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I had a short stint working on aircraft out of an old station wagon but in the main my jobs ended up centering around working in arcades. But they seemed to be going nowhere (which looking back they were starting their death spiral) and my wife of only five months suggested I join the Air Force. She was an Air Force brat and thought it would be a good way for me to get to work on airplanes. I gave it some thought and decided it might be worth a shot.
As was mentioned in the first installment my dad was a Crew Chief in the late 1950’s and his stories led me to become a Crew Chief as well. I went down to the recruiters and told the guy that I’d join but only if I could be a Crew Chief and if I couldn’t do that then the deal was off. I was so naive because there is nearly always a shortage and I’m sure the guy chuckled under his breath. Off I went to MEPS and having A&P school under my belt definitely helped with the ASVAB. I aced all the categories except for Admin which I think I got an 85 on. I know for sure that I would have struggled with the Mechanical had it not been for A&P school. Fast forward to around 2006 and a unit I was in got hit by a BRAC and lost its flying mission. Everyone in Ops and Maintenance had to crosstrain to new jobs (Intel or JTAC) or find a new unit. My ASVAB scores qualified me for any job I wanted and so yet again my A&P helped me out. In the end I moved to a new unit because I wanted to stay around aircraft and truthfully did not want to become a 3-Level again.
As could be expected my A&P did not help in Basic Training but at the age of 22 I was an old man and it was a breeze and I was excited when it was time to get on the bus to head to Tech School at Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls TX. This was April of 1980 and Ronald Reagan had just come into office. Prior administrations had gutted the military following the Vietnam War and President Reagan was going to change all that by a massive rebuild program which would work out to my advantage.
If I remember correctly APG school was like four weeks long and about a week in my instructor asked why I was doing so well on all the tests. I informed him that I had gone to A&P school and already had some experience working on aircraft. He told me to wait and a few minutes later came back and told me to follow him. He took me upstairs to where the instructors hung out and we stopped outside an office door that made me just a little nervous. On the door it said, “CMSgt Nieves Aircraft Maintenance Principles Branch Superintendent.” Notice that I didn’t include his first name. I don’t think he had one. I think his first name was Chief Master Sergeant. Chief Nieves was one of those old school Chiefs and I have a ton of great stories about him. But as a slick sleeve E-1 it was a little scary to be ushered into his office. He got straight to the point. The school was going to soon be putting through 10,000 students a year and they needed instructors quickly. He said my instructor had told him how well I was doing and a little about my background. He then asked if I wanted to stay there and become and instructor and then he outlined some of the advantages to doing that, like being able to get my Bachelors. He told me to talk it over with my wife and get back to him.
Ultimately we decided to take his offer, which worked out good because my first assignment was going to be F-106’s at Castle AFB which was closed down about six months later and we would have been PCS’ing again. So having my A&P got this E-1 an instructor job just a few months into his Air Force career. The other thing it did was to move me over into Permanent Party status which meant that I didn’t have to march to class which drove the Student Training Advisors crazy.
After completing APG school they moved me into Instructor school with 11 other Pipeline instructors who had been selected around the same time I had. That school was considerably more nerve wracking and difficult because I had never done any teaching, but I got through it. Then it was time to shadow an instructor through a class or two. As it turned out I only got to shadow through one class because the student load was ramping up and my boss told me that he felt confident that I could handle it.
Comes time for my first class and I look at the roster and all I see are SSgts and TSgts. My boss laughs when he sees my expression and tells me that they are all people who are being mandatorily crosstrained due to needs of the service and not to worry. I had earned a single stripe by this time and I pointed to it. He laughed again and reminded me that in the classroom the instructor outranks every student no matter their rank. I was dubious and nervous as all getout when I walked into that class and saw all those stripes. I introduced myself and told them about my background and started teaching. After a few hours one on the TSgt’s raised his hand and asked to speak. He said something to this effect, “Airman Chamberlin, it appears that you are very nervous about our rank and we just wanted to let you know something. We know nothing about aircraft maintenance and you certainly know way more than we do. We are relying on your knowledge to help us through this transition and keep our careers so please ignore all the stripes. We are here to learn.” I gotta say that I really appreciate what those guys did right at that moment, and I still appreciate it today over 40 years later.
So yet again having my A&P helped me. Some of the other Pipeline instructors had a more difficult time in gaining and keeping credibility with the students. They just had no background to fall back on when they were asked questions beyond their experiences at the schoolhouse. If I remember correctly I was awarded the Master Instructor badge as an E-3.
You’re going to get tired of hearing how my A&P benefitted me but while I was on active duty at Sheppard I got two different part-time jobs. One was working Transient Alert and the other was at a local GA airport. These jobs helped to supplement our income which at the time was $600 a month and our rent was $300.
The A&P had another benefit during this timeframe. I had gone to the mandatory appointment at the Base Education Office where the counselor talked to me about getting my Bachelors degree. He mentioned that with my A&P and being an Instructor that I could get the degree in about two years, or faster if I wanted to take CLEP tests. I took the CLEP’s and all I needed then was 10 classes to meet the in-residency requirements for the University. I got a Bachelors in Adult Education in about 18 months and it was all due to my A&P because it got me credit towards the degree and also got me the instructor job which got me credits towards the degree. And that Bachelors wound up getting me lots of jobs down the road.
Next episode – the USAF pulls a fast one on me but, you guessed it, my A&P comes in handy and takes me down a new path.