which looked out over the base.  I waited anxiously for what seemed like an hour before he finally looked at me.  When he did, he told me to look out the window.  “What do you see” he asked?

I replied, “I see two guys up on a scaffold painting the barracks.”

“Do you know what we call them”? he inquired

“Painters”, I said.

“No, we call them Protective Coating Specialists (PCS); and when they are done painting that side of the barracks, do you know what they do next?

“They paint the other side”, I responded.

“That’s right”, said the Commander, “and when they are done that side, what do you think they do next?”

“Paint a new barracks, I guess.”

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“Wrong”, said the commander.  “It takes about six months to paint one side and, in a year, when they have finished the second side, the first side is starting to peel so they will go back to the first side and start painting all over again.  That’s what they will do for the next four years.”

“And” shouted the commander, “If you don’t get your ass back in that class and start paying attention, that is what you will be doing for the next four years as well.  Do you understand me?”

“But sir, I don’t like school and I wanted to be in a fighting unit”

“That is not one of your options.  You have a choice, School or PCS.  Dismissed Airman!”

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It was a rather quick decision on my part but one that altered my life forever.  I choose to go back to class and pay attention.  I finished third in my class behind the squadron wimp, a guy named Sitters, whom many of the other guys picked on and a guy from North Carolina named Michael Atkins who sounded like he had marbles in his mouth when he spoke.  I had assumed Atkins was dumb, but he and I became good friends.  He was quite an intelligent guy.  Stereotypes based on accent were said to hurt President Lyndon B. Johnson and I know they hurt people like Mike.  Can we ever overcome the impact of nurture on our lives?  I guess it all comes down to the decisions we make.  After completing my technical training, I put in for Southeast Asia but instead I was sent on a remote assignment to Unalakleet Air Force Base in Alaska.  I never did get to see Vietnam.  Many people say that I was lucky.

The End.  

These are two of my squadron patches.  One for Unalakleet, Alaska and the other for Osceola, Wisconsin.  I tried twice to get sent to Southeast Asia but both times I got assigned to very very snowy climates.

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