Photos Do Not Bend

You never know what’s going to set off a memory and today’s path down things best left forgotten comes from a photo mailer. You’ve seen them. They are those moderately rigid cardboard envelopes you mail photos in; the ones that say, misleadingly, “Photos – Do Not Bend!”

But they DO bend and therein lies today’s memory…

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From the Pentagon to Japan, and Back Again, Without Ever Leaving

During the second year of my Air Force enlistment, having long-since tired of the drudgery of the Pentagon, I put in a request for a transfer somewhere, anywhere. The request was borne out of desperation for something other than the secretive dreariness of our basement facility, or if I was lucky, the solitary 8-hour shifts locked behind a foot-thick steel door in a metal box on the third floor of the world’s largest office building. My request, and the subsequent reassignment, was a mistake, or so I thought at the time.

I grew up hearing, briefly now and again, stories of my father’s time in the military. He too was in the electronics field in the Air Force. All told, he spent seven years in, only leaving it to care for his dying father, though he didn’t know at the time his father was beyond saving. But my dad was stationed in western Europe–Germany and Italy primarily–though he traveled all over during his free time.

Continue reading “From the Pentagon to Japan, and Back Again, Without Ever Leaving”

Everything I need to know, I learned in boot camp.

The military taught me many things. For example, I learned that quality shoes are essential if you plan on doing any great amount of running. I also learned that if you drink two medium-sized glasses of lukewarm water before every meal, you’ll eat less. These are things you would normally learn on your own–given time. But there were other things taught to us raw recruits–such as how to shave correctly–that many people might never have learned if they hadn’t had the proper teacher(s) at home. The military assumes the very worst about incoming recruits and prepares its training appropriately.

But one of the most useful skills I picked up was ironing. Before the military, I didn’t iron. Oh, I knew how…I just didn’t. Ironing in the Me, ironing.military is not a skill; it is an art. It is an art as time-consuming and tedious as Japanese Bonsai. New recruits are taught how to firstfold a t-shirt and then, using tweezers to pull out and hold the edges of the collar so as to not burn your fingers, press that shirt into a perfect square. If you’ve ever ironed a round-necked T-shirt, you can imagine the difficulty here. From T-shirts, one moves onto the more formal uniforms and battle dress uniform (BDUs–those camouflaged things you see soliders wearing).

Needless to say, I became a really great ironer. I even bought my own bottle of STA-FLO liquid starch concentrate and mixed my own starch spray so I could control the crispiness of my creases. And so I have ironed my own clothes for years. CareerMom–notsomuch.

CareerMom has always been a dry-cleaning kinda gal. Even when the clothes don’t require dry-cleaning, she’ll send them to the dry-cleaners just so she doesn’t have to iron them after they come out of the dryer. When times have been tough and the pennies needed penching, this was an area I always criticized. Recognizing that most professional women’s clothes require dry-cleaning, I haven’t been able to make too much of a stink, but the cost was always there…hovering overhead.

Normally I don’t have to do much ironing these days. Thanks to business casual dress, I might have to iron a couple of pairs of dress slacks, but for the most part my shirts are golf-style shirts that don’t require ironing. But lately, I’ve been interviewing a good bit and thanks to it being both summer, and stressful, I’ve been sweating a lot in my shirts. To save money, I’ve only purchased a couple of nice dress shirts to wear under my suit jacket, so I’ve been washing and ironing these same shirts a lot. And I’ve grown tired of it.

So today, I dropped off my two shirts at the drycleaners. It was a pivotal moment and I expected–at any minute–for the clouds to part and the angels start singing “Hallelujah!”

Unfortunately, all I heard was the “Thank you Ms. Megan” from the Asian dry-cleaning lady who pulled my wife’s account up as she took my bundle.  I recognize that I will probably always iron the majority of my own clothes, but I gotta be honest…they do a better job than I do and it sure is more handy than dragging out that ironing board every night. Maybe I can find a relatively inexpensive men’s clothing designer whose dress shirts REQUIRE dry cleaning. That way, I wouldn’t feel guilty about having to send them off. It works for CareerMom; why not me?

Joining the Air Force – Part 3 (Arriving in San Antonio)

Be sure and read Parts 1 and 2 in this series first!

There is a reason the military has a cut-off age for acceptance that’s somewhere in a person’s early 30s and it has little to do with their ability—either physically or mentally—past that age and it has everything to do with a person’s moldability (their ability to mildew? Wha?). Looking back, with the experience and knowledge I now hold, I can see the absurdity of boot camp and there is NO WAY IN HELL I would put up with it now. And thus, the reason for the age cut-off.

But then, I was 18. And I still had a genuine respect for unproven authority. And they exploited the heck out of that…

Our plane touched down in San Antonio around dusk and we were quickly herded onto yet another waiting bus and driven over to Lackland AFB—home of the Air Force military training base. Again, we were a quiet bunch. Arriving at nightfall, we weren’t quite sure what to expect and any guesstimates we might have had, were soon to be proven incorrect.

Around eight thirty, the bus delivered us to a large, low-slung covered asphalt area. The covered portion was well-lit, but the bus pulled up along the periphery where the shadows still left the details uncertain. Above the asphalt court was a concrete and brick building—tan and squat—with absolutely nothing to belie its use. All around us were similar structures, but ours was the only one that showed any life at this time of night. It felt, then, as if we were the only ones for miles.

We filed off the bus, with our bags in our hands where a camouflage-clad man waited and told us all to form up in lines four rows deep and approximately six across. Compliant, we obeyed and then stood waiting as yet another similarly dressed person came over. Still dark, the Training Instructors (or TIs) started walking up and down the lines, looking at each of us. Still not saying anything, their oversized, wide brimmed hats cast even more shadows across their faces and the fact that we were looking into the lights of the court, left us little to see of who it was scrutinizing us.

“Welcome to the United States Air Force Military Training Facility. I am Tech. Sgt. Aleman. I will be your Training Instructor for the duration of your stay here. When I speak to you, you will be expected to respond with a “Yes Sir!”

Continuing, our new TI said, “Now many of you may have seen movies and you THINK you know what Training Camp is like, but you do not. For one, I do NOT like “Sir Sandwiches!” When you respond to me you will say, “Yes Sir!”, not “Sir Yes Sir!”


We all responded: “Yes sir!”

“Good. Now, pick up your bags!”

As one raggedy bunch we all picked up our bags.

“Not good enough! Put your bags down!”

We obeyed.

“Now pick up your Go**amn bags!”

More quickly now, we all picked up our bags.

“Put ‘em down!”

“Pick em up!”

This went on for a while. Each time, our TI would vary the amount of time between the request so as to prevent us from anticipating his next command. Throughout this initial expectation setting time, a few of us were selected for even further humiliation—usually something to do with our hair, or how we were dressed, and perhaps even for how scared we looked. Who knows? Somehow, I was passed over—that night anyway.

To say that any movies we had seen would not resemble our time in Boot Camp is not quite true. In fact, if you’ve ever seen the movie “Full Metal Jacket” then you’re pretty familiar with the way trainees were verbally harassed and even abused. There was never any physical abuse, but there was the threat of it a-plently.

That night we “Rainbows” (the name given to new recruits who come in wearing colorful street clothes) were given our first taste of life for the next six weeks. And after about an hour and a half of standing at attention down on the court and quickly becoming scared s*itless, we were filed upstairs to our new home.

Our dormitories were a space about as large as half a gymnasium. The ceilings were fairly tall, and the windows were up high looking towards the sky. The floors were that same white linoleum (highly polished) that you find in public schools across America. The door to the dorm was a heavy steel with a reinforced window about 10” tall by 8” wide. Walking in, you could either take a quick left into the first “Bay,” or keep going down the hall towards Bay 2 on the left, or the bathrooms on the right. At the end of the hall was a “Day Room,” a special place that I’ll discuss at length later.

The two bays were divided in the middle by a cinderblock wall; each wall was lined with footlockers—one for each bed in the bay. Each bay held approximately 24 beds (12 on each side). The beds were exactly what you’ve seen in the movies; thin mattresses over metal springs; the linens tightly pulled down around the corners and the covers turned down with the pillow on top. Were the surroundings not what they were, it would have almost been inviting.

That night, beds were assigned randomly, but that would change throughout our time there depending on rank and who needed additional help etc. But that night, we were instructed to put our stuff away, use the restrooms and hit the beds. Compared  to the first half of our arrival, our second half was relatively uneventful as we all silently and quickly settled down.

We were to discover that night, that our TI didn’t go home most nights. In the middle of the two bays, he had an office with a bed. And that’s where he spent most of our nights in camp. From there, he could keep an eye on us and also spring special surprises whenever he felt the time was right.
But that night, were all exhausted and within minutes of turning out the lights, we were fast asleep. It’s a good thing too because we had a busy day ahead.