It was forty years ago today, that I entered into the Air Force. Hard to imagine that this much time has passed. Some observations:
1. I actually left Alabama on the 1st (a Monday). My mom carried me down to Florence, and we had dinner at the cafe across from the bus station. As I remember, a hamburger steak, with a salad (crackers included). After the bus ride to Nashville.....they put us up in a 2-star motel and kinda said in strong words that we'd all be better off staying around the motel (not getting into trouble).
2. The money. The recruiter guy had said that the max I'd need for basic training was maybe $25. I had about a hundred in my pocket upon leaving Alabama....mostly all tens and ones. Oddly, my mom slipped me two fifty-dollar bills minutes before the bus and just suggested I might need it. I stuck the two fifties into the far back of my billfold, and to be honest.....I didn't think much about the bills and lost track of them. Eighteen months later when I was retiring that billfold....I came to discover them again.
3. The bag. The recruiter guy had said that I didn't need to bring much in terms of clothing....just an overnight bag, a spare pair of jeans, and enough shirts/underwear/socks to last three days. That was a mistake. While we left out of Nashville on a flight to San Antonio on Tuesday afternoon....it would be Monday morning of the next week before they issued out the new uniform gear (to include socks and underwear). So I ended wearing most everything at least two full days, in intensive heat and loaded down with sweat.
4. The heat. It was a remarkable period in early August....both in Alabama and Texas. The Texas heat was mostly unbearable. You'd already be sweating at 7AM. Because of the heat, you had some unusual thunderstorms that would come through. There were at least three big storms during the six weeks I was at basic training.
5. The physical stuff. To be honest, it was pretty much a cake-walk on the physical training stuff. Every morning....there was probably 40 minutes of something going on, with weekends off. The odd thing is that you ran this daily track business (early on was half-a-mile and the last two weeks was 1.5 miles) in a pair of $29 boots. To this day, I'm surprised that people didn't have feet problems.
6. The food. Breakfast for me was for six weeks the same thing....bacon, two eggs sunny-side up, toast, a cinnamon roll, and two glasses of orange juice. Lunch was the same thing....two burgers, fries, a piece of pineapple upside down cake, and two glasses of Coke. The evening dinner was generally two Cokes, two pieces of fruit (usually bananas), and some pudding. If they had chicken for the dinner period, I'd munch on that.
7. The weight thing. The recruiter had never said a word about weight standards. Yeah, that was odd. So, on day four of basic, there were four of us pulled into some room and weighed....with all four of us over the max for our height. I was six pounds over my max. I didn't think much about this at the time. Five weeks would pass and they'd drag all four of us the day prior to graduation into a room and weigh us again. In that five week period....I lost 26 pounds. To be honest, I didn't really diet or eat different for the whole six weeks, except for this evening dinner each night. You just did enough stuff to burn a pound off every two days. My uniform? Toward the last week, it just did barely fit. When they handed me my bag with the jeans which I had last worn on 8 August, I found that they just didn't fit anymore. I ended up at Sheppard AFB's BX upon arrival and bought two new pair of jeans....size 34. That size 34 period lasted maybe one year at the most.
8. It continually amazed me how many idiots had stress problems with basic training. Some guy had a brief phone-call with his girlfriend of six months, and she'd dumped him.....he went nuts and they had to watch him for a 24-hour period. Another guy couldn't handle absoluteness of folding uniforms for the locker.
9. The course. Toward the final seven days, we were slated for an all-day play-day, with a 90-minute run through some obstacle course. This was hyped up every single day for the prior two weeks. Folks had some bad nerves over what would occur. For me, it was hot as heck....probably near 95 degrees, and the minute they offered me a chance to fall from some rope gimmick into a pool of cold water, I was obliged and just fell for the relief.
10. The C-ration lunch. In my entire career....c-rations were the norm until the mid-1980s. All total, I probably ate four of the C-rats, and will just say it was the worst tasting food you could imagine. MRE's were a welcome sight when they arrived. For basic, we had one such C-rat lunch, after the course. It was built up as a big deal.....most of us throw half the package away and begged to march back to the barracks chow-hall.
11. The relief. On the final day, everyone packed up and ready to go by 7AM. I was destined for Sheppard (a total of six of us were going there). Our bus picked us up around 8AM, and I settled back into a seat and felt absolute relief. We exited the gate and for roughly six hours traveled across mostly a landscape of farms. We'd arrive at some recently built giant barracks (enough rooms for 500 folks). They wasted an hour picking up the paperwork and giving us the keys to the rooms. I was kinda shocked thirty minutes later to be sitting a nicely air-conditioned room, with a decent bed and semi-privacy (one room-mate....a 38-year old guy who was a national guard member from New Jersey).
12. The day off. There's one single day from basic, near the end, where you get a pass into town. I hung out with a guy named Johnson from Tennessee. Somehow we got to mid-town San Antonio. My day consisted of seeing the Alamo, eating a t-bone steak, and watching some late-afternoon movie.
13. Duty day. Somewhere in the middle of the six weeks, you had to go and pull a all-day Saturday duty somewhere. Most of the guys in the group ended up doing chow-hall duty or park clean-up. I was given the duty of the base recreation center. Basically, I signed out canoes, camping gear, and whatever. Over the eight hour period....I had a total of ten customers. So I mostly sat around for the whole day.
I don't ever think of this period in negative terms....just that the six weeks passed awful quick, and one morning we did some march around some review stand, and then went back to the barracks to pack up. It was over as quickly as it started.