Stories From The Flight Line

Lessons Learned
a true story by alan hayes

Abandoned Nose Docks Westover Air Force Reserve Base Chicopee Falls Massachusetts
[Photo courtesy of Andrew Biscoe]

      This entire process of thinking back over the years in hope of recalling recollections of the early years has had, mostly, its share of good and somewhat positive outcomes. I have managed to reconnect with someone who was, without doubt, my best and closest friend while in the service (one of the positives). However, there have been items I would have rather never brought back into conscious memory. Some stupid and dumb, others not so stupid or dumb but just plain scary and should have been left where they were, hidden in some small niche of my mind. I know I have mentioned how cold the winters could be, but that’s something we all faced, every person who ever served, at some point, has had a legitimate gripe about the weather. What I'm talking about here is isolation and loneliness and what it can do to your mind and spirit. I know, I never left the CONUS, so how could I have a legitimate experience or point of view on this subject? Further, in a squadron comprised of up to 300 men and on a base that had an assigned staffing including dependents bordering on 6,000+, how could these emotions be understandable?

     The psychology that most people fail to recognize is that when we, the air police, the security police and, I would surmise, the security forces, go to our post, we go alone. Our job was and is to protect and defend. To do that properly we had to be out front, sometimes outside the wire, sometimes just inside the wire, and sometimes under the wing of an aircraft. But in all likelihood, if we were doing our job correctly we were alone, especially at night.

     This is being written in the early winter of 2006, December to be exact, December 8, 2006, which brings back one of those instances that I mentioned above and which I wish would have remained left within its resting place and not disturbed. We were pulling 12-hour shifts to cover for the guys who were lucky enough to get a pass for Christmas. Our CO was very even handed. Two flights would get the week of Christmas off and two flights would get the week of New Years off. So, during that time we did double duty, 12 on, 12 off for however long it took to rotate through the flights. In 1958 my 12 on was from 2000 to 0800, my post was a hard stand on the opposite side of the taxiway from the repair nose docks. The base was unusually quiet, not really any traffic, vehicular or otherwise; and some insane person had figured that it would be a good idea to pipe Christmas music over the loudspeaker system which, at the time, was mounted on either side of each nose dock. So all that disturbed the silence up and down the line were Christmas carols and their occasional slight echo. Here I am guarding an alert B52 loaded with God only knows what, ready to split the world in two and some jackass is playing Christmas carols over the loudspeaker system: “Peace On Earth, Good Will Toward Men.” Yup, works for me! At that moment I thought very long and hard about putting a round through the loudspeaker directly across the taxiway from me. I knew the distance, one click on the ramp sight and I would have been dead on. It was an easy shot. “I'll Be Home For Christmas You Can Count On Me.” Right then and there I hated Bing Crosby, I hated him with a passion. I was cold, lonely, tired and I wanted to kill the son-of-a-bitch who thought it would be a good idea to play that music. Just one shot, please give me just one shot. Not that I was any Kentucky woodsman, but I had been taught the proper use of firearms from an early age; and my uncle had me firing the 45 from the age of 7. So I was fairly confident that I could remove the offending speaker. “Silver Bells, It's Christmas Time In The City.” I found myself silently singing along, feeling sorry for myself, remembering the times when we would gather around the piano at my aunt’s house and my mother would play Christmas hymns. At that point in time, in that place, I was the loneliest I had ever been in my then 18 years of life. I was alone, I was home sick, and I really wanted to kill the bastard who was playing that music.

     My Flight Sgt. was making the rounds and he came up to my post just as it started snowing. Great! More snow, a perfect addition to an already lousy night. We did the small talk bit, and I asked him if there was any way to maybe have the loudspeaker system turned off. He kind of shrugged and made one of those puzzled expressions that nonverbally asked, “What are you talking about?" He turned off the engine, got out of the truck and listened for a few seconds. Then I mentioned that I really wanted to put a round through the speaker on the side of the nose dock. OK, not the smartest comment I ever made, but he understood. We then talked for perhaps a half hour or so and being the good Flight Sgt. he was, in doing so, he completely took my mind off what was driving me nuts. NCOs, the good ones, make ideal shrinks. We said our “see you later’s” and off he went on to the post of his next troop. NCOs are worth their weight in gold, especially SAC NCOs. Along about 0400 my flight Sgt. showed up again, only this time he had something in the bed of his pickup. He swung the truck around dropped the tailgate and there was a Browning automatic rifle (BAR) complete with bipod. He removed it from the back of the pick-up and placed it at my feet. All he said was, if your going to do something you have to use the proper tool and without further comment drove off. In the silence and isolation of that moment, looking down at the BAR, I came to an absolute understanding of the difference between childhood memories and adult responsibility. There are times where there is room for both, but in that place and at that time only one could control the moment. My Flight Sgt. knew that and knew me better than I knew myself. It was a chilling life-changing experience which has apparently never left me.

     The reason I wish this particular event had remained lost in the fog of years long passed is that prior to the first appearance of my Flight Sgt. at my post, I really came close to squeezing off that one round, and knowing now had I done so, how my life would have changed forever. Not a comfortable thought, and one, which I would rather not tell my grandchildren.

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