Air Force Adventures or I Would Prefer Not To

About a hundred years ago I was on my way to being in the US Air Force. I still don’t really understand why but I’m kind of glad I almost did.

A friend and fraternity brother of mine, Greg, was in Air Force ROTC and he persuaded me it would be a good idea to join. There was the guaranteed job (more or less) when you graduated and, once you got the job, you wouldn’t have to worry about what to wear for eight years. I pretty much told him to take a look at me: I already don’t worry about what I wear.

I signed up for the courses, got fitted for a uniform and spent the better part of a year studying the history of the Air Force, learning to march and giving orders to others while marching. I had a Pilot’s slot, which meant that when and if I graduated, I would have a good chance at studying to be a pilot. Please note it was “good chance” not “guaranteed chance”. At one point, during the official physical, I was told to sit in a chair and then measured to see if I would fit inside a fighter cockpit with a helmet on. I passed, but with little room to spare.

The only thing that could qualify as a funny moment is when I took the Air Force Officer’s Qualifying Test. I seem to remember that the rules were such that if I did badly, I couldn’t take it again for a while. As soon as I arrived at the test site, however, I got my migraine aura, which is a bright spot that looks a lot like the coiled filament in an incandescent light bulb. The presence of the aura meant I had about 45 minutes before a migraine set in.

The test begins with the test proctor, a senior officer in the local program, reading a blurb about how if we felt sick and thus felt we were physically unable to take the test we could opt out “without prejudice” and take the test again at the soonest possible date. My hand shot up and there was an awkward exchange as I explained I was about to be sick. The officer found the blurb he was supposed to read and I left to find a dark, cool place to suffer.

The officer later told me that was the first time he’d seen anyone ask to leave. I took the test later and did surprisingly well.

I then went to a six-week Officer Training School where I got sick with something strange and ended up hospitalized with a tube in a place most men would be very surprised to discover a tube would fit and very few would want a tube fitted. After 10 days, I was out-processed and given a “medical discharge without prejudice” which mean I could come back the following year for a four-week OTS.

Fortunately for the Air Force, a lot happened that next year.

First, I was inducted into Arnold Air Society which is an honorary organization that, at least until I got there, was for elite cadets. That took me to a conference in Boston where much of the time was spent debating where the next conference would be. It all proceeded with a shallowness that was surprisingly annoying and that was the first time I realized: I’m going to have to work with these folks for eight years. I still believe if I hadn’t gone to Boston, I’d have overlooked almost everything that came next.

The next thing that happened was an officer change that put in place an officer I didn’t like. That was the first time I realized that I couldn’t respect the rank if I didn’t respect the person wearing it. I couldn’t just say “I prefer not to because you’re an arrogant ass” or “You’re not the king of Dwayne”; I had to say “Yes, sir. and then do what I was told.” That made me seriously reconsider that guaranteed job.

Finally, there was national politics which, for a while, made it appear as if K-State’s program was doomed and we’d have to travel to KU to continue with ROTC. That ended up not happening, but my entire year, except I think one person, said “see ya” and left the program. At least one of my younger fraternity brothers stayed in and got F-16s.

However, despite all that, the final truth is I was never fully committed to joining the Air Force in the first place. It was just something to do that, at the time, seemed like a good idea. I learned a lot, and still believe everyone should do a stint of national service, which is why I later joined the Peace Corps (another long series of posts that).

That said, if you’re considering military service, “it’s a job when you graduate” is not a good reason to join. If you can take it or leave it; leave.

5 thoughts on “Air Force Adventures or I Would Prefer Not To

  1. Shawn Hoefer

    Again, I am surprised at some of the startling similarities two similarly aged men with very different background can have.

    I joined the military – first navy, then army (long story) – and quit as soon as I could with a bad taste in my mouth, but still firmly believe that a couple years of service in one form or another would do a world of good for the younger generation. Very much like Heinlein, I think that “service guarantees citizenship” and without it, you’re on your own. Unfortunately, I find I did the time and I’m still on my own…

    Reply
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