This is a post of the very beginning of my military experience…my trip to Lackland Air Force Base and boot camp.
After an exhausting 24 plus hours of flying from one town to another, the sitting and sleeping in airports where we’d pick up a few more recruits, we finally arrived at the airport in San Antonio Texas at 6:15 in the morning. It was March, and just the day before in Washington State it was cold and rainy. Because it was cloudy, I thought the Texas weather would be the same. Bundling my coat up around my neck I stepped out of the plane. Having never experienced humidity, for a few moments I could hardly breath. I almost felt as though I could grab the hot sticky air and pull it to the side. It was like being on another planet.
We walked down the stairway from the plane, across the tarmac and into the terminal. There we were met by two sergeants dressed in crisp uniforms. They very politely asked us if we were Flight 761. (the name with a number given each group of 64 recruits) We said yes. They then guided us with all the patients and friendliness of a vacation guide to a waiting bus parked at the rear of the terminal.
My friend Tom gave me a startled look. “Wow,” he whispered, “I always heard that boot camp sergeants are really mean. We must have got some nice ones.”
And our two sergeants were very nice, very polite…until we were out of sight and earshot of the general public. The moment that door closed all politeness, all softly spoken words, all patiently cooed directions went immediately south never to be seen again.
Until then everyone was smiling and joking as we sauntered along toward the bus. Suddenly, like a bolt of lightening, a screaming voice from Hell came from behind us. “GET YOUR SORRY ASSES ON THE BUS BEFORE I PUT MY BOOT SQUARE UP YOUR SORRY ASSHOLES!! WHAT DO YA THINK THIS IS? A VACATION?”
Our reaction looked very similar to that of a crowd in a theater when someone yells, fire. I saw boys literally climbing up the backs of those in front of them to get on the bus, others wedge together when they tried to enter the bus door at the same time. All the while these sergeants were screaming with their mouths inches from the nearest available ear. These once polite and courteous gentlemen were now demons from Hades.
During the entire bus ride to the base they stalked the isle way, staring flames of fire at each of us, screaming at this person or that person for no apparent reason. Terrified eyes stared straight ahead. Some showed signs of fear that made me wonder if it were possible to get Post Combat Fatigue Syndrome before even being in uniform. Back then no one gave a thought to lighting up a cigarette in a bus or any other public enclosure. One young man whose nerves got the better of him lit up a cigarette. A sergeant walked over to him, bent down and gave him a sadistic smile. “Enjoy that cigarette, airman, it will be the last one you have for eight weeks.”
Immediately, myself included, I could hear the sounds of lighters and matches all through the bus. I think there were some who smoked a half pack of cigarettes during the hour plus ride, thinking maybe they could store up eight weeks of nicotine like a camel stores water. One young man, obviously thinking he may not survive boot camp, lit up a cigarette, and he didn’t even smoke. There was so much smoke rolling out of the windows I was amazed someone didn’t call 911 to report a bus on fire. As it turned out our Flight was lucky in that sense. We had a sergeant who was a smoker. So because he would want one, at least a couple times a day he would stop us in the middle of the continual marching and say, “Okay, light ’em up.” I heard of other Flights who had non-smoking sergeant who were rarely if ever given that luxury.
Anyway, this was the beginning of our government paid vacation to Texas…..