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My active duty career was not exceptional as far as my leadership was concerned, although my students gave me great reviews and they learned a lot. Truthfully all I cared about was that they would be good mechanics and have integrity. In some ways I never bought into the whole military way of thinking and I’m sure that was quite a challenge for my bosses. My first supervisor was a great guy and he tried to give me a hint by saying that I “needed to know what side my bread was buttered on.” As per usual the young me came back with some snippy retort and continued down my path of being an Airman with an opinion who voiced it regularly. And you might think that the old me ended up being different. You’d be mostly wrong.
Here’s a fun example of what my supervision had to deal with. Late in my first enlistment it got to the point that I was the only Airman left in our Group because everyone else had made Buck Sergeant (E-4) or above, and I was still a Senior Airman (E-4), and it came time for the Group to submit a name for Airman of the Quarter. But the Commander had a little problem. There was only one Airman in the whole group. Lil ole me! And of course they had to submit a name. My boss came to me and gave me the happy news and told me that I had “won” for the Group and would be going up for the base award. I laughed and told him that I knew the scoop and that they only selected me because I was the only Airman left and they had no choice. I told him that I wasn’t interested in a fake award and didn’t want to do it. He said I had no choice and that I would be meeting a Base Board in the next few weeks and that I needed to prep for it. My response was that I was going to lose and that they might as well not bother. I went to the Board as ordered and they started asking me all sorts of questions about numbers of regulations and what they were about. I had no clue and they asked me why I didn’t know them. My response was that the regs had nothing to do with how well I taught or how good my students were as mechanics and that I knew how to read and if I needed to find out about a reg I could look it up and get what I needed then and that it was a waste of time to memorize things that you don’t use on a regular basis. It was a short interview. My boss and the Group were shocked when I didn’t win and I reminded them that I told them up front that I wouldn’t. The politics inside of ATC (now AETC) were not a good fit for me.
But I thoroughly enjoyed teaching and had a blast. And I made some good friends with a few of the other instructors who were like-minded kindred souls. The careerists gave me a wide berth for fear of my rebel without a clue attitude rubbing off on them and somehow negatively impacting their next promotion.
And there were two female Civil Service instructors who didn’t care for me either. These particular ladies had never been in the military and had never worked on aircraft and quite often I would hear them passing on outright false and dangerous information to their classes. I always took it upon myself to either correct them or at least let their students know the correct info. At first I tried just nicely letting them know in private of the error, but they eventually complained to my supervisor that I was harassing them and making them look bad in front of their students. My boss called me in and said he knew what was going on and there was nothing he could do because they were Civil Service and female and had already filed tons of similar harassment complaints. Eventually these two ladies confronted me about making them look bad in front of their students. My response to them was that they were doing a good job of that all on their own and that they should stick to their lesson plans and when a student asked a question that they should go find someone who knew the right answer instead of just making stuff up. Honestly, I thought they were both going to pop blood vessels in their heads. Eventually we were given restraining orders to keep away from each other, but I still found ways to get the correct info to their students.
Just as an example, they were teaching LOX servicing and had been showing the use of the training LOX cart. One student had noticed the servicing port on a T-37 which used gaseous oxygen and pointed to the bayonet servicing fitting and asked how the big hose on the LOX cart connected to the small one on the T-37. One of these ladies just said, “Oh there is a special adapter for that.” I kid you not. Now of course those students would never have been able to hook one up at their base, but then again we have all seen some stuff that nobody thought could be done. I simply walked over to the gaseous cart, picked up the hose end, and held it high and pointed to it for all the students to see and said, “No adapter, it takes gaseous oxygen and not LOX” and I walked away. Now don’t get me wrong, if I’m teaching something in error then I want to know about it so that I can correct it. The truth is more important than personal pride. But maybe that wasn’t the side the bread was buttered on.
Early 1984 saw the end of my first enlistment and I went to talk to the appropriate person about reenlisting and a base of assignment since I was coming off a four-year controlled tour on a special duty assignment. The government bureaucrat looked at my paperwork and noted that I had a good reenlistment code and that all was well for me to reup but that there would be no choice of base assignment and in fact there would be no new base at all. Due to the continuing build up under President Reagan and the subsequent need for instructors I would have to stay at Sheppard for another four years if I reenlisted. I was stunned! Eight years at Sheppard? Nearly half a career at Sheppard? I wanted to get to a fighter unit, have my own jet, be a part of the real AF, and get away from ATC politics. I said that I didn’t want to stay at Sheppard and asked what the AF would do if I just said I wasn’t going to reenlist? The drone behind the desk just dully noted that they would let me go. “So the AF will let a fully trained maintainer leave rather thane let him go to a unit who needs people?” I asked. The drone just dully shrugged his shoulders and asked what I wanted to do. “I’m gone” was my quick response and he mechanically stamped my paperwork. To this day I don’t understand the logic but maybe it was a game of poker and they didn’t think I’d call their bluff. Looking back I know that I wouldn’t have survived four more years at Sheppard and probably wouldn’t have survived a career in Active Duty. As it was they gave me Buck Sergeant just a few days before separation and the cert came in the mail a few months after. Yay! I made NCO. I immediately went out and ordered our dog to sit, which she promptly ignored. I then gave her an LOR and she ate it. Maybe I should have memorized those regs after all. It might have made me a more effective NCO. Lol!
Times were still tough in 1984 for civilian aircraft mechanic jobs but I found out that my old A&P school, Colorado Aero Tech, was opening a new campus in Cheyenne Wyoming. I interviewed and was hired on the spot and the Director asked which block I wanted to teach. Turbine engines was always my favorite and he assigned that to me.
Of course to teach in a Part 147 school you have to hold an A&P, so once again having mine got me a job and gave me a great opportunity that would end up helping me and the AF many years down the road. And on a side note, I was reluctant to write these blogs because I was afraid that people might think I’m bragging, but my boss asked me to do it just to show how having an A&P benefitted me. So that’s why I’m doing this. I don’t mean for it to come across as bragging at all so please don’t take it that way.
Next episode – setting up an A&P course in turbine engines from scratch.