Thursday, January 24, 2013

On Thunderbird Lead's Wing, Part II




--continued from previous post-- 
(Click here if you haven't read it.)

Col. Ryan had told me there was trouble ahead for taking the plane with the nose wheel problem, and boy, was there. Moore never summoned me, but that wasn’t necessarily a good sign. He chewed out Col. Ryan and our Ops officer, who was my flight lead that day. Next day Col. Ryan called for me to report to his office. In his laid-back Texas way, he never raised his voice or offered a hint that he was mad at me. “Moore wanted to give you an Article 15,” he said. I froze. That was a punitive action in the Uniform Code of Military Justice—just short of a court martial. It was also a career killer.

He held up a letter. “I got it reduced to a Letter of Reprimand.” He stared at me for a while. I was a quivering pile of jello. Then, to my astonishment and profound relief, he tore it up and put it in his trash. “It won’t go in your file.”

I wondered if tearing up the letter in front of me—as well as the Article 15 threat—were tactics just to get my attention, or whether Col. Ryan did it on his own without Moore’s knowledge. Events that happened later helped me figure it out. I was thankful to Col. Ryan for taking care of me, but I knew I needed to keep my nose clean.

Col. Ryan retired a few weeks later, and I was sorry to see him go. A stocky little 5’-5” Nebraskan replaced him, who liked to introduce himself as, “Hi, I’m Stanley Schneider from Wahoo, Nebraska!” Stan, too, turned out to be a good squadron commander and a great guy.

One very early morning I reported to the squadron to begin my tour as the “Duty Officer.” It was also called Duty Pig. It was rotated among the junior officers of the squadron. The Pig was charged with posting the schedule, answering the phone and a whole other bunch of non-inspiring tasks. I was the only person in the building that dark morning when Joe Moore walked in, helmet and harness in hand. I knew he was scheduled to make a proficiency flight that morning.

I was nervous when he came in, thinking he might lecture me on the incident of a few weeks ago, but he only looked around and said, “Where’s my wingman?” I looked on the scheduling board. Lt. Hawkins was scheduled. Hawk should have been there by then. He was in big trouble. I said, “Colonel, he must have over-slept. I’ll call his hooch right now.”

Moore studied the board, then me. “No. You’re coming. Get your gear.”

I swallowed hard and hurried to the life support shop for my gear. He briefed the flight and never said a word about what had happened earlier. It was as if he had forgotten, but I knew better than that.

We took off and flew out to the training area for some wing work. He maneuvered the A-7 hard, pulling 4-5 Gs and I hung in close as best I could. Then we swapped leads and I gave him some wing time. We broke off and headed back to base for practice instrument approaches. He flew an ILS and a PAR with me on the wing. Then he gave me the lead and I flew an ILS.

He said nothing during the van ride back to the squadron building. His debriefing was quick and to-the-point. Finishing, he got up and shook my hand. “That was some good wing work. Good, steady lead too. Thanks for flying with me.” As if I had a choice.

And that was it. The over-sleeping Hawkins had done me a great favor (But not for himself. He damned near got an Article 15 himself out of that.) I had erased my earlier transgression (I think) and felt that Thunderbird Lead had given me a fair shake. He earned my respect. But there was yet one more mistake I was to make with him—one of costly consequences.

I was standing on the porch leading into the wing bar. Before I explain what happened, let me tell you about this bar. Each wing on the base had its own bar, separate from the main Officer’s Club (The "Kaboom Club")—which by-the-way was the biggest O-Club bar in southeast Asia, and I have stories about it. But later. Occasionally, but surely not often, the headquarters brass would venture into one of the private wing bars for a drink and some banter. Our bar was a huge room in a wooden building beside our hooches. A local Thai tended it, who was paid out of sales. High stakes poker and pool games were common, as well as darts rocketing across the room, sometimes over the heads of drinkers sitting at tables. The most unusual feature of the bar was the indoor bombing range.

A wooden A-7 hung on a long cord from the ceiling. An electrical wire ran down the cord that energized an electro-magnet that held a “bomb” on the A-7. A standard fighter control stick sitting on a nearby table was wired so that the bomber could press the bomb release button and drop the “bomb” on a target on the floor. But this had to be done while the A-7 was dive-bombing as it swung. The challenger was responsible for pulling the A-7 back and releasing it. Money always rode on the outcome.

On any given afternoon, especially Fridays, the bar buzzed with activity. I had arrived from the flight line and was about to go in, but I met a buddy on the porch and we talked a long time. I took no notice of the door being open and me being in full view of the drinkers at the bar. One of them sat drinking and quietly eyeing me—Col. Joe Moore.

My conversation with my buddy went on for a long time and must have annoyed Moore, who was hoping I would enter with my hat on. In fact, he had a bet placed with some other colonels that I would do exactly that. Unlike the Navy and Army, the USAF doesn't have many traditions. The one they do have (He who enters covered here, shall buy the bar a round of cheer) is vigorously enforced. A bell hanging over the bar serves to incriminate the perpetrators.

As I turned to go in, I reached up to take off my cap. Pandemonium erupted. Moore rang the bell like hell with one arm while pointing at me with the other, straight as a machine gun, yelling to his cohorts, “I TOLD YOU HE WOULD. I TOLD YOU, NOW PAY UP, YOU!” The bell rang and rang and rang. All heads turned my way and cheers went up.

Moore's challengers protested that I did not get far enough inside to qualify for being uncovered and that I was at least taking my hat off, and thus he (Moore) had lost the bet. But he was the wing commander. They relented and paid.

Of course, I paid too—bought rounds for the whole bar. That was the price for coming in with a hat on. I was just a lieutenant. The tab about broke me. As I stood signing a tab for all the drinks, Moore sipped his beer and smiled at me, then turned back to the other brass huddled around him.

I guessed he had finally balanced his book on me and I was glad to be the object of his entertainment rather than his wrath. I think he told Col. Ryan to wave that letter in front of my face and then tear it up.

Most importantly to me, I had flown on Thunderbird Lead's wing and had not been found lacking. That's closer than most get to wearing this patch:


  

p.s: I never found out who wrote YGTBSM.



6 comments:

Dave W said...

I enjoyed this two-parter immensely, and then got a further chuckle when I googled YGTBSM!

Thanks for the post (and the enjoyable Pirate post)

I hope you are back in the air soon

All the best

Dave W

Chris said...

Great story and well-told! Thank you for sharing.

S. J. Crown said...

Great stuff. Is another memoir on your writing agenda? Hope so.

Should Fish More said...

Captain
Very entertaining read, thanks. I (and a lot of other people)owe thanks to you 'fast movers', there was a time when the sound of you guys streaking past a few hundred feet overhead was really welcome.
I was fishing once on a coastal river in WA, and suddenly, without any warning, here was a A6, coming down the river very low. For a second, I knew how charlie felt sometimes.

Alan Cockrell said...

Sent to me by e-mail:

Al,

I really enjoyed your SE Asia stories on your blog. Reminded me of my tour at Udorn, and Col Moore reminded me of L/C Brots at Vance. Did you have a "Doofer Book" at your squadron - sort of an informal logbook (today it would be a blog!) for cremembers. Lots of YGTBSM's in it! One tradition we had was nicknames - everyone got one, but the cardinal rule was that you could not give yourself your nickname. One day, a senior Major flight commander that had just joined the squadron made his first entry into the Doofer Book and signed it using a nickname that that he carried over from some previous assignment. No one recognized it, and when it was finally determined who had written he entry, some young Lieutenant decided that justice should be swift and serious. For the rest of that assigment, Major Kimball had to endure having the nickname "Hand-Job"! It was especially funny when the squadron got moved to Clark AB, wives began joining the squadron social scene, and his nickname still stuck with those of us that knew him at Udorn. Fortunately, he had a good sense of humor.

Woody

YYC Dispatcher said...

Alan,

Thanks for the post, I hope there are a lot more coming!

Hopefully you are back in the air soon!

YYC Dispatcher