It was in the first night of my military service that I learned cockroaches could fly. I am from the Northwoods where cockroaches are light on the ground, so it was somewhat of a shock to be standing at attention at two in the morning with a group of dazed men, hearing a thwwwwwwwwp, and seeing a pterodactyl-sized chitinous-armored bug fly over our heads and attach itself to the wall.
That was right before we heard the slow clic-tap, clic-tap, clic-tap of the drill sergeant drawing out his entrance from behind. I think I was more frightened of the miniature dinosaur, which was now extending its wings in a menacing fashion.
They called us a Rainbow Flight because we all wore variously colored civilian clothes and still had long hair. I had a small sack with toothbrush, some spare underwear, shaving kit, that sort of thing. I had, I think, about twenty bucks, which I then (and, given the way things are going, soon will again) regarded as a small fortune. These consisted of my worldly possessions, except for some spare clothes and some books my mom had.
There are two scents that still bring me back. Packaged rough blankets (I don’t know how else to describe it; wool blankets processed cheaply?), and Pinesol. Maybe the memories are triggered by my amygdala: every other behavior apparently is.
Only time I ever caught the attention of the TI was when I accidentally mentioned the name of another unit. He heard this and made all fifty of us rush outside, form up, then rush back upstairs, form up by our bunks, rush back outside, and so forth, about five or six times in all. Turns out our TI hated the TI that ran the other unit.
My first base was Kelly, right next door to Lackland, a major disappointment. Or at least I thought it was at the time. It did allow the Blonde Bombshell to make her way south and get hitched up (she has now served a longer term of service than I did with my Uncle Sam).
Now we had no money but at no time did we ever feel poor. And when I say “no money”, I mean no money. I think the yearly salary then was around $7,100. From which came the rent, groceries, the car, and so on. We didn’t live in the swankiest section of town. The Air Force charmingly picked up the tab for our Number One son, but this was still in the days hospitals didn’t marshal teams of experts to attend a birth.
I became expert at floor buffing, two-deck pinochle, and soldering. Not soldiering: soldering. Very different skill.
After three years of this, off to Kadena and the 1962 Communications Group. The cockroaches were bigger there than in San Antonio. Plus there were deadly slugs, deadly spiders, and a deadly snake called a habu. I never heard of anybody dying from the spiders or snakes, but every now and then a Marine would kick over after being challenged to eat a slug. Or to go swimming in the surf after a typhoon, an especially interesting experience since Okinawa is made of coral. We always thanked God for the Marines—and thanked God we weren’t one of them.
The Navy picked up the tab for Number Two son.
I tooled around Japan and Korea where I first formed the conviction that the human race is insane. I think Sister Dorothy tried to impart this valuable knowledge earlier, but I was stubborn and rebellious and didn’t realize that I was part of the problem.
Once or twice “activists” from mainland Japan came down to protest war and the military. One time they had just enough people to link hands around Kadena. We lived out by the fence and were warned not to go near them, but they seemed friendly enough. Protesting is almost always a social outing with a picnic atmosphere. Of course, this was in the late ’80s and most Japanese probably now think differently.
After we decided to get out, I typed—on a typewriter—maybe 100 letters to various companies asking for a job. Every single one of them wrote back to say No Thanks (every life has constants). Which was but proper and civilized. Those days are gone.
That was me. How many vets do we have here?
Briggs, thank you for your service …
I came of age in ’74 … went through the recruitment process but other opportunities availed themselves and doubt I would’ve made a good solder or soldier. Prior to that, I was thinking of the Air Force …
But thanks again to you and anyone else who served
My father and grandfather (mother) both served during WWII and WWI, respectively. My father actually served mostly occupied Pacific.
My mother’s father was German born and both WWI and WWII were a troubling time for much of my mother’s family.
Army, at Fort Hood and Germany, from April 1977 to May 1980.
If I had known, I would have enlisted for Germany.
A very high draft number and some asthmatic stuff and I stayed on the sidelines. Thanks to all who went and those who go.
Served stateside two years, Navy Commission, but never at sea as I had a technical expertise that was needed on shore at the time but given the years were 1968-70 the decision to wind down the war had been made, I was offered release or sign up to an 04 from an 03 and four more years. I bugged out. Never regretted leaving. My release documents classified my status as “indeterminate.” That means I was to be subject to recall if I was needed again as I had not served a full hitch (I think).
4 yrs ROTC at Trinity University, San Antonio, 1971
1 yr training
3.5 yrs 34TH Signal BN, Germany
draft number 12
Lackland AFB Basic Training, Flight 139, 1980
Lackland AFB English Language Training, 1980
Defense Language Institute, Monterey, CA; Vietnamese language school, 1980-1981
Goodfellow AFB, San Angelo, TX; Cryptologic linguist school, 1981
6922nd Electronic Security Command, Clark AB, Philippines; AFSC 208 Vietnamese Cryptologic Linguist, 1982-85
Global War on Terror: 2001-2007: Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Kuwait, Iraq, Ghana
Two sons: Oldest just finished 5 years as an Army infantryman–served in both Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Youngest is now an Army ROTC cadet in the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets.
Briggs, thank you for your service.
Army Air Defense 1977-1980. Texas then Germany.
Army Corps of Engineers – 1972 to 1994. Operation Just Cause, Operation Desert Shield/Storm, Operation Continue Hope, Sinai Peacekeeper with MFO. “This certain pride a Solder feels. Years after time. Sustains to fill one’s life of satisfied. Memory for the waning days.”
USAF, 1980-2005. Was B-52D EWO, first assignment Guam. My first flight there was a “phoon-evac” to Kadena in December 1981. Our BUFFs arriving there created a bit of a stir as I recall, but it didn’t stop us from venturing off base for some great steak. While there, the North Koreans took a SAM shot at an SR-71 flying out of Kadena creating an even larger stir. Thanks for your service.
The ‘roaches in the Philippines and Viet Nam are bigger than those in Okinawa.
USN from 1966 thru 1990, two in country tours, most of the rest in the submarine force.
Marine, 1998 to 2002, moto T.
Army, 1966 — 1968.
Drafted out of grad school in engineering.
Basic training at Ft. Jackson, SC.
Stationed at Army labs, Aberdeen Proving Ground. Programmed on a vacuum tube computer. Watched antiwar protest demos from inside the fence. Exited quietly at the end of my hitch.
21 years in the Air Force. Mustered in at Lackland AFB, San Antonio as an Airman Basic, retired at Randolph AFB as a Lieutenant Colonel, just across town. The cockroaches haven’t gotten any smaller.
Closest I ever got was two years of Army Artillery ROTC in 1965-67. The draft board ultimately classified me as 4-F, perhaps the wisest military decision made in that era. However, I did learn how to call artillery down on map coordinates. You have been warned.
My 11/11 post is here:
Nice service on your part. We were there not too far apart in time – US Navy 1978-84, including 2 years on the USS Midway, out of Yokosuka, Japan, and 2 years on the frigate USS John L. Hall, out of Mayport, Florida. Had all sorts of adventures (collisions, lost in a Philippines jungle (on base – long story!), up to the top of Mt Fuji, through the Panama Canal, and various other things that are hard to relate to those who haven’t been there. Not too dangerous in my case (mostly – remember the collision!), but it made me glad to serve and also aware of my limitations as a technician and a leader. I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.
Marines 76-80 met quite a few good airmen while at NSA and Guam
A draft lottery number of 216 let me go to college as VietNam was winding down. I only have admiration for those who served. Unlike many of my generation at that time, I never had any animosity for the military or veterans. Father served in the Navy in WWII; grandfather served in Balloon Company 42 in WWI.
I thought your writing was my experience in Lackland. USAF 74-82 Medical Equip Repair. I still do it today. K.I. Sawyer MI AFB (closed now), Vandenburg AFB, CA, Osan Korea, Dyess AFB, TX. Saw Lake Superior freeze to the horizon in 3 days, tornado s in TX, big ass bugs in Korea and free beaches in CA. Sometimes I wish I stayed in.
Signed up for the Navy OCS in 1966 to spite the draft board. Was on a destroyer home ported at beautiful Pearl Harbor. Hawaii has big bugs too. When I got off the destroyer I was sent to beautiful Naval Station Brooklyn. I really enjoyed New York. After release from active duty I stayed in the Naval Reserve and retired in 1991.
Briggs, Thanks for serving. I think our tours at Kadena overlapped. I was part of PACAF Logistics Support Center as a jet engine mechanic from ’87 until McPeak split it up. I then remained as a member of Det 1, 19th TASS until DEROS in ’90. I retired from the USAF in 2004.
Thanks for your service.
USNR, P-3 Orion air crew radio operator, Moffett Field, CA and Cam Ranh Bay, Vietnam. 1967-1968